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Accidental Millionaires and Billionaires: Inside Look at Their Stories

World Money
Accidental Millionaires and Billionaires: Inside Look at Their Stories


Sometimes, even the craziest ideas when marketed and executed correctly can become giant hits with the public. When this rare occurrence happens, it creates accidental millionaires and billionaires and these people get rewarded for running with their odd and bizarre ideas.

These folks inspire other people to pursue their dreams and to create opportunities for themselves. Here are the ten most inspirational accidental millionaires/billionaires in the last century:

#1. Richard and Betty James (Slinky)

The year was 1943 when Richard James, a Navy tool worker from Philadelphia, saw a spring coil fall off a table in his workshop and the idea of the beloved toy Slinky was born. The word “slinky” was discovered by his wife in a dictionary which meant sleek and sinuous in Swedish. The couple spent the next two years developing and creating the first Slinky prototype.

On Christmas of 1945, the couple sold the first 400 units of the Slinky for $1 in a Gimbel’s Department Store and within the first hour of hitting the shelves, the Slinky was sold out.

The profits were funneled into creating James Industries and the company has produced and sold more than 250 million Slinkies worldwide. Richard James almost bankrupted the company after making large donations to a religious cult which he joined in 1960, leaving his family and the company he founded.

Betty James remained with the business and oversaw the addition of new Slinky products. She was inducted in the Toy Hall of Fame in 2001.

#2. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

It is no secret that Facebook began in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard University dorm room and the rest, as they say, is history. Facebook is now the most widely used social networking platform in the world, with over 800 million users. Earlier this year, Facebook went public on a whopping $5 billion IPO though the value of its stocks have tumbled since then.

Mark Zuckerberg is one of the richest CEOs in Silicon Valley today, with an estimated net worth of $12.1 billion.

#3. Catherine, Dave and George Cook (MyYearbook.com)

The Cook siblings were just your average high school students until they came up with the idea of a social networking platform that was essentially a virtual high school yearbook. The idea came up during a regular dinner at home. They were able to convince their older brother, Geoff, to invest $250,000 of his startup’s funds to finance the development of the website.

The idea quickly took off and MyYearbook.com sees over 20 million unique visitors per month. Catherine is now a college student and describes herself as an ordinary nerdy teenager. Dave is a high school senior who also commands a staff of Web 2.0 developers and oversees the operations of the website along with his older brother. It is estimated that MyYearbook.com is now worth over $20 million.

#4. Carole Nash (Carole Nash Insurance Consultants)

When Carole Nash was laid-off from her receptionist job at 42, she received a portfolio of motorcycle insurance policies as her severance package. She then took advantage of an untapped motorcycle insurance market and she began operating in the early 1980s from her dining room table.

Carole Nash Insurance Consultants became one of the largest high-end motorcycle insurance companies in the United Kingdom, with over 240,000 policies at its peak. At the age of 66, Carole Nash retired and sold her company to Groupama for $100 million.

#5. Thales Panagides (Mar Egeu Export)

Thales Panagides graduated from an MBA program from Ball State University in Indiana and soon after, he found himself in the beaches of Fortaleza, Brazil to help out in his cousin’s Internet service company. The company eventually left the idyllic beach life and moved to Palo Alto, California. He found himself longing for the beaches of Brazil and he looked for other opportunities outside of the dot-com industry.

He stumbled upon bikinis and as a test of its viability as an export product, he started selling 10 bikinis on eBay. Within 24 hours, he had seven active buyers and he knew that he was on to something. Thales Panagides in now in the business of wholesale exporting and his company is now the largest distributor of Brazilian bikinis in the world, with retailers selling in over 41 countries.

#6. Michelle Phan (Entrepreneur)

Who thought that uploading make up tutorials on YouTube can be a lucrative business? Certainly not Michelle Phan who is still baffled with the massive popularity that she gained. Michelle Phan was an active blogger. After her readers requested that she post make up tutorials, she came up with the idea to simply upload videos instead of writing her instructions.

She has since earned over $1.5 million from her videos which fulfilled her dream of easing her mother into retirement. She is now a spokesperson for Lancôme and she has other projects with make up companies in the pipeline.

#7-8. Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen (CollegeHumor.com)

Josh and Ricky are good friends who love making each other, and other people laugh. When they went to separate universities for college, they created a website to help them keep in touch with each other and to help them have an online venue to post funny pictures, gags and pranks that they will both enjoy. Soon, they were emailing links of their content to their friends and classmates and CollegeHumor.com was born.

The site now has millions in unique page views and lucrative advertising and merchandising sales. By 2005, Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen moved to a swanky 4,200 square foot loft in Manhattan and just recently, Josh Abramson purchased a $1.98 million condominium unit.

#9-10. Jude Gomila and Immad Akhund (Heyzap)

Jude Gomila and Immad Akhund has been friends since they were 13 and both shared a common passion for video games. After following each other to San Francisco after graduating from the University of Cambridge, they came up with an idea of an online destination where distributors can release their games. Their original idea eventually evolved into what Heyzap is now, a social gaming app that allows its users to check into games, see what their friends are playing and read tips on game play.

They now have 10 employees to help maintain an app that has been downloaded by over 6 million smartphone users around the world. Their projected revenue for this year is $10 million, almost five times more than what they earned last year.

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