Finding just the right idea

   At some point in their life, almost everyone has come up with an idea that they were certain would make them a million dollars.
   And itís always a million dollars. Not $10,000 not $100,000, but a million. And thatís just for starters.
   The idea usually passes quickly. After a few minutes of daydreaming about what you would do with your thousands of employees and millions of dollars, the thoughts fade and you go back to the rigors of everyday life.
   In some cases the idea lasts for days before being put to a merciful death. The adrenaline spurs you to make inquiries, do a little research, and maybe bounce the idea off a friend or two. But sooner or later you lose momentum, and the brilliant idea is placed on the "back burner."
   Only rarely are ideas consummated. And most would have been better off endlessly stewing. For instance, my ex brother-in-law pursued one of his ideas. During the hoopla over random testing of government employeesí urine samples for drugs a few years ago, he came up with the brilliant idea of packaging a small bottle of yellow water with a picture of Ronald Reagan. Then he labeled it "American Pee" and waited for the orders from retailers to flow in.
   His initial manufacturing run was a conservative 500 bottles. He will be buried with 488 of them.
   Now up at the plate is another friend of mine, whom Iíll call Horatio, who has come up with dozens of ideas in my retail stores, so heís guaranteed at least one sale. (Who do you think bought the 12 bottles of "American Pee" from my ex-brother-in-law?)
  One of my stores is located in a strong tourist area of San Francisco. Over the years Horatio, sniffing opportunity, has forced me to buy the latest in his string of ideas. Items range from his "Gay Proclamations," whereby the purchaser (or his or heir designate) is deemed an "Honorary Gay San Franciscan," to an "Invoice" for the Golden Gate Bridge, which the purchaser can send to his friends (if any).
   Yes, a little tacky, but Horatio doesnít care Ė heís simply out to make a buck. So when he called a few months ago and seemed exceptionally pleasant to me on the phone, I knew he had a new idea and needed me.
   Horatio had decided that the route to fame, glory and, incidentally, millions, was from a machine that crushed a penny into the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge.
   The months went by and no one talked him out of going ahead. So Horatio found a machinist, and after much frustration, produced a vending machine that will take the customerís fifty cents and produce a crushed penny.
   Itís not a new concept, believe it or not. There are other machines out there that do the same thing, but Horatio claims his machine will crush the competition like a penny.
   Heís spent about $20,000 to build his prototype, far more than heís ever spent before on his ideas. But this is the one. If the first machine is successful, future machines will cost much less. Heíll crush the penny with an image of the Statue of Liberty for New York and a pineapple for Hawaii. His machines will be in every tourist spot, and Horatio will be drowning in a sea of quarters.
   But first it has to work in San Francisco. I had no desire to have it anywhere near any of my stores, but Horatio was very convincing. He told me I could write a column about the project and make him look as stupid as I like.
   I thanked him and accepted his offer. The machine is finally finished, and Horatio called to tell me heíd like to put it in this coming Wednesday. He is naturally very excited and optimistic about the prospects for success.
  And I donít think heís stupid. But he may be very disappointed with the results. The beauty of it all is that as you read this no one has any true idea how successful, or how unsuccessful, Horatio will be with his idea.
   Itís a classic story of small business in America. Horatio gave himself a chance, and thatís all he wants. Now itís time to find out if heís a success or a failure.
   Next week Iíll report on Horatioís "grand opening." Itís a tiny speck on the plate of life, but it is also the definition of capitalism and business.
   And no matter how small the stakes, I find that exciting.

 

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