By Daniel Coughlin
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You won’t believe how much money these crafty innovators made from their genius product
Inventing an incredible product that people can’t get enough of can generate millions and sometimes even billions for its lucky creator. Click or scroll through as we take a look at 10 innovators who made megabucks from just one amazing idea.
Scott Boilen’s Snuggie
Blankets with sleeves have been around since the 1990s – the Slanket for instance was invented by Maine’s Gary Clegg in 1998 – but innovator Scott Boilen’s take on the concept, the all-conquering Snuggie, has been the most lucrative by a long shot.
Scott Boilen’s Snuggie
Boilen’s company Allstar Marketing Group brought the Snuggie to market in 2008 and launched a cheesy commercial that generated a lot of buzz, triggering a massive craze. A whopping 20 million Snuggies were sold in the first year, with sales exceeding $40 million in the first three months alone.
The ‘Cult of the Snuggie’ was featured on The Tonight Show, appeared in countless YouTube videos and inspired everything from Snuggie pub crawls to ‘wear your Snuggie movie nights’. By 2018, the product had generated a whopping $500 million, according to CNBC, and Boilen is now estimated to be worth at least $200 million.
Hamdi Ulukaya’s Chobani
In 2005, Kurdish businessman and dairy guru Hamdi Ulukaya spotted a gap in the US market for thick, strained Greek-style yogurt and set about launching his own version. The all-natural product, which he called Chobani, launched in 2007.
Starting off by selling to small-scale retailers, Ulukaya relied on word of mouth initially to promote the product and this strategy paid off a treat. In 2009, several major chain stores began to stock the yogurt and sales hit the roof.
By 2012, Chobani had grown to become America’s leading Greek-style yogurt brand with revenues topping $1 billion. A resounding success, the brand has remained on top and Ulukaya is now worth $2 billion, according to Forbes.
Nick Woodman’s GoPro Hero
GoPro Hero inventor Nick Woodman had his eureka moment in 2002 on a surf trip to Australia. Keen to capture all the action, Woodman cobbled together a wrist strap that enabled him to wear his camera while hitting the waves.
The camera, which is now digital and has spawned a HD video version, was selling in the millions by 2012. GoPro went public in 2014 and Woodman’s net worth peaked at $3.9 billion. Since then, the company share price has tanked as sales have bottomed out. Still, Woodman remains fabulously rich, though his net worth has fallen to a reported $900 million.
Sara Blakely’s Spanx
Sara Blakely came up with the idea for Spanx in 1996 when she working as a door-to-door saleswoman in Florida and had to wear panty hose on the job. Blakely liked the slimming effect but hated the way the seams showed when she was sporting open-toe sandals.
One evening, Blakely was getting ready for a party and wanted to wear a pair of white trousers, but didn’t have any underwear that wouldn’t show through the fabric. So she grabbed a pair of her work panty hose, cut off the leg parts, and Spanx was born.
Realising her invention’s potential, Blakely invested her life savings of $5,000 into developing the concept. Spanx launched in 2000 and the clever but flattering product found its way into major department stores in no time. Sales soared and the product became a lingerie staple, with it now selling in more than 65 countries. Blakely is now estimated to be worth a cool $1 billion, and in 2015 became one of the co-owners of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, as part of billionaire Tony Ressler’s group which purchased the team for $850 million.
Manoj Bhargava’s 5-Hour Energy
Former monk Manoj Bhargava dreamed up his billion-dollar product after tasting an energy drink at a trade show in California back in 2003. Michigan-based Bhargava was put off by the large bottle and thought a mini shot-sized version would be more appealing.
He wasn’t wrong. Bhargava formulated a stimulating concoction of caffeine and B vitamins that he packed into tiny two-ounce bottles. His 5-Hour Energy drink was launched that same year and picked up by drugstores, supermarkets and convenience stores. It has since taken America by storm.
Now the go-to mini energy drink for everyone from athletes to students, 5-Hour Energy generated sales in America of $241.74 million in 2015. Revenue has dropped slightly since then, reaching $195.6 million in American sales in 2018. Bhargava, who has signed the Giving Pledge and intends to give away 99% of his fortune, is thought to have a net worth of up to $1.5 billion.
Shaun Pulfrey’s Tangle Teezer
Former celebrity hair colorist Shaun Pulfrey was laughed off the UK’s Dragons’ Den show back in 2007 after pitching his simple yet unique invention: a brush with flexible plastic teeth that detangles and unknots hair with ease.
The stylist was roundly ridiculed by the Dragons, who mocked his “hair-brained” idea and sent him packing. Luckily, the great British public disagreed. After the show aired, the Tangle Teezer website crashed and sales skyrocketed. Celeb endorsements from the likes of Victoria Beckham followed. Tangle Teezer was picked up by UK chain Boots in 2008, before going global in 2009.
The company only started spending money on marketing in March 2016, and by 2018 Pulfrey had sold more than 35 million brushes. Now a beauty staple and household name, the product, which turned over $28.5 billion in 2018, has made its inventor very rich indeed – Pulfrey is currently estimated to be worth a not too shabby $13.3 million.
Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce
Chef and musician Levi Roots also appeared on the UK’s Dragons’ Den show in 2007, but the budding entrepreneur received a much warmer reception from the Dragons than Shaun Pulfrey’s Tangle Teezer. In fact, the Dragons were keen to invest in his product, Reggae Reggae Sauce, a tasty jerk barbecue condiment.
Roots walked away with £50,000 ($63k) from Dragons Richard Farleigh and Peter Jones in exchange for 40% equity. Major UK supermarket Sainsbury’s immediately stocked the product in 600 of its stores. Sales were projected at 50,000 bottles a year, but the chain ended up shifting 50,000 per week.
The product range was expanded to more than 50 products and the super-popular Reggae Reggae brand is now available from a variety of retailers, as well as fast food chains including Subway and KFC. Needless to say, Levi Roots is rolling in it. His net worth is estimated at $44 million, and that could be set to grow as the story of his life is set to be turned into a film.
Julie Deane’s Cambridge Satchel
Short of cash, Julie Deane created the iconic Cambridge satchel on her kitchen table in 2008 to help cover the cost of sending her daughter, who was being bullied, to a private school. She used savings of just $750 to kick-start the project.
Reinventing a classic, Deane’s hip colorful take on the traditional leather satchel soon caught the eye of fashion bloggers and stylists, even appearing in an editorial in Italian Vogue, and the orders started flooding in.
The brand fast became a fashionista must-have and in just five years Deane revealed that her company was worth $63 million in 2013, making her a multimillionaire and then some. As well as netting piles of cash, the inspiring businesswoman was awarded an OBE in 2014 for services to entrepreneurship.
Aaron Krause’s Scrub Daddy
American inventor Aaron Krause created his clever multitasking sponge with a smiley face in 2006 while developing a foam buffing pad. The car detail expert came up with an extra-special sponge that turns soft in warm water and hard when it’s drenched in cold water.
The foam buffing pad was sold to 3M in 2008 and Krause almost forgot about his other invention until 2011 when he had to clean some garden furniture. Krause dug out the sponge and was bowled over by its cleaning prowess. Thinking he was on to something big, the polishing pro went on the US Shark Tank TV show in 2012 to pitch the product.
The Sharks loved it. Krause bagged a $200,000 investment for 20% equity from Lori Greiner, who helped him garner deals with major retailers like QVC. Scrub Daddy is now America’s number one sponge, with total revenues topping $110 million, and its inventor is thought to be worth up to $70 million.