At about eight in the morning on June 16, a young man named Remi Frazier from Fort Collins, Colo., sat down on a bench in Manhattan's Columbus Circle, glued a cell phone to his ear, and spread a New York City map across his lap. By early afternoon he had launched an unlikely entrepreneurial project—to make $1 million within one month, using only a cell phone, a digital video camera, and a $100 bill. His self-imposed set of rules also meant he had made no advance contact with anyone in the city.
To achieve his goal, Frazier, 27, planned to build a volunteer network of business consultants, conceptualize and design a product, conduct market research for that product, and finally manufacture and sell it on a wide scale. He would have 30 days to complete what a startup usually takes years to do.
Earlier that morning on the plane ride in, Frazier had decided on his product: a multipurpose utility tool he dubbed the Mantool, which he describes as similar to a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman, the real difference being that a customer will be able to customize each element through a Web site.
Although he lacks any formal business training—Frazier is a member of an improv theatre troupe, has worked for his parents' computer consulting company, and has done stints backstage in music and theater in Colorado—he was convinced the product would be well received.
On the first day, his Colorado-based contacts put him in touch with three of their former acquaintances who offered to help him get the ball rolling. He was asking for a lot—business expertise, industry contacts, caffeine, food, and lodging—but people were receptive.
"It's hard to say no to someone as directed and determined as Remi," says Meridith Crosley, a freelance corporate instructor and one of Frazier's initial contacts, who assumed the role of travel and social consultant for the project. "He makes eye contact with you when you speak, listens to every bit of information you have to say, and genuinely cares about people…. There are a lot of people in this world who are amazingly successful who could stand to take a lesson in basic social skills from [him].
LAND OF OPPORTUNITY.
Later during his first day in New York, Frazier went to the public library to take advantage of free Internet access and expand his networking operation. The MySpace page he set up became the base of his operation, allowing him to package neatly what he called the Million Dollar Destiny Project and present its mission to anyone in a position to help.
He wasn't asking for charity, the site made clear, he wanted to hear the voices and receive the support of those who still believe that the U.S. is the land of opportunity and enterprise.
Over the next week, as Frazier hopped from couch to couch, dozens of people within the online community responded enthusiastically. Phone call by phone call, e-mail by e-mail, professionals from around the community were eagerly volunteering their expertise.
By Day Seven, he had a team of 25, including a positioning consultant, business strategy analyst, business strategy consultant, a travel/social consultant, research consultant, project assistant, Web site developers, marketing and branding specialists, and film producers documenting the project.
"I think what has been interesting has been how willing and excited people are to be involved in a positive venture," says Lissy Garrison, executive director of Ballet Nouveau Colorado, who signed on as a small-business marketing consultant for the project. "[Frazier] delights in finding and leveraging the strengths of people around him. He has many, many qualities that make him an effective leader. Thus, he does not need specific business skills, he can rely on the expertise of the people around him."
On Day Eight, when BusinessWeek.com spoke with Frazier, he was focused, energetic, and highly optimistic about his project's progress and prospects. He still had $65 of his original $100 in his pocket. The Mantool, he said, was in the phase of market research and product design refinement.
NOT THE MONEY.
He explained how he relied on his faith that the people he approached would want to contribute to his project out of their own sense of goodwill and support for American entrepreneurship. "Although it's a serious business proposition, [I] talk to them like people instead of talking to them like businesses," he said.
"The [monetary] end return is not the point, in my opinion," said Garrison. "[Remi] will have given us all a real-life example of how good leadership, shared values, teamwork, communication, and smart resource maximization can produce fast, measurable results, even in today's world."
On June 29, Frazier's assets totaled just under $13,000, practically all in the form of donations: $6,500 in Web site design and development from Splint Media, $6,000 in the form of a logo and brand development, and a Web site design package from Paul Miller Studios, among other things.
Buzz is high within the online community. Blog discussions of the Million Dollar Destiny Project have in some instances lighted upon its "romantic" and "courageous" agenda, while others have deemed it a "proselytizing" or "hare-brained" experiment in social economics. On July 16 the clock runs out.