Some memes are worth millions — just ask Grumpy Cat, or entrepreneur Tanisha Robinson.
Remember “Notorious R.B.G?”
When millennial fans of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg awarded her that nickname in homage to her position on controversial issues like gender equality and same-sex marriage, it triggered a frenzy of social memes.
Robinson’s startup capitalized on it and quickly created its best-selling product to date.
“We made a T-shirt which was a mashup of Notorious B.I.G and Ginsburg,” said Robinson. It showed an image of Ginsburg with a tilted crown on her head [the reference being to the late rapper’s famous pose featuring a tilted crown].
“We sold thousands,” said Robinson.
Robinson’s firm Print Syndicate, based in Columbus, Ohio, makes social media phenomena like that its business.
Its in-house team of 15 artists search for buzzy trends on sites like Twitter (Tech30), Buzzfeed, Pinterest and turn them into cheeky T-shirts, posters, mugs, and throw pillows. ,
Her team tries to find material that speaks to “underserved social groups,” whom she calls “tribes” of the internet.
For instance, another hit for her firm was a T-shirt with the message, “Introverts Unite. Occasionally in small groups for very limited periods of time.”
“Sports fan have thousands of places to get things,” said Robinson. “But what about introverts, feminists, knitters and science geeks. We create products that speak to their social identity.”
The difference between her outfit and CafePress is that anyone can upload content to that site, while Print Syndicate controls its own material.
Her strategy is working.
The startup launched in November 2012 and logged $ 4 million in revenue in its first year. That jumped to $ 12 million in 2014 and she expects to double sales this year.
Print Syndicate is profitable, employs 130 people and has raised a total of $ 4.2 million in funding.
Self expression is important to Robinson.
“I grew up in a Mormon family in a small Missouri town. I didn’t fit in,” said Robinson. She rebelled at the idea of going to a conservative college and joined the army instead to became an Arabic linguist.
“I was kicked out in 2003 for being gay,” she said.
She eventually landed a marketing job where she met her Print Syndicate co-founder Michael Limes.
Robinson said she’s now in the business of giving customers a platform for social issues.
“As a hyper-marginalized person, I’m a woman, I’m black and I’m gay, I’m very interested in social change,” she said. “The future for us is to keep paying attention to social identity trends and provide our cultural commentary through our products.”