Back in 2015, Alex Craig, a then 24-year-old mobile app developer from Dallas, Texas, stumbled on the unusual, and as it turns out, genius, idea of creating a business built around the very humble (but very profitable) potato. What would happen, Craig wondered, if he offered customers the chance to add a customized message to a potato, and then arranged for that same potato to be sent to the recipient of their choice? As it turned out, what would happen would be that Craig would create a highly profitable business that within less than a year, would be turning profits of $20,00-$25000 thousand a month.
1. It would never have happened without Reddit
Had it not been for Reddit, Potato Parcel creator Alex Craig’s light bulb moment may never have happened. It was while browsing the site that he stumbled upon the day’s top post, a picture of a potato that someone had stuck some stamps on and mailed. Within 4 hours, the post had 2 million views… giving Andy an idea that would turn into gold. “It was then I thought if enough people found humor in this concept, that they’d be willing to pay for it,” he’s said. “I took the concept of mailing a potato further by allowing fully customized and anonymous messages to be written on a potato. My girlfriend and I had plans to go on a date, but I bailed on that to make the website instead”.
2. It took $2000 within its first 2 days
When Andy Craig told his friends and family about his plan to build a business writing on potatoes, most of them dismissed it as a crazy idea. He quickly proved them wrong, and in just two days, he’d pulled in over $2000 in orders. The success wasn’t just a flash in the pan, either; by 2016, the company was generating sales of between $10-$13,000 per month.
3. Riad Bekhit bought the company for $40,000
By late 2015, Craig’s business was attracting interest- and not just from customers. In a deal worth a reported $40,000, the business was sold to entrepreneur Riad Bekhit. As a condition of the sale, Craig insisted on introducing a clause in the contract that if the business ever appeared on Shark Tank (a longstanding dream of his), he would get to appear alongside Bekhit as the founder, as well as receive a royalty deal and automatic appointment to the board of directors if they were offered a deal with a Shark. As luck would have it…
4. They wore potato suits on Shark Tank
As anyone who saw their appearance on Shark Tank will know, Bekhit and Craig caused quite the reaction when they entered the tank dressed in potato suits. The laughter quickly died down when the Sharks heard about the 2,000 potato messages and $215,000 in sales the company had already generated. As B2C notes, Kevin O’Leary was the first to put forward a deal: $50,000 for 10 percent, initially sharing in Craig’s $1 royalty at 50 cents, before increasing to a $1 royalty after 60 days. Robert Herjavec countered O’Leary’s offer with $50,000 for 25 percent, but ultimately, O’Leary proved the winner.
5. Potato Parcel is one of O’Leary’s favorite investments
Since investing in Potato Parcel, O’Leary has said it’s one of his top five all-time favorite investments. The millionaire is known for investing in slightly left-field ventures, with some of his most unusual investments including IllumiBowl (a motion-sensor toilet light), and Wicked Good Cupcakes (cupcakes in a mason jar).
6. It’s not the only vegetable messaging service
No doubt inspired by the success of Potato Parcel, numerous other budding entrepreneurs have started getting in on the vegetable action. If you live in Australia, you may want to avail yourself of the services of Potato Messenger, a company in the same vein as Potato Parcel that made quite the name for itself when it mailed 1000 potatoes arranged as the rainbow flag to Parliament House- a stunt that managed to protest for marriage equality and do a stellar job at promoting the brand at the same time. Elsewhere, there’s Bananas Gone Wild and Eggplant Mail, which, as you’ve probably guessed, do a fine line in personalized bananas and eggplants respectively.
7. It divided public opinion
While some took to the idea of personalized potatoes like ducks to water (Elliot Volkman from Tech Cocktail expressed the thoughts of many when he called it "the perfect way to tell people exactly how you feel”), others were slightly less enamored. ‘It's the new glitter-bombing, but way more depressing’ Tess Koman summed up in Cosmopolitan.
8. You can’t eat the product
If you received a potato in the post, you’d think you’d be free to eat it (after an appropriate amount of time appreciating its message, of course). But apparently not. Potato Parcel would rather you didn’t tuck into their products, citing concern for your health as the primary reason.
9. They’ve extended their product range
Potato Parcel’s original business plan may have revolved 100% around the humble potato, but these days, it’s extended its reach into any avenue that has the potential to bring in revenue. Spend a few minutes on their online shop and you’ll find more potato related merchandise than you knew existed, from bikinis and socks emblazoned with potatoes to mugs, hats, and bags decorated with fries. Basically, if they can find something to stick a picture of a potato on and charge a few bucks over the retail value, that’s what they’ll do.
