The business model is not, sadly, unique: Come up with a novel idea to sell something, perhaps a rock. Pick an item and sales pitch that a distressing number of people find humorous. Get press (like this story). Pray to the Internet gods that the idea goes viral. Collect cash ... for awhile.
And thus, what could possibly be the stupidest idea ever conceived by a Texan outside Austin is making Plano-native Alex Craig a lot of cash.
After seeing a post on Reddit from a mailman showing a single potato with a stamp on it, Craig saw a business opportunity. That evening, he canceled a date with his girlfriend to build a website where people could pay him to anonymously mail a potato, no envelope necessary, with a brief message written on it. That’s when Potato Parcel was born.
“[My girlfriend] was kind of upset about it, but I was like no, you don’t realize this thing could be huge,” he says. “People could buy into this idea.”
Craig, who is a few years out of college, was sitting at a table in the corner of the Flying Saucer in Addison when Mixmaster met him. He closed his laptop, where he was presumably completing some work for his new potato business, to talk about how crazy his past few months have been.
“It’s just weird that this is the idea that took off,” he said. “It’s just funny that the idea that took the least amount of time to do, and is the stupidest idea I’ve come up with, is the idea that took off.”
Reading the original Reddit post, he knew he had to do something immediately. On May 14, he woke up at 6 a.m. to launch the website. He spent an hour building the site and three months later says he's generating about $10,000 per month by selling potatoes with words written on them, though not all messages are acceptable.
“Except, there’s only one rule,” he said. “We don’t allow threats. That’s the No. 1 rule. We had one that said, ‘Jessica, you better answer the phone or I’m going to catch the next redeye to give you a black eye.’ We said, ‘No, we’re not going to send that. Here’s a refund. We’re not going to participate in you making someone feel threatened or endangered.’ It’s not really our thing.”
(Mixmaster suggests another rule: If you get a potato in the mail proposing marriage, say no. If, for some reason, you say yes, don't have kids.)
Potato Parcel is sending about 100 potatoes per day, Craig said. Busy with his full-time job, he hired his roommate’s girlfriend to help out with the daily operations. He’s also begun thinking ahead and has plans to go international. He’s seen competing sites — that's right, he has competitors — and knows he needs to capitalize on it before others do. Some of the other sites use different food items, but not Craig. He said the idea can become trite or lame, unlike sending someone a potato, once you start adding other foods to the mix.
As far as the earnings, Craig pulled up a spreadsheet on his phone that he said showed about $33,000 total so far for Potato Parcel, and that didn’t include that day’s sales. While the business has made him plenty of money, he doesn’t see it as his future.
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“I don’t see potatoes being my career,” he said. “Just because you can’t realistically look at this thing and say, ‘What’s our five-year plan for selling potatoes?’ There is no five-year plan. The real plan is how long can I keep it going with me working full-time and doing this on the side. I’m just focused on trying to make the most money as possible while working on my career.”
And it’s all thanks to Reddit.
“That’s what I love about the Internet and the ability to spread ideas,” he says. “And if no one would have bought a potato, everyone would have said, ‘Well, yeah. That’s a stupid idea.’ But now that everyone’s kind of buying into it, they’re saying, ‘It’s a genius idea.’”
Well, not everyone.