Greg Gonzalez is not the sort of person who doubts his own entrepreneurial vision. Even when he found himself an object of much curiosity while riding the Boston subway carrying roughly $100,000 in cash in two clear plastic trash bags, he did not falter.
“People were like, ‘What the hell?’ ” Greg told me of his ride on the T.
Well, the deal was this: The 23-year-old Manassas, Va., native, has invented what he says is the world’s first novelty sleep mask upholstered with shredded U.S. currency. You see, the cash in those trash bags had been sliced into strips a sixteenth of an inch wide. It was destined to be the main ingredient in the Money Mask, available from Money Never Sleepz LLC, Greg Gonzalez, founder and sole employee.
“Money,” Greg said, “is kind of like my passion.” When he was a student at Osbourn Park High School in Prince William County, people used to call him “the Purse Boy.”
This was not because Greg carried a purse. It was because he would sell you a designer purse. Or designer sunglasses. (Knockoffs, alas.)
“Ever since elementary school and middle school, I was just hustling,” Greg said. “I would do anything I could to make an extra buck.”
Greg sold candy, shoveled snow, peddled wrapping paper. He started trading stocks in high school, dabbled in mutual funds — “anything I could to make money.”
It should come as no surprise that Greg decided to study business in college, specifically entrepreneurialism, specifically at Babson College in Massachusetts. Even among his business-minded peers, Greg stood out.
“I was at school getting ragged on by my friends when one said: ‘You’re always talking about money. I bet you dream about it.’
“My response was, ‘Money never sleeps.’ ”
Money. Sleeps. Sleep mask. Inspiration had struck.
“I thought, ‘I should look into this little idea,’ ” Greg said.
It was harder than Greg thought it would be to turn his dream into a reality. The U.S. Treasury sells five-pound bags of shredded cash as a gag gift, but Greg needed larger quantities. He found a factory to make a prototype mask but says he was overcharged. “(Their set-up fee was over $500 for four masks,” he said. “To a freshman in college, that was a lot of money.”)
Greg found a better manufacturer, but then lost out on a retail distribution deal because he messed up the bar code.
He thinks he’s figured it all out now. He has a good supply of bulk shredded cash, picking it up in his Ford Focus at Federal Reserve offices in Baltimore and Richmond. He sells the masks for 10 bucks each on his Web site, moneyneversleepz.com, and at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing gift shop.
Taking a product from conception to customer has been more instructive than any college class. Greg said, “The best way of learning something is getting out there and doing it.”
The mask is, Greg said, a quality product, a luxury product, perfect as a joke gift but also completely usable: satin backing, two head straps, a clear plastic front that reveals the telltale green of the Yankee dollar.
Greg lives in New York, where his day job is at a software start-up in the commercial real estate sector. He said that to date he’s sold more than 3,000 Money Masks. “That’s through hustling,” he said. “I keep one on me at all times. You never know.”
He’s not done inventing. He’s been kicking around the idea of a hat full of shredded bills.
“For that one, Greg said, the slogan “could be ‘Money stays on our mind.’ ”
It certainly stays on his.
The National Zoo’s baby giant panda had a twin brother that died. So did Elvis Presley. That’s just one reason why the cub must be named after the King of Rock and Roll. There are many other reasons the name fits, reasons that, with your help, I will be enumerating from now till Nov. 30, the 100-day anniversary of the cub’s birth.
Joyce Arsnow of Colesville, Md., contributed today’s reason: “If you rearrange the letters of ‘Elvis,’ they spell ‘lives,’ and that is just what this twin panda has done!”
Send your reasons to me, with “Panda Elvis” in the subject line.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.