🍣 Don’t lick the sushi - The Hustle
The Hustle

🍣 Don’t lick the sushi

Plus: An exclusive interview, troll dolls’ slighted inventor, ChatGPT writes a Decemberists song, AI oopsies, and more.

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Hope you had a good Valentine’s Day. Beth Neale and Miles Cloutier spent it breaking the Guinness World Record for longest underwater smooch — now four minutes and six seconds — in an infinity pool.

In today’s email:

  • Barney: He’s back in business.
  • Troll dolls: How their inventor missed out on billions.
  • #sushiterrorism: Can’t we have anything nice?
  • Around the Web: ChatGPT’s meh Decemberists song, NASA’s Eyes, the first teddy bear, and more cool internet finds.

🎧 On the go? Listen to today’s special-edition podcast to hear our interview with the ex-CEO of Ticketmaster. You’ll learn about the business model of ticketing platforms — and why the fees are so high.

The big idea

Barney is back in business

A look back at the purple dinosaur’s lucrative franchise — and why it’s making a return.
Jacob Cohen

Whether you loved watching Barney as a kid, or enjoyed seeing NBA star Charles Barkely obliterate the big purple dinosaur in a 1993 basketball game on “Saturday Night Live” — brace for impact.

This week, Mattel, which owns the rights to Barney, said it’s relaunching the beloved character across TV, film, YouTube, and merchandise.

The business of Barney

Barney was created in 1988 by teacher Sheryl Leach as a series of home videos with the help of $1m in funding (~$2.5m in today’s money) from her father-in-law.

By 1991, Barney was raking in $3m+ in annual sales. That year, a TV executive whose daughter loved the videos helped secure $2m to produce 30 episodes on PBS.

It was all up for the dino from there:

  • In 1996-97, the show attracted a peak viewership of 2.08m preschoolers.
  • In 1998, retail sales of licensed Barney merchandise totaled $750m (this figure fell to $550m in 1999).
  • In 2001, UK-based HIT Entertainment acquired Lyrick Studios (then-Barney’s distributor) for $275m. By then, Barney had sold 55m videos, 68m books, and 25m plush toys.

Barney & Friends suddenly came to an end in 2010. PBS never gave a reason, but the rise of competing children’s shows and a number of bizarre controversies likely played a role.

In 2011, Mattel bought HIT Entertainment for $680m.

Why resurrect Barney now?

Presumably, the toymaker wants to leverage original content to drive sales.

In 2022, Mattel’s Q4 net sales dropped 22% to $1.4B. It also posted a 93% YoY drop in net income, down from $225.8m to $16.1m.

  • Interesting parallel: When fellow toymaker Lego’s sales slumped in the early 2000s, the company managed a successful turnaround partly with this same strategy. More recently, its 2014 film The Lego Movie grossed $468m.

Upcoming projects in Mattel’s lineup include a $100m live-action Barbie movie and other films based on Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, and Uno.

Want more Barney? Check out the documentary I Love You, You Hate Me.


Canada requires domestically licensed TV and radio to air a certain amount of Canadian content. A new law will impose those requirements on YouTube, TikTok, and streaming platforms — but what counts as Canadian can be confusing.


$10B footlong? Subway confirmed it’s exploring a sale. The chain, with 37k+ stores across 100+ countries, could be worth $10B+.

Touchdown. This year’s Super Bowl was the third most-watched TV show of all time, averaging 113m viewers. Rihanna’s halftime show averaged 118.7m viewers.

Through the roof: Airbnb said 2022 was its first profitable year. The company grew revenue 40% to $8.4B and its listings 16% to 6.6m.

Single and ready to mingle: ~11k singles dating events were listed on Eventbrite in the year ending Feb. 1, up 25% from February 2018-19.

EBay acquired 3PM Shield, an AI-powered fraud detection company, to help it identify illegal or counterfeit items.

Inflation increased 0.5% in January, up 6.4% YoY. Top contributors were rising shelter, energy, and food costs.

BuzzFeed launched its OpenAI-powered Infinity Quizzes yesterday. Options included creating a rom-com and a collab with Scotts Miracle-Gro to determine your houseplant is your soulmate.

New York Tesla employees are campaigning to be the company’s first union. CEO Elon Musk previously tweeted that unionization would mean lost stock options, but the National Labor Relations Board told him to delete it.

AI oops: Google’s Bard erred during its demo, but apparently so did Microsoft’s Bing, which screwed up a summary of Gap’s Q3 2022 financial report.

