Charlie Bucket may want to do a little bit of due diligence before he agrees to take over Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Ollivander’s Wand Shop of Harry Potter fame has a serious inventory management problem. And Dunder Mifflin, the paper company in The Office, likely needs a major headcount reduction.
Credit Imaginary Capital Partners for these insights — not a consulting firm but a podcast. ICP is the brainchild of two Wharton Class of 2016 MBAs, Jasper Wang and Danny Metzger-Traber, who sought to combine their love of film with their expertise in consulting to create a “quasi-business, quasi-comedic look at famous fictional businesses” — and the result is SWOT analyses and business models for imaginary chocolate factories, dinosaur theme parks, and more.
In what might be a tagline for a movie version of their enterprise, the friends evaluate the fictive companies “as investment opportunities for our vast pools of imaginary capital — real fun and fake profit.”
“Danny and I were kindred spirits at Wharton in that we were really into comedy things — probably more so than we are into business things, if I’m being honest,” Wang tells Poets&Quants. “This idea was one of two finalists — the other was that we would do a fake VC pitch every week, one of us would play a character from one of these movies and pitch it to the other person as the VC, but that felt too complicated and too involved and would take too much work. The editing would have to be better, etc. So we just figured we’d rather do the more natural thing, talking to each other every couple of weeks.”
‘WE TAKE THE IMAGINARY WORLD AS IT EXISTS’
The result has been a modest hit. The duo has recorded 11 podcasts since January (available at iTunes and SoundCloud), releasing a new one every two to three weeks, with a few thousand downloads and a small but dedicated listenership. (The 12th episode was scheduled to drops on or about August 1.) They have reviewed and strategized for two businesses in the Harry Potter series (Gringotts and Ollivander’s), Wayne Enterprises of Batman fame, Dunder Mifflin of The Office, Rent a Swag of Parks and Recreation, the Springfield nuclear plant of The Simpsons, the company behind the reality TV show of the film The Truman Show, the memory-erasure company of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as Ghostbusters and Being John Malkovich.
“We bring the business judgment from our MBA education and management consulting backgrounds, but apply it in a very tongue-in-cheek way, as we both have dabbled in improv, standup, and sketch writing before,” says Wang, who works for a New York consulting firm.
They’re not in it to simply bash business ideas, or the Hollywood writers who create them. As Wang says, “We always take things that we can come at in good faith.” It’s no fun, he says, to mock a business enterprise as unrealistic or fantastical. “We take the imaginary world as it exists, and we try to work through how that might work. So with Harry Potter, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, if you actually look at that business a little bit, you’d say, ‘Wow, their inventory management is absolutely terrible, they have 50,000 wands sitting in the back room and every wizard only has a single wand that’s theirs, and there are only a couple of wizards every year that are coming to shop in London. So the inventory management is bad and you try to work backwards from there about how they could make that work — is this a lifestyle budiness, can it reasonably get by making a little bit of money, is it subsidized by the government?
“So we generally come at it in good faith. Certainly we’ll say, ‘This is a business that could be improved,’ and we’ll say XYZ ways to improve it.”
EVEN POOR KIDS GIVEN CHOCOLATE FACTORIES SHOULD DO THEIR DUE DILIGENCE
Willy Wonka, the duo’s second recorded podcast, is another matter. Their approach to the famous chocolate factory of the 1971 film — not the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp, which they derisively suggest is “anti-canon” — is to serve as consultants for Charlie Bucket, the young protagonist who is given the factory by Willy Wonka at the film’s conclusion.
The Buckets may be poor, ICP says, but that doesn’t mean they have to be stupid. “Even though their family has all four grandparents living in the same bed, you still want to give this the proper diligence,” Wang says in the podcast, “and not just go jumping at the first megalomanic CEO who offers you their company.”
“Who knows what kind of lurking liabilities you have in this company?” adds Metzger-Traber, who currently works in government in Massachusetts. “There’s a captive orange workforce. I think caution and a little bit of due diligence is highly encouraged.”
‘WILLY WONKA — THAT’S THE KIND OF WORLD WE’RE PLAYING IN’
Their audience, so far, largely consists of fellow MBAs. They’ve heard of some colleagues at a major consulting firm having lunchtime listening parties, and their friends regularly offer suggestions — and critiques. Of course, many offer suggestions for topics, though Wang and Metzger-Traber aren’t (yet) lacking in ideas. (Their next episode will deal with the fictional sports league of BASEketball, the 1998 comedy starring the creators of South Park.) What they aren’t especially interested in doing is discussing movie businesses that resist creative deconstruction — think Glengarry Glen Ross, or Office Space.
“A lot of people have brought up Glengarry — our friends are always giving us recommendations. One interesting thing is, the businesses that people’s minds often go to are not actually great for deconstructing,” Wang says. “So we also often hear Office Space, and we may very well get around to that, but at first glance that’s an office business that represents a functional office and they probably need the Bobs because they have a little too much overhead!
“But at the end of the day what really gets our nerdy selves jazzed is talking about some piece of magic or proprietary technology, something that kind of twists the world in a way that’s interesting to deconstruct to its logical conclusion — as opposed to ‘This is a boiler room, this is a Wall Street firm.’ We could do that and we may very well run out of topics to the point where we bring our schtick to something that’s a little more grounded in the real world, but for now we’re trying to grab hold of things that are a little bit more out there, more fantastical.”
Adds Metzger-Traber: “Our second episode was Willy Wonka, so that’s the kind of world we’re playing in.”