When Jason Wong moved to the U.S. from China a little over a decade ago, he learned English and adopted American culture largely, he says, through memes.
Eleven years later, Wong is in the midst of building an entire ecommerce empire—plus a product innovation lab—because he helped write the Bible on it.
His business, called Dank Tank, sells meme-themed merch like fidget spinner-shaped bath bombs and meme-themed candles while simultaneously acting as a meme-consulting shop for large corporate clients and venture-backed startups.
Its most buzzed about product, the Holy Meme Bible, which is an activity book featuring the year's most notable memes, was something Wong launched on a whim last year after coming up with the idea over Thanksgiving dinner. He ordered mockups online while sitting at the dinner table, set up a store on Shopify, then proceeded to market the product via Tumblr where he had over 1.2M followers.
The cash began flowing in immediately. Wong was raking in thousands of dollars by the day. The Holy Meme Bible ended up making Wong $300,000 in just over a month and this November he launched its sequel: The Holy Meme Bible: The New Testament. The updated book features 70 pages of meme-themed activities like crosswords, guessing games, connect the dots, and more.
"People love meme products," Wong said. "They're already familiar with memes digitally, of course, but once they see something meme-related in real life it makes them want it more."
Wong is not the first person to sell products based on memes and online fads. This has basically been the backbone of Urban Outfitters’ merchandising strategy for years. Recently, big time social media influencers have begun to partner with manufacturers to sell viral internet-themed merch.
Just last year, The Fat Jew introduced his controversial White Girl Rose ecommerce store and app, which he promotes heavily on his social channels. Erin Yogasundram, a young fashion influencer on Instagram, made a name for herself because of her online store Shop Jeen, which sells clothing and accessories made for kids who grew up on the internet. Some current Shop Jeen products include a tee shirt emblazoned with text message bubbles, emoji-covered iPhone cases, and sweatshirts that read "internet mom", "internet dad," and "text me back."
But Wong says he doesn't want Dank Tank to be just another trashy online store built on fads.
"What I want to make is a destination for meme products, but sophisticated meme products,” he said.
Wong believes there are plenty of meme products out there for so-called normies, or non-web obsessives, but "I think the market is still lacking" for the more advanced meme consumers.
"The whole idea for Dank Tank is to integrate memes into products that haven't traditionally had memes. We are trying to tap into products that aren't typically memeable. Tee shirts and things are not unique," she said.
In other words, anyone can get Netflix and Chill screen printed onto a pair of sweatpants, but it takes a lot more time and creative energy to produce the types of products Dank Tank hopes to launch, Wong argues.
Some products the company is currently exploring include a meme encyclopedia set that looks similar to an old-school Encyclopedia Britannica, giant meme pool floaties, a meme makeup palette, and a meme cookbook. For the cookbook, Dank Tank collaborated with notable chefs to produce a slew of meme-themed recipes. Some foods featured are the "Netflix and chili", a the "floor is lava" cake, a "Trump executive order"—which is really just an orange chicken—and the famous Fyre festival sandwich recipe.
Many of Wong's products allude to memes and internet jokes with a little more subtlety. There's a popular joke on the internet that packets of ramen seasoning look like condom packets. Dank Tank, oc course, introduced a line of Ramen condoms. Wong says he hopes to sell a lot of these around Valentine's day.
Currently, the business is made up of just two other full-time and seven contract employees. Wong runs the company out of his apartment in Irvine, Calif., but travels to China to meet with factories and production managers.
"Every day I wake up, go upstairs to check email, talk to my team, and take care of day to day business," he said. He says his day usually starts late because he often speaks to his suppliers in Asia via phone overnight. Not because he’s 20.
"The price you get from suppliers for speaking Mandarin versus speaking English is radically different. Being able to speak Chinese gets you access to a whole different price list," which Wong, who speaks Mandarin himself, says has significantly helped him.
Dank Tank is on track to make $1 million in revenue by the end of the year and Wong hopes to expand the business beyond mainly ecommerce and consulting in years to come.
"The name Dank Tank came from the idea of a think tank. This will be the world's first meme-focused think tank," he said.