In 1979, Peter White completed reading his special double issue of Captain America. As he always did, he looked at all the mail order items on the back page: The X-Ray Glasses, The family of Sea Monkeys, Gimmick Bubble Gum, Joy Buzzer, Onion Gum, Metal Wrist Bands, Log cabin, Shoe lifts, Kryptonite Rocks, a muscle builder, or an indoor log cabin.
Even though his parents continuously warned him that all those cool life-changing gadgets were not what they appeared to be, they allowed Peter to spend his hard-earned weekly allowance for what he wanted.
Peter wanted to order the special X-Ray Sunglasses. How cool would it be for him to see through walls or closed doors? Peter also was in his adolescent years and girls were becoming more of an interest. Maybe he could verify what the other boys could not. Maybe he could determine if Janet Nicon, the most popular girl in the eighth grade, really had huge breasts or was that tissue that filled her bra.
He filled out the order form, grabbed a dollar bill, stuffed the contents into an envelope, and sent it to the PO Box that was in Rockville, New York. A few weeks later, he finally got a small padded package in the mail. When he opened the package, he found that the glasses were not what they showed in the ad. The item had a cheap plastic frame, and the lens was actually paper circles with a red and white spiral design on them. Each of the lenses also had the words X-Ray Vision on them. Per the item instructions, he was to stare at his hand for a lengthy period. Staring at an image that long would cause the item to look blurry, similar to an X-Ray image. Feathers being stuffed in the paper lens helped to blur images. He never could see through walls, closed doors, or Janet Nicon’s tight sweater.
The experience did not deter Peter. The X-Ray Glasses may have been a bust, but surely the entire family of Sea Monkeys, which was a whole 25 cents more than the glasses, had to be the real deal. When that padded package arrived in the mail, he found a package full of what appeared to be powder and dried insects. The instructions said to add tap water and then the family of Sea Monkeys would magically come to life.
The items were Brine Shrimp, a group of crustaceans that undergo cryptobiosis. The inventor created a mix of nutrients and chemicals in dry form, and tap water created an accommodating habitat for the shrimp to live.
The problem is that the shrimp looked nothing like the cute cartoon images of a Sea Monkey family that wore crowns and necklaces. After two weeks, the family would perish.
Peter would experience the same disappointments when he ordered and received the following items: $5-dollar log cabin (a large plastic sheet with a picture of a log cabin to be set up with two chairs to make it stand), The Ventriloquist Instruction Kit (a small Kazoo to insert in the mouth to make noises and a two-page pamphlet with instructions on how to say words without moving your lips), or the authentic Kryptonite Rocks, the only substance on Earth that could weaken and possibly kill Superman (painted green rocks that had to be effective since he never saw Superman come to his neighborhood).
Peter studied marketing and business at Lashley College, a business school in Rosedale, Minnesota.
After graduation, Peter landed a job at a marketing firm called Learning Market that sold books. Employees would have lists of books that covered many genres: How-To books, Self-Help Books, Biographies, Novels, Educational books, and more. To supplement the $10 bucks-an-hour salary, every 10 books sold would garner a 25% commission.
Many of his co-workers would convince a grocery or department store to allow them to set up a stand. Some of them would try to sell the books out of their car trunks. One motivated co-worker set up a stand on the lot of a liquor store.
Peter decided to be different and market directly to his potential customers. Instead of showing the listing of 500 book titles to customers, he gave the office secretary $10 to take the titles and type up lists for him that separated the books by subject. He took his list tailored to young children and teenagers and went to elementary and junior high schools. He talked to administrators. He explained how the books would benefit and enhance students’ ability to read. This targeted segment bought the books in droves and helped propel Peter to become the top salesman in the company.
However, Peter was disillusioned when he found that his commission checks had a 20% Administration Fee and a 30% Management fee. While his checks were still very large, he questioned why these fees were present. His boss told him that the company provided the product and the contacts, so it entitled them to 50% of all salespeople’s commission.
Peter figured he should not have to give half of his hard work to a company that does not even create the product and the contacts are just local schools and businesses. Pete convinced his father to loan him $500.
With that loan, Peter started his own small company called White Innovation. The $500 was used to order the minimum amount of product from the book manufacturer. His original employer tried to threaten him with legal action when Peter continued to sell to the same customers. Peter had already done his research and knew that this business had no contracts with any of the schools or businesses, so they were all open to buy products from anyone. Being the top salesman, Peter had no problem maintaining the same level of business and sales.
Two other salesmen from Learning Market joined Peter and become his employees. Oliver Caple was one of Peter’s salesmen. Peter met Oliver at Lashley. Oliver was a skinny outcast with thick horn-rimmed glasses and scraggly black hair. He spent a lot of time alone, but he had a knack for inventing things and making money.
In his first year of business school, Oliver took his Schwinn ten-speed bicycle and took some large mesh wire baskets and tied them on the back of his bike. Before his first class, he would use the bike to deliver the local morning newspaper in his neighborhood. After his classes, he set up a grocery delivery business. He would get orders from around the neighborhood, pick up groceries, and deliver them to customers for a $10 delivery fee.
After a while, grocery orders became too large to carry on a bike and more housewives were entering the workforce in the 1980s. The grocery delivery business was no longer useful. Newspaper companies also started to only hire adult carriers who had cars. Because of safety concerns, teen carriers on bikes were no longer used.
Oliver decided to spend more time in his parents’ basement to continue working on his personal projects.
One of his projects was a small tape recorder that could be worn on the wrist like a watch. His dad had given him a miniature tape recorder that he has used for business meetings. He bought a new, updated model, so he gave Oliver his old one.
Oliver also liked to tinker with things and take them apart to see how they worked. He still had a scar on his forehead from the time his father smacked him when he was 12 for taking apart the new lawnmower.
Oliver first thought he could add straps to the mini recorder. The straps would allow the user to wear the item on their wrist. That method proved to be too clumsy and cumbersome. Then he thought about trying to add a belt hook so the user could wear the item on their waist. However, the recorder would often fall off or the movement of someone in motion would cause the recordings to sound distorted or muffled.
He spent a year working on a mini recorder that could fit on a watch band. Once he got the prototype, he showed it to Peter. Oliver was not strong in book sales, but he thought his mini recorder could be something they could sell. Oliver attempted to present his product to his list of customers but could not get one sale. Before he could place an ad in comic magazines, Peter intervened.
Because he paid attention in Business Law Class, Peter warned him he needed to protect his product by getting a patent and a copyright. Oliver had little money, so Peter made a deal with him. He would pay for the copyright and patent if Oliver agreed to give him 50% ownership. He also convinced Oliver to make the recorder into a watch that would also record.
The Spy Watch became a hit as they advertised in comic books and science magazines. The orders for the product became so large that they had to move from making the product and shipping them out of Oliver’s parents’ basement. Peter rented an apartment, so they had more room for the product. As demand increased, Peter and Oliver had to hire more guys who could help manufacture these watches.
After a year, the company White Innovation reached $1 million in sales. After paying for a lawyer to stop at least two other companies from selling a similar product, Peter rented out a warehouse and had to hire more people to help ship the product. He also rented out space in an office building.
Because he assumed all the financial risks and had all the business acumen, he convinced Oliver to give him 51% ownership of the Spy Watch. Oliver did not have any objections. Oliver was not interested in business. He just wanted to invent new products.