The Founders of a Minneapolis Gift Box Business Pranked ‘Shark Tank’ and Won an Investment
One might imagine pitching a fake business to the investor panel on ABC’s hit TV show “Shark Tank” wouldn’t end well. But for Minneapolis-based Prank-O, a business built around confusing and amusing loved ones with empty gift boxes advertising fake (and often bizarre) products, the false introduction was right on brand.
Ryan Walther and Arik Nordby, who founded 30 Watt and its recently spun off Prank-O business, approached the “sharks” during a Sunday evening episode promoting RynArik, a gift-giving company disguised as Prank-O.
The duo’s pitch began with a lie: “As a freelance photographer I’m always on the go,” said Nordby, a graphic designer by trade. “One day my little boy looked at me and said, ‘Dad, how come you’re never home for dinner?’ and it just broke my heart. It was at that moment I vowed never to miss a meal with him again.”
“And that’s why we invented the Snack Hat,” Walther cut in to say, “the perfect solution to balancing work and family.”
After affixing a magnetic cap and dishwasher-safe chip tray to his head to show the Snack Hat in action, Walther then handed a wrapped gift box for a novelty product to each of the sharks. The boxes, however, were empty. The ruse was up.
Donning their original “Shark Tank” outfits, Arik Nordby and Ryan Walther recreated some of the prank from the episode as it aired during a watch party at Bauhaus Brew Labs on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Schaust)
Revealing the Prank-O shirts under their RynArik fleeces, Prank-O CEO Walther gave the real pitch: $640,000 for 8 percent of their business. Only Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary bit, but each had their own demand. Cuban wanted his share more than tripled to 25 percent, while O’Leary offered to “smooth out the seasonality” of the business for a 38-cent cut from every $8 fake gift box sold by Prank-O.
Citing small margins as a killer in its past, Prank-O shook hands with Cuban over O’Leary.
When asked what it’s like to work with Cuban, Walther tells TCB, “He’s tall and takes up a lot of space in the office. But he smells really nice.”
Behind the scenes, though, the level of pranking on display during the “Shark Tank” episode went deeper than appearances would suggest. As Nordby and Walther were in Los Angeles to record the show, Prank-O staff in their North Loop office in downtown Minneapolis doctored a tweet announcing the pitch, which was confidential information. “It worked; they panicked,” Prank-O spokeswoman Jenna Borrelli said.
The fake tweet Prank-O's staff sent to Nordby and Walther as a prank during the taping of the show. (Photo courtesy of Prank-O)
Neither Nordby or Walther were the originators of the idea to pitch the sharks. It was an executive producer from the show who reached out via Prank-O’s customer service line and asked them to consider. Once it was confirmed the offer was real, the duo began concocting their plan to prank “Shark Tank” using their line of Prank Packs.
From a watch party Sunday evening at Bauhaus Brew Labs in Minneapolis, Nordby told TCB he was pleased with how their segment was edited. “There was more I wanted to say; I wanted to talk about how we use our friends and family to create the boxes,” he said. “Towards the end there were just a lot of numbers being thrown around.”
Approximately $10 million in empty gift boxes have been sold under the Prank Pack line through Prank-O and founding company 30 Watt since 2013. This summer, 30 Watt also spun off its popular Drink Wisconsibily line under Wisconsinbily Holdings LLC and moved the business to Milwaukee.
The combined businesses’ products are sold online and in many major retailers, including Target, Walmart and Kohl’s. This year, Prank-O is expected to bring in $2.8 million in sales. The company has 15 full-time employees, who work for both Prank-O and 30 Watt.
To watch the “Shark Tank” episode featuring Prank-O, click here.