Everyone has moments when they think they've come up with a great new idea that will get them rich. Some of the richest inventors created some of the best products of all time, while others took common-sense ideas and turned them into something functional. Read on to learn how rich you would be if you could change places with these inventors, and understand what it's really like to be an entrepreneur. You might be surprised at how much, or how little, they earned from their inventions.
If You Invented K-Cups
- You'd be worth at least $166,500 today
If you’re someone who always needs coffee, you’re probably familiar with K-Cups. These single-serve coffee packages are manufactured and sold for use in Keurig coffee makers. Simply pop the K-Cup in the Keurig and a cup of coffee is on its way.
Despite the popularity of K-Cups, John Sylvan, their inventor, never got rich off his idea. In 1997 he sold his stake in the company he founded for only $50,000. Assuming average S&P 500 rates of return, that money would have grown to just $166,500 today. Worse, Sylvan says he sometimes feels bad about the invention because K-Cups aren’t recyclable.
After Sylvan parted ways with the company, Keurig machines spread to office kitchens and home counters rapidly. In the 2015 fiscal year, which is the last year before the company was taken private by JAB Holding Co., Keurig sold 10.5 billion K-Cups, and K-Cups accounted for $3.64 billion in revenue.
If You Invented Valve Technology for Ketchup Bottles
- You'd be worth at least $53.95 million today
If you’re old enough to remember ketchup bottles before Paul Brown’s invention, you know how difficult and frustrating it could be to try to get the ketchup out. Brown invented a valve that releases the ketchup when the bottle is squeezed and closes when the bottle isn’t being squeezed anymore.
Paul Brown sold his company, Liquid Molding Systems Inc. for $13 million in 1995. If you had invested the money in the S&P 500, it would have grown to $53.95 million by now. In Brown’s case, after the sale he paid back all the people who lent him money and acquired some real estate. Inventing something is a great and realistic way to make your first $1 million.
If You Invented Super Soakers
- You'd be worth at least $72.9 million today
If you’re of a certain age and ever had a water gun fight in the backyard, chances are you’ve played with one of Lonnie Johnson’s inventions: the Super Soaker. Johnson didn’t have the cash to get his invention to market, so he licensed his patent to Larami Corp., which was later purchased by the toy company Hasbro. The details aren't public, but Johnson did tell Forbes he received royalties on Super Soaker sales, and that sales topped $1 billion between 1992 and 1995.
The royalties paid over the lifetime of the deal isn’t known. This much is known, however: In 2016, Lonnie Johnson was awarded $72.9 million in a dispute over Super Soaker royalties from 2007 to 2012.
If You Invented GoPro
- You'd be worth at least $990 million today
In 2004, Nick Woodman began selling the Hero, a waterproof, 35mm film camera that mounted on a user’s wrist. He started out with $30,000 in savings and $235,000 in loans from his parents. Since then, GoPro has taken off as one of the most popular cameras for taking pictures while skydiving, surfing, racing and participating in other extreme sports.
Today, Woodman’s net worth is estimated at $990 million. That's actually much lower than his peak valuation, when his shares in GoPro had a market value of $4.5 billion. Layoffs and disappointing earnings have caused GoPro’s stock price to drop in recent years, reducing his net worth.
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If You Invented Spanx
- You'd be worth at least $1.13 billion today
In 1998, Sara Blakely cut the feet out of a pair of pantyhose to create a smooth look for her underwear, and the idea for Spanx was born. Blakely hit the ground running, calling manufacturers, creating prototypes and patenting her idea. Her business really took off when Oprah named Spanx her product of the year. Today, Blakely's story of how she got rich is legendary.
Blakely still owns 100 percent of the company she launched with only $5,000. Forbes puts Blakely’s net worth at $1.13 billion as of October 2017. Blakely has also given millions away through the foundation she started. She has pledged to give at least half of her wealth to charity.
If You Invented Beanie Babies
- You'd be worth at least $2.6 billion today
Ty Warner created Beanie Babies, a plush toy that took off in the 1990s. The soft stuffed animals became must-have items every time a new one was released or an existing model was "retired." Each Beanie Baby had its own name, poem and birthday, and sold for a very low price of just $5.
Today, Warner’s net worth is estimated at $2.6 billion. The exact amount of money that Beanie Babies generated is hard to quantify because Warner has expanded his wealth through real estate investments, such as the $120 million he invested in the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. His net worth also took a hit from almost $70 million in back taxes and penalties for tax evasion Warner needed to pay.
If You Invented Snapchat
- You'd be worth at least $7 billion today
When Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy met at Stanford University in 2010, they probably had no idea how rich they would become just a few years later. In 2011 the pair co-founded Picaboo, a picture-sharing app that would later be renamed Snapchat.
The parent company, Snap Inc., went public in March of 2017. Speigel, the CEO who owns about 18 percent of the company, is estimated to be worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes. Murphy also owns about 18 percent of the company and has a similar net worth.
If You Invented WhatsApp
- You'd be worth at least $9.7 billion today
In 2009, Jan Koum cofounded WhatsApp and grew it into the largest mobile messaging app in the world. WhatsApp didn’t sell ads. Instead, it charged users 99 cents to install the app on iPhones or 99 cents per year for Androids.When Facebook bought WhatsApp for $22 billion in cash and stock in 2014, Koum became much richer.
According to Forbes, Koum is now worth about $9.7 billion, with most of his net worth coming from his interest in WhatsApp, though he did work for Yahoo! prior to founding his own company. His net worth would be even higher had he not donated $555 million worth of stock to charity in 2014.
If You Invented Red Bull
- You'd be worth at least $34.3 billion today
If you need extra energy for an all-nighter or an afternoon pick-me-up, Red Bull has you covered. The energy drink company says Red Bull is available in more than 170 countries, with over 6 billion cans sold.
Red Bull was created by two inventors, Chaleo Yoovidhya and Dietrich Mateschitz, who teamed up in 1987. Yoovidhya’s heirs’ fortune is estimated to be worth approximately $22 billion, while Mateschitz’s interest in the company is estimated to be worth $12.3 billion. If you had invented Red Bull and built the marketing machine behind its worldwide success, you could have a fortune of over $34 billion today.
If You Invented Facebook
- You'd be worth at least $72.6 billion today
Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook and then dropped out of Harvard at age 19. Since its founding, Facebook has grown to boast more than 20,000 employees, 1.32 billion active daily users and more than 2 billion monthly active users.
Facebook went public in 2012 and Zuckerberg still owns 17 percent of the company. His net worth is estimated to be $72.6 billion, even after all of his charitable contributions, and still rising thanks to Facebook's stock performance. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to give 99 percent of their Facebook stock to charity over their lifetimes.