Entrepreneurship has always fascinated me. I’m amazed by the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with building your own business, and I respect the risks that come with working for yourself. Even if your venture fails, as a business leader you still learn valuable lessons that you can use to make your next attempt more successful.
Taking a successful business model from someone else and building on it is no crime. In fact, it is how most leaders build businesses. It doesn’t always take a “stroke of genius” to get to the top. But when those once-in-a-lifetime ideas strike, your window to act may be small. I don’t accept the idea that all of the good ideas have been taken. These five unique businesses are proof that you can find prosperity, even in a market that may not have even existed when you first had your idea.
1. Santa Mail
When I first heard about Santa Mail, I had one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. The premise couldn’t be simpler: Parents order letters for children, and Santa Claus himself puts a note in the mail. For just under $10, your kids will get a personalized letter from Santa that is (genuinely) postmarked from the North Pole in Alaska. The site isn’t flashy, but it’s simple and effective.
Santa Mail has been around since 2003, and as far as I can tell, it was the first company of its kind. Since then, at least four sites offering the same service have popped up. Even though someone may come along and offer something better, for now, Santa Mail is at the top of its niche.
2. Alchemy Goods
Though recycling has been popular for years, practical-use items made from recyclable items and materials are quickly becoming more desirable. From clothes and bags to water bottles and wallets, these unique items are high-quality goods that let people show off the positive difference they’re making for the environment. Alchemy Goods was originally born not out of ingenuity, but of necessity.
When Alchemy owner Eli Reich’s messenger bag was stolen, he decided that instead of buying another, he would make one himself. With plenty of bicycle inner tubes lying around, he decided to make it the primary material for his new bag. Long story short, the completed product was a huge hit at the office, and Eli began to make them on a much larger scale. Today, Alchemy products are carried in many stores across the country.
3. Fetal Greetings
The greeting card business has been huge for years, and it seems to get bigger with every passing holiday. Fetal Greetings offers a special opportunity for expecting mothers: To have their baby greet the world in the form of a card! Holly Nill-McKay started the company in 1999, and while the idea may sound strange, I love it. It’s a great example of a unique and clever idea that builds on an existing industry. The cards themselves are cute, and they make wonderful surprises to send to family and friends to announce a pregnancy.
4. Something Store
Do you love the feeling of waiting for something in the mail? I know I do, and that’s why I tried out Something Store. A few years ago, I saw a piece in a popular magazine about an online store that sells mystery objects. I was intrigued. For $10 (no shipping cost), they send you a random item. It could be anything in the world. Since 2007, they’ve shipped over 50,000 “somethings” to customers who wait with anxious anticipation.
I tried it and received an unusual, metal, spider-like object. It winds up and moves along the floor or tabletop. I looked it up and found that it usually retails for about $28. While I wouldn’t necessarily have bought it in the first place, for $10 I got a pretty good deal.
5. I Do Now I Don’t
Every day, couples in love get engaged. And every day, couples who have fallen out of love separate or break an engagement. When the latter happened to Josh Opperman, his fiancee was kind enough to return the engagement ring, and he didn’t know what to do with it. Since the wholesale markup on engagement rings is insanely high, he would have taken a huge loss in returning it. So instead, he started his business, I Do Now I Don’t, an online marketplace for unwanted engagement rings. Customers can buy rings at prices far cheaper than you’d find at a traditional store, and you can sell at rates that are better than you’d get if you tried to return the ring. Business started booming, and now you can buy and sell other jewelry items there too.
This short list of examples just goes to show that not all of the good business ideas are taken just yet. It seems to me that when I get one of those “genius” ideas, I’m always in the shower. By the time I get out and try to remember what was on my mind, it’s gone. I hope it is not just me that this happens to.