Posts Tagged ‘million dollar homepage’

True Internet Story: SmashMyViper.com

Wow, I sit here today on March 10th, 2009, realizing I’ve been holding myself back from writing this post since I started my blog a couple years ago.  I always wanted to write the full story of how the idea came about, what we actually did on our end to get things going, and what the outcome was.  So here’s my story.

How Did SmashMyViper Start?

It was 2005, and like most people, I came across a site named The Million Dollar Homepage.  A kid from England by the name of Alex Tew had started the site where he created a million pixel grid that was split up into 10,000 100×100 pixel boxes.  In each box he would sell an image advertisement for $100 (essentially $1 per pixel since there were 100 pixels in each square).  Sounds a bit stupid, but Alex got lucky and it caught on.  His site had a snowball effect, it started getting linked around, people/companies started buying advertising, then some press would cover it, and more people/companies would buy advertising.  This kept happening, and he actually sold all of the pixels on the page, yes a million dollars worth:

Million Dollar Homepage screenshot

One of my best friends (and roommate at the time) Jason and I had seen the site back when it had barely sold any of the million pixels…but right at the time where it was starting to catch on.  We’d go to it a couple times a day to see if made any more money, but it was really the only reason we were going back to the site.

So we sat and we thought, how can take a concept of this site, but make it better.  How can we make it so that people will actually want to come back to the site?  Million Dollar Homepage was cool, but it had barely any retention level.  We went through a ton of ideas, most of which were pretty stupid – but then one came out that started to make some sense.

Not too long before we were sitting there thinking, Jason had purchased a 93 RT/10 Dodge Viper.  While it was absolutely pristine, and had low miles (20,000), the car was actually a lot cheaper than most people would guess.  People that didn’t know cars thought it was basically a new car, he could say he paid $150,000 for it, and people didn’t hesitate to believe him.  What they didn’t know was that he paid around $30,000 for it.  Still a lot of money for a car from 1993, but in all relativeness, it’s one of the best bang for buck supercars you can buy.

So back to us thinking about what we can do…one of us threw out the idea of destroying the Viper.  I mean, people would see that, right?  We both knew we would.  The car is super rare, it’s a dream car to many, if somebody was willing to destroy one people would come see, and we thought it was crazy enough that the press would be dying to write about it.  That’s where the concept for SmashMyViper started, but I’d like to talk about the more detailed aspects of getting started and how the official plan came about.

The Official Plan

How It Would Work

We knew we had to destroy the Viper, but there were also 10,000 opportunities on the pixel grid…so we knew we couldn’t do it all at one time.  We started to think of some ideas of how we would could elongate the process of damaging the car, but still make it interesting to people.  We came up with a tiered system that worked like this:

  • $100 – 1 square of advertising – key the car
  • $400 – 4 squares of advertising – drill the car
  • $1,000 – 10 squares of advertising – throw an item of your choice under 5lbs, plus the advertiser gets a small decal on the car
  • $2,500 – 25 squares of advertising – hit the car with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, plus the advertiser gets a bigger decal on the car
  • $5,000 – 50 squares of advertising – you name it (with our approval), plus the advertisers gets a bigger decal on the car

While MillionDollarHomepage strictly had the advertisements on the grid, I wanted to do something to benefit the advertisers a little more.  I made it so that when you hover over any of the ads (even if it was a small one), a bigger ad would show up.  This would allow even the guys spending $100 to potentially get some more clicks to their sites.

Hover over ad

On top of all these tiers, any advertiser could get one of our “SmashMyViper Girls” to do the damage for an extra $100.  We also planned to do a variety of picture galleries and videos to entice people to come back and check it out.  We ended up with the ultimate site for guys, we had hot chicks, hot cars, and destruction…what more could you want.

