Let’s face it, the economy is in trouble and so are the rest of us.  Based on the dregs I find in my spam filter that makes this a hot season for folks selling plans for how to make big money on the Internet – plans that mostly aren’t worth what people pay for them.  Either these advertised sites are simply scams or they are promoting the obvious — often free government web sites that diligent folks could find on their own.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate Internet businesses that can be started on a shoestring.  So to do my part for the economy I’m going to offer-up what I have always considered to be the cleverest little Internet business of all:

I assume you’ve taken a look at the site and are back now.  What makes Parrotsecrets so great?  It doesn’t look like much, does it?  I’m sure there are a thousand – maybe 10,000 – very similar sites on the net right now.  And that’s the point: there is plenty of opportunity to replicate this model.

Before I lose you here’s the literal bottom line on Parrotsecrets.  The site sells 15-20 eBook sets per day seven days per week.  Using the low end of that range is 5,475 copies per year for gross sales of $437,726.25 from a web site that costs less than $10 per month.

The profit on Parrotsecrets, even after various expenses I’ll detail below, is WAY north of $400,000 per year.

Could you live on that?

Me too.

The thing I love the most about Parrotsecrets is not the great money but that it actually serves a need.  People really do have problems with their parrots and there isn’t that much information out there about how to train and care for parrots that is in an easily accessible form.  Parrotsecrets not only isn’t a scam, it isn’t even a waste of money.  This is a real business doing real good for real customers.

Parrots are apparently a huge financial drain and $79.95 is nothing to pay if it saves a vet visit per year and keeps you from losing a fingertip or having your parrot call Grandma a whore.

The first thing that’s remarkable about Parrotsecrets is how it came about.  The owner of Parrotsecrets, for one thing, doesn’t even own a parrot.  Rather, the owner set out to find a niche in the information economy that could be filled with eBooks as sold here.  The first step in the development of Parrotsecrets, then, was to identify the frustration of Parrot owners.

I’m not going into the fine details of how parrots were isolated as a subject, but it involved a lot of scanning discussion forums and looking for unrequited Google searches.  In time it became clear to the entrepreneur that parrots were an untapped market.  If you were to undertake something similar you could either isolate a topic you actually know a lot about (either as a master or a victim) or go searching like the Parrotsecrets owner did.  Either way, I’m sure you’d soon come up with a topic.

The young and lovely Mrs. Cringely has a particular health problem she darned well doesn’t want me to reveal to anyone including you that I have figured is perfect for the Parrotsecrets treatment.  I’ve been urging her to move forward on her own but she just won’t.  So if I ever get a weekend off (I’ve waited over a decade so far, which makes that unlikely) I’ll write the darned eBook myself and retire.

eBooks have no manufacturing costs, no inventory costs, and almost no distribution costs.  Best of all, it is a GLOBAL business.  People are having trouble with their parrots everywhere, you know, not just in the U.S., and Parrotsecrets can deliver anywhere.

But first you must have something to deliver.  Having identified a topic, the founder of Parrotsecrets needed an eBook.  The easiest way to do this was to post the requirement on one or more of the many freelancing web sites.  Writers bid on the job and the original eBook (note there are now four eBooks in the offer) went for around $2500, deliverable in 30 days.

The Parrotsecrets founder ordered from every book on parrots (deliverable to the winning freelancer) then waited a month for the eBook to appear.

That month was used to buy the domain, design the web site, prepare a Google AdWords campaign, and be ready to be up and running as soon as the eBook was finished.

If you’ve been keeping track you can see that starting this business cost substantially under $10,000 and probably under $5,000.  The Kauffman Foundation on Entrepreneurism says 95 percent of small businesses are started for less than $10,000. This is one of those.

The web site follows a popular design philosophy.  It is a single page that scrolls on and on forever, pounding the reader with testimonials and reason upon reason for buying the eBooks.  These characteristics have shown themselves to be very persuasive with the Parrotsecrets target audience, which are older women stuck with (or thinking about getting) naughty parrots.  That’s why the figurehead for Parrotsecrets is Nathalie Roberts (“A Parrot Lover For The Last 12 Years”).

Nathalie (“A Parrot Lover For The Last 12 Years”) looks like someone we can trust.  

Nathalie also doesn’t exist.

Nathalie Roberts (“A Parrot Lover For The Last 12 Years”) is like Betty Crocker – a character created to market a product.  If you are offended by the idea that Nathalie isn’t real, then start boycotting cake mixes, kids.

EVERYTHING about Parrotsecrets is calculated.  Nothing is left to chance.  The site is promoted by word-of-mouth (remember it performs a real service) and with Google AdWords.  Of course AdWords can kill you if you aren’t careful and that’s part of the reason why parrots were chosen in the first place: there simply isn’t that much competition for the word “parrot.”

According to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, Parrotsecrets has been around since May, 2004 or almost five years, during which it has generated more than $2 million for its owner. 

The owner of Parrotsecrets isn’t Nathalie Roberts, isn’t even a woman, and isn’t even American.  He’s Indian and lives in India.  When Parrotsecrets began he lived (and still lives as far as I know) with his parents, who are both medical doctors.  When the site started in 2004 he was 18 years old, making him 23 today.

Parrotsecrets doesn’t run on autopilot.  The owner has invested continually in improving the product adding eBooks and free extras to improve the appeal of his product.  He (or someone) corresponds with his customers using e-mail.  But given that the service is coming primarily from India you can imagine that his continuing costs are quite low.

Imagine what it would be like to make $400,000+ per year.  Now imagine what it would be like to be 23, single, living in India, making $400,000+ per year.  And Parrotsecrets is not his only web site.

I have known about Parrotsecrets since 2005 when I met the owner in Las Vegas, of all places (a surreal experience — an Indian teenage tycoon on his first-ever visit to America starts with Vegas).  In one sense I didn’t want to blow his cover because it is so cleverly drawn.  But now I can see the need for a lot of smart people to make a new living as they lose their jobs.  I’ve also rationalized that this column may actually drive business his way, not just from parrot owners but also from entrepreneurs who want good examples of a product to emulate.

Go forth and multiply.  May the Parrotsecrets be with you.