If you're looking for a warm, heart-rending story for today, look no further than how Caine Monroy became the latest YouTube viral sensation, with more than 2.4 million views and counting since it was posted last week.
Thanks to a loyal customer, Nirvan Mullick (pictured with Monroy), the schoolboy now has a $150,000 scholarship fund and fans all over the world. And the story holds lessons for budding online entrepreneurs, too. How did all this happen?
Last year, Monroy was just another nine-year-old kid from East Los Angeles trying to figure out what to do with his summer, when one day he went to his dad's auto parts store. The store was largely devoid of customers, as Dad does most of his business online. Caine asked if he could play with the cardboard boxes that the parts came in, and before you could say "Zoltar," he had constructed his own cardboard replica of several arcade-style games, such as miniature pop-shot basketball and ring toss. He then proceeded to sit in the store and wait for customers to play at his arcade.
There weren't many since foot traffic to the store was sparse. One day, Mullick happened to stop by and became entranced. He bought Caine's premium "Fun Pass" and started coming back for more games. He thought about a way to market the arcade and put together a flash mob meet-up at the auto parts store, along with a short 10-minute documentary video. The rest is thanks to the Internet and a lot of people. You can watch the movie here:
In the video, you'll note that Caine has implemented a sophisticated algorithm to ensure that his "Fun Pass" tickets are authentic, using the square root function of a pocket calculator. You've got to hand it to the kid. He has plenty of pluck.
Mullick started a scholarship fund, which has already topped $175,000 and is still growing. And that doesn't include a matching grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation. Caine also has a Facebook fan page with 100,000 fans and a Twitter account with more than 6,000 followers. To give his arcade an element of authenticity, Caine made his own special logo T-shirt and is now selling it on the site. The movie even has a theme song that you can download from iTunes (and it's another way to support the fund).
Plenty of media outlets have given Caine coverage, including today's New York Times and dozens of TV stations. Forbes did a story earlier this week that details nine factors of Caine and Mullick's success that other entrepreneurs should review. TJ McCue writes, "There is a certain allure in American entrepreneur circles for turning waste in[to] wonder, of finding a diamond in the rough, so to speak." Another Forbes columnist thinks Caine will be a billionaire in 30 years. Certainly, his star is rising. Another meme is born.
But more than a meme is what startups can learn from this experience: Just because you only have one customer doesn't mean you aren't in business, and you should treat every customer as carefully as Caine did. The care he took in realizing his vision is extraordinary, especially for someone so young. And understanding the power of just one person to leverage various social media is also key.
So if you are an entrepreneur looking for inspiration today, check out the short video and read up on Caine's Arcade. It should get you thinking on how you too can create something from your own passion, even if you are just nine years old.
As the lyrics to the theme song say, "It's the best cardboard arcade that has ever been made." And that is something to which we can all aspire.