How I Went from the Bottle Cap Kid to the CEO of Some of the World’s Hottest Tech Companies

In the summer of 2013, I was getting ready to address a group of 350 young adults at Ardingly College in the South of England. My subject: “How to build your own billion-dollar network.”

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photo from Utah Valley BusinessQ

My older sister, who was the conference organizer, arose to introduce me. She had invited me there to be the conference keynote speaker to help inspire these hundreds of young people to achieve success in their business careers. So I thought she was going to brag about her little brother and read off the backgrounder I had assembled about myself. It included some fun facts about my business career—hiring the inventor of the Apple computer, Steve Wozniak, at Fusion-io; receiving a glowing endorsement from Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, when I was announced as CEO of HireVue; raising over $150 million dollars from the world’s top VC’s; and being inducted into the Utah Technology Hall of Fame. But I did not hear any of that.

There was a palpable buzz as Patcee rose to the front of the room. “Let me tell you about my little brother David,” she began. And then, much to my surprise, tears sprang to her eyes. She paused for a long moment and then spoke. “You see, my brother, David, was the Bottle Cap Kid.”

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The Bottle Cap Kid

As a child living in Burbank, California in the 1950’s, we had very few material things. Toys were scarce, so we were forced to develop our own games. One of them was “Bottle Cap Armies.” World War II had just ended, so the strategy of building and deploying armies was at the forefront of our minds. Together with my brother and his friend, we created a game similar to Risk—but with bottle caps.

First, we bent the caps into shapes so they would stand up. We then protected our armies of bottle caps by placing them behind wooden blocks. The next step of our grand game was to steal Mom’s vacuum cleaner hoses and add in some marbles we found lying around. We rolled the marbles through the vacuum hoses and crashed them into the wooden barricades we had erected to protect our armies. We loved it.

As the game developed, we found ourselves in need of additional armies. We couldn’t afford to buy the bottles to take the caps, but we knew one place that had plenty.

Joe’s Market was about two or three blocks away from our place. Joe, the owner, had dark hair, a stout build, and a stern character—but, on occasion, he broke out into a welcoming grin. My older brother and sisters and I would go to Joe’s to buy chewing gum when we could scratch up a couple of pennies. I didn’t care much for the chewing gum, but what excited me about going to Joe’s market was the soda pop dispenser. It contained something I treasured—bottle caps.

A red soda machine stood four feet off the ground near the entrance to Joe’s Market. Rows and rows of glass pop bottles sat in the bottom of that dispenser in beds of ice. When Joe’s customers wanted a bottle of soda, they would reach inside the large canister and pull out a cold one, then pop off the bottle cap into the bottle cap catcher that was mounted on the side of the machine.

Joe emptied the bottle cap catcher into the trash once or twice a day. But in my five-year-old mind, there was a much better use for those caps. You see, those caps came in a bunch of different varieties—Dad’s Root Beer, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Cream Soda, Grape Nehi, Orange Nesbits, and my personal favorite bottle cap: Royal Crown Cola. Our post-World War II minds envisioned building armies of bottle caps—armies of each different variety. So, if Joe was just going to throw those bent and sticky bottle caps away, I was going to find a way to get the Mother Lode.

One day, I summoned up what seemed to me to be superhuman courage. Joe was a big man and wildly intimidating to my young eyes. But I wanted those bottle caps enough to fight my fear. With all of the courage I could muster, I asked Joe if we could please have the caps from the bottle cap catcher. He gave me a strange look but agreed. So every time I came into the store, Joe walked over to the soda machine and emptied handfuls of bottle caps into an old brown bag that I brought with me to the store. I then walked home with my ragged sack, emptied my precious treasure onto my bedroom floor, and began the process of sorting the caps into their respective armies. Bottle Cap Armies was a “go.”

Those bottle cap games taught me many valuable lessons that I have used throughout my life. The simple process of gaining access to the bottle caps through Joe taught me the need to “show up” in life and be heard. The strategy surrounding the deployment of our bottle cap armies taught me to think creatively and to be resourceful. Now here I am, 50+ years later, having been CEO of the two fastest growing companies in Utah (Fusion-io and HireVue on Technology Fast 500™ 2013 Ranking)… It has been an amazing journey. Probably the most significant lesson I’ve learned along the way is the importance of building deep and lasting personal and professional relationships. In my ensuing blogs I look forward to sharing lessons learned along the way, and introducing you to people and concepts that have changed my life.


Posted in Posted in Entrepreneurship  |  20 Comments

20 thoughts on “How I Went from the Bottle Cap Kid to the CEO of Some of the World’s Hottest Tech Companies”

  1. I loved your story. It brought back many memories of my childhood. I also grew up post WW II in SoCal with very little money. I also created games using whatever I could find. The one I played the most was a baseball game I made using old bubblegum baseball cards. Thinking back those were great times. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Rob- You are one of the best. Thanks for your additional comments. After bottleCaps, baseball cards were #2 on our list of loves.

  2. My personal sales mantra has been to keep the desire of a five year-old and keep asking and approaching the sale knowing that to get the outcome you want, sometimes you just have to change the ask.

  3. When I was a boy, my brother and I went into ditch banks of our farm and gathered milk weed pods. The silky floss was sold in town for soldier’s sleeping bags. We also patrolled the roadway for tobacco packs, because, they were lined with tin foil, which we also sold in town for the War11 effort.

    1. That is an awesome story, Sheldon. thanks for sharing. Back then we had no video games so had to get inventive. Best- david

    1. You are terrific, Lisa. Thanks for the kind words. Wishing you the best in your awesome new career at Tanium – that is one hot company.

  4. This blog brought back memories. My allowance in the 60’s was 25 cents per week. It was just enough to buy a pack of bubble gum cards and a Royal Crown Cola, IF I remembered to take back the empty bottle from last week. The neighborhood store was 3 blocks away – a long walk for an 8 year old kid!

  5. Kids and creativity..the best – and nothing they had to study for.. If only we could keep this level of creativty we can solve so many things !
    Loved the story as our 5yr old has been collecting bottle caps.. It’s his new treasure and currency .. Clearly so creative thought he has :-)

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