The Car

$30,000 was a high investment, especially for two guys straight out of college, renting a townhouse.  Yeah, we had some cool toys, but we’re not loaded.  So we started to think of ways we could do this while lower our risk.  We pitched the idea to a potential investors, which happened to be my ex-step father.  He liked the concept, so we also pitched it to his accountant, who also liked it.  So what were we asking for?

We wanted them to purchase a Viper of the same style, as well as pay for some miscellaneous expenses that we knew we would need to incur.  They agreed to this, and we went out on the search for the perfect car…and came up with a great solution.  We found a 94 RT/10 red Dodge Viper in Utah that had something like 130,000 miles on it.  While 130,000 miles isn’t uncommon for a vehicle from 1994, it’s extremely uncommon on a car like a Viper (in fact, I’ve still yet to see one with higher miles).  We picked the car up for about $22,000, and had it shipped to the house.  While it had high mileage, it looked pristine.  We had a local friend with an 02 GTS Viper who just replaced his aftermarket BBS wheels with another set, so we also picked the BBS wheels up from him for about $1,500.  Why do that you ask?  The OEM three-spoke wheels on a 1st generation Viper like we had just looked too outdated.  The rest of the car looks great, and we wanted most people to believe it was a lot more expensive than it was.

The Viper

Other Stuff Needed

We picked up a few other things that we needed, 2 DV video cameras, a nice tripod, microphone, some lighting, and a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  We tried to do everything on a shoestring budget.  I built the website myself, so that definitely saved some money.  We also used ImageShack to host all of our pictures, we didn’t want to be stuck paying extravagant hosting fees if the site had blown up.  Another one of my best friends, Ryan, who goes by the name of “SplitVizionz” produced an official theme song for us that we would use in all of our videos.  We wanted to create a brand, something that people would remember.

We also scoured MySpace for local, attractive girls that would be willing to be in some of the videos for free in return for the recognition.  We got a few, and we were fortunate enough to have attractive girlfriends and a couple attractive friends that we could use.  All the sudden we had the lineup for the SmashMyViper girls.  I contacted a company out in Oregon that I had make shirts for us, as well as tank tops for the ladies.

I knew a few people in the custom car show circuit since I had a Nissan 350Z that was highly modified and in occasional car shows at the time, so I utilized the services of one of those contacts to create and install decals on both Vipers (the SmashMyViper Viper and Jason’s Viper).  Let’s face it, the Viper is an attention whore type of car, you drive it around and everybody looks…we planned to drive BOTH Viper’s around, and with decals on the car to promote this project…plus it’s just good branding for the videos and picture galleries we would have.  The cost for doing this was about $400:

SMV decal

Putting Everything Together

Making The Intro Video

Now that we had everything ready to go, we wanted to create a cool intro video to entice people to check out the site and come back for more.  Now keep in mind, while 2006 doesn’t seem like that long ago, it was right about the time before internet video was about to become huge.  I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to host these videos.  YouTube was extremely unreliable and slow at the time, so we ended up starting with a site named StreetFire.  For those that don’t know, StreetFire is a site that is dedicated to video’s about cars.

I had some experience in video editing previously, so luckily we were able to do everything in-house using Adobe Premeire.  We didn’t have too much of a plan going in, we just wanted some cool car shots and girls.  Few things that were discussed around the net or questions that we got all the time from the intro video…We didn’t actually get pulled over in the one scene with the cop behind us.  We had three state police guys that were our neighbors, they were all young and cool.  As long as we didn’t have any sort of identifying marks showing on the car, they let us use one of the cars for that scene.  The other question was about that third GTS Viper with white stripes that’s in the video.  We were actually filming on that stretch of road, and it randomly drove by, so of course he stopped by and we added it to the video.  What’s better than two Vipers?  Three!

I would have definitely made the video much different today than I did back then, but there’s a lot of stuff I would do differently today.  I’ll discuss more about that towards the end of this post.

