Jonah White is the owner and founder of “Billy-Bob Teeth”, the first line of fake teeth purposefully designed to look trashy, hillbilly-like, and downright gross. Today, fake teeth (often used for Halloween costumes, for example) are a fairly common phenomenon – but when White began producing them, they were unheard of. He’s fought off many forms of adversity to bring his product to the marketplace, including powerful competitors and little to no start-up capital. In our interview, White described his rather unusual path to success.
“In college, I recognized that I was being groomed to graduate and begin working for someone else. I took a pretty hard line that wasn’t going to be me. For several years I took odd jobs and eventually moved back home, living in a cave behind my parent’s house. I wanted to find a way to support myself without dealing with the elements of society I detested – concrete and cities and urban sprawl,” White explained.
A cave? Yes. White had the confidence to shun the traditional post-college path – and to pursue a great idea when he saw one.
“I figured out I needed to work in the mail-order business. My mind went into scanning mode – I just needed to figure out the right item! I knew how to work hard, how to be successful, how to rely on myself to pull through. But I needed that perfect item. It would be small, I could manufacture it myself, and it would retail for less than twenty dollars.”
White was right to have such specific ideas in mind – these guiding principles quickly paid off when he met, Rich Bailey, the inventor of “Billy Bob Teeth” at a football game.
“I returned to Southwestern Missouri for a game one weekend. I watched an incredibly built guy walk around the stadium with his shirt off; he was in great shape, he looked like a body builder. But his teeth were terrible! He was talking to all these girls, sounding arrogant and cocky. I couldn’t believe it. Clearly, this was a guy who took care of himself. What was the deal? I’ve seen some strange things in the South, but this took the cake,” said Jonah with a laugh.
Jonah discovered later that day that he and the body builder with the horrible teeth had a friend in common. He found out that Rich was a dental student – and the teeth that had attracted so much commotion and attention in the stands were fake! He knew the idea had great potential.
“They were genius. I asked him to make me a pair immediately. The items we sell now are superior, but the concept is the same and the materials used aren’t that different! Rich was the inventor but I realized ‘This product needs to be sold to millions of people, and I’m the person to do it.’”
He was right. Jonah admitted, “Everything that could go wrong did – at least twice.” But he was hungry and committed.