What happened when a tiny knick-knack company found its products exposed to millions in the the Canadian star's "Call Me Maybe" lip-sync video
This past February, Justin Bieber made Carly Rae Jepsen famous. In a YouTube video posted by Carlos Pena of the Nickelodeon boy-band Big Time Rush, Bieber, Selena Gomez, and a host of other teen idols lip synched along to the love-struck bubblegum pop of Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." Overnight, the video racked up five million views. Within months, the song would be topping charts worldwide.
Jordan Szymanowski, a 29-year-old living in Los Angeles, was among those first few million viewers. Flipping open his laptop the morning of Feb. 19, he quickly came across the clip: "You couldn't touch Google that day without that video showing up," he remembers. Watching the gang bop around, Szymanowski readily recognized Bieber and Gomez. But he also noticed something else: his own product.
"I said, 'You know what hipsters love? Mustaches... and Ray Bans.' So why not slap those together?"
Perched above Gomez's lip, chained to her sunglasses, hung a jet-black intrusion to her Barbie-doll features. It was a mustache. A Sun-Stache, to be precise, a model Szymanowski knew as "The Classic," which features a hooked bit of plastic tethered to the bottom of a pair of wayfarers. About a year earlier, working as a designer for Worldwide Dynasty, Inc., an L.A. based manufacturer, he had invented "The Classic," the original Sun-Stache. There were other models, too, on other celebrities in the video.
Szymanowski opened up a new tab on his browser and emailed his boss the link. The subject line: "Shit just got real."
At the Chatsworth, California offices of WorldWide Dynasty, David Levich saw the email. The video was going viral, piling on tens of thousands of views every hour. "No way," he typed back.
"I thought, 'We need to find a way to monetize this,'" Levich recalls. "We're not specialists in marketing, or brand management. We're basically manufacturers. We were in uncharted territory, but if we did it right it could open up a lot of doors for us."
The pair, as stewards of the Sun-Stache brand, had fallen into one of those happy accidents of networking that occur along the backroads of the Internet. Without paying a dime—without even setting aside an advertising budget—WorldWide Dynasty had gotten their product in front of more eyeballs than placement in any TV show could. Eight months after the video appeared, it's notched more than 50 million views and 410,000 likes. And it checked all the right boxes. Bieber and friends were young and hip. They were having a good time, giving credibility to the Sun-Stache gag while demonstrating its use. It did everything short of displaying the Sun-Stache name across the screen.
For the guys at WorldWide Dynasty, that was the problem.
"They showcased our product without really meaning to," Szymanowski says. "No one had any way to connect the dots back to Sun-Staches—no one even knew that's what they were called. I couldn't just respond to every [YouTube] comment and say, 'Oh, they're called Sun-Staches, here's where to find them.' When Justin Bieber's in your sunglasses, it's a whole different game."
Levich has seen success before. His first break came at a company he and his friends started when he was 18 in 2000, selling hip-hop trinkets like chains, watches, and bedazzled pimp chalices through eBay. The revenue was enough that he could quit college in 2003 and launch a retail site, IcedOutGear.com, and a wholesale business, Hip Hop Wholesalers, selling to chain retailers. By 2006, when Levich was 25, the company was pulling in just shy of $5 million in annual revenue under the corporate banner of WorldWide Dynasty, according to Inc. Magazine. That year, Levich and his two partners took spots 16 through 18 on Inc.'s "30 Under 30" list, an honor handed out to America's most promising young entrepreneurs. His personal wealth was estimated at $10 million. Today, Levich estimates WorldWide Dynasty takes in around $10 million in revenue each year, largely in sales to big retailers like Urban Outfitters, Spencer's Gifts, and Claire's.
The idea for Sun-Staches developed as a pitch for Spirit Halloween stores, a subsidiary of Spencer's Gifts with more than 900 seasonal shops. The myth of its genesis varies by teller. Levich, whose titles include director of product development, speaks of a brainstorming session. He talks about following trends and ending up with mustached sunglasses.
Szymanowski calls it an epiphany:
"I came home from the grocery store, and I needed to come up with something for the meeting," he remembers. "And I said, 'You know what hipsters love? Mustaches... and Ray Bans.' So why not slap those together?"
Levich sold Spirit on the idea. Then he moved on to other retailers. By the fall, Sun-Staches were in thousands of stores.
But how did Bieber & co. find the Sun-Staches? WorldWide Dynasty employs fewer than 20 people and doesn't have a marketing department. According to Levich, beyond the cost of production, the company hasn't paid for anything to build the Sun-Stache brand besides fees associated with filing patent applications and sending online press releases. Yet, even before "the Bieber video," as they call it, Levich and Szymanowski had begun to devise ways to develop their new brand on the cheap.