- Matt Williams co-founded fortune-cookie provider OpenFortune after running a sports media business.
- He leads a team of five people and writes many fortunes himself.
- “I draw inspiration from different philosophies, but stoicism is my favorite,” he said.
This say-to-say essay is based on a conversation with Matt Williams, co-founder of New York-based fortune-cookie provider OpenFortune. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Our co-founder Shawn Porat used to eat a lot of Chinese food. Most of the fortune cookies he read were boring; the messaging had been recycled over the last 40-50 years and only a few had been refreshed.
I met Shawn through an investor for my first company. He suggested the idea of OpenFortune to me, and I immediately loved it.
I was running a sports media company at the time, so he wondered if I could help with brand-factory relations.
People like to share their fortune. We did a study with Nielsen that found that many people post their wealth on social media.
Shawn also noticed that the fortunes’ backs were empty. He realized that these things were tiny notice boards sent directly to customers at the table. Why not put an ad there?
It was a light bulb moment. We had the opportunity to refresh the fortune cookies, while preserving their integrity. But we also had a blank slate on the back.
There is so much emotion linked to fortunes and so much emotion linked to brands, and we could well marry these two things. Our fortune cookies don’t say, “Insurance brand X is in your future.” We’ll say, “You want to protect the life you love,” and then we’ll have an insurance mark on the back.
When we launched in 2018, we had a lot of hindsight because there had never been ads on the back of a fortune before, the same way there hadn’t always been ads in the beginning of a film.
The first person who saw this was probably confused and annoyed. But now we’re all waiting for it, and some people are even looking forward to the pre-movie commercials – the same goes for us.
We still get negativity, but that translates to front page posts on Reddit because people are arguing about it in the comments.
Brands see people engaging with their brand. They see over 600 comments on a post with their logo on it. That’s incredible awareness just from a cookie.
We have a creative team of five, including copywriters, graphic designers and art directors who work on the fortunes. I lead this team and write a lot of fortunes myself.
I draw inspiration from many areas of life. I love to read philosophy. I’m a big support guy and a big gratitude guy. And I meditate everyday to get into the right frame of mind.
I think a lot of the emotionality in fortune cookies is the same: your life is short; go do this thing; apply for this job; going to ask that girl out on a date. I draw inspiration from different philosophies, but Stoicism is my favorite.
We also take inspiration from social media because we want to see what resonates.
If you look on Instagram and search for the hashtag #FortuneCookie, there are millions of posts on the sheet alone. You will realize that there are feelings around different fortunes. People are happy. They get emotional, or it brings up memories.
We seek out what’s really hitting home on social media at the time and then inject it into our work.
Right now, optimism is a hot topic because of COVID-19. People were locked up, and after that people wanted to feel optimistic.
We work with brands to distinguish the themes, emotions and keywords they want to include and work around that.
The Land of Fortune Cookies is very mysterious. It was difficult to find out who are the distributors, who are the factory owners, etc. It was a major obstacle for us.
Once we discovered all of this, we had a problem with color printing. Before us, large-scale color printing had never been achieved.
Shawn and I had to reverse engineer the printing process and make sure the ink was food grade. It was probably the most difficult obstacle.
It is difficult to quantify exactly what I earn, because I am a co-founder. The staff writers, who also write fortunes, earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year.
Our database is infinite. There are so many fortunes that I couldn’t quantify them. We try to write 10 fortunes every day just to keep it fresh, even when we’re not campaigning.
They are printed on a large sheet of paper which includes 118 fortunes. Our goal is to write at least 100 per campaign so people sitting around the same table don’t get the same one. We never want that to happen.