Published 4 years ago.
About a 7 minute read.
While money and special interests are unlikely to leave US politics, I’m optimistic that Biofire can change the conversation around guns: Why can’t a for-profit company build safer handguns?
During the heart of TOMS’ End Gun Violence campaign in 2018, I received an email from a 21-year-old entrepreneur named Kai Kloepfer.
Kai described his vision for Biofire — an early-stage
startup incorporating biometric sensors into handguns. Unlike traditional
handguns, which anyone can fire, “smart guns” eliminate the possibility of
children or unwanted intruders operating an owner’s gun.
Did Biofire immediately strike me as a compelling investment opportunity?
I’ve always had an aversion to guns: They strike me as dangerous and
unnecessary. If a person wants to own a Thomas Jefferson-era musket, all the
more power to them. In general, though, I’m puzzled as to why everyday
citizens need Rambo-style assault rifles — or why otherwise reasonable
people are offended by common-sense regulations such as Universal Background
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
As an angel investor, I pride myself on having a Beginner’s
My goal is approaching every deal from a place of curiosity — and not
letting pre-conceived notions, assumptions about a founder, or
positive/negative social proof affect my yet-to-be-formed opinion. One of
the wonderful side effects of this mindset is that — when you least expect
it — an idea/opportunity completely surprises you.
Though I didn’t realize it at first, Biofire is an extremely compelling
solution for reducing gun violence. If successful, Biofire has the potential
to prevent tragic, gun-related accidents; create a national conversation
around responsible gun ownership; and establish a defensible moat in a
In the sections that follow, I highlight the 4 main reasons why I invested
in a smart gun company. Whether you’re a staunch supporter of the 2nd
Amendment or advocate for gun reform, my hope is that — after reading this
article — you’ll share my enthusiasm for innovative, for-profit companies
In April 2019, less than a month after a gunman killed 50 religious
worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, lawmakers
most semi-automatic and military-style assault weapons.
Owners of the newly illegal firearms had 60 days to exchange their guns for
compensation — or face up to 5 years in prison.
Since a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary
School in December 2012, there have been 2,295 mass shootings in the
US — with
2,601 people killed and 9,557 wounded. Despite the epidemic of gun violence,
the US continues to have some of the weakest gun laws in the developed
In the US, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is so entrenched
that even the most basic reforms fail to gain traction. Case in point:
Despite more than 90 percent of Americans supporting Universal Background
Checks, a federal
continues to exempt “unlicensed sellers” from performing any background
When there’s overwhelming consensus on an important civic issue, how is the
will of the people NOT acted upon? Should “Representative Democracy” be returned to the Supermarket of False Promises?
Rather than discussing gun violence in theory — or waiting for the wheels
of democracy to turn — Biofire is proactively building a technology
solution to make handguns safer.
Like every other technology startup, Biofire’s success will be determined by
the strength of its leadership team; engineering acumen; marketing strategy
and sheer tenacity to overcome formidable obstacles. Consumers, voting with
their credit cards — not politicians preaching from a soapbox — will
determine whether smart guns are a worthwhile purchase.
The firearms industry is dominated by historically entrenched,
non-tech-savvy manufacturers. The last major handgun innovation occurred in
1982 when Glock pioneered plastic-based
frames. Since the shift to plastic
frames, handguns have continued to improve — but only incrementally
(slightly improved accuracy, longer-lasting parts, etc).
Many companies have tried — and failed — to commercialize smart guns.
Beginning 20 years ago, the federal government began seeding money to
incumbent manufacturers and startups to explore “personalized firearms.” At
the time, embedded electronics and high-capacity batteries were too nascent
for commercial handguns. As a result, all first-generation smart gun
companies failed — and many in spectacular fashion.
More recently, a German company called Armatix developed a smart gun that unlocks by
typing a code into a wrist watch. Armatix flopped badly — only selling 100
units in Germany, and zero in the US. Armatix’s handguns were 1,000x less
reliable than traditional firearms; 5X more expensive; and most notably,
hackable with $15 worth of
magnets. Oy vey!
Many companies/technologies are simply ahead of their time (consider
Webvan vs Amazon Prime; Napster vs Spotify; Pets.com vs
Could the hardware/software necessary for smart guns be ready for prime
time? If the answer is “yes,” could Biofire disrupt a massive industry?
According to a 2019 Gallup
30 percent of adult Americans personally own a gun and 43 percent live in a
The gun community is comprised of many customer segments with varying
attitudes and purchasing needs. While a significant percentage of gun owners
support the NRA, it’s reasonable to assume that — among such a massive
Total Addressable Market — many gun owners do NOT endorse the NRA’s
position on responsible gun ownership.
To give a parallel example:
While many NFL fans are angry about Colin Kaepernick's refusal to
stand for the National Anthem, a meaningful percentage of fans agree with
Kaepernick’s right to free speech. Among an audience as large as “NFL fans,”
it’s unlikely that 100 percent of fans agree on ANY issue — let alone the
preferred position of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
According to a 2016 Johns Hopkins
study entitled “The
U.S. Public’s Preference for Safer Guns,” 43 percent of gun-owning Americans
would consider buying a childproof gun. If, for the sake of argument, we
assume that “only” 10 percent of gun owners are interested in smart guns,
that still equates to 7.5M+ potential customers (Math = Total Adult
Population of the USA x 30 percent gun owners x 10 percent interested in
smart guns). Biofire — or another smart gun manufacturer — can build a
business worth hundreds of millions of dollars, JUST focusing on the
customers that traditional manufacturers are actively ignoring.
If a meaningful percentage of customers is concerned about responsible gun
ownership and the technology necessary for smart guns is ready to prime
time, why aren’t major manufacturers capitalizing on this opportunity? Why
does the industry need a Challenger Brand such as Biofire?
Like ExxonMobil denying climate change, traditional firearms
manufacturers don’t even acknowledge that gun violence is a problem. This
sentiment is evident in the popular slogan that “Guns don’t kill people.
Because of the industry’s historically entrenched politics, traditional
manufacturers cannot discuss the need for safer handguns or the merits of
“smart technology” such as biometric sensors: Doing so would directly
contradict the industry’s long-standing argument that there’s no problem to
This presents an incredible opportunity for a Challenger Brand: As a
startup company with no entrenched ideology or existing customers to
placate, Biofire can fully “own” responsible gun ownership. In a
multibillion-dollar industry allergic to activism, Biofire will have zero
competition marketing to historically overlooked customers.
While money and special interests are unlikely to leave US politics, I’m
optimistic that Biofire can change the conversation around guns: Why can’t a
for-profit company build safer handguns? Could Biofire’s success be a wake-up
call to the NRA and traditional gun manufacturers?
As a financial stakeholder — and concerned citizen longing for change — I’m
rooting for purpose-driven gun companies. In the fight against gun violence,
we need gutsy politicians and skilled entrepreneurs!
Published Jan 9, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Jake Strom, former Head of Impact Investing at TOMS, is an investor in companies combining Profit + Purpose. His obsession is finding the most incredible entrepreneurs, and helping scale world-changing businesses.