Jasmin Nazarian interviews the founders of Plenty of Twenties and asks them “why?“
The other day I was at Starbucks, and because of some mistake there was a perfectly good, untouched cup of coffee left unclaimed. The barista called out the name on the cup a few times before he offered it up for free to anyone who wanted it. I was a little surprised that no one stepped forward. Maybe because it was Starbucks, and many of the people who buy coffee there don’t worry about saving a few extra dollars here and there? I don’t know, but I have no shame about my love of coffee or free things, and so I stepped off line where I was about to order and took the free cup.
When I was in college and that sort of thing happened at a coffee place around campus, plenty of broke students like myself would step forward for the free coffee. And even though I am no longer as broke as I was in college, I swear the free cup of coffee really tasted better just because I didn’t have to pay for it.
I think most people appreciate a giveaway. But how far would you go for it? I have a sister who is one of those aggressive sale shoppers. She gets a thrill out of it. For me, the bargains aren’t enough to get me to go to a crowded, claustrophobic, aggressive shopping/hunting/fighting spree. I got dragged into a horrifying day of Black Friday shopping with my sister last year. Never again! Some people will wait in lines, overnight, in the rain for free tickets to a concert or for a one-day only couture blowout sale. Everyone has their own lengths that they would go to, depending on the profit.
Two long-time friends from Boston, Richard Cook, a psychiatrist, and Steven Grant, a lawyer, debated this same issue: to what lengths would an individual go to for something free? Specifically, they debated how far a person would go for a $20 bill. If it was there on the floor next to you, sure, you would pick it up, right? But, what if it was a mile away? The two friends created a website/social experiment to find an answer to their friendly debate.
Every day, Cook and Grant stash away $20 in one or more locations in the Boston area. They then post exactly where they have put away the bills on their website Plenty of Twenties. Individuals who search out and find the bills will often take pictures to send back to the site.
Looking at their website, it seemed to me that the majority of people participating were men. Maybe it is a bias, but when I mix together adventure/excitement rewarded with money, I can’t help but think this is something most men would appreciate. When I asked Cook and Grant if they saw any patterns over the past year, since the founding of the site, Cook explained:
The idea has picked up across all groups. At first we suspected we would get a lot of college students–who might have more time to participate and more need of the money. And while we get a lot of men and certainly many young students who respond to us, it seems that all kinds of people enjoy participating.
Now, what would motivate two men to give away their own money day in and day out? The two friends, voted co-class clowns in high school, have always had a flare for things slightly wacky and zany. While they are ordinary men, not wealthy (and they insist—not crazy!), they started this site to appease their own curiosity, and to help the Boston economy in their own little way. What they find most rewarding, though, is the chance to brighten some people’s day.
This was their main motivation for creating the site: the opportunity to put a smile on at least one person’s face everyday. And it is this very thing that seems to drive people to get involved in Plenty of Twenties. Grant believes that a majority of the people who visit their site get involved not just for the cash, but more so for the opportunity to “escape for a little bit.”
“Today, everybody is so stressed out,” Grant told me. “All you hear about is the bad economy, how people everywhere are suffering. So much in media is negative. People want to escape for just a few minutes. They want the fun, the excitement.”
When Grant and Steve hid five 20s at the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, they gave the hot tip to Boston Herald reporter Brendan Lynch, who went to the presses with it. Derek Burns and Scott Rannie read the article and found the dough at 5:30 AM. Scott replied to Plenty of Twenties: “We just found your money! We got the paper, got some coffee, started reading it and said this is b.s. But we found your Note. We were so excited we must have woken up half of Charlestown! Thank you! We felt like kids again.”
“It might not even matter if there were a ten or a fifty-dollar bill,” Grant said. “Maybe even a $100 bill in the envelope. I think the results would be similar, because what people seem to enjoy most about this site is the simplicity of the idea and the excitement of it.”
Cook said one of his favorite stories is of a particular lady who found a 20 and didn’t spend the money. Rather, she put it on her refrigerator as a reminder of the small moments in life that can make one happy—and as a reminder that there are people who want to spread that feeling.