Lean Startup

Wackiest Home-Based Businesses of 2008

This year’s winner of the light-hearted category not only gave us a chuckle but made us pause for a moment and ask, “is this for real?!”

Each year, StartupNation pays homage to the finest, the most outstanding home-based businesses in America. We hand out kudos to the top financial “phenoms,” recession busters who’ve grown even in this economy, the greenest businesses and their sustainable practices, and the most innovative who reflect that incredible creative American entrepreneurs are known for.

But we don’t take things completely seriously around here. In fact, just for fun, we also rank the Top Ten Wackiest home-based businesses in America.

This year’s winner of the light-hearted category not only gave us a chuckle but made us pause for a moment and ask, “is this for real?!”

Familiarize yourself with Surrogacy Abroad, our 2008 #1 Wackiest. They’re in the womb outsourcing business. That’s right – they rent wombs in India to people in the U.S. who wish to utilize surrogacy as a way to carry and give birth to a baby.

At first blush, you might think this is crazy. But that probably would have been your reaction, too, 30 years back if we told you that you could outsource your answering service to India.

The Chicago-based service, conceived by Benhur Sampson, is simply providing a twist on what is a growing domestic business – surrogacy. His primary angle is that the costs are 1/3 what they are domestically.

The total average price for a Surrogacy Abroad birth is about $35,000. According to website Adoption.com, this is quite a savings. The site says that a gestational surrogacy can normally run between $75,000 and $100,000. At Surrogacy Abroad, you pay $18,500 up front and then the rest of the fee as the pregnancy progresses. Sampson can even set up a financing plan for expecting parents, if that’s preferred.

Wackiest (But Onto Something)

But the company isn’t just pushing price. The venture, launched earlier this year, offers psychological assessments of potential surrogates. It promises that the Indian women who have your baby will be between 25 and 35 years of age and already have their own children as confirmation that they’re capable of, …er…, delivering.

The company has a team of doctors at the ready in India and stresses that the life choice of having a baby is no light matter. “Our motto at Surrogacy Abroad is to provide the latest updated technology and expertise with the help of world class equipment and personalized care for the alleviation from the suffering of infertile couples,” says the company’s website.

Infertility can plague women with health problems and those who might be a bit past the age range for child bearing. The service can also assist homosexual couples who want to have children.

The only catch? You have to travel to India for three weeks to undergo tests and other physical evaluations. But that’s a small price to pay to start a family, no?

Issues we’re most concerned with have to do with citizenship of the newborn, transport of the infant at such an early age, and accountability given the distance and cultural chasm that may exist.

Having said that, as wacky as it may sound initially, we think Sampson is onto something here… fertile ground, you might say.

Other Worthy Wacky Top Tens

The contestants for Top Ten Wackiest this year were extraordinary. Running a close second behind Surrogacy Abroad was Phoenix, AZ-based Dollar Hot Dogs. As half-baked as it may sound, David Tischler, the company’s visionary founder makes hot dogs to order, garnished and all, and will express mail the wiener to you on one condition: that you have a southward facing mailbox. Tischler underscores just how important it is that the radiant heat of the sun keep that dog warm until you fetch the mail. Fresh idea, but not so fresh hot dogs. Completely wacky!

Then there’s #3 this year, for which we were able to provide only a cropped photo. Aaron Block’s NFN Travel International earned Wackiest recognition not because the business is a travel agency, but because it’s a clothing optional and nude vacation specialty business.  Can you just imagine the market research? We joked during our judging that there were insufficient editorial “briefs” available. Wacky, maybe, but smart, definitely. Niche target marketing at its best.

We’d be remiss in not including mention of a few more Wackiest winners, such as Final Ride Productions, which makes urns for your loved one’s ashes that attach to the back of your Harley. There’s also Soul’s Calling, the ecommerce site whose owner, Gina Cotroneo actually hugs each box before shipping so as to transfer positive energy to the ultimate recipient.

How about Spider Pharm, where Charles Kristensen is “founder” as well as “milker”? We’re talking spiders, centipedes, scorpions – anything with venom that can be harvested for therapeutic applications in the medical and research fields. Finally, consider Mix Match Shoes, an etailer that offers single shoes for sale instead of pairs. Nancy Archambeau created the company for amputees and people with different sized feet. But our twisted minds kept thinking of the character with two left feet in the movie, Best in Show.

Interestingly, as you review the Top Ten, you realize that most of the winners are indeed Wacky at first glance, but each has merit and legitimacy as real, high potential businesses. Maybe the takeaway should be, Don’t be afraid to go after something that sounds outrageous – it just might work.

If nothing else, it’ll get you some good press!

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