Billy Surface

Interviews

Josh Malone: The King of Pop

He invented a widget that lets you fill 100 water balloons in under a minute. Know who’s not impressed? Walmart.

In the pantheon of great inventions from Dallas—Liquid Paper, the Topsy Tail, the ATM, the Dougie, the integrated circuit—where does your Bunch O Balloons rank?

It’s not my place to judge. But it was the No. 1 selling toy in the country last year, in its category. And probably the world. Only 40 percent of our sales are in the U.S.

How did you get the idea for Bunch O Balloons?

I spent many summers filling tiny water balloons the way everyone had since 1950. I’d get the pack of 500, and we’d go out and start filling them up on the porch, and, like, 45 minutes later, the kids have wandered off to other things and I’m still working. I thought, “There’s gotta be a better way of doing this.” In January 2014, I had just wrapped up a consulting job and had some time to work on inventing again. I pulled out the balloon idea and started playing with O-rings to seal the balloon. Then I used a matrix to calculate that I could fit those 37 tubes onto a garden hose. It was magical. It took, like, 10 seconds to fill 37 balloons.

How many kids do you have?

There’s eight.

Eight?! Are you Catholic or Mormon?

[laughs] Just regular evangelical Christian, but blessed.

How many times did your wife tell you to stop fooling around with the dumb water balloon thing and get back to your consulting job?

She’s been supportive. This was a really tough time. I’d spend half my time consulting, half of it inventing. It wasn’t quite working out. I updated my résumé and my LinkedIn, but the job openings were horrible. I couldn’t imagine having to go back to the corporate world. I was just really, really discouraged. This was my last chance. It was do or die.

After you raised almost $1 million on Kickstarter, you got to go on the Today show, and you got to throw water balloons at Carson Daly. Will it be your dying regret that you didn’t land a single shot?

[laughs] That was—thanks for reminding me. I had kind of forgotten how pathetic that was. But the moment was just so overwhelming in other ways that I kind of blacked out.

Who do you hate more? Bed Bath & Beyond or Walmart?

Oh, my gosh. I’m extremely disappointed with Walmart. Since my first patent issue, there hasn’t been a single day that there’s not a knockoff out there, infringing on my patent, even though we’ve won three times now in court. Retailers that have integrity, like Amazon, they do the right thing and they pull the product. But Walmart, no matter how many times we win in court, they say, “It doesn’t apply to us.” We just got a ruling against Telebrands’ latest knockoff, called Easy Einstein, and Walmart right now has pallets of them sitting in the middle of the aisle, and they’re illegal. They won’t pull them unless I file another suit and I spend a million dollars fighting their attorneys. We’ve spent $17 million in litigation.

When one of your suits makes it to trial, do you get to go and blow up water balloons in the courtroom?

I think that’s conceivable. Telebrands’ first knockoff was called Balloon Bonanza, and that trial has been postponed indefinitely. But the 2016 version was called Battle Balloons, and the trial for that is set for November in Tyler.

When are you going to invent something that picks up all the broken balloons from the backyard?

Well, come on now, we’ve made them biodegradable, so just sunlight and microbes will do their thing.

You’re going to have to convince my wife to leave them there.

Just tell her to wait for two lawn mowings, and she won’t notice them anymore. I can see a couple from where I’m sitting on my deck, but I mean we have exploded probably 50,000 water balloons on my property.

This is going to be a game changer, because I wasn’t aware of that.

Yeah, I think you can go buy a few more dozen packs now.

I’ll happily do so in an effort to add to your coffers so you can thwart the evil folks who are trying to rip you off.

Thanks! 

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