A good sense of humor undoubtedly comes in handy in the life of an entrepreneur, something to lighten the mood during times of stress or adversity. But Ryan Walther, Arik Nordby, and Ryan Dolan, took the concept of humor to a whole new level. They managed to create a profitable business selling empty boxes – no joke!
The boxes aren’t meant to remain empty, however. The Prank-O website encourages people to “disguise your gift in a stupid box.” So, for example, you have actually bought a very nice gift for a friend, but put it in a box that claims to contain an Earwax Candle Kit, or Bacon Scented Dryer Sheets. Imagine the look on that poor friend’s face when they think you have given them something really ridiculous, stupid and disgusting. And the relief when they realize it’s just a joke.
Ryan Walther had started writing for “Onion,” a satirical newspaper when he was a student at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Arik Nordby was an artist, who describes himself as “Just a guy from the Midwest that digs creating things that amuse.”
Arik had created a novelty item called Prank Pack (originally called the Gotcha Box), and was selling through the Onion online store. The Prank Pack proved to be so popular that within a year or so it was the best selling item in the store.
Realizing that it made no sense to simply market one item through the Onion store, in 2009 Arik Nordby, Ryan Walther along with Ryan Dolan, another writer for Onion, created 30 Watt with the goal of creating and marketing a variety of novelty items, both online and in retail stores. In an interview with Twin Cities Business Magazine on 8/31/2015, Dolan explained their reasoning. “Back then, the Onion store was doing very well, but I said ‘we make all of this really funny stuff and it would be kind of odd to only sell it on this one tiny shop on the Internet.’”
Arik Nordby (designer), Ryan Dolan (business manager) and Ryan Walther (salesman), made a powerful team and worked tirelessly together to grow their business. Dolan describes Walther as “the best salesperson I’ve ever seen and I still remember our first trip to see Urban Outfitters… Walther is a super persistent guy and told them we have all these amazing ideas. So we showed them our six products and they asked ‘what else have you got?” An important lesson they learned from this and similar contacts with retailers is that “…when you meet bigger retailers, they want solutions. They can’t buy one Prank Pack from us and then go find some funny glassware person. So what our advantage to them is we are a one-stop shop.”
By the time of the Twin Cities Business Magazine article, 30 Watt had been in business for six years and had grown to a company with 14 employees, roughly doubling their sales every year. Their novelty items were appearing in numerous retail stores around the country, including Kohl’s, Walmart, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Target.
The Prank Pack name was changed in September 2018 to Prank-O, and it remains the foundation of 30 Watt’s sales. Former Yahoo! Tech Guru David Pogue reviewed the Prank-O and explained its appeal: “They’re the boxes for screamingly funny, hilariously awful, but scarily plausible products that don’t really exist. The photography, typography and layout of these boxes are perfect. I mean, they look exactly like the cheesiest products you’d buy from TV infomercials.” (Arik estimates that each box takes an average of 40 hours to design.)
30 Watt has a team of creative designers, and their “biographies” on the website are entertaining and consistent with the overall tone of the company. As the Twin Cities Magazine article began, “It wouldn’t be farfetched to liken 30 Watt to a bizarro Hallmark rival.”