Unmentionable College Job Expands to Make Millions
Mention Adam Glickman's product, and you usually hear a titter of embarrassed laughter. It's not the kind of thing you usually mention in public, or around the family dinner table. Yet Glickman originally began selling these products in the late 80s at college to save lives, and has since made millions from them. Now his business has come full circle; ideally he'd like to divest it before his 6-year-old twin daughters realize just what exactly it is that Daddy sells.
Condomania is the name, and condoms are the game. Glickman went from selling mascot--themed condoms at Tufts University in Boston, where he was studying sociology and philosophy, to running a virtual empire distributing his wares worldwide.
How did he do it? In his own words:
As a college student at Tufts, what gave you the idea to start selling condoms?
I was always very entrepreneurial. When other kids were sleigh riding in Central Park, I was out there selling 48 donuts and 5 gallons of hot chocolate. By the time I completed my freshman year at Tufts, I had decided that I would follow that entrepreneurial spirit by launching businesses on campus while studying those course that interested me most, sociology and philosophy.
By the end of my sophomore year (1987) I had a futon business, running futons directly from local factories to dorm rooms all over Boston. In early 1988 the catalyst for the condom business emerged. I remember very vividly reading the Boston Globe one morning my junior year after a fairly wild night and there it was, the headline that sent chills up my spine: "1 in 300 Students May Have AIDS Virus."
I realized that short of abstinence the only way to curb this emerging health epidemic would be the use of condoms, yet I was part of a generation that wanted nothing to do with this unpopular little product. It was at that point that my interest in the social sciences met my entrepreneurial passion. "If we can just change the way people think about condoms," I reasoned, "then perhaps we could affect behavior."
So I created a condom in a matchbook emblazoned with a cartoon version of our school mascot (Jumbo the elephant) featuring the slogan, "A Safe Jumbo is a Happy Jumbo." I went out door-to-door around the university selling them, not sure what to expect. Half the doors were closed in my face, as if I were some porn-peddling pervert. However, the other half bought eagerly, and I ended up selling 1,000 condoms in two weeks. I had grossed $1,000 and thought to myself, "hmmm, there could be something to do this."
Within a few weeks guys all over campus were coming up to me with high fives, slaps on the back and earnest thanks. All of a sudden, these were not just condoms anymore; they were school mementos, like Frisbees or coffee mugs. Suddenly, people felt like they had social permission to have them without the usual stigma and embarrassment that often accompany the possession of condoms.
How did you build a business from this?
I soon created custom condoms for friends at other universities, then for night clubs, bars, parties, and eventually business and organizations of all kinds.
I graduated in 1989 Magna Cum Laude with degrees in sociology and philosophy and a thriving little condom company. In 1990, my business partner and I invented the glow-in-the-dark condoms, and sold one million units around the world. In June of 1991, we opened America's first condom store on Bleecker Street in New York City. Condomania was born.
Condomania was the first retail environment dedicated to the sale of condoms and related safer-sex products without the porn and without the adult stuff. The stores were brightly lit with high energy music and a great array of safer-sex and romance products. For the first time, shopping for condoms could be fun. Within a few years we had eight stores, in places like New York, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles. We were selling millions of condoms to all kinds of people, making money doing good. We were featured in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, Details, and many, many other publications.
How did you parlay brick and mortar stores into an online business?
In 1994 I discovered America Online and subsequently, the Internet. I thought to myself, "wow, this is going to be BIG." We were there early, in fact Condomania.com was one of the first sites on the Internet with a shopping cart when it launched at the end of 1995. Orders started to come in from all over the country, then from all over the world. The Internet allowed me to take my vision of making shopping for condoms easy and fun, and splash it all over the world.
Condomania's online operations grew steadily from 1996 through 2000. By then end of our first decade in business, we had closed all the stores except our flagship New York shop as Condomania.com emerged as the backbone of the company. Condomania's website echoed the fun, upbeat atmosphere of our famous stores, and online shopping guides helped our customers navigate through the hundreds of product choices to find the best products for their individual needs. In 2007 Condomania closed its last remaining retail shop.
After nearly 20 years, Condomania is widely recognized as the world's leading specialty condom retailer.
How did you explain your business to your future wife, when you first met her?
I met my future wife in Tufts. Tara was from the Midwest and we dated through most of our college years. I remember when I first told her that I was going to create and sell condoms, she thought I was nuts. However, as my success grew, as she witnessed my genuine passion to build a business that helped people, she quickly climbed on board. Before long, she was my greatest advocate, my biggest fan. Over the last 22 years she has been proud that we may have made a real contribution to the welfare of generations coming of age amidst a terrible health epidemic, and proud that we may have helped so many people.
How do you explain Daddy's business to your young daughters?
Raising two amazing little girls amidst a condom empire has at times been a challenge. Explaining to a 6-year-old that Daddy sells condoms, much less what a condom actually is, has been something that I have not quite tackled yet. Perhaps I am hoping that I move on from Condomania before the conversation becomes totally unavoidable. For now, they know that Daddy has a company called "Condomania" and that we sell things that are good for people. Ugh.
If Condomania is so successful, why are you moving on?
In 2003 I was introduced to an organization called EO (Entrepreneurs' Organization) that changed my life in a significant way. EO is a global community of like minded people who have built companies pursuing visions and dreams, often against all reason. Today, there are 7,500 members in 39 countries.
Within two years I became the Los Angeles chapter president; and about 18 months ago, I became one of 10 members on the global board of directors. I now travel all over the world as a senior member leader, meeting brilliant and inspiring entrepreneurs and creating lifelong friendships across the globe. My experiences with EO have inspired me to look beyond Condomania to new opportunities. I am excited to find new ways to create good in the world while building great companies. After two decades as the "Condom King" I am ready to hang up my crown. New adventures await.
Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets. Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.