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March 31, 2008


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GratisInternet CEO Rob Jewell built his DC-based business around a simple concept: People love free stuff. And, as he found out, people especially love free condoms. The 30-year old UNC grad realized people would be willing to trade their personal information in exchange for it, and that companies like PayPal would pay ($20 per person) to get that info. By 2004, his Freecondoms.com generated $20.5 million in revenue, and launched GratisInternet to #18 on the INC 500 fastest growing companies list.      


Jewell, a true pioneer of Internet incentive marketing, told us last week he started FreeCondoms.com out of a warehouse in DC filled with about 100,000 condoms, which were packed and mailed by GW students whom he paid in beer (all were of appropriate age, of course). Anyone who visited FreeCondoms.com and provided some personal information received about 50 condoms at no cost two weeks later. From there Jewell launched FreeiPods.com, which differed only in the incentive and the fact that a user had to get 5 other people to sign up before receiving their prize.



We thought this free stuff thing was a scam, but Jewell told us his company has given out $20 million in free products since 2000. Perhaps he gave away too many free condoms, because within four years of GratisInternet's launch, Jewell says the American market became saturated. So in 2005 he launched sites in Europe, and much like Jerry Lewis, he now does more business abroad. But America has not forgotten him. For spending millions to advertise through Google, Google returned the love by giving Jewell this fine fridge. Seems like a fair trade.              



Unfortunately there are limits to the free stuff Jewell gives out, and we couldn't convince him to give us this incredibly cool computer with three screens just for doing this story. But we did convince him to come on one of our CEO retreats next month.



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