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In most respects, Richie Stachowski, who lives in Orinda, California, is a typical, fun loving 13-year-old, who vastly prefers sports to school. On the other hand, Richie is the Founder and President of a company boasting about a half-million dollars in annual revenues.
When he was 11, Richie's family went on vacation to Hawaii. Richie was out snorkeling with his father, and was so thrilled by the numbers and colors of the fish he kept seeing that he wanted to be able to shout out to his dad each time he saw something new. Afterward, when Richie's father, a registered diver, confirmed that no one had invented a simple way to talk underwater, Richie set about becoming that inventor.
Richie began sketching designs that very evening in the family's hotel room. After returning home, Richie used the Internet to research underwater acoustics. Then he began building prototypes of an underwater megaphone, using the $267 he had in his savings account. First, Richie mounted a standard snorkel mouthpiece onto the tip of a conical, plastic soccer-field boundary marker. Then, in a series of tests conducted in the family swimming pool, Richie found that he could keep water from flooding the device by including a blow valve in the cone and a plastic membrane in the mouthpiece. After a month of further modifications, his invention was a complete success, allowing people to talk to each other underwater from up to 15 feet away.
Under the guidance of his mother, Barbara, herself an inventor-entrepreneur, Richie flew to Paramus, New Jersey to pitch his new "Water Talkies" to Toys "R" Us. Richie concluded his presentation by using a fish tank to ask, underwater, for a purchase order, and he got it---for 50,000 units. One of Barbara's business associates helped arrange incorporation, patent and trademark search, and manufacture. Richie's new company, Short Stack, LLC (named for Richie's favorite breakfast, pancakes) soon concluded deals with Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and other large chain stores.
Water Talkies were a summer sensation in 1997, and for 1998 they were joined by two new inventions. Richie's Scuba Scope allows snorkelers to see underwater and above water at the same time; his Bumper Jumper Water Pumper is a sit-down float whose paddle doubles as a water gun. Soon, Richie plans to expand the Short Stack® line even further, adding an underwater hockey game, novelty diving goggles, and an underwater pogo stick.
Although Richie's achievements have won him a great deal of attention in the media, from CNN to the Christian Science Monitor, he remains a kid at heart. For example, Richie canceled a scheduled June 1997 appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show" due to a conflict with a more pressing commitment: summer basketball camp.
That is as it should be, since not growing up too fast is the key to Richie's success. As his mother puts it, "Kids are so creative. . . Their barriers haven't been built up yet." Richie Stachowski would probably agree with his mother's theory, but in his advice to aspiring young inventors he prefers to use simpler terms: "If you think you have a good idea, just go for it!"