Six years ago, I stumbled upon RantBlogger.com, a website that paid for visitors’ opinions. I submitted a two-paragraph rant on a political topic and received $8 via PayPal within an hour. Great idea for a website? Maybe not — the website was gone within a few months. Apparently more people wanted to write rants than read them.
Sometimes ideas are not as good as they seem, or they’re poorly executed. And it isn’t just small businesses that fail. Better Place, an electric car company, failed after spending almost a billion dollars. The company gambled on the idea of having stations where users traded in batteries for freshly charged ones. The logistics of building a country-wide infrastructure proved to be too much.
The following crazy (or not so crazy) ideas that went down in flames are fun to read about, but they’re not just entertaining. If you think you have the next million-dollar idea, you might also learn a few lessons from these business ideas that failed.
1. Homeless Tours
When Mike Momany started his “homeless tours” in 2013, he got a lot of press, including a write-up on CNN. For $2,000, customers got to spend a few guided days on the streets with the homeless. Along with the press coverage, Momany also received a lot of negative feedback, with at least one critic calling the plan “pathetic and vile exploitation.”
So Momany got people talking. But what he apparently didn’t get was enough customers. His website, RealViewTour.com, quickly disappeared, and there have been no follow-up stories in the press.
One possible lesson: Be careful about choosing offensive business ideas.
2. Breakfast Cola
Even big businesses make mistakes, and DailyFinance lists Pepsi A.M. as one of the biggest product flops of all time. Why did Pepsi think people would want cola for breakfast? Well, it does have caffeine, so why not assume it can replace coffee? Yeah, right. By the way, Crystal Pepsi, a clear cola, flopped as well.
One possible lesson: Base your products on market testing rather than assumptions.
3. Drive-Thru Strip Club
From the report on RoadsideAmerica.com, it seems that the Climax Gentleman’s Club drive-thru strip club may have actually succeeded for a while. For $10 per minute, customers could park their cars where a window allowed them to see the action inside, and the business was operational for nine years. But when the owner of the club died, the club closed.
One possible lesson: Some business ideas may take a special kind of entrepreneur to succeed.
4. Laxative Potato Chips
Frito-Lay’s Wow potato chips were fat-free, thanks to a compound called Olestra. But according to Fast Company, the molecules of this fat substitute are too big to digest and go right through the digestive tract, with an effect similar to a laxative. The horror stories were soon all over the news and part of late-night comedy routines, and sales dropped dramatically. A new name (and possibly a new formulation) came soon after.
One possible lesson: Bad reviews will spread quickly and can kill a product. (Another lesson: Test your products before releasing them for wider sales!.)
5. Bottled Water for Pets
“Thirsty Dog” and “Thirsty Cat” make the Yummly list of worst food fails. Bottled water for cats and dogs? Yep, and they came in two flavors; “Crispy Beef” and “Tangy Fish.” Once again this is a product that got a lot of press, but not a lot of sales.
One possible lesson: Big press doesn’t necessarily translate into big sales.
6. Ben-Gay Aspirin
What do you think of when you see “Ben-Gay?” Most people think of the strong smell and hot feel of the company’s pain-relieving cream. That might be why Ben-Gay Aspirin didn’t succeed, according to Investopedia. Potential customers may have imagined choking down a pill that burns.
One possible lesson: If your company name is already strongly associated with a particular product, you may need to launch new products under new labels.
7. Colgate Frozen Meals
Selling to the Masses says Colgate heavily marketed their line of frozen meals, but to no avail. The big Colgate logo on the boxes made people associate the food with the flavor of toothpaste, which apparently isn’t what they want their meals to taste like.
One possible lesson: Like Ben-Gay Aspirin, be careful about the associations attached to your label.
8. Odor-Emitting Computers
You plug in the iSmell USB device and, when you visit a website or get an email, a scent is emitted. Cool Idea? Maybe not. Start Up Over says DigiScents, the company that created the product, raised $20 million, but quickly flopped.
One possible lesson: Just because an idea is unique or interesting, doesn’t mean there is a market for it.
9. Caffeinated Alcohol
The idea to combine two things that sell well seems sound enough. And Four Loko, a drink with alcohol and caffeine, sold well. But Phusion Projects, the company that made the drink, had to stop putting the two substances together after some drinkers were hospitalized and 20 attorneys general targeted the product, reports the Washington Post.
One possible lesson: Dangerous products that attract the attention of government agencies can fail quickly, even if there is a market for them.
10. Chocolate Sausage
The image of Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick on PopSugar.com might be appetizing to some people, but not enough. The product, launched in 2006, didn’t last long. Imagine that.
One possible lesson: You can’t just combine things people like and assume they’ll also like the resulting product.
One Last Lesson
It’s easy to laugh at the failed business ideas here, and to think that failure was the obvious outcome, but don’t be so sure. Consider the fact that LuckyWishBone.com has been successfully selling fake wishbones for years. Who would have guessed? And take a look at my list of other weird businesses that actually make money. Cremation jewelry and sock subscriptions? Yep.
One possible lesson: A crazy idea might make money if you have good business and marketing skills.
Your Turn: Tell us about your favorite business ideas that failed — or succeeded.
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).