What makes humans amazing is our ability to come up with ideas when in a pickle. Throughout history, ingenuity and taking action have driven civilization advancement at an exponential rate. People have been inventing new ways to make a living, even thrive, and become millionaires and billionaires. This is especially true for the people mentioned below who made money in very crazy ways.

1. Elvis and his manager Colonel Tom Parker managed to reap profits from naysayers and detractors when Parker came up with “I Hate Elvis” badges which he sold to those who wouldn’t otherwise pay for Elvis merchandise. 

Image credits: WikimediaEbay

After Sun Records founder Sam Phillips ran into financial trouble in 1955, he sold Elvis’s contract to RCA Records. There, the ex-carnival promoter Parker became his manager. When Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” became a huge hit despite low expectations and became his first million-selling record, Parker decided to market him like never before.

Next came the fulfillment of Elvis’s long-cherished secret dream – to be an actor – in the form of the film Love Me Tender in 1956. The film was a massive hit and the title song exceeded one million sales, a first for a single. To cash on that, Parker made a merchandise deal for $40,000 with the goal of turning Elvis into a brand. Within a few months, over 50 different products like charm bracelets, scarves, bubble gum cards, and sneakers were released aimed at the teen market. One of Parker’s campaigns also included selling badges that said: “I Hate Elvis.” (source)

2. After being irritated by constant calls from telemarketers, a UK man set up his own personal 0871 line in 2011 so that it costs whoever calls him. When the bank, gas, or electricity suppliers ask his contact details, he gives them that number. 

Image credits: Lee Beaumont/Twitter, Pixabay

Lee Beaumont’s predicament isn’t new to anyone with a phone number, and almost everyone at some point finds themselves annoyed by calls in which they are not interested. According to a survey by the charity Citizens Advice, over two-thirds of the people they talked to received unwanted calls, emails, texts, or letters. So, in November, Beaumont paid £10 along with VAT to set up his personal line that would charge 10 pence for every call of which he receives seven pence.

Beaumont told the You and Yours program on BBC Radio 4 that he was honest about what he was doing when the companies asked why they were given such a number. Interestingly, almost all the companies he talked to on that number did not object to it, and if they did, he told them to email him. (source)

3. In 2014, the band Vulfpeck released a completely silent album called Sleepify on Spotify encouraging the buyers to play it on a loop while they slept. They made $20,000 in royalties before the album was pulled. 

The album released in March contained ten tracks of around 30 seconds long, and each track named the same number of Z’s as the track number. The album was also “well-received,” with Tim Jonze of The Guardian stating that “opening track,’ Z’, certainly sets the tone, a subtle, intriguing work” and “It’s followed by ‘Zz’ and ‘Zzz’ which continue along similar lyrical themes while staying true to Sleepify’s overriding minimalist aesthetic.”

The album made use of a loophole in Spotify‘s royalty calculation model. According to the band’s founder, Jack Stratton, the idea came from a podcast interview of Ron Fair who explained how the listener would have to download the entire soundtrack of the film Moulin Rouge! if they wanted to listen to the cover of Lady Marmalade. With the royalties, the band wanted to crowdfund an admission-free concert tour of the same name. Though the Spotify‘s spokesperson called the album a “clever stunt” and jokingly remarked it to be a “derivative of John Cage’s work,” it was soon removed for violating terms of service. (source)

4. After becoming infuriated by the sheer number of spam emails he kept receiving, an American named Daniel Balsam quit his job and got a law degree just to file lawsuits. He has made over $1 million in court judgments. 

Image credits: Cbslocal/Youtube, Pixabay

While working in marketing, Balsam received a large number of spam emails about surgeries for women. Enraged, he filed several lawsuits in 2002 in small claims court. Though he initially considered filing lawsuits a hobby, he decided to make it his vocation. So, he enrolled in the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and graduated in 2008.

Since then, he filed lawsuits against every spam he received at his email address and began earning so much that he was able to support himself full-time and also have an attorney, Timothy Walton. Together, they won an average of $1,000 per email.

The biggest verdict he was awarded was $1.125 million against a company that sent him 1,125 spam emails. However, as most such companies have fictitious business names and are registered to post office boxes, he didn’t receive money for this as well as for several other lawsuits. (source)

5. In 2010, the creator of the Trollface meme registered it after finding out how popular it became in the Internet world. By 2015, he earned $100,000 in licensing fees and settlements. 

Image credits: Whynne/DeviantartSacrafan/Imgur

In 2008, 18-year-old Carlos Ramirez was neglecting his college work and scrolling the 4chan anonymous image board when he decided to post a comic of Trollface he drew on MS Paint like he usually does. The next day, he found 4chan users sharing the doodle and was pleased. After that, he had to go on a long trip and had to stay away from the Internet. When he came back, he found that 4chan users, as well as many Internet users, were using the image to call out on people who posted poor arguments or incorrect information but would say they were just “trolling” when confronted.

Ramirez didn’t make much of it at first, and the only people who knew about his meme’s fame was his sister. One day, she slipped and told their parents about it. To his surprise, Ramirez’s mother was pretty proud of him even going as far as to make a graffiti of the meme on a wall of their house. Upon her suggestion, Ramirez decided to register the doodle.

