Big Business from Common Things

The more I learn about the world the more fascinating it gets, human creativity and ingenuity is boundless. Maybe Einstein was right when he said that the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. If you can imagine it, you can create it, you are limited only by your imagination.

The world of business is no stranger to creative ways of money making. Here too, the limit is the limit of your imagination. I’ve read about people making money from selling rocks. Check out the story of Gary Dahl who sold pet rocks as ‘pets’ and became a millionaire. Pet rocks. People actually bought rocks. You can’t get a more simpler business model than this, rocks are virtually everywhere and the costs with raw material are very low. But wait a minute, can you get even more basic than rocks? How about Sand? Sand is yet another abundant material and has a lot of uses and applications, being used in glass making, mortar&concrete making, sandbags, the creation of artificial islands, the creation of beautiful sand mandalas. Speaking of imagination and sand, human ingenuity and imagination doesn’t stops in the realm of creating and building things from scratch, humans are quite able in imagining ways of getting resources as well: there are recorded cases of beach theft in Jamaica and Hungary where entire sand beaches were stolen. Some people buy rocks, others are stealing whole beaches by the truckload.

Pet Rock Box

Rocks, sand, can we get even more basic? Can you make money out of thin air? Of course you can. There are people selling clean air to wealthy people in China. China is heavily polluted so a few enterprising people saw this as an opportunity to sell canned air to the Chinese. There are plenty of stories in the news of people selling ‘fresh New Zeeland air’ for $44 a bottle, ‘British fresh air’ for £80, there is even a Canadian start-up that sells fresh Alberta air. Lookup on a search engine this and you will find a lot of examples. Crazy. Air contains Nitrogen and Oxygen two gases with important applications in chemistry and not only. Nitrogen is essential for plants to grow through the process of nitrogen fixation in which bacteria living on the roots of plants transform atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. When not enough fertilizing ammonia is produced naturally, humans have to step in and use artificial fertilizers that are usually based on nitrates.

Speaking of unusual businesses and fertilizers there are people who made money from bird shit. A lot of money. There were wars fought over bird shit. Guano, because this is the name of immense accumulations of seabirds and bat shit over the millennia, has a high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and like I mentioned earlier these are essential elements for plants and agriculture. There is no surprise that wars were fought over this stuff. I know that you are curious now to find more about these wars so here they are: Chincha Islands War (1864-1866) fought between Spain and its former colonies of Chile and Peru and the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) fought between Chile on one side and Peru and Bolivia on the either side. Those were some long wars, and all of that for some islands rich in guano. Nowadays, guano is not that utilized any more, being largely replaced by artificial industrially-made fertilizers.

Water. Water is essential and we are 50-75% water and you can’t survive three days without water. So there is no surprise here that water can be big business given its scarcity. Water varies in its mineral content and pH level and can be tapped from sources within locations of various degrees of pollution. Water coming from less polluted areas is considered more pure hence it can fetch a better price. One example of someone starting and making big money in the water business can be found in the novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. It’s quite a good book, I gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads, you can check it out if you want to read more. In real life, there are numerous examples of successful companies that are selling water: Perrier, Fiji Water, Evian, Borsec & Bucovina (here in RO). The water business has a high profit margins since water is…free once you manage to get hold of a water source.  Unscrupulous companies can make even a higher profit by pretending to sell high quality spring water when in fact they are selling tap water: it’s worth mentioning Nestle here, the Swiss company that is being sued for selling tap water at a premium price.  I don’t know of any immediate example that comes to my mind of wars fought for this precious resource like we’ve seen in the case of guano but it’s possible that in the future we might see such conflicts. For example, there is a big dispute going on right now between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the river Nile. Ethiopia wants to build a huge dam on the Nile and to control its course. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project it’s worth $6.4 billion and Egypt fears that this will have the affect of reducing its access to water.

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