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We Started With A Napkin and Ended Up With An Nintendo Wii

Tam Pham
Tam Pham
5 min read
We Started With A Napkin and Ended Up With An Nintendo Wii
The most epic trade of our lives

We met at our local ice cream shop to get a napkin and begin our quest.

The day before, Vaibhav shared with Brandon and me a famous TED talk about how Kyle Macdonald played this game called Bigger or Better where he would offer an item to trade for something bigger or better.

Kyle Macdonald started with a paperclip and ended up with a house after 22 trades.

WOW. That is so inspiring.

What if we could start with nothing and end up with something cool?

Kyle Macdonald used Craiglist to find people to trade with and spent months on this project. We didn’t have that same amount of time, so what would this look like if it was easy?

We thought the easiest way to test this idea was to knock door-to-door asking directly if anyone wanted to trade for our item.

The Journey Begins

We had no plan. We did not memorize a script. We did not practice anything. We also had no expectations.

All we had was a napkin and three really bored guys.

1st house — No answer

2nd house — Mom opens the door but has little kids running around in the house and says sorry.

3rd house — We meet an elderly man who had a sports t-shirt on and Brandon makes the ask. The man came out with a banana. We were so ecstatic.

6th house — We meet a dad of two teenage kids who is patient and curious about our pitch. He chuckles and his whole family starts to find things around the house to contribute to the game. The son comes out of the garage with a 12-pack of La Croix.

HOLY COW! That is awesome. :)

We don’t believe what is happening right now.

8th house — We meet a man who admits to us that he’s remodeling his place. We offer him the 12-pack of La Croix and he takes it, saying that his kids would love it. He comes back out with a 6-pack variety of beer.

Better indeed.

13th house — We meet a woman who smiled while opening the bright yellow door for us. We see her mom in the back sitting down at the table. Vaibhav makes the pitch offering beer and she’s instantly intrigued. She leaves the door open as she walks past the table to her backyard. We chat with her mom in the meantime. They’ve been living there for four years.

Her mom comes back with a fancy bottle of wine asking if this is a good deal. Heck yes!

We google search this wine bottle and it’s actually from Italy valued at $42. This is unreal.

19th house — We meet a man named Paul who turned the wine down but loves the effort we put in. We thank him and leave.

20th house — We knock on the door patiently waiting until Paul comes out of his house and yells out, “HEY, do you want a Wii?”

We scurry over to his door and Paul carried two paper bags with a freaking Nintendo Wii, remote controls, and eight different games.

We are speechless.

Paul would love for us to keep him updated and to pay whatever we get forward to someone else.

Cooking Mama is my favorite.

At this point, we don’t believe what has happened. We started with a napkin and now have a Wii in just over an hour.

Here’s where the story gets tricky.

The Wii is really old. We estimated 10 years. The Wii itself along with all the games and controllers are valued at a range from $40–70 on eBay.

The next ten houses we went to all denied us because they don’t have anything better to offer than a Wii. The perceived value is higher than the actual value, which might have intimidated other neighbors.

We were offered dogs three different times, a Tesla (this was a joke), and a kid (this was not a joke). We almost traded the Wii for a dryer or a printer, but the dad told us that he actually needed to use it. Yes, drying your clothes is important.

We felt defeated. We told ourselves that we would visit 5 more houses before calling it a day.

4 rejections/no answers. But on the 5th house… we have someone biting our fishing line.

Final Trade

We meet a couple who just moved to the Bay Area from Israel three years ago. We spend 15 minutes negotiating for items they could trade for the Wii. They offered a wireless mouse but I knew that was valued at $20, we wanted more.

They added a Pokemon ball catcher and an inflatable pool valued at $25. We knew the deal wasn’t exactly in our favor. But during the 15 minutes of the couple finding items to trade us, we were inside their house hanging out with their kids. Two were running around. One was playing Sonic.

We knew that we have no attachment to the Wii and the kids would enjoy it, so we said yes.

Before the trade was complete, they wanted to verify that the Wii works.

We went to their bedroom and set up the games for them. Let’s pray that Paul didn’t give us a broken Wii…

Paul came through. The Wii worked perfectly and we started playing Cooking Mama to “test” that the game worked.

We headed towards the exit, shook hands, and took our new belongings with us.

We actually didn’t want any of this. So we did what seemed natural.

We went back to the house that gave us our first trade: napkin to banana. He invested in us and now we are here to give him a return.

We hand him the inflatable pool, Pokemon catcher, and wireless mouse. He is ecstatic. He let us know that his grandkids would love this. He thanks us and we say goodbye.

What did we learn from this?

That it is actually possible to turn nothing into something.

I believe this is especially important for young people to understand who think they need to come from a rich family, be highly educated, or super skilled, etc… to create value for others.

We hope you try this experience out with your friends and see what you end up trading for. Let us know. :)


Tam Pham Twitter

I'm a writer and bachata dancer currently bouncing around Latin America. Trying to make the most out of my one wild and precious life.

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