Try this for the quintessential rags to riches story: Jonah White, creator of gag gift Billy Bob Teeth, went from sleeping on park benches and living in a cave to building his own log cabin-style mansion, with 50 exotic pets to keep him company.
The founder and CEO of Billy Bob Teeth Inc., which sells over 200 products, and host of Discovery Channel’s Billy Bob’s Gags to Riches has had a colorful path to business success.
White launched his business with $400 and the product that started it all—a set of buck-toothed acrylics called Billy Bob Teeth, which the company says they’ve manufactured more than 20 million units. In this interview for SUCCESS, White reveals his philosophy for life and running his business—and that’s no laughing matter.
Know what’s important. As White tells it, in 1994 he holed himself up in a cave for almost an entire year as an exercise in creativity and inspiration. He used the time to identify goals to manifest, and discovered something important. Despite White’s meager upbringing, making a fortune did not rank first on his hierarchy of needs.
“Sure, money is necessary and lets you do lots of nice things for people, but it’s down on the list,” says White, who now lives on 1,400 acres in rural Illinois with his family and assorted animals, including house possums, a bear, birds, skunks, snakes and a baby zebra, his newest addition.
“The most important thing is my own health. That’s number one. If I’m not alive, how can I help other people? How healthy I am, how healthy and happy my family is, and how my family and employees see me—[that] is a major indicator of how I’m doing a good job or not.”
Lead from what you know. White runs his business like a hard-hitting football team, by applying what he learned playing college ball. Each facet of the business is analogous to an element of the sport.
“I have an offensive line that blocks for me. I have other backs who carry the ball, this is my sales force. I have a shipping department, they’re like my defensive line,” White says. “I have a coach, that’s my CFO.
“Do I do everything the coach tells me all the time? No.”
Life is what we make of it. Ask White about destiny and he’ll tell you to create it yourself. “I don’t believe that someone has a plan for us and we can just coast on autopilot. I’m a firm believer that your destiny is something you make yourself.”
He believes life is comprised of making one good decision after another. Yes, surrounding yourself with good people helps but people think they got lucky or got a big break. “If you really think about it and researched what happened, it came from a decision you previously made. You worked hard.”
Go to extremes. The CEO pulled “a really good” April Fool’s Day prank several years ago. While driving his elderly neighbors into town to get their mail, he called an employee and asked if she heard sirens.
“The whole hillside’s on fire!” he proclaimed, hanging up the phone for urgency. He said two fire engines were en route to his neighbor’s house adjacent to their shipping warehouse and advised the team to grab buckets of water and towels.
Arriving back at the office, he spotted employees scurrying around the woods and returned to find locked doors. “They locked me out!”
He called an employee who indicated, “We went around the side of the Flocks’ house with buckets of water—they were eating their cereal on their back porch.” Busted.