Photo by ABC of Arik Nordby and Ryan Walther
Ryan Walther, a Twin Cities entrepreneur who was a founder of the satirical newspaper the Onion, recently fooled the investment minds on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” At least for a few minutes.
Walther and business partner Arik Nordby pranked the judges when they solicited funds for a fictitious company called Rynarki.They tried to raise $75,000 in exchange for 15 percent of Rynarki, a supposed seller of “timesaving products,” from a coffeemaker shower head to slippers that act as dusters for pets.
The weird products inspired no offers. They were just empty boxes with images of the crazy gadgets printed on the outside, including the “pet sweep.”
Bob Hennessey, a retired Twin Cities business lawyer and acquaintance of Walther’s, called in the information about the “Shark Tank” episode in December. Walther was away on vacation last week.
The Rynarki boxes featured fictitious products such as a $7 “plant urinal.” The box said it will help the owner “turn your liquid gold into leafy greens!” And an “earwax candle kit.” The extraction device was supposed to be in the box. All the business “Sharks” were laughing.
After pranking the prospective investors, Walther and Nordby introduced the real company: Prank-O. They drew disbelief from the investors when they sought $640,000 in exchange for an 8 percent stake in the business.
The business had sales, but also problems, according to CNBC. Sales were about $2.8 million last year and have reached $10 million since 2013.
The pair said inaugural sales were slow and the business floundered when Walther and Nordby diversified to create physical prank products (like the ones advertised on their prank gift boxes). That idea tanked.
The somewhat humbled co-founders told the Sharks they had $1 million in debt and were working off a line of credit.
“I’ll make you an offer, but you’re going to have to listen,” an interested Mark Cuban said. “You’ve got a great product. You’ve got great comedy minds. But your track record speaks for itself. I don’t mean ... any disrespect. All entrepreneurs go through this.”
He offered them $640,000 but for 25 percent, three times the equity the owners wanted to concede. Shark Kevin O’Leary also made a $640,000 offer for a royalty of 38 cents per unit indefinitely.
The entrepreneurs tried to negotiate with Cuban for less equity. No cigar. They took his offer.
Walther an original partner in the Onion in 1994, was instrumental in growing it from a local newspaper in Madison, Wis., to a well-known satirical news outlet that covers current events.“I’m a big fan of the creative process and all of the wonderful things that can come out of it,” Walther said on his LinkedIn page.
Prank-O was started in 2009 after Walther met Nordby, who was selling prank gift boxes on the Onion’s online store.