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Sound Stupid? Dumb Business Ideas That Turned Out to be Pretty Smart

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
Apr 01, 2020
Image Credit: howtogoto / Getty Images
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Google, Twitter and the iPad all started as "dumb" business ideas no one believed in.

Chris Dixon is a venture capitalist who invests in startups and co-founded Hunch, a website acquired by eBay in 2011 for $80 million. According to Business Insider, Dixon thinks some of the best business ideas actually start out sounding pretty dumb.

Why? Big companies believe they are already working on all the "good" ideas, at least according to the consensus of a larger group. Smaller companies need to be more resourceful – they need to develop innovative approaches that big companies might think are too far out or too "stupid" for them. Smaller companies are nimble; they can more easily test out their dumb business ideas. They can address the needs of seemingly niche audiences, such as the market for square watermelons or the demand for "Geese Police."

Here are some examples of stupid business ideas that turned out to be pretty smart. Or shall we say, "Beanie Baby smart" but with greater growth potential? All of these companies started small and grew, grew, grew!

Google

Before Google became a verb, there were about 20 search engines, including Yahoo. Google was not only late to the game, it was late at a time when web search wasn't considered a good business model. Why would you base a business on a website that sent traffic to other sites? Because you can charge advertisers a lot of money to reach searchers.

Twitter

Even the name sounds stupid. According to a Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, even the engineers thought it was a stupid idea. But Twitter's initial public valuation exceeded $30 billion. And it's changed the way people communicate throughout the world.

iPad

When the iPad was first announced in 2010, people made jokes that it sounded like a sanitary napkin. Media and financial analysts couldn't see why anyone would want one. Today, Apple continues to have the largest share of the tablet market it created.

Stupid is as stupid does

Yes, that's a catchphrase from one the top-grossing films of all time (Forrest Gump), which, on the surface, seemed like a pretty stupid premise. What film audience would pay to watch a mentally slow character for two hours? The joke remains on the studio executives who passed on the script.

Flowbee

In the '90s, if you needed a haircut and preferred to do it yourself, the Flowbee allowed you to cut your hair and vacuum the clippings up at the same time. Flowbee is basically a small hand-held vacuum cleaner with attached hair clippers. You run the clippers through your hair, and the "vacuum cleaner" sucks in the hair clippings so there are no stray hairs to sweep up. Flowbee was invented by a carpenter named Rick Hunts. There have been 2 million Flowbees sold, and Hunts has been invited into the millionaires club.

Pet Rocks

Sold as the perfect pet, the Pet Rock made its debut in 1975 and sold for $3.95. It only took six months for the creator, Gary Dahl, to sell more than 5 million pet rocks. These ordinary gray pebbles were decorated in various ways, such as with googly eyes or painted faces. Pet rocks came with a humorous manual that provided instructions on how to teach the rock tricks, such as how to sit and how to talk to your pet rock.

Big Mouth Billy Bass

This wall-mounted, singing animatronic fish was invented in the late nineties by toy creator Joe Pellettiere. The singing fish was an extremely popular stocking stuffer in the early 2000s; in fact, stores were selling hundreds of them by the hour and struggled to keep up with the demand. In the year 2000, sales were well over a million.

Antenna balls

During the seventies and eighties when tacky ornaments were popular, many inventors were jumping on the "unusual" bandwagon. One entrepreneur, Jason Wall, has made millions by manufacturing custom antenna balls. These vehicle ornaments are simply balls, similar to a tennis ball that are decorated or customized and attached to the top of a car antenna.

The Slinky

The slinky was invented by Richard James when he had the idea after accidentally dropping a tension spring on the floor and watching it slink across the floor. Within 90 minutes, they were sold out. Slinkys sold for $1, but quickly earned Richard James more than 250 million in sales.

Snuggies

A blanket with arms, known as the Snuggie, was a huge hit in the 2000s. The blanket with arms sold for about $20 each, earning the creator millions between the fall of 2008 and Christmas of 2009. Snuggies are still sold, and sales are still high, especially Snuggies for children and pets.

Likewise, just as there is no such thing as a stupid question, there is no idea too stupid to have the potential of great business success. For more inspiration, look at these crazy product ideas that grossed millions of dollars.

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