From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

No Mistake

In 1951, Bette Nesmith worked in a Dallas bank, where she was glad to have a secretarial job. She was twenty-seven, divorced and the mother of a nine-year-old son. She was happy to be making $300 a month, a respectable sum back then.

But she had one problem—how to correct the errors she made on her new electric typewriter. She had learned to type on a manual typewriter, and was horrified at how many more mistakes she was making on the electric. It was a nightmare trying to correct all the mistakes with an eraser. She had to figure out another way.

She had some art experience, and she knew that artists who worked in oils just painted over errors, so she concocted a fluid to paint over her typing errors, and she put it in an empty bottle of fingernail polish.

For five years, Bette kept her new technique to herself. But finally, other secretaries began to notice her little bottle, and asked for some themselves. So she made up some bottles for her friends and called it “Mistake Out.”

Her friends loved it and encouraged her to start selling the product. She approached various marketing agencies and companies, including IBM, but they turned her down. However, secretaries continued to like her product, so Bette Nesmith’s kitchen became her first manufacturing facility, and she started selling it on her own. She didn’t quit her day job, but worked long into the nights and early mornings mixing and packaging her product.

Orders began to trickle in, and she hired a college student to help the sales effort. It wasn’t easy for these two inexperienced salespeople. Dealers kept telling them that people just wouldn’t paint out their mistakes. Records show that from August 1959 to April 1960, the company’s total income was $1,141, and its expenses were $1,217.

But Bette didn’t give up. She went to a part-time secretarial job, managing to buy groceries and save $200 to pay a chemist to develop a faster-drying formula.

The new formula helped. Bette began traveling throughout the country, selling her little white bottles wherever she could. She’d arrive in a town, get the local phone book, and call every local office supply dealer. She visited individual stores and would leave a dozen bottles. Orders mushroomed, and what had become known as Liquid Paper began to take off.

When Bette Nesmith sold her enterprise, the Liquid Paper Corporation, in 1979, the tiny white bottles were earning $3.5 million annually on sales of $38 million. The buyer was the Gillette Company, and the sale price was $47.5 million.

Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff

Adapted from a story in
Bits & Pieces

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