I'm in the business of making crazy ideas happen. In 2008, I started a business based on the notion of getting paid to wear t-shirts for companies. I was told repeatedly that I was crazy, and that my idea would never be profitable. When I sold out my first year, I was told it was just a flash in a pan, and I'd be out of business in no time.
Here we are four years later, and I'm still making money doing what I love.
So when my brain cooked up its next big move a few months ago -- selling my last name to the highest bidder -- I wasn't surprised when my friends, family, and a few mentors reacted with skepticism. Because I love skepticism. It's what fuels me, and what tells me I'm doing something that is worth being talked about.
Why I'm Doing It
Earlier this year, when I found out my mom would be going through a divorce, it made me realize that I didn't want to carry the last name 'Sadler' anymore. It was then that the idea suddenly hit me -- I've built my entire business and social media community around my personality. That kind of awareness could be extremely valuable to a brand trying to get their name out there. So rather than change my name to something random, why not give a company the opportunity to buy some unique exposure? That's when BuyMyLastName.com was born.
If you're in the business of marketing, uncomfortable can be a great thing, because it means people have an opinion. And when people have an opinion, they talk about that opinion. The more people talk, the more my business extends its reach and the more valuable my last name becomes as potential ad space. My advice to any startup or business hoping to stand out from the crowd: Explore and embrace the uncomfortable.
But how do you go from brainstorming a crazy idea to actually making it happen?
6 Steps for Launching a "Crazy" Idea
1. Test the waters with your personal network. I started by bringing up the idea up to a few close friends, my co-workers, and my family. No matter what the reaction was, whether it was enthusiasm, laughter, disbelief, or skepticism, every person was surprised and every person instantly wanted to know more about the idea. That was indication enough for me to try and put the idea to paper.
2. Get what you don't or won't do on paper first. I immediately wrote down a few things that I wouldn't change my name to. When you have an idea of any kind, I find it easiest to outline the things you don't want to do, won't do, or want to keep out of a project. That way, you know your boundaries up front, and you're free to move forward confidently.
3. Set pricing strategy in accordance with goals. How do you price a unique item (in this case, my name)? My instincts pointed me toward an auction, as that in itself becomes part of the marketing for the project.
4. Plan your PR strategy early and build buzz in advance. I originally wanted to start BuyMyLastName.com in September, but realized I wouldn't stand a chance at getting media attention with all the election coverage. It's important to exercise a bit of marketing patience, even when selling something outrageous -- like your name. That gave me a bit more time to create wireframes for the website, get the design done, work with a developer to build the site from scratch, and create some buzz with a pre-launch email list (thank you Mailchimp) teasing people about an unnamed new project I was working on.
When you're known for unique marketing ideas, people always want to know what the next crazy thing is. This is part of the hidden, residual value of creativity in business.
5. Start marketing to your existing client base. This goes without saying, but if you're launching a new product, your existing network is the place to begin. I had an existing email list for IWearYourShirt that I invited to sign up for the the pre-launch BuyMyLastName.com list. I spent about two months building buzz and ended up with 500+ subscribers.
While building the list, I sent weekly emails with fun clues and responded to every email that came in with guesses or questions about the project. I didn't tell anyone what the project was; I just told people I was up to something. The pre-launch goal with any project is to build so much anticipation that people are sure to "show up" on launch day.
6. Coordinate social messaging on a variety of platforms. Once my predetermined launch day approached, people were tweeting, emailing, commenting on Facebook, and sending me text messages trying to get the inside scoop. I emailed my pre-launch list first with the details of BuyMyLastName.com, a link to the site, and a few sentences about the project. I then put up a series of coordinated status updates on social media.
And then I waited.
It took two minutes to receive the first bid ($11) for my new last name. People were saying I was crazy, a genius, weird, silly, and on and on, validation of my initial thoughts that it would get people talking. With all the social media chatter, the auction price kept going up. After 300+ tweets and over 150 Facebook posts about BuyMyLastName.com in the first 12 hours, the bidding was up to $10,000, then $15,000. By the end of the day Friday (November 2nd), I had been asked to do three interviews, and the bidding had increased to $33,333.
So what do I want to get out of this whole thing? Why is this a good move? First, I believe in doing something different. I believe in businesses that understand different is what makes people pay attention.
Two, my hope is that a company not only wins the auction because they see the value in this, but they also see the legs this idea could have down the road in bringing me to different events, being a part of other marketing initiatives, and keeping the momentum going. I'm also donating 10 percent of the final auction price to charity (CheerfulGivers.org), and that's another incentive to keep spreading the word about the project.
Regardless of what happens come December 12th, I'll always be proud of the fact that did something surprising. That is what I try to do in all facets of my business, and it's what my clients continue to benefit from.
And hey, if nothing else, call this just another chapter in my life of selling weird things!
Jason Sadler, Official T-Shirt Wearer at IWearYourShirt, hasn't always been wearing T-shirts for a living, but has always been creative. Fox Business has called him the "Entrepreneur of the Century."
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.