The Site’s Done, Let’s Get This Going

We finished the site, intro video, and a few picture galleries and put everything together.  We didn’t want to start off with zero advertisers, so we actually went around to some friends and family to get them to purchase a few ads.  I remember on the forums there was a lot of discussion about Red Cross and Toys for Tots advertising on the site.  Those were actually some family that had nothing to advertise, so I chose for them.  Yes, they did actually pay the full price of $100 for each square, and we probably sold about four of those internally.

We didn’t want our story to just be, hey two guys destroying a Viper to get a million bucks.  We knew people would be like “he has a Viper, why should I give him money”.  So we fudged things a little bit.  Jason and I always had this one great idea for a bar, so we used that for our story (To our credit, had we brought in the full million, at the time we would have considered actually opening the bar).  We never told people that the actual Viper being destroyed was not Jason’s real car until this article.  Although we could have made the story better, we went with the concept of two entrepreneurs with an idea to start a bar, trying to raise the money by destroying Jason’s prized possession that he basically spent all of his money on.

We hired a company to write a press release for us (which you can read here), and then we used PRWeb to send out the release to the media.  I was personally hoping this would yield huge results, but we didn’t really see as much as I wanted.  The biggest thing was an article that the Washington Times did on us:

Me in the Washington Times

We posted about the site on a bunch of automotive forums, which helped get the word going, and it sort of snowballed from there.  I would say a big portion of the traffic we were getting was from chatter on forums, as well as the tons of people that were watching it on StreetFire.  Let me tell you, the automotive world absolutely hated the idea!  I really didn’t see that coming, but so many people talked so much trash about us, especially in the Viper community, because we were destroying such a rare car.  The fact is though, if we had been doing it something like a Honda Civic, nobody would care!  I guess it’s that double edged sword…but at the same time they say bad press is actually good press.

We also created a MySpace account and purchased some bot software that essentially went out and friend requested random people to whatever the limit per day was.  We used a hot picture of one of our SmashMyViper girls as the avatar, and that really helped attract a lot of people.  As Jeremy Schoemaker would tell you, use a hot girl in your avatar, and people will click to your site.  There was so many guys that would just respond to the friend requests trying to hit on the girl in the picture.  We’d play the part and do things like say ok if you go to SmashMyViper.com and tell me what you think.  It was pretty ridiculous.  Speaking of using girls to generate more views, at the time we were doing this, the video sites would use the exact halfway point of the video as a thumbnail.  We would insert one frame in the video with some hot model pic (one of our models) that had cleavage, so that would become our thumbnail…it worked well!

We also manually pitched the site to a bunch of bigger blogs and sites trying to get some coverage.  A lot of sites did bite, we were written about Autoblog, News.com, AdRants, and many more places.  What we really needed though was CNN type coverage, and that just didn’t happen.

Another thing I did was call up some popular talk radio stations that were considered “fun” and just tried to tell them about it.  For example I was on Elliot In The Morning, I just called up on my way to work, got on the air told the hosts “hey, guess what?  I’m destroying a Dodge Viper”.  That got them intrigued and I get a few minutes of free air time talking about the site.  I did that with a few radio shows, some went well, others didn’t.  We had a great connection that got us an in-studio interview on the Kirk, Mark, and Spiegel show on 98 Rock in Baltimore.  That was an interesting experience doing the show live, we took video of the interview that you can check out here.  We had a couple radio shows that we got on from the site just becoming viral, one of the bigger ones was Motor Trend Radio on Sirius, which you can listen to here.  If you listen to all of the interviews I did, I definitely started out pretty bad, and got much better speaking over time…it was a great learning experience.  For example this was one of the later ones on the Jay Wulff show, where the hosts even mentioned that we were good interviewers :)

Things Are Launched, Time To Do Some Damage

As traffic was pouring into the site we starting to get some advertisers in.  Here it was we thought, getting the first advertisers was the hardest part, and everything would just snowball from there.  After compiling a few advertisers together that all purchased the $100 key mark package, we went out and filmed the first damage video.  We wanted to make it somewhat Jackass like, so we did things like dress up in a Santa costume (it was around Christmas) to make it funnier.  We went out to a local shopping center parking lot and had real people do the damage to the car.  We did this because we wanted to film the great reactions from people, and we wanted to cause a scene.  People would drive by and see two Vipers in the back of the lot (that say SmashMyViper.com on them) with cameras, and a bunch of people – it was a great way to promote locally.  Using real people (like a kid) allowed viewers to really believe we weren’t just putting on a scam.  We really were keying the car up, all the damage shown was real!

