Finding the Profit in FREE: Web Entrepreneur says it Can be Done

GladliConsumers continue to flock to the internet to shop, as online retailers drive prices down and selection up. A local entrepreneur is taking that pricing strategy to the limit: driving prices down to…free. The selection may be a bit limited right now but that could change quickly.

Meet Trevor Totten, a Purdue grad from Westfield, who thinks he’s hatched the ultimate internet selling machine: free merchandise made available by manufacturers as a sort of sampling website. Think of it as an online business expo, except you only visit the booths you are interested in, you don’t have to endure a lame sales pitch, and you only fill your bag with products you will really use. Don’t expect to find a chip clip here, unless you really need one.

The Cooldown

Totten is betting that manufacturers will pay for the opportunity to give away one or more of their products to potential customers in the hope that once the customers try it, they’ll be more likely to buy more of it. He envisions a marketplace of thousands of consumer items, all provided by manufacturers free of charge, and who are willing to pay him to find new prospects. Totten calls the site “Gladli”, as in “We’ll gladly let you try our product for free.”

But, how to counter the deadly sin of gluttony? As anyone who has ever dined at an “all you can eat buffet” knows, when something is free, people inevitably take more than they can use. Totten has a plan for that, and he calls it a “cooldown.” Consumers initially are limited to just one free product per week. That way, he says, “You’re motivated to only select products you are genuinely interested in. Otherwise, you are just wasting your precious selections.” That’s also an advantage for the businesses, he says, because people who are really interested in a product are more likely to buy it later.

Identity verification is also an integral part of the system. Totten isn’t sharing details about how he does it, but says verifying a person’s identity is important to prevent fraud, like opening multiple accounts to receive multiple products. He also requires a credit card to register, though it “will NEVER be charged.”


Self-taught web designer

Totten tells the story of how this idea came to him. He credits three hours of forced thinking time aboard an airplane after forgetting to pick up reading material at the airport. He continued to refine the idea and two years ago started his own company, called Critical Achievement, to develop it. He found and purchased the domain, which was previously used to promote an anime character called “Glad Li.” He proceeded to teach himself how to code.

Using his engineering background and rudimentary knowledge of programming, Totten started with a WordPress website and began to customize it, learning coding languages along the way. He estimates he now has about 30,000 lines of custom code on his site and has applied for a patent for the business model. He’s run the idea by “hundreds of smart people,” and believes it is now “fully developed” and ready for market.

Which isn’t exactly the same as being up and running. The website is currently in pre-launch mode. If you visit the Gladli home page you have the opportunity to register as a business or a consumer but marketplace pages aren’t yet available. Totten’s goal is to land 20 businesses to launch. Once the site is populated with some merchandise, he will “flip the switch” to post-launch mode and welcome the public in to start sampling.

It’s a leap of faith for the young entrepreneur. After six years working as an engineer and project manager, he quit his job last year to work on Gladli full time. He’s doing the coding himself to keep costs down and has a patent pending on the software. He’s had face time with local business leaders and now has “a professional, modern, highly-customized website…that is ready for market.” The business model, he says, “is new, exciting, and most importantly, rock solid.”

By Mike Corbett