In 2001 I created a virtual pet site at AdoptMe.com, where kids can adopt free virtual pets (dogs, cats, horses, fish, etc.) and learn the responsibilities of pet ownership by feeding, walking and taking care of their pets. It quickly became popular, with around 10,000 visitors per day and 2000 new members per day, but I had zero revenue from it because the site was designed in Flash and there was not really much space for ads on it, plus back then there were a lot fewer choices when it came to putting ads on a site.
One idea I had to make money was to sell an AdoptMe stuffed animal (they now call them “plush toys”) in toy stores, where the plush toy would look just like the virtual pet the user adopted so they could play with the same pet both online and offline. The toy box would have an ID code on it that the buyer could enter on the AdoptMe website to adopt the virtual version of the exact pet they bought. But, at the time I was overloaded just running websites and had no interest in doing any business that was non-virtual.
I happened to mention all of this to the person who setup my California office for me (the place I had never been to and where I have never met any of the employees) and he thought I was crazy for not trying to do more with AdoptMe.com so he offered to setup a partnership to handle the toy part of the business for me. Since I had nothing to lose because I was never going to do it myself, I agreed.
To make a long story short, it did not go too well. The good thing is that eventually we did get some plush toys manufactured (in China) and we started selling them at the AdoptMe.com website. I don’t remember the exact figures, but our cost was around $2.00 per animal and we sold them for $14.95. We sold around 1 a day, which was fine, but our goal was to get them in stores to sell millions and get rich. We got some sold in some small local stores and eventually, after a huge amount of negotiations, we were able to convince Toys “R” Us to test the AdoptMe plush toy in their stores. Originally they were going to do a big test in 60 stores, but in the end they just placed an order for their Times Square NY store. This was one of their busiest stores, so it was a good place to test it at least. The AdoptMe toys ended up selling pretty well, considering we did no promotion for them other than advertising on the Adotpme.com website. But, in order for Toys “R” Us to continue selling a product in that small high traffic Times Square store, it has to be a big hit, and our toy was not.
We could have tried to get the toy sold in other stores, but at this point 3 years had gone by and it was not making money, and product liability insurance alone for the toy cost $800/month, plus the cost of an employee and office suite, so we decided to dissolve the toy company.
Now many years later, Webkinz is doing the same exact thing we did and making millions of dollars doing it. Maybe we were just ahead of our time. I still own the AdoptMe.com website which is doing well, and overall I am happy I was at least able to give the toy business a try even though it did not end up making any money for me.