12. July 2012–
Oliver has dark hair. Mark smiles often. The pair often finish each others' sentences - both claim backgrounds in the internet sector and joke that Mark used to be a firefighter. Those are not their real names and, by their accents, they're not originally from Berlin.
Without revealing much more than that, Mark and Oliver want to find someone - or several people - to invest one million in a mystery startup project.
You might have heard of Alex Tew, the 21-year-old entrepreneur who decided to pay his way through university by selling pixels on his "Million Dollar Homepage" for $1 each. Or Craig Rowin, a comedian who tried to convince a stranger to give him a million dollars via YouTube. Tew's plan worked; Rowin's apparent success turned out to be a hoax.
"We thought, we need something like this but new," Oliver says. At the same time, the two young entrepreneurs were starting work on a new business project. "We want to test the limits of the internet," he says. "You can find someone to give you a million dollars, someone to eat, surely we can find someone to give one million to an unknown project."
That idea is now Invest One Million, a landing page and email, Twitter and Facebook campaign inviting exactly that. Here are the only terms on offer:
We hereby declare that we are not involved in any criminal, illegal, money-laundering or terrorist activity. The transferred funds will be spent on particular projects and cannot be refunded. We do not guarantee any returns. The funds transfer does not constitute an investment agreement or a partnership agreement. However, if we reach our goals, future profits are expected and will be shared with those who contributed. We will come in contact with those who contributed and keep them informed. The identity of the projects will be kept secret until profit share."
The IOM team are open to several investors rather than just one and will accept any type of currency (they prefer euros or dollars). Mark says they're aiming to give some kind of return on investment in about two years, and not just by running a Ponzi scheme-like money-go-round. "We're not Latin-American mafiosos..."
The names of those who give money to the project will be published on the website, if those people give prior consent. "The person that invests a million will go down in the history of the internet," Mark says - that's the real value the IOM project offers.
So - scam or grand experiment?
The stunt is piquing the interest of a few potential investors and prompting scorn and confusion from others. "After you wire him, please send me $100 as well," New York VC David Rose posted on Quora. "There's a sucker born every minute."
If I had a million to burn, I'd burn it where I knew it would do some good. And I can't say for sure whether or not this is a scam - "Mark" and "Oliver" wouldn't reveal their true identities or what the real project is. They did provide a blurred shot of an office computer and what look like excerpts from presentation materials. I'm told the real project is in private testing phase. We're opening the floor for comments below.
We asked IOM for photos to go with the story - here's what they sent through: