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Five simple inventions that blew up (and made bank)

Simple inventions that made millions

That wacky, kind of silly idea for an invention you’ve been keeping on the back burner? It might just be worth millions.

Now that we have your attention, if you’re an entrepreneur, an amateur inventor or interested in making some cash, check out these crazy invention success stories. From the Slanket to the Million Dollar Homepage, these simple inventions didn’t stretch the limits of possibility. Sometimes, the most successful ventures are the simplest.

simple inventions

Slanket

No, not the Snuggie. In fact, the original blanket with arms was actually created in 1998 by Gary Clegg.

College kid Gary ripped a hole in a sleeping bag so he was able to comfortably change the channel and watch TV at the same time in his chilly Maine dorm room. He later commissioned his mother to prototype the first Slanket, complete with sleeves. After he graduated, Clegg started selling the Slanket online and on QVC.

Despite the launch of the massively popular competitor Snuggie in 2008, Clegg still insists the Slanket was a successful endeavor.

Clegg’s advice to entrepreneurs whose ideas get stolen? “Do it anyway and to sell, sell, sell as fast as you can. Then move on to your next idea.”

Pet Rock

simple inventions

The Pet Rock was invented by advertising exec Gary Dahl in 1975. Many of you will remember Dahl’s idea of the “perfect pet” but for those of you that weren’t around in the mid-seventies, a quick refresher. A Pet Rock didn’t need to be walked, fed or washed and it didn’t make a mess on the rug. It was compact and easy to care for and well, a rock. It was a rock.

The real joy of the original Pet Rock was in the care and training manual. The manual came with every Pet Rock and detailed how to care for the pet (low maintenance, remember?) as well as tricks the rock could and could not perform. Think “sit” versus “shake a paw.”

As far as simple inventions go, it doesn’t get much simpler. And as far as the numbers go, the Pet Rock made Dahl a millionaire. The product re-launched in 2012 because nostalgia is so hot right now.

simple inventions

Super Soaker

Inventor and engineer Lonnie Johnson is the brains behind the hugely successful Super Soaker recreational water gun brand.

Johnson invented the original concept in 1982. He prototyped the Super Soaker with PVC pipe, acrylic glass and an empty plastic bottle. Super Soaker wasn’t the first water pistol but it was the first to use manually-pressurized air. That meant kids could shoot water with power, range and accuracy never before seen in water gun fights.

Johnson brought his water gun to market, under the name Power Drencher in 1990. In its first year alone, the toy made $200 million in sales and the Super Soaker is still around today.

Million Dollar Homepage

simple inventions

The Million Dollar Homepage was created in 2005 by Alex Tew, a student from Wiltshire, England.

The website was originally created to help Tew raise money to pay for college. Tew, like most students, was worried about being saddled with student debt after graduation. He took to the Internet and came up with a wildly original idea to pay for his student fees: the Million Dollar Homepage.

Tew created a website where he sold pixels for $1 each. Individuals that purchased the pixels would be able to add their image, logo or ad with a hyperlink and a little slogan that would appear when someone hovered over the image. Pixels were sold in 100-pixel blocks of 10 by 10. So, if you were looking to buy pixel space on the website, the minimum you could pay was $100.

In case you’re wondering, the pixel purchasers just got their real estate on the website. Nothing else. Tew’s website offered nothing other than pure advertising space.

The final 1,000 pixels went up for auction as a bundle on eBay. The winning bid of $38,100 brought the final website revenue to $1,037,100.

In the end, Tew didn’t need the cash for school. He dropped out and struck out on his own as an entrepreneur. With a nice nest egg to bankroll his projects, of course.

Tipsy Elves

There was a time when you’d get invited to an ugly sweater themed holiday party and you’d have to go digging through second-hand racks or your great aunt’s closet for the perfect, kitschy sweater vest.

Tipsy Elves set out to close that vintage gap, by creating modern, retro-inspired, goofy holiday apparel. In 2011, Tipsy Elves founders Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton launched their first line of holiday sweaters to some serious success. They followed that up with a Shark Tank pitch and in 2013 scored a $100,000 investment from Robert Herjavec.

Today the company makes wacky sweaters and apparel for any occasion, with a projected revenue of 12 million in 2014.

Tipsy Elves definitely arrived at the ugly sweater party at the right time but their success shouldn’t be dismissed. The genius of Tipsy Elves is that they weren’t afraid to grow their business, rode the wave and expanded into different holidays, themes and year-round clothing options. Today, Tipsy Elves shoppers can get items like shirts with fun slogans, swimsuits, bachelor and bachelorette apparel, fanny packs and retro ski suits.

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