We got some great feedback from the first damage video (like the fact that it was way too long), and I think each subsequent one got better and better.    The damage started to get more interesting too, for example some advertisers had us make the 6″ keymark in the shape of something.  The Burto and Dubs radio show had us key “BD” in the front bumper.  Finally by the fourth damage video, we had our first advertiser purchase a drilling of the car, along with one of our girls doing it.

The Viper’s hood is made of fiberglass, drilling through it was an interesting experience:

Drill hole in Viper hood

Then things got really interesting.  Shaun Carter, a young entrepreneur came to us with an idea to promote his site InstantCredit.CC.  He didn’t want to do any real damage to the car, but he wanted to do something wild, so we came up with the idea of having our models cover the car in peanut butter and jelly, then feathers.  Shaun ended up paying about $2,500 for the package, but it was the most unique thing as of yet, and we hoped it would spark the ideas of other advertisers.  We found a big bag of feathers online, and got tons of PB&J at the local BJ’s, it turned out to be a great video:

Real peanut butter, thickly covered on the Viper:

Peanut butter on Viper

Here’s a couple of the girls right before we added feathers to the car…I couldn’t photoshop these pictures if I wanted to:

Here we’re adding feathers to the car, notice us in the background with cameras.  People driving by would stop and watch to see what the hell we were doing:

Adding feathers to the Viper

Here I am cleaning up the huge mess we made, good thing feathers are all-natural:

Cleaning up feathers

Shaun will tell you, we drove a ton of traffic to his site, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I’m sure he’d say it was worth the investment.  We loved it because it didn’t really do any real damage to the car (although we had to buy a power sprayer and took about 5 straight hours to get most of the car cleaned up)!

The End Of The Road

Unfortunately things started to die down a bit around that time, and after a few months we realized that our chances were over.  We had brought in about $8,000-$9,000 total, nowhere near the $1m goal.  We took some of that money and hired a PR firm to see if they could try and get things kick started again.  That turned out to be a huge waste of money.  We took the rest of the money and had the Viper fixed, since all of the damage was done to mainly three panels of the car and the glove box, we were able to bring it back to new for under $2,000.  We then sold all of the assets to the business that were invested, including the car.  The car was actually sold for more money than we had paid for it!  We also sold the website (for cheap, just $300), paid our investors back 100% of their investment, plus we all made a little extra money after all was said and done.

While we never brought in the million dollars, I would do everything all over again if I could.  I was able to drive a Viper for free for about six months, have photoshoots with some hot girls, had an amazing experience dealing with press and just increasing my knowledge on marketing, etc.  We met a lot of new people and made a lot of new friends.  We’d go out to bars with our SmashMyViper shirts on, and people would come up to us because they recognized us from the site.  I still meet people to this day that remember the site, and it’s always a great story to discuss.  We never spent a penny of our own money, and we fortunately didn’t lose any money for our investors.  My personal opinion is that it was a huge success.

In Retrospect

When I look back at everything, there are a lot of things I would have differently.  I think part of the timing was off when we did everything, it was Winter, we’d drive around freezing, we originally wanted to have girls in bikinis, online video wasn’t that big yet…I could go on and on.

Since then I’ve learned many new things, had much more business experience, and have a lot more connections.  I think if I could re-do the whole thing today, I could make it successful.  There’s a sweet 456 GTA Ferrari for about $40,000 for sale on eBay, any investors want to partner up and try again? :) SmashMyFerrari.com?