What followed were many lawsuits against those who used the meme for financial benefit, including Ninja Pig Studios which produced a game called Meme Run based on his doodle. The game was being sold at $4.99 on Nintendo’s eShop. Ramirez didn’t pursue users who used it just for their amusement but not financial gain. (source)

6. Born in extreme poverty, a Chinese woman began to sell her chili sauce, Lao Gan Ma, that she originally made for her noodle shop after finding it to be more popular than the noodles. She is now a billionaire with a net worth of $1.05 billion as of 2015. 

Image credits: GlobaltimesWalmart

Born in 1947 in the remote mountain village of Zun’yi, Guizhou Province, Tao Huabi was too poor to go to school, and her husband died when she was 20 years old. To support her two sons, Tao set up a noodle shop in 1989 in the Nanming District of Guiyang. Her shop, which sold noodles simply mixed with her own spicy sauce with soybeans, flourished. The poor students to whom she used to give discounts and extra food came to call her “godmother.”

Tao soon realized that what clicked with her customers weren’t the noodles, but her hot sauce. People would come to her to buy the sauce rather than the noodles, and other shops used her sauce with their noodles and did good business. When, in the 1990s, truck drivers working at the construction of a new highway nearby would pass her shop, Tao would give them free samples to take home.

Her word-of-mouth advertising paid off, and people from outside the city began coming to buy Tao’s sauce. She then turned her restaurant into a hot sauce and condiments shop. When she was 49, she decided to start her own hot sauce company and sell the product Lao Gan Ma (Old Godmother). Twelve years later, she was earning a revenue of $540 million, and in 2015, with a net worth of $1.05 billion, she was included in Forbes list of the richest families in China. (source)

7. In 2013, a Chinese millionaire sold cans of fresh air for $0.80 each as Beijing’s air pollution began to reach high levels. In just 10 days, he sold over eight million cans.

Recycling entrepreneur, philanthropist, and environmental activist as well as one of the richest people in China, Chen Guangbiao, is known for his weird, charitable endeavors. With air pollution becoming more and more hazardous in Beijing resulting in an increase in respiratory problems, he decided to raise awareness among the public. So, in January, he began to sell cans of fresh air, saying that, “If we don’t act in the next 10 years, our descendants will have to carry oxygen tanks and wear masks all the time.”

The cans also came in different flavors such as “pristine Tibet” and “post-industrial Taiwan.” During the next 10 days, Chen sold over eight million cans, the proceeds of which were to be donated to charity at five Chinese Yuan ($0.80) each. (12)

8. In 2005, an English student created a website full of a pixel grid, blocks of which he sold at $1 per pixel to display ads. He sold all the pixels, raising a total of $1,037,100 for his university fee. 

Image credits: CalmMilliondollarhomepage

On August 26, Alex Tew from Wiltshire, England, launched the websiteMillionDollarHomepage in order to raise money for his university education. The home page had one million pixels (1,000 x 1,000), and he sold each pixel for $1 in 10 x 10 blocks. The blocks would hold an image with a hyperlink to the related website, and when the cursor hovers on the link, a slogan would be displayed. Needless to say, the website garnered much attention.

On January 1, 2006, Tew auctioned the final 1,000 pixels on eBay, and they were sold on 11th for $38,100 making him a total of $1,037,100. The website was subjected to DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack during the auction and was down for a whole week while its security was upgraded. As of 2019, almost 40% of the original links in the website suffered link rot, common as the site is restructured or falls into disuse causing the links to go to pages that are permanently unavailable. (source)

9. Since 1980, a man who claimed ownership of the Moon because of a loophole in the UN’s Outer Space Treaty began selling lunar real estate and made millions off it. 

Image credits: LunarembassyLunarEmbassyEarth/Facebook

According to the Outer Space Treaty first established in 1967 by the United Nations, all outer space comes under international commons and forbids any nation or anyone from claiming to own space or any part of it. Before that and even after that, several people have claimed ownership and sold extraterrestrial objects to gullible people.

One of them is Dennis Hope. He sent the UN a letter declaring his ownership of the Moon, and when he didn’t hear back from them, he decided to use the loophole. The treaty doesn’t say anything about individuals owning extraterrestrial real estate.

This American entrepreneur started a business called the Lunar Embassy Commission in 1980 which sells extraterrestrial real estate. He claims Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the two former US Presidents, were customers of his. The method he uses to allocate land on Moon is to close his eyes and randomly point at its map. His price is $20 per acre, and as of 2009, he claims to have sold 2.5 million one-acre plots. (12)

10. In 1984, Michael Larson, a contestant of Press Your Luck, noticed that the random patterns of the game board aren’t exactly random when he used stop-motion on his VCR. He simply memorized the sequence and won 45 consecutive spins, earning a total of $110,237.

Larson was a self-described, unemployed, ice cream truck driver when he went on the show. In that single game, he was slightly uncertain the first time and hit a Whammy. But after that, he won 45 consecutive spins. The game, which aired on CBS, went on for so long that it had to be made into two parts. After a while, Larson lost concentration and passed his remaining spins as he was missing the target squares.

Later, CBS investigated Larson and found that he memorized the patterns on the board. However, they determined that it was not cheating and his winnings were not taken back. This prompted them to reprogram the board to operate with up to 32 patterns so that other contestants wouldn’t be able to memorize like Larson. (source)

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