If you think pretending to rate dogs on the Internet while actually declaring that they all deserve an A+ is a funny way to earn money, well, creator Matt Nelson is right there with you.
The "good dogs" whose pictures appear on Nelson's gentle, crowd-pleasing Twitter account We Rate Dogs usually get a ranking of 12 or 13 out of 10, as well as tens of thousands of "likes" from the feed's nearly three million followers. The account overall is an Internet favorite: Kotaku calls We Rate Dogs "the most wholesome and best thing on Twitter" and he makes in the low five-figures each month, he estimates, selling related merchandise through his online store. That comes to six figures a year.
The bestselling items, like a T-shirt featuring Nelson's most iconic in-joke, "They're good dogs, Brent," go for $19-$40 each.
Nelson is a college student at Campbell University in North Carolina who intended to become a golf instructor. He stumbled into this business in 2015, during his freshman year. He hadn't even been looking to get a campus job, since he had some money saved from a stint as a swim instructor: "I planned to use that first semester to just get a grip on college," he tells CNBC.
But then, as he puts it, "a few months into the semester, WeRateDogs happened."
Nine months later, he was making money off of what began as a good-natured joke born in an Applebee's. His empire now includes an LLC, a blog, a game, the equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, an Instagram feed (184,000 followers) and, of course, the online store.
"Initially, the way I thought of it was like a pathway to a job in writing or a job in comedy," Nelson told Esquire. "Now the goal is to make this the job. I thought this was going to lead to opportunities, which it has, but now this is the opportunity."