The Secondary Market for Viral Sites

Selling the glitter bomb site now seems obvious, but a lot of viral creators don't do it.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jan 20 2015, 8:20pm

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​Like a ridiculous, sparkling supernova, ShipYourEnemie​—a website that will send anonymous, glitter-filled envelopes to people on your behalf—exploded out of nowhere last week and quickly became a viral sen​sation. But its founder, 22-year-old Mathew Carpenter, is now selling ​the site, which he says received 2.5 million visits in four days and racked up more than 2,000 orders.

The decision to sell the simple, snark-filled site after lightning struck isn't a particularly novel approach to cashing in on a site's sudden popularity. Media publisher Emerson Spartz was only 12 years old when he founded MuggleNet, one of the world's most popular Harry Potter fan sites, which he still owns today. But Spartz says Carpenter's strategy of creating something, watching it explode, and reaping the benefits of that popularity by selling the product itself—rather than playing the long game by filling thousands of glitter bomb orders—is textbook internet marketing.

"Selling at the peak of your 15 minutes is the most lucrative, short-term financial decision that you can make," Spartz told me.

Ship Your Enemies Glitter (SYEG) isn't the only example of a website being flipped before its star fades. VapeLife, a popular, year-old online e-cigarette store, is also for sale right now (although with less impress​ive bids). Hipster Runoff, a rec​ently-resurrected, oft-satirical indie music blog is also fo​r sale, hoping to bank on its former popularity. Though the site hadn't been updated in over a year until today, the listing shows the site still gets decent traffic and makes hundreds of dollars of ad revenue a month.

They Get Their 15 minutes and then they die and the creator just has a good story to tell

But in SYEG's case, selling just a week after the site launched makes the most sense, Spartz said: "As far as why it went viral, it's impossible to say other than it clearly just tickled everyone's funny bone. If I was a betting man, I'd be putting all my chips squarely to it being a fad."

But there are clearly investors out there who see some long-term potential in the site. At the time this story was published, had 338 bids, with the highest at $70,800 USD.

There are lots of reasons why investors might want to scoop up the site, Spartz explained. They could be looking to just fill the page with ads, reaping in a bunch of easy money from the site's hot traffic until the popularity fades away. Or they could have some longer-term goals— perhaps expanding the site to other gag items that people can send, too. Given the growing​ list of copycat s​ites that have cro​pped up in the past few days, it's clear at least some people think this is a sustainable market.

Either way, with the sale of the site and the more than $20,000 he collected in sales, Carpenter is set to make a pretty decent windfall for what he says was just supposed to be a lark: "I launched this website as a bit of a joke not expecting this level of attention. Heck, I launched this website whilst I was on holiday!" the Australian entrepreneur wrote on his site listing.

"For the past few days it has been stressful dealing with all of the media attention & even more so because this was only intended to be a small side project. It's taken on a life of its own, and I want to watch it continue to grow under a new owner."

But while Carpenter—who also runs a consu​lting business that teaches people how to make money online—might not have predicted just how huge his little glitter gag would become so quickly, he's obviously not a novice when it comes to making the most of his holiday project, Spartz said.

"As far as selling it right away, that usually requires a more sophisticated understanding of business that you should sell at your peak. Less-experienced entrepreneurs, your typical developer in their mid-20s who for fun on a Saturday throws something up, he's not necessarily going to know what to do with a hot joke site," he said. "What usually happens is the sites get their 15 minutes and then they die and the creator just has a good story to tell."

At the very least, SYEG could be a good portfolio piece. Since Carpenter's main business has to do with making money online, having the ability to show potential clients a proven success is very valuable, Spartz noted.

"That's the beauty of the internet," he concluded. "You can have a dumb idea on a Friday, build it on a Saturday, and be internet famous on a Sunday."