Jason Hartman interviews Kyle MacDonald, author of One Red Paperclip, about Kyle’s amazing bartering journey from one red paperclip to eventually a movie role opportunity to a house in Saskatchewan, where the biggest housewarming party ever was held. Please visit: https://speakingofwealth.com/category/podcast/. The idea began with a childhood game of Bigger and Better. Kyle’s opinion is that anything in life is only worth what someone is willing to give for it. Things are worth different amounts to different people, and that worth may surprise you! Kyle MacDonald grew up in Belcarra, near Vancouver. He’s really into projects, usually fun things that take on an obsessive element to some degree. Most noteworthy of these projects was the time he started with a red paperclip and traded it for bigger and better things until he wound up with a house. It was a silly idea and turned out to be a big deal. So big that the red paperclip has become his de-facto symbol and he’s somewhat known as the “red paperclip guy.”
To Kyle, a ‘red paperclip’ is more of a symbolic thing, an idea that you’re ready to launch. A new project about to happen. That spark of insight or inspiration. The most important thing about an idea is to do something with it. Today, Kyle lives in Montreal with his wife and does speaking engagement, photography, art projects, and “Who are These Guys?” to name a few of the projects he has embarked on.
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Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Kyle MacDonald to the show. He is the author of One Red Paper Clip and if you haven’t heard the story I am amazed because this is quite an amazing story, and it’s very viral. Many, many people have heard about it. It’s extraordinary in so many where Kyle started out and traded one red paper clip all the way up to getting a house out of all of these traits so we are going to hear about that. And he is working on a new project now called Who Are These Guys. Well, you will hear about how he is trying to find some people and just some really interesting stuff. Kyle welcome to the show. How are you?
Kyle: Great and glad to be here.
Jason Hartman: Good and you come to us from Toronto today or Montreal?
Jason Hartman: Montreal great, well great to have you on the line. So first of all did the One Red Paper Clip idea just happened by accident or did you plan it, or it’s such a sort of an outlandish thing really. How did happen?
Kyle: I really planned to try it out to see if it work. I was planning this idea in my head of walking around and treating with people for bigger and better things like, when I was growing up there is a game called bigger, and better you know sort of a neighborhood game even start with the small object, go to the neighbor’s door and say hey, we’ve got the spoon. Do you have anything bigger or better you would like to trade us? And then people would often yeah I’ve got this whole growling pan, or I’ve got this food or something, and we would come home after making in future.
Its something that a lot larger, and I always thought it will be fun to play that game not as a child who kind of gets bored of it after a few hours, but sort of professionally then see if you could really trade up something big, so I took the concept, and I just put it on the internet, and then I saw it with the red paper clip because that was the first thing I saw when I thought of actually putting it on the internet, and just asked if anyone wanted to trade something bigger or better than the paper clip. And a few days later I made a trade for a [pen like a fish 0:03:30.5].
Jason Hartman: And where on the internet did you put it? Were you on eBay or where did you do it?
Kyle: You know I didn’t, usually they wants. It was all I had sort of really rough blog website at the time, and I was just making little posts on different in the barter section on Craig’s list in different cities.
Jason Hartman: Was it a regular size paper clip just a little one for paper or was it something funny involved with the item?
Kyle: It was just like a regular, the size of the paper clip you can think of when you see think of paper clips exactly like that and it happened to be red.
Jason Hartman: Wow amazing. Okay so then it was the fish in a hot pan what happened after that?
Kyle: I post the fish pan in the barter section of Craig’s list and we were in Seattle that day, and I went over to this women’s house and I traded with fish pans for a doorknob. Right after that was the doorknob and traded that for a camping stove and on and on.
Jason Hartman: [Laughter]. What kind of house did you end up with?
Kyle: I ended with like a two storey farm, not a farm. I guess it could be you could call it a farm house. It was right on main street in Kipling Saskatchewan in Canada which is like a really small town in the Canadian plains, and it was just — you know it was just sort of magical little housing way because if you look at, and you ask your child to draw you a house they often draw like a square of the triangle roof, and the door in the middle and it was exactly like that.
Jason Hartman: Right yeah I believe I have seen the photo of that house too. I mean how long did this all take, and how many trades were involved in, and you know it sort of begs the question Kyle why would someone want to trade because it’s the bigger and better concept, so why would someone give you something better for the seemingly lower end thing that you had to trade them?
Kyle: Well, it’s the principle things are worth different amounts to different people. Some people are not willing to spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine while others will gladly spend 100s, but really the liquid inside is very, very similar, and yet you can argue with quality and all those type of things, but really that the same principle is at work here. And it’s always at work with any situation like I mean there is people that I had said yeah I’ve got this object that I eventually was going to throw away. I give it to a friend because I am moving depending on what time the point in their life they were at, and I said yeah that’s a lot bigger and better the thing I had right now. I will take that off to your hands, and as it turns out a lot of people have things or abilities that they are — they don’t really use at all, and there is good value in all of that stuff, so the item, the trade item themselves were at the very, very fluid value thing.
It’s not like everyone is going to actually take everything in their house and put it on eBay. That’s been done a couple of times, but it’s just not the reality. It’s a lot of work to do something like that, and really that’s just a general market. Anything at all on life is only worth what someone else is willing to give you, and that doesn’t need money, that just means if someone so that makes you an offer then you negotiate it after at that point.
Jason Hartman: And how many trades were there to get from the paper clip to the house?
Kyle: 14 trades.
Jason Hartman: That’s it?
Jason Hartman: That’s amazing, only 14 trades. You got to tell us more of the trades because I am amazed that it went up that quickly. It kind of almost Kyle reminds me of that old funny mathematical equation it says if you double a penny everyday for 30 days, you have over I think a million dollars which is, is mind blowing, but when you really sit down and do that, its true. 14 trades though got you from what was the value of the house?
Kyle: Well, that you know what I don’t know because I did encourage though I signed a deed, and then funny thing is when we moved to town, the house was, there was over well let’s see there was 400 houses in town and over 100 of them were for sale. After we’ve been Kipling for a year or two it actually discovered oil nearby, so there is only two or three houses for sale. After that two or three years, and tat that stage I decided to actually donate the house back to the town of Kipling because I wasn’t interested in selling it, and I just wanted to make sure that the community got it sort of like tourist attraction, community asset back because they were the ones who put it up in the first place, and to me it was never about having the house. It was always about seeing if it could be done.
Jason Hartman: Right which is amazing that it could be done. I mean, but you must have some ideas to the value for your own edification, right?
Kyle: Well, would you buy a house in Kipling Saskatchewan?
Jason Hartman: I don’t know. I have been to Saskatchewan but I you know [laughter] I don’t know I mean it just, its interesting so 14 trades can you tell us about any of the other trades?
Kyle: Yeah so I guess where we left off I had the —
Jason Hartman: You had the doorknob right?
Kyle: Yeah doorknob then I trade this camping stove. I actually traded the camping store for what I call it an instant party which was a beer keg and a neon Budweiser sign, and also, and I chose to fill keg up with beer so that was the instant party and I swap that for a snowmobile.
Jason Hartman: Wow and what — and was it a working snowmobile?
Kyle: Yeah actually — the guy I traded with in at the Montreal area, he is quite a local celebrity and he offered his worst snowmobiles so it was kind of funny, but as it turns out it was not too bad condition, and he had five or six snowmobiles and this being the worst one, kind of it was fun, fully functional snowmobile the sort of thing, but there you go. There was the value it was winter time in Canada. Snowmobile was very reliable to a lot of people. But if you think about someone like in the tropics snowmobile is not going to really do anything for.
Jason Hartman: Yeah so certainly it’s a matter of people seeing different value and different things just like you say okay so now you’ve got a snowmobile and what trade number is that five, six?
Kyle: Yeah six, five or six.
Jason Hartman: So we are almost halfway through.
Kyle: I traded the snowmobile. There is you know a snowmobile magazine out in Western Canada that said hey we will trade you a trip for two to the Rockies if you want to trade us that snowmobile so I said yeah absolutely. I didn’t have a way to get the snowmobile to the Rockies to make that trade though. And while I was thinking I sort of tentatively agreed to make that trade. This guy called me up and says my name is Bruno. I am calling you from [Syntas 0:09:20.4] which is a uniform company. They clean bathrooms and doormats and something like that.