10. They’re saving the world, one potato at a time
It may sound a fun, simple idea that’s not harming anyone, but break it down, and what Potato Parcel is actually doing is taken valuable food resources and wasting them. It may sound a harsh summation, but Potato Parcel would be the first to agree. Hence, no doubt, why they’ve agreed to donate one potato for every one potato sold to local food banks. They also issue consumers with the sage advice to plant their potato once it’s reached the end of its life to grow more potatoes of their own.
11. Your secrets aren’t safe
Potato Parcel likes to see itself as a harmless bit of capitalist fun. Ask them to write anything that could be perceived as vaguely offensive on their potatoes, and like the good protectors of our sensitive souls they are, they’ll likely decline the request. If you do manage to slip past their security, don’t think you’re home and dry just yet. If anyone takes exception to the message you send, Potato Parcel will happily wash their hands clean of the entire affair and hand over your details- how that washes in the age of data protection, I’m not sure.
12. They’re going global
Since starting as a small US operation, Potato Parcel has extended its operations significantly, and now ships to Australia, Canada, Europe, and the UK. Global domination is surely on the cards, just as soon as the rest of the world catches up to the fact that a $13.99 potato is A Good Thing.
13. They sent 150 potatoes to the NBA
In March 2018, the NBA was abuzz with gossip after various players suddenly began posting pictures to social media of the potatoes that had mysteriously arrived in their mailbox. First up was Dirk Nowitzki, swiftly followed by Frank Kaminsky, Kevin Durant, and Hassan Whiteside. By the end of that day, around 150 NBA players had all owned up to being a little confused over their unexpected gift. Eventually, Potato Parcel confessed to being the masterminds behind what turned out to be an incredibly effective piece of advertising. “It’s just really cool,” Bekhit told USA Today. “To see it in the public eye with these players, that’s the beauty of the digital age. To get in touch with people who were unreachable, it’s really cool”.
14. It lets you be as anonymous as you like
Want to let someone special know they’ve got a secret admirer, or let someone else know that they really haven’t? With Potato Parcel you can. If you want to keep quiet about your identity, Potato Parcel will support you all the way (unless you say something really mean and spark a complaint, that is). The company will only show their address as the return address and will keep any other details such as your name and email address strictly confidential. If you’re happy enough for the recipient to know who their potato is from, you’ll just need to make sure to include your name in the message.
15. Emoji are fines, pictures are less so
If you fancy having a picture drawn on your potato, then tough luck. While Bekhit can do great things with his trusty Pilot G2 gel roller, this doesn’t extend to drawing pictures of your mom or bringing your cat’s image to life on a potato. If you really can’t resist prettying up your potato with some extra personalization, he can stretch to an emoji or two if pushed. It will, however, mean you might need to give up on your 130-character allowance.
16. Their potatoes come from Walmart
If you thought Potato Parcel’s potatoes were some specially grown, rare breed variety that have to be bought for huge sums from some exclusive little farm, prepare to be disappointed. Bekhit sources his potatoes from none other than Walmart- given that their average 10 lb bag comes for just over $3, you can understand why the company is making such huge profits for its $13+ plus samples.
17. They create personalized gifts
If you want to create a unique gift for clients or employees that they’re guaranteed to remember, look no further than Potato Parcel. The company is happy to work with you directly to create a personal package of potato related goodies that can serve as anything from a housewarming gift to a thank you present.
18. It wasn’t the first of its kind
Potato Parcel may be the most well-known potato messaging service, but it missed out on being the first by a whisker. In January 2014, Sean Din launched Mail A Spud, a very similar company that revolved around the premise “that everyone could use a potato every now and then”. The company is still going strong but now differentiates itself from its young pretender by advertising itself as the “original mail a potato”. The products are slightly cheaper than Potato Parcel (around $11 per potato), but if you’re a fan of potato inscribed bikinis, you’ll need to stick to Potato Parcel for now.
19. Its success runs on surprise
According to Bekhit, the success of Parcel Potato is largely down to the surprise element involved. “It’s the art of surprise,” he explained to The Guardian. “The messages can be anonymous so when people open the package and it says ‘happy birthday’, ‘I miss you’, ‘I love you’, people get a real kick out of it because it’s something they haven’t seen before.”
20. They ran a limited edition “Trump” potato
Back in 2016, Potato Parcel ran very special “presidential’ edition of their famous offering, giving its customers the chance to buy a potato bearing a picture of President Trump, and then customize it with whatever message they felt most appropriate.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee