Randice-Lisa "Randi" Altschul is proof that lack of expertise in a certain field need not restrict an inventor from creating an exciting new product in that area. With little technical education or training, the New Jersey toy inventor began creating games and toys for children and adults in 1985. By age 26, she was a millionaire. She has since licensed more than 200 games and toys. Some of her successful ventures include the Miami Vice board game based on the popular television show, Barbie's 30th Birthday Game, and board games based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons. She also created a breakfast cereal that comes in the shape of action figures and dissolves into mush in milk.
It was in 1996 that Altschul came up with the idea that would make her famous: the world’s first disposable cell phone. While driving down the highway and talking on her mobile phone one day (which is not an advisable practice!) she became frustrated as her connection became weak, and the conversation cut in and out. She wanted to throw her cell phone out the window.
Suddenly she had a “Eureka!” moment. Why not create a disposable cell phone that people could buy and use until an allotted amount of time was used up, and then throw it away? Her toy mentality helped her to think this way — she was used to building toys for children, who tend to use an item for a fairly short period of time before they move on to other toys and throw their old ones out.
The disposable cell phone marked Altschul’s first foray into electronics. She worked with engineer, Lee Volte, to develop the super-thin circuitry that would go inside the phones. She was issued a series of patents for the wireless, prepaid cell phone, as well as the circuitry in November 1999. Her phone was called the Phone-Card-Phone®, less than half a centimeter thick, about the size of a credit card, and made from recycled paper products.
Altschul and her Cliffside Park, New Jersey company, Dieceland Technologies, developed a marketing strategy to target mothers and kids who want to keep in touch when they are not together, elderly people who may not be interested in long-term cellular phone contracts, or tourists who might need a phone for a short time when they are away from home. Essentially the disposable phone, which Altschul considered an “enhanced calling card,” would replace the need for a calling card or a pay phone, and would be fairly inexpensive to purchase.
Eventually, competing companies latched on to Altschul’s idea and began making disposable cell phones of their own. Thus, Altschul’s phone is yet to be distributed. But she is known as the first to have conceived this novel idea. In 2002, the Phone-Card-Phone was named 'Product of the Year' by Frost and Sullivan.
Altschul continues to work on other new inventions, such as a disposable laptop computer and other new products. She has also written an autobiographical book about her experiences as an entrepreneur and inventor.