6 Surprisingly Simple Ideas That Made Millions


Webb, a Los Angeles hairstylist, quit working full-time in 2008 and was a stay-at-home mom when she came up with an idea to earn some extra cash: Why not focus exclusively on blowouts, a salon service she could take to her clients’ homes? Her services were soon so in demand that she approached her older brother, Michael, about starting a brick-and-mortar salon. They would offer a blowout for just $40 (versus up to $100 at more upscale establishments) and offer some of the fancy extras that clients might expect from pricier salons: a swanky bar layout with champagne and trendy music playing. Landau was working at Yahoo at the time and admits he wasn’t too keen on the idea. “I’m a man and I’m bald, so I didn’t get it,” he says. “But Alli felt very strongly about it and convinced me to give her [$250,000] to start the business.”

The brother and sister opened their first location in Brentwood, Cal., in 2010 and generated 800 million in sales that year. Today, there are 35 Drybar locations nationwide; the shops serve 100,000 clients a month on average, according to Landau. He attributes their rapid growth over the past year to a new line of hairstyling products and tools that are sold at Sephora and on the QVC channel, as well as at Drybar locations.


You’ve probably seen the TV commercials for the Snuggie, which retails for $14.99. “It’s definitely one of those ideas that’s so simple that a lot of people might say to themselves, Why didn’t I think of that?” says Scott Boilen, founding member and president and CEO of Allstar Products Group, a Hawthorne, N.Y.-based consumer products company.

Allstar, which is privately-held, also produces other “as seen on TV” products, such as the Bacon Bowl and Magic Mesh, but none has the name recognition of the Snuggie. “It had actually been around in various forms for a few years with similar products available in the backs of catalogs, but nobody really knew about them,” Boilen says. His company decided to create its own version, marketing it with those infamous infomercials. The campaign was so over the top that people started posting parody videos on YouTube, which attracted millions more views, boosting viral marketing. Boilen says sales have remained steady after the first-year spike.

“I think what clicked for consumers is that the Snuggie appealed to everyone,” Boilen adds. “Doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, a senior citizen, a mom, a guy — everyone can wear one. The market potential was limitless.”

Glickman, who had worked in his family’s plastic business, was fiddling around with some drinking straws at a wedding reception in 1990 when the idea for a building toy hit him, and he spent two years developing the concept. Glickman’s construction set added an extra dimension of wheels, pulleys and gears to more traditional concepts pioneered by Lego and Lincoln Logs. Several companies, including Hasbro and Mattel, turned him down. But his idea clicked with Toys ‘R’ Us, which began carrying his line in 1993.

K’Nex quickly became a household name. Children could build miniature roller coasters and awesome mini vehicles. “No other construction-toy company at that time had a product like ours,” says Michael Araten, president and CEO of K’Nex and Glickman’s son-in-law.

Araten says that toys like K’Nex engender a feeling in kids “unlike anything they get from playing with a video game or prefinished product.” The company’s products are available in more than 35 countries worldwide.

The Magic 8 Ball has been an enormously popular fortune-telling toy for decades. Albert C. Carter came up with the idea (tube-shaped, at first) in the 1940s, basing it on one of his working-clairvoyant mom’s fortune-telling tools.

Originally called the “Syco-Seer,” Carter partnered with a local store owner, Max Levinson, who brought the idea to his brother-in-law, Abe Bookman, for mass production. Their newly-formed novelty company, Alabe Crafts, began selling the Syco-Seer, which was granted a patent in 1948.

Unfortunately, Carter didn’t live to see his device become a massive hit in the novelty toy world — but Bookman went on to redesign and rebrand it several times, resulting in the black billiard ball we all recognize now. Today, the Magic 8 Ball is owned by Mattel, and the toy company says they sell a million Magic 8 Balls every year.

While people have been playing with hoops of varying materials all throughout history, the modern plastic Hula Hoop was invented by Arthur K. “Spud” Melin and Richard Knerr, cofounders of the Wham-O toy company.

Melin and Knerr got their idea for mass-produced hula hoops from Australian schoolkids using bamboo hoops for exercise. The two started manufacturing brightly-colored plastic hoops in 1958, selling them for 800.98 a piece. The idea took off almost instantly — 25 million Wham-O Hula Hoops were sold within four months. Melin patented it in 1963.

The original premise of Tamagotchi is this: the player is raising a digital creature from Planet Tamagotchi. You raise the creature from babyhood to adulthood; later iterations even allow players to marry them off to make other Tamagotchis. You feed it, bathe it, and basically treat it as if it were a real baby. And of course, if you leave them unattended for long periods of time, you may come back to find your Tamagotchi dead.