This is a follow up story for Joker Greeting. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 5 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I am the lucky founder of Joker Greeting and I make prank gifts. Our main product is the endless singing musical greeting card and “way” back in 2015 I launched on Kickstarter with a goal of $10,000 and ended up doing $92,073. I really had no idea we could even hit our original goal. I expected to sell to college-age kids but our audience is much more diverse and honestly not many college kids. I love reading reviews from grandparents who prank their grandkids or sisters.
If you want to see our first Kickstarter video, and how it attributed to our success, check it out here:
Just a recap on early days. Joker Greeting started with 1 card but today we have over 30 greeting cards. We added 3 more product lines; intermittent noise pranks, musical gift boxes, and prank candles that smell good at first but horrible in the middle. Each of these product lines has had different journeys to success. What has surprised me is each product line had a different journey to success. The greeting cards hit the road running from day 1. The intermittent noise pranks took 8-10 months to figure out. The candles were also quite slow at first but are starting to pick up. The same ad style doesn’t work with different products, at least not for me.
The first time I spoke with Starter Story was November 2017 and Joker Greeting’s revenue was a little over $300k for the year. I was able to grow revenues 30% every year and when 2020 started I was really worried it would be a negative year. However, 2020 ended up growing close to 100% and I was just shy of $1 million in revenue. For 2021 I went all-in on inventory and so far it seems I will grow over 100% and possibly reach $2 million in revenue. I’m typically a pessimistic business operator but it’s July this seems very possible. I hope to try and explain how this happened below.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The headline and exciting news are that my expected sales for 2021 should exceed $2 million. Maybe I missed that goal, I've no idea! But so far it’s looking good. But I do not want to give any false impression that it’s been an easy journey. I shared in my first Starter Story interview when things were very painful. You can read that if you want. After losing a lot of money in 2016 I almost closed up shop, obviously I didn’t but I had a lot of rebuilding.
That wasn’t the last problem. I think we all have some COVID story. Mine was not as detrimental as 2016 that cost me every penny, however, it was a 3 month long headache and a lot of missed sleep. And I really do mean a 3-month physical headache. My shipping partner sold to another company and the new owner was so bad that hundreds of orders never shipped and hundreds of other orders were lost. Being bigger is great but when problems happen it causes massive problems because everyone is mad! I apologized a lot. And no, the new shipping partner took no fault or blame. I do not work with them anymore. I left as soon as possible and it’s been great with ShipDaddy.
Right now I have a fantastic manufacturing partner and a fantastic shipping partner. This allows me to focus on what I do best and that is imagining fun pranks, marketing, making videos and content, and customer support. Yes, I really do focus on customer support. A lot. I don’t think it is overwhelming and I really do think it is important so I do it. I may not be able to do this forever.
It hasn’t always been bad though. The company is growing every year. Despite my extremely cautious self-preservation leadership; we have grown better than I expected. I do wonder how I have been able to make this happen and I tend to go back to a question a Shark Tank person asked me a few years ago. Yes, I did go on Shark Tank and made a deal with one of them. During due diligence, after the show, they expressed concern that I was alone in building this company and asked, “Since you are all alone how can you give us assurances that you will not give up?” I didn’t have a good answer. I just replied something like, “I don’t know if I can give any assurances but I do know that for 18 months I get up every day and I work because helping my customers matter to me.” Long story made short, we never did air on TV and we never did the deal (we had a stipulation that if we aren’t airing we didn’t want the deal).
I have no regrets that it did not happen. But I often feel that the answer to that question is core to my success today. This idea of being diligent daily to get up and get to work. It’s a little bit robotic and I think I am driven by guilt to help customers. I hate disappointing anyone, but I am also driven to try new things. My mind is always thinking “what if we made this idea” and that turns into some prototypes and some work and some don’t. That is super fun. And I am not THAT successful compared to many others, however, I love what I do and it’s working, for now.
If anyone really asked me how I built Joker Greeting I would definitely state that luck had a big role. 2020 was terrible in many ways but I took a gamble that Christmas would be great despite COVID or possibly because of COVID. I never take out loans but when SBA came offering fantastic rates I took it and spent it all on Christmas. And then I got lucky.
On November 13, 2020, everything changed. I had never used Tiktok but decided to put up a video and see what happened. I posted two videos. The first video was fairly successful and I figured I'd post another video and get another 1,000 views and maybe a few sales. I posted my Joker Meowy Christmas card and that took off like crazy with over 6 million views. Additionally, success on Tiktok usually spills over into Reddit and Instagram as well. I had stocked about 7-9 weeks of inventory for Christmas and it sold out within 2 weeks before December started.
Let me share the Tik Tok video here:
It’s easy to just say I was lucky with Tiktok. And I cannot deny the luck. But I think the phrase, “luck favors the prepared” is very true. I was prepared because I had inventory. I was prepared because the website was ready to handle the influx. I was prepared because my shipping partner could handle the huge amount of orders. And I was prepared because I had 6 years of experience making videos that showcase my product. And yes, I personally make all my videos, I personally edit them, and I watch them closely and try different methods and measure their effectiveness.
I believe that if I hadn’t figured out how to sell my cards in a video format before this I don’t think Tiktok would have been successful. For me I believe I know how long the videos should be, what order I should show my features, and what words I should say, and how doing it this particular way will generate higher conversion rates. This took me about 2 years to figure out and I refined even more with Facebook and Instagram ads. Interestingly, each product line follows a similar pattern but it’s not the same. Musical greeting cards showcase an order of features 4,1,2,3 while Joker Pranks may show the features 2,4,1,3. And I'm still trying to figure out how to showcase Prank Candles best.
