I watched the 20/20 story last night on Kyle MacDonald's quest to trade "one red paperclip" for a house. The story is another testimony to the power of the Web as both a commerce machine (the very first trade -- a paperclip for a pen -- was facilitated on Craig's List) and PR Machine (how else would he end up on 20/20 and every other traditional media outlet you can imagine). But it is also a great story about resourcefulness and salesmanship.
I recently participated in a great event in NYC called the VentureVoice Workshop, put on by Greg Gallant and the team from the fantastic podcast VentureVoice. One of my fellow "instructors" in the workshop was a really impressive young entrepreneur named Tom Szaky. Tom is the CEO of TerraCycle, a company producing organic plan food and pesticide products, made and packaged entirely from waste. It is a product that literally has a negative ecological footprint -- by buying it you are helping the world. But, as Tom made clear, he is entrepreneur to make money first and save the world a distant second.
I was reminded of Tom's discussion of entrepreneurship by the One Red Paperclip story because Tom has managed to build his company by begging, borrowing and bartering. The initial funding for TerraCycle was won, in part, on the business plan competition circuit. Tom entered 6 business plan competitions, taking second in his first effort but winning each of the 5 subsequent competitions. That added up to thousands of string-free dollars. He got his furniture and computers from local universities that were upgrading offices and dorm rooms (they were thrilled to give the stuff to Tom because they would otherwise have had to pay for the equipment and furniture to be hauled away). He built his office and factory off the beaten path (in Trenton rather than NYC) to save on rent. He packages his product in recycled bottles that he gets for free. And Tom and the company are PR machines -- they get all their best marketing for free (check out all this press coverage thanks to a super charasmatic founder, clever marketing gimiks and a great product to talk about).
Sure, it is impressive to manage to trade up from a single paperclip to a house. But it is more impressive still to build a multi-million dollar corporation on a bunch of free worm poop, recycled soda bottles and the will to succeed.