An Idea I Had that Went Down the Drain
- Posted by James Altucher
I was in the process of separating from my ex-wife and the pain was bordering on suicidal. At the same time my whole family was moving into a new home right at the bottom of the worst housing crisis in the century. At the same time I owned a bunch of stocks and they were going down 10% a day. I needed to practice The Daily Practice but I freely admit its hardest to do at the exact moments you need to do it the hardest. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted to (needed to) start a new company. And I had an idea.
In the middle of a financial crisis nobody remembers that the acid rain is happening to everyone at the same time. The black snakes feel like they are poisoning only your brain and nobody else’s. The snakes in your head, the roaches in your stomach, the fog everywhere, conspire to keep you up in the middle of the night worrying and wondering. Agony.
I’d go on Erin Burnett’s show every Tuesday and pick three stocks. What a joke. My entire goal for the segment would be to make her laugh. She has the prettiest laugh on TV. I’d make her laugh for those three minutes, leave the show, and then look at my stocks. My mom would call me and say, “you did great”. But my stocks were down. Nothing mattered.
Paul Kedrosky wrote me one day and said someone at Goldman told him the entire financial system would be destroyed within three weeks. The stomach ache never went away. Eventually Erin Burnett’s show stopped having me on. I was also writing for the Financial Times every Tuesday. Eventually they stopped me.
I had other things going against me when it comes to starting a new company. For one thing, I had an actual job I was supposed to show up for but never did. I was still working for thestreet.com, having sold them stockpickr.com a year or so earlier. Every day I’d do videos for them.
One time I pretended to be puking outside the New York Stock Exchange. The whole video was me puking. It was fake, (I had drunk a lot of water and was pretending to vomit it) but it expressed how I felt. Kudos to thestreet.com for letting me do those videos. Or maybe the higher-ups had other things on their mind.
I also wrote the occasional article for them. But I never came to work. I never even got a pass that allowed me into the building. I was afraid to go into the office and talk to people. People would say “hi” and I’d say hi back and there was nowhere to run because it was all open cubicles. So I hadn’t been to the office in almost a year. I was definitely feeling all of the “10 reasons you need to quit your job right now”.
Tom Clarke, the CEO, would call me and say, “Cramer is asking where you are. He doesn’t like that you don’t come into the office.” But what could I say? I really couldn’t come into the office. I was afraid to run into people and I was getting the feeling nobody there liked me very much. [To be fair: 10 other things I learned working with Jim Cramer].
So with everything going against me I decided to do the one thing I knew how to do: start another company and see if I can gather enough smoke together to make people think there’s a fire.
Here’s the idea: Big companies spend a lot of money making video commercials they air on TV. I was watching a lot of “Mad Men” at the time. The episode where January Jones cheats on her husband with the guy in the bar killed me. She was so cold and she let him inside her just like that without a thought and then kicked him to the curb. I felt all hope was lost in everything when I saw that. But I couldn’t help myself from watching every episode twice.
Like everyone in the world now knows, the advertising industry is dead. And broadcast TV is dead. It only exists because people advertise. But advertising is dead. And nobody watches those commercials. Except for the Super Bowl, I bet you can’t remember any of the TV commercials you saw last night. Its like Borders Books or Blockbuster Video. We’re all watching a train wreck in slow motion. Which means there’s enormous opportunity.
People are obsessed with YouTube videos. A good YouTube video will get 20,000,000 views. More than any TV commercial will get.
So here’s the idea. “Crowd source” TV commercials. I put it in quotes because its one of those phrases that won’t exist in another year or two but it describes perfectly what I wanted to do.
I put up a website: junglesmash.com and said I would give out $2000 to anyone who could make a good commercial for Crest toothpaste. I picked Crest randomly. I had nothing to do with them and I didn’t contact them first. Nor did I consult a lawyer. Once you consult a lawyer you might as well sue yourself. They are going to give you bad advice and charge you $10,000 for it. And then you were grossly negligent to your own brain.
So if you wanted to win $2000 from me you just had to put the video up on youtube and send me the link. Then I would share the links on the website and people could discuss. Then I would pick the winner.
We got a lot of submissions and I put the best ones on the site. To show how good the idea is, Procter & Gamble, the makers of Crest, sent me an email with links to a bunch of videos. They wanted to submit videos!
The idea was these videos would be popular and I would do two contests a week and then I would call up the Procter & Gambles and JNJs of the world and say “How much will you give me to be the next company I would feature in a contest?” I’d auction off those two contest slots per week. Worst case, I’d consult for companies that wanted to crowdsource the development of their own commercials. I happen to think it’s still a good idea because there’s multiple ways it can win. And it costs almost nothing to do.
I got a lot of submissions and I couldn’t decide between my favorite two so I gave $1000 each to the two winners. A lot of people in the comments hated that. How could there be a tie? But its my money and I wrote two $1000 checks to these people so I could do whatever I wanted.
Here’s one of the winners: (if you don’t see the video below, click here)
I then picked the next brand. Monster Energy drinks. I picked them because there were already a lot of videos up on youtube for Monster Energy so I figured it would be easy for people to submit.
And many people did. Some of the videos are still on the junglesmash site.
(Here’s a Monster Energy video submission if you can’t see it below.)
Now I needed distribution. I called up the guys who wrote Freakonomics. I offered them a piece of the company if they would link to the site ever few weeks. They loved the idea and agreed. Here’s an article they wrote about it.
I had the ex-CTO of Digg calling my business partner, wanting to be CEO of the company. He thought he could get a lot of traffic for us. The idea was a good one and still is. Companies should crowdsource their ads. And some site should be the site in the middle offering contests for the best submissions.
But I was tired. I had too many things going on. I bought a hammock a few months earlier. I’d sit outside in the hammock reading comics while my stocks were going down, while thestreet.com was waiting for me to show up in my cubicle, while my marriage was ending, while the value of my house went to zero. For lunch I’d walk over to a museum (Dia) a few blocks away and read books about early 1900s photography. At night I often walked to a local bar and I had a little too much to drink. I was very unhappy.
One time at the local bar they turned on the TV and I watched Ylon come in third in the World Series of Poker. I told everyone at the bar I knew him! That’s Ylon! I tried calling him but he wasn’t returning my calls then. He was angry at me. [I didn't know why but now I do: see How to Lose All of Your Friends].
And then I had another business idea. And a $300 million hedge fund gave me some money to try it out. It was an arbitrage idea in the markets. But that’s another story.
As for junglesmash, I just let the site die. I didn’t even pick a winner for the Monster Energy videos. I probably broke some law since I promised a winner. I don’t know why I let it die. Everyone I spoke to thought it was a fun idea. The fact that P & G called showed that it was getting corporate interest. People kept submitting videos. And I only gave it a full go for one video.
But sometimes when you are crashing down, lots of things get lost. You have to clean out the good with the bad. A year later, everything was different. And now three years later, I can write about it. Too bad Erin no longer does that show.
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