Jason Hartman: Yeah we’ve purchased a logo wear from that.
Kyle: Yeah I know they are great guys, and I actually had been wearing my cousin husband’s shirt. A guy named Ricky used to work for Cintas I just been wearing his shirt just sort of as a bit of been inside joke through all of the trades, and I never asked Cintas for a commission or anything like that. I just wore their shirt on the website and pictures, so the general manager for the province at Quebec and one of the large provinces in Canada for this big huge multi-billion dollar company called me up and its like wow, what are you doing wearing our shirt and what’s this trading thing, and he wasn’t angry at all.
He was just sort of confused and excited almost. And I said well, it’s inside joke. My cousin’s husband all this stuff, he loved it. We met up for dinner, and he actually offered me like a box truck, big cube van, moving truck in exchange for that trip for two to the Rockies. You know I had their logo on their side, and it was older one of their model so they had to actually cycle it out of their inventory in the near future, so I ended up putting the snowmobile on the back of the truck driving all the way out to the Rockies and Bruno that gentlemen who send us actually flew there, met up with us, and we made two trades all at once, and I wind up leaving the deal that with the moving truck.
Jason Hartman: Amazing story. Wow, keep going.
Kyle: So there is this new moving truck and I was like — it was really tough because it was huge. It was a giant vehicle and I was like, I had pretty much need to go straight to a house after this or find something that’s you know had a lot of value, but it is very small something like you know ring or an opportunity really, and I got an offer for the moving truck from this guy who worked at a recording studio and he said I can offer you enough studio time for a band or an artist to record their entire album.
Well, what do you say? and I say yes, and I drove all the way to his recording studio and made the trade, and I walked away with that deal with this huge opportunity to record an album with all those promotional stuff attached to it, and but it was on a piece of paper it was a promise, so I kind of wanted to, I wouldn’t say trade it fast, but I want to make sure that I found someone who would put this to good use that’s why I ended up trading the recording contract with a woman named Jodie Garnett from Phoenix and Jodie said this would be perfect for me. I can definitely record my album.
This is you know dream come true. I have one year rent in my duplex house in Phoenix. I can offer that to you, and this was pre-housing crash Phoenix, so it was worth quite a bit, and I actually made the trade with Jodie wind up down in Phoenix with this year of rent and Jodie went up to record her album, and I kind of very quickly traded the year of rent with this woman named at Leslie who worked at Alice Coopers Restaurant, and she offered me an afternoon with her boss, and I kind of thought I was the boss at the restaurant, but it turns out it was the owner of the restaurant who is Alice Cooper and I got an afternoon with Alice Cooper four year of rent in a house, and a lot of people thought that was crazy.
I thought it was great because you can’t actually sign up to purchase an afternoon with Alice Cooper, so its one of those things that the value is either worthless or worth a lot to one, one group of people, so I lined up in Fargo North Dakota on stage with Alice Cooper doing like a little promo thing for this afternoon with him. It was really fun, and I was getting all of these crazy authors from around the world and afternoon with Alice Cooper, and people were offering some quite valuable things. It just didn’t feel right. And then I got a phone call, and this guy named Mark said look, this would mean a lot to me if I could meet Alice Cooper.
If I could go backstage, get some pictures with him, and actually take some pictures of him on stage, and backstage because he, and my name is Mark and I am from Kentucky and I would like to be a concert photographer that’s my dream and my passion and I said that’s perfect Mark I want to trade with you. this is you are the guy to trade with, but this I am trying to trade up, what you have got to trade? And Mark what he did was he sort of listening to all this rock memorabilia and it was all of these things like a kiss guitar, and Peter Frampton’s talk box and things like this. And at one point he said he has a kiss snow globe and I sort of had this light bulb go off in my head but it wasn’t like incandescent light bulb.
It was more like a compact fluorescent light bulb that was a bit tired and old, and didn’t fully illuminate, but after it fully illuminated I said did you just you have a kiss snow globe Mark? And Mark said yeah definitely it’s the best snow globe I own. He started laughing, and I said well, would you be willing to trade that snow globe with me for the afternoon with Alice Cooper and this is like 35 mutually, a $35 snow globe that you can purchase on eBay and Mark said are you crazy? And I’m like, I might be, but I think this might work well. What I hadn’t really thought of before was this guy had called me up in Corbin Bernsen and he said, yeah I am this actor.