Here is an Endless Greeting Card Video:
Here is a Joker Prank Video:
How long each video plays is on purpose. And you may spot how I showcase features differently. While I still test other methods and patterns (and maybe I'm just blowing smoke and lucky) I think this is what works for me and what I noticed works for Joker Greeting .
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
There are always mistakes. I try not to get hung up on them. If you’ve read this far you may recall that I was offered a 6 figure loan. But I unwisely didn’t take the whole offer. I took most of it but if I had taken it all I could have had more inventory in 2020. While I think being debt-free is nice, leverage is very useful when it comes to growth.
Spend a lot of time making sure you and your partners are on the same page (payment terms, equity terms, and the general idea on how dedicated each person plans to give to the business. Everyone needs to be all in).
And I definitely learned that if your shipping partner is acquired it is better to leave than stick around. I was not the only one hurt. I believe they failed because they attempted to condense three warehouses in a matter of weeks. I was offered a chance to leave at the beginning or stick around. They were an established company. But obviously, they had no idea how to merge two companies.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The next 12 months are really trying to stick to my core while testing new areas. In late 2020 I acquired Prankcandles.com. I was actually trying to buy that company for a while but they finally emailed me and said they were ready to sell. We negotiated a deal and because of COVID it took me 8 months to get any product because USA factories were far behind. I plan to expand that business and see if I can return that business to its former glory. From their peak sales were down over 60% and margins were negative. I would not have acquired them if I didn’t see a way to make improvements and even now my margins today are positive. Now I have to find a way to expand sales and hopefully new features!
I’m already working on a new product line called Joker Glitter Traps and I've never seen anything like it yet. I’ve no idea if people will like it or not but I'm gonna make some. These should be available by September 2021. And I'm starting to dabble outside my usual realm into new products for 2022. Let’s see if those go anywhere.
Also, have you ever seen an entire family get into acting? I get it now. Now that I make pranks my family keeps throwing ideas at me and some are not great but my sister decided to actually start her own business (https://heypaperboy.com). I plan to stock her items in the next couple of months and I think they will do great! They are double-sided gift wrapping paper. The two I have are the Farm Animal to BBQ and the Rainbows to Saggy Boobs.
But the next 5 years will include testing completely new industries and geographies that have demand but I’m not serving very well. My next big goal is to expand directly into the UK with a warehouse. Demand has always been there but I never quite had enough inventory to expand and adequately serve them. I’ve some ideas on how to get that done but it needs to be done well. Additionally, customer service for them will be a new challenge.
And of course the next big milestone is $5-10mn in revenue (let’s be real, $3 million would be great too). This is a reach but I think it is possible but I need to expand geographies, find some retail stores, grow the candle business, and I definitely need more products and product lines. Have you read any good books in the last year?
I really enjoyed reading Naval’s book and I do believe that reading the actual book is more favorable than a digital format. It is for me. It helps me take notes inside. He talks about personal growth and startup life and there is something for everyone. You can find his book here.
Fooled by Randomness by Nicholas Taleb is a book I read recently and it’s super interesting. I could recommend any of his books, really. If you are a bit interested in learning more about how luck or randomness plays a part in real life it’s worth a read. I know some find his style a bit too “mean” but it doesn’t bother me.
There are lots of podcasts I enjoy. I generally favor history podcasts (I like Mike Duncan’s History of Rome) and I also enjoy Conversations with Tyler. Tyler Cowan asks really interesting questions that most interviewers rarely ask. And lately I’ve been listening to Lex Fridman who I enjoy as I think he tries to be informed more than emotionally certain. He has a passion for learning and listening and it would be great if we could all do this better; here is a link to his site and the latest Episode with Yeonmi Park is great.
Oh and if you want a more traditional read on startup life I definitely recommend Shoe Dog by the Nike founder. I’m sure a lot of creative storytelling is used here but I think the major plot is useful and because it is a bootstrapped company it highlights the real struggle to find cash and stay alive.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Honestly, I don’t like advising on how others should work or grow. I would never give a friend advice on how to raise their children. Starting a business and growing a business is likely going to be different for you than it is for me. I never read books on advice either. I prefer to read books that tell their story and what they did for themselves and often it’s just that I hear them going through problems that are similar to mine that make me feel better. For example, I read Shoe Dog in the end of 2019 and he spent a lot of time talking to banks getting as much cash as possible as Venture Capital wasn’t really around during that time. And when 2020 came around and I needed to take on a large loan I felt more comfortable doing that because of what I read in Shoe Dog. And quite frankly I might need to be more aggressive too. We will see.
But if I had any advice it would be to spend a lot of time making sure you and your partners are on the same page (payment terms, equity terms, and the general idea on how dedicated each person plans to give to the business. Everyone needs to be all in). Those are huge decisions that will pay off and require more thought than we put in. I’ve got some personal experience here when I didn’t put enough time into this.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m currently staffed just right at the moment. And I have staff prepared for the holiday season pick-up as well. I have no idea what happens in 2022 as I try to reach broader markets and geographies and more product lines. I am sure I will need help with customer support or retail distribution on a part-time job as we move forward.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Joker Greeting has provided an update on their business!
About 3 years ago, we followed up with Joker Greeting to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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