Meanwhile, AI bots at McDonald’s are struggling to accurately take customers’ orders. Some humans find it hilarious.

Project risk management is key for anticipating and mitigating potential business risks. Done right, you can be prepared for every outcome. Here’s how.

Zachary Crockett

How the inventor of the troll doll missed out on a fortune

Mark Dent

In the early 1960s, America was invaded by trolls.

Equipped with goofy grins, beady eyes, and wild tufts of hair, the pudgy little creatures quickly became one of the bestselling toys of the decade, rivaling even Barbie herself. Some 38k trolls were sold every day — about one every two seconds — before the fad faded away.

Three decades later, a second troll hysteria broke out.

By the mid-’90s, trolls could be found in every shape, size, and color. There were bejeweled-bellybutton trolls, pencil-topper trolls, buff trolls, two-headed trolls, ballerina trolls, priest trolls. For collectors, the toy’s unconventional aesthetic was a selling point.

“[Trolls] show that the real world is not full of perfection,” one salesman opined in a 1992 interview. “You don’t have to be a movie star and a beauty to be loved. It comes from inside the heart. It’s about someone who needs to be loved.”

But one person did not feel the love: the man who first designed and manufactured the troll doll in Denmark.

While the toy raked in an estimated $4.5B in sales over the years, its inventor only collected a sliver of the proceeds.

The story of his creation is a case study in the cutthroat world of toy sales, where a tiny misstep can be capitalized on by real-life business trolls.

Read the full story. →
Free Resource

The art of storytelling with numbers….

… AKA the ever-underrated skill known as data visualization.

Everybody loves a great graph. We don’t make the rules.

But we do make the resources. Take the intro to data visualization to start crafting charts from the unsightly.

Turn digits into spiffy designs (PDF):

  • Tools and software for getting started
  • The importance of data viz in marketing
  • Data types, relationships, and formats
  • Technical tips for marketers and creators

We are a simple people. Please provide pictures.

Data visualization guide →
Sushi Police

Gross pranksters hit sushi sales

A video of someone licking a soy sauce bottle caused a sushi restaurant’s parent company’s shares to dip.
Juliet Bennett Ryla

Is nothing sacred? Apparently not, because Japan is dealing with #sushiterrorism.

Some grade-A dinguses have been tampering with plates at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, causing a stir and a potential dip in sales.

Yoshiaki Shiraishi…

opened the first ”kaitenzushi” (“rotation sushi”) shop in Osaka in 1958. Plates moved along a conveyor belt for customers to grab, allowing Shiraishi to operate even when short-staffed.

Such shops boomed in the 1970s after one appeared at the Osaka World Expo.

They also do well in economic downturns thanks to how cheap they are to run, and thus, their affordable prices. The industry is now worth an estimated $5.7B in Japan, per The Guardian.

But now…

… they’re under attack via a gross trend dubbed “sushi terrorism,” per CNN.

A viral video shows a customer at Sushiro, a Japanese chain, licking his fingers before touching food, as well as a soy sauce bottle and a cup.

This would have been concerning before covid, but now carries an added worry — even if not widespread.

One analyst said it could damage sales for several months, and Sushiro’s parent company, Food & Life Cos. Ltd., saw shares fall 4.8% last week.

What can be done?

Sushiro is pressing charges against the licker, but also:

  • Sushiro replaced food with photos as a rotating menu, and will install acrylic barriers between diners and the belt.
  • Kura Sushi, another chain, has used AI-powered cameras since 2019 to collect data on what dishes people take. Now, it will use the cameras to monitor behavior.

BTW: Anime Sushi Police followed three investigators cracking down on inauthentic sushi. It wasn’t well-rated, but maybe now it’ll make a comeback?


🧸 On this day: In 1903, toy inventor Morris Michtom began selling the first teddy bears, named after President Theodore Roosevelt.

🎧 Listen Up: This episode of Inclusion and Marketing with Sonia Thompson breaks down how to create an inclusive marketing strategy that resonates.

🚀 That’s cool: NASA’s Eyes includes several immersive online experiences for exploring the solar system.

🎸 Haha: Colin Meloy of The Decemberists had ChatGPT write the chords and lyrics to a song in the band’s style. He found it mediocre, but recorded it nonetheless.

😍 Aww: And now, a baby sugar glider.


The pain. The suffering. (Link.)

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Today’s email was brought to you by Jacob Cohen, Juliet Bennett Rylah, and Rob Litterst.
Editing by: Mark “With a great big hug” Dent.

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