Jason Hartman: LA law.
Kyle: Yeah LA law, and major league and all these things, and I didn’t really know who he was, so I went on the internet. He actually offered me a role paid speaking credited role in a Hollywood film, but I didn’t know who he was. So I went on Wikipedia to check him out. And on the trailer section in Wikipedia Corbin Bernsen is one of the worlds, it has one of the world’s largest snow globe collection over 7000 snow globes, and that little piece of information stuck at my head for some reason.
So when Mark actually made the offer for the snow globe I said hey Mark I honestly I am going to call Corbin, so I called up Corbin and said hey would you like to trade that movie role for this kiss snow globe. And Corbin said well, you know what do you mean the kiss snow globe? So I send him a picture, Corbin called me right back and said not only do I want it, I need it, so I ended up trading the snow globe with Mark and people on the internet freaked out.
They thought I was totally blowing out, and it was some publicity stunt, it was all scam just for this snow globe or something like that, and then about a week later I kind of let them have their fun and freak out, but then a week later, I said I had to trade snow globe with [Corburn Burns] and now for this movie role. And then people oh I see what you did there? And then I got tons of offers for the movie role because a lot of people want to be in feature films, so I ended put the movie role traded with [Corburn] took the snow globe down to LA and we made the trade. we checked out the snow globes, and then after that I walked outside and the phone rang, and there was this guy named Bert Roach, he is the Economic Development Officer for the town of Kipling, Saskatchewan and Bert said he had this crazy idea about trying to get town counsel to trade one of their houses for the movie role and all this stuff, and I said okay well, see what you can do Bert?
See you can any convince town counsel that they owned a few house around town to make this trade. They came back and said yeah we are going to do this, and they threw in that they would build the world’s largest red paper clip that will make me mayor for the day, give me a key to the city. My girlfriend and I would be life long citizens of Kipling honorary and they would throw Saskatchewan’s biggest housewarming party ever.
So, I said yes, absolutely and we went to Kipling. I made the trade for the movie role, and then the best part was during the house, so I winded up with the house like that, but the best part was during the housewarming party now the town of Kipling kind of held open auditions for the movie role, so people from town and all over the world came to audition for this role in the movie. Corbin was there, friends and family and it was just this huge sort of celebration which was amazing because you know most of the people I trade in came to town, and it was just sort of a great time because as the project happened through the internet and I had made all the trades in person. This was a great time for everyone to get together and sort of experience its real, so that was kind of the real hype one was at the end, the big party.
Jason Hartman: That is just an amazing story. You know what it also shows I mean obviously like you said things Kyle have different value to different people, but in addition to that, it also sort of reminds me as the concept and economics about the specialization of labor and how there are different ways that you put people and things, and material resources to work, and they add so much more value depending on how you use these different pieces of puzzle. It seems like in the trade from the one red paper clip all the way up to the house you really kind of solved a lot of people’s problems didn’t you?
Kyle: I wouldn’t say I solved their problems. What I did do is —
Jason Hartman: You made a few dreams come true though meeting Alice Cooper and it was just sort of some different kind of stuff.
Kyle: What I did was I sort of just said I have got this now because anyone want to try and create something more on top of this and every time someone would step forward, and I was getting sometimes hundreds of offers, but I really chose to work with people that I wanted to that I trusted, that I like their kind of ideas and stuff, and then we created something much larger by working together in exchanging. Well, we exchanged all sorts of things whether it was, with Jodie I actually she wrote for an airlines, so I got a few free flights out with the airline.
We sort of played this whole game to see if what we could create in terms of value over the course of the year, but it was definitely, it was completely opportunistic and in the best sense of the word opportunistic is often associated I think with people being opportunistic about others. This was presenting something and then getting sort of a constant flow of pitches on ways to create more with that.
Jason Hartman: Sure, so it was a one year project then?
Kyle: Yeah you know it went from the day I was — it was going to be a year in five days, but I said Bert you are doing the trade of this house, lets do this five days earlier so we can say we did it within a year, so they went back to town council and got it done faster.
Jason Hartman: Let me take a brief pause. We will be back in just a minute.
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Jason Hartman: If there have been any stories that you’ve heard about, or you have inspired them to do something similar and they have followed on your curtails.
Kyle: Absolutely there is a gentleman right now who started with a toy spaceship and he is actually trying to trade up to a trip to space, and he is gotten quite far. I think he is out one of those zero gravity flights, and you know who would really does well at this store and local radio stations that have a captive audience of listeners, and they will just say hey we are going to start with this toothpick or with this pen. Does anyone have anything bigger or better, so the phone will ring and they will get emails and they will go on air, and but the audience is so large that there you know there is advertising opportunities being taken up by a lot of people making this trades, and what they have done, and within two or three weeks sometimes it’s trade up to a new car something like that. And then they have auctioned it off for charity. So it’s sort of like a fun game they have with the listeners which is a really new dynamic.
Jason Hartman: Right, and it really is a very engaging game too because it’s not just about winning a simple price or something. There is a lot of sort of strategy and smarts that go into all of this trading, right?
Kyle: For sure, and then the people along the way that make the trades they are not exactly donating something. They are saying well, I will give you these expensive Native American carvings for that trip for two to Hawaii. And may be they make these carvings and they get is — so there is actually good value exchange happening. The radio station raises the money for charity and everyone kind of who ops in wins in some ways.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, I agree. It’s a real win-win. And something a bigger value is created out of it. Did Craig’s list call you up, and say will you be our spokesperson or something like that?
Kyle: You know I’ve never received the call, or any comments from Craig’s list. I’m a massive fan of Craig’s list. Curiously I have actually wound up working on some sort of cross promotion stuff with KGI in Taiwan so I was you know I went to Taiwan, and spoke to people. And they want to get associated with the story, and I thought it was great. It was a great trip. My wife and I went there, and met some really nice people, and they were doing a similar project starting with small things and working up so it was a really fun project we worked on together.
Jason Hartman: Very cool. Well hey tell us Kyle what you are up to nowadays in looking for these five strange guys, what’s that all about?
Kyle: This is sort of a inside joke that’s getting a bit more turned outside you could say. My brother was on the internet in 2002, and just found some funny picture, a picture of five guys. And if you go to the website, whoaretheseguys.com, you will see the picture, and he send it to me, I started laughing. And I said there was some friends, it’s been around our circle of friends. It was around our circle of friends for many years.
Now what happened was when I did the red paper clip story I had all this tons and tons of media attention. And when I was making the trade, I would always say yeah I have got this item right now. If anyone wants to trade, let’s make a trade. So we traded to the house, moved into the house. And then the media kept calling though, and they said so what you are doing now, you traded a paper clip for a house. You must be doing so many other things. And at the time I was writing a book and really been quite a bit of a hermit not doing much else, but I just went on TV, and said yeah I’m looking for these five guys, kind of this is an inside joke just to show my friends and buddies that I was on TV holding this picture that we had been laughing about for years.
And their first reaction was the media boards who are they? We said, said well we don’t know. We are looking for it. Where did you get the picture? I explained that my brother found it, and they started to come up with ideas and things like this. And that’s sort of spread out through the media that we are looking for these guys. And then a few years later I just, I realized that may be I would try and track down a bit further.
So I have actually signed up for a show at the French festival in Montréal, and at Saskatoon Saskatchewan this summer. The show is called Who Are These Guys. I’m going to walk out on stage with picture of the guys. And show our attempts that’s part of try and find them. And then kind of open it up to public to see if anyone else can help us solve this important mystery.
Jason Hartman: I’m looking at the video. You have these — who are these guys on YouTube, you’ve got just under 1200 views which in your world isn’t that many, but boy, when you look at the actual video I see this on big screens at conventions and events, news media, and on television where you are holding up the picture and so forth. Just interesting, I mean what have some of these media outlets said to you about this project?
Kyle: I don’t know. A lot of them sort of see it as tongue and cheek, they think I’m joking. They think I know who they are or they think this is just some sort of stunt, but I think it’s an actual very interesting social experiment. We are taught that Google can solve everything on the internet.
It’s everything is instant. You can communicate with anyone. You could learn anything quickly, but there is so many things that may be we don’t need to know but we just simply can’t either. Knowing who these five guys are is very, very unimportant. It doesn’t — it’s not going to change — well it might change some peoples lives, but if I wanted to find out who they are, I can’t really do that that easy. And I think it’s sort of always smart to challenge how good things are if I’m saying. Well, wait a sec, we can’t find who these guys are yet.
And it’s a really interesting process to actually ask people what their ideas are rather than them just go oh I will find out the answer, and take the internet whatever they find on the internet verbatim. I think it’s more and just in sometimes it’s kind of to have an imagination about it rather than a solid answer.
Jason Hartman: Yeah it really is. And you can search words on the internet, Google Goggles project is pretty interesting about you can photograph a place on your Smartphone, and then Google can find that place. I can’t imagine that would be very accurate but why can’t you take an image and search for the image. Now what you said to me before we started recording was interesting about how you have tainted the crime scene. Tell people what you mean by that if you would.
Kyle: Absolutely. I posted this picture all over the internet, countless other people have taken pictures on their phones and spread it everywhere, and the picture is so far flung on the internet. Now that if I do a Google image search the only ones that turn up really especially on the first 5 or 10 pages or ones that I have put out there or other people I know have. So the idea of having this pristine quick link to where the picture came from originally with the description of may be of who they are, but may be it was just the picture that was found in a garbage bin one day, and someone just sort of scanned it, and post it on the internet.
We really don’t know. It’s the same thing if you find a boot on the street. Whose boot was that? Why is it there? Often it’s just the mystery, and I think the — and I like to call them important mysteries, tongue firmly in check on the important obviously, but I think these are important mysteries. And I think it’s important to have mysteries because if we know everything then we lose our imagination. You know sometimes when you are at a bar, and you are oh what’s that guys name from that movie, and you can instantly look on IMDB and figure it out, but it’s kind of powerful I think you know humans have evolved having these mysteries and curiosities. I think it’s important to keep those not to not progress, but I think it’s important to sort of have that sense of wonder and excitement.
Jason Hartman: That definitely is. Maybe this is one of the last frontiers for electronic stuff is to find out who are these guys. It’s really interesting. What’s next for you Kyle? I mean you got to find these guys. Do you think you will do it? I mean how are the leads going or you know as has the trail gone cold or is it reasonably warm or how is it going?
Kyle: The trail heats up and cools down from time to time. I get a lot of crack pot ideas, a lot of people drift towards you know the band from Southern California called the Do Run Runs or they are Menudo over there. These very you know I’m not going to say typical answers, but you know I literally never follow it up with any of those bands or interviewed them.
So may be I will follow up with some band received and is in fact them. I need to get a positive or a negative identity on at least one of these guys, and ask him what’s with the picture, what was happening then. And then I would like to kind of show that person, the entire back story of how we found it. I think that will be an interesting experience for someone.
Jason Hartman: Oh yeah, I think they would be fascinated by it. And you are probably going to make them quite famous. I admit if there are some band who is in the garage before, and never got anywhere you know. They will probably get some air fly out of your big search for them, but very interesting. So what’s next for you? I know you are working on finding the guys, what else are you up to?
Kyle: When I was growing up in the high school, my two least favorite things were writing book reports, and public speaking. I would always love sports, I love math. I like writing, but not writing about other peoples stuff. And you know I ended up writing a book, and I’ve turned into — a once I’ve turned into a public speaker but I had spoke in quite a few times. And I really like sharing stories, telling stories in a live arena so I think more speaking, and more writing, definitely going to write some more stories and smart books.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic, well Kyle tell people where they can learn more, and where they can get the book.
Kyle: The book is called the One Red Paperclip. If you go to Amazon and you search for red paperclip. If you use the term red paperclip anywhere on the internet that’s the name. And you could find my contact info in the book very easily.
Jason Hartman: Good stuff. Well, Kyle Macdonald thank you so much for telling us about your adventures today very, very interesting and keep it up. I hope you find those guys, okay.
Kyle: I sure hope so too.
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The Speaking of Wealth Team
Transcribed by: Renee’