THE WORKING STIFF — By Darren Garnick
The Boston Herald (February 24, 2010)
To the delight of any business professional with the heart of an eight year old, there soon will be new weapons available for deployment in any marketing war.
It’s a new twist on origami. But instead of cutesy butterflies or frogs, the traditional business card can be transformed into a medieval catapult or a rapid-fire penny shooter with up to 10 coins per round.
Both of these elastic-powered weapons easily can be folded back into the conventional 2″ x 3.5″ rectangle. They are the brainchild of 24-year-old entrepreneur Bryce Bell, a recent Oklahoma State University graduate who’s had no luck traveling down his expected career path.
“I got my degree to get a mechanical engineering job, but a lot of the jobs out there didn’t appeal to me,” he says. “And for the ones that did, there were too many experienced engineers competing for the same position. So I guess I’m still doing some kind of manufacturing, although on a limited scale.”
Bell hopes his customized cards will be snapped up by businesses looking to distinguish themselves as fun, edgy and imaginative. He notes that potential clients are more likely to hold onto novelty cards that serve as a conversation piece, one that “appeals to the little kid in us all.”
In instructional videos posted on the Internet, Bell sets up a soda bottle shooting gallery in his garage — and demonstrates the difference between launching Tic Tac candies and spitballs from the catapult. Both weapons have a maximum range of 15 feet. Firing heavier Skittles is also an option for short-range targets.
Since January, Bell has sold 400 penny shooters at $8 a piece, and 300 prototype catapults at $5. His company, CARDnetics, has attracted a global customer base including the Netherlands, England, Australia, Japan, Germany and Greece. For now, Bell saves overhead costs by living with his parents in an Oklahoma City suburb.
Both business card gadgets are laser cut and then assembled by hand. When his penny shooters first hit the market, Bell had figured he would sell 50 at the most. Caught with no inventory, he was forced to halt orders and tell customers he was sold out.
“It was a great problem to have,” Bell says. “But if you’re selling a product, you should be able to deliver it in a reasonable amount of time. I’m now building up a stockpile of inventory so I can meet the demand.”
Both cards will be available for sale in a month, he says, adding that he is exploring licensing the designs with vendors for mass production.
As a longtime hobby, Bell has also created his own air cannons that shoot a wide variety of ammunition including horseshoes, golf balls, toilet paper and cans of food. He doesn’t sell those weapons because of liability concerns, but shrugs at the idea his penny shooter can be equally dangerous.
“I’m sure someone could possibly get hurt, but you’re not really shooting any harder than you can toss a penny,” he says, noting he includes a disclaimer that the operator is liable for his or her own actions.
As for the “her” pronoun, Bell is particularly surprised by the amount of interest from female customers.
“Sure, I sell to mostly guys,” he says. “But I see quite a few girls’ names on my mailing list. Much more than I ever thought there would be.”
Darren Garnick’s “The Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald. Watch videos of the business card catapult and penny shooter at the Stiff blog.