Entrepreneur

Why It's Nearly Impossible To Stop This Amazon and eBay Scheme

This Amazon and eBay scheme is driving some entrepreneurs nuts.
Fred Ruckle at his home workshop, where he makes his cat toys. Source: Photographs by David Yellen

Fred Ruckel was an advertising guy. At 25, he started his own agency, and over 12 years he developed commercials for the Super Bowl, Lays and Pepsi. But he never considered himself a Mad man. “I’ve always been an inventor,” he says. A tinkerer. An explorer. He was a guy with ideas but no time to pursue them. So in 2011, his wife, Natasha, gave him the gift of a lifetime: Quit your job, she said. She’d cover the bills while he built a new career. Ruckel immediately went to his business partner and said, “I’m out. I’m going to go change my life.”

He opened a production studio. He sunk $30,000 into an app. He experimented. And on Valentine’s Day 2015, as his wife was playing the piano at home, he watched their cat, Yoda, discover a new toy: a rug under the couple's drum set. It had become rippled, and Yoda swatted at the resulting funny shapes. Ruckel knew: This was it.

He called it the Ripple Rug. It’s stupidly simple, as all great cat toys are: There’s a small rug, you see, and on top of that is another rug. The top rug, attached by Velcro, is full of holes. It’s designed to be a crumpled mess, with bulges and tunnels for cats to explore. Soon hundreds of yards of carpet and Ripple Rug designs cluttered Ruckel’s home. So in June 2015, the couple made another concession to inventions: They left Manhattan, where they’d lived for 22 years, and moved upstate to a house they built as a future retirement home. There, Ruckel would truly have space to invent.

Ruckel hired a factory in Georgia and developed a way to make every Ripple Rug out of exactly 24 recycled bottles. The product debuted in September and went live on Amazon in December. Sales quickly spiked to $2,000 a day, and he became obsessed with the numbers. “Amazon is, without a doubt, Kickstarter on steroids,” he says. “It’s adrenaline. It’s like crack -- ahhhhhh, all day long.” There’s another word for this drug: validation. He was finally a successful inventor.

Then his brother-in-law called.

“Did you see that people are selling your Ripple Rug on eBay?” he said.

Ruckel looked. It was true. Lots of people were selling it -- and not used, either. They were selling new Ripple Rugs. “I’m like, ‘Oh, So I called up the factory, and of course I looked like a jackass.”

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