Viral websites typically follow the same life cycle: They spend a week flying around social media, make it into a late-night comedian’s monologue and then that’s it. Everyone’s had a laugh, and the site is forgotten. There was no reason to expect anything different of Ship Your Enemies Glitter, which, for about 10 bucks, would mail an envelope full of glitter to some unfortunate recipient. The site went viral last January. But then it veered off script: After a week, its creator put the site up for sale -- and someone bought it for $85,000, which digital denizens treated as its own punchline. “It’s an internet fad that will die out quickly,” wrote one Reddit commenter. “The person who bought it for $85K is going to hate themselves.”
But here’s the thing: “It was the best investment of my life,” says the buyer, Peter Boychuk, who very much doesn’t hate himself. More than a year later, the site has done sales “in the high six figures.” And he beat the odds by thinking differently -- not as the owner of a viral site, but as the owner of a startup with lots of potential.
Boychuk is 28 and lives in a tiny Georgia town called Buford. He dropped out of college six years ago, then set up a business in his house selling car parts online. Now he has a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and three to five employees. He follows his gut. When he saw Ship Your Enemies Glitter, he thought: If people are buying this, what else might they buy? So once the site became his, he rounded up his auto-parts employees to brainstorm new gags. “They thought I was crazy,” he says.
The team started experimenting -- adding a cupcake that’s actually horse manure covered in glitter ($15), a teddy bear that won’t stop singing ($20) and a spin-off site called Ship Your Friends Bacon (which is profitable, but Boychuk says perishables are way more time-consuming than he expected). Soon creators of other gags started asking him for partnerships. “And I kind of laugh,” Boychuk says, because his site draws way more traffic than theirs do. So he instead offers to buy their stuff wholesale and sell it himself.
That deal has worked out well for Tyler Ward. He has a company called Prank Candles, which sells candles that abruptly switch smells -- from, say, apple pie to a reeking fart. Ship Your Enemies Glitter is now one of his most important sales outlets, and Ward says he’s inspired by what Boychuk has done. “It’s made me very fearful of missing out,” he says. “I wonder how many other weird, esoteric pockets of money there are somewhere, where people look at it and think, There’s a real cash machine behind this.”
Boychuk has similar thoughts; he’s already looking forward to the next opportunity. “I always ask myself, When is this going to go viral for the last time?” he says. And yet, for now, it keeps happening—someone discovers his glitter gag anew, shares it with friends, and the site soon rockets its way through an entirely new batch of people. So he’ll keep experimenting. Meanwhile, the heart of his empire sits in a 55-gallon trash can in his warehouse: It’s where he stores the glitter, which he buys 100 pounds at a time. “The floor does sparkle a bit,” Boychuk says, “but it’s not a mess.”