OSD 131: Samuel Colt applies to Y Combinator

On guns and entrepreneurship.

A few years ago, an electrical engineer named Hunter Scott wrote up a fictional application from Samuel Colt to join Y Combinator’s Summer 1851 batch.

Hunter explained why he did this like so: “Samuel Colt struck me as someone remarkably similar to the kind of person Paul Graham describes as being a good startup founder. He was very mischievous when he was younger, he was a hustler, he didn’t give up despite failing twice before succeeding, and was a brilliant guy. He also found a small group of people who loved his product first and made them happy (the Texas Rangers) and then focused on scaling up. Go read his whole Wikipedia article, it’s great.”

The result is pretty great. Here are a couple highlights from it:

What is your company going to make?

A gun you can shoot multiple times without reloading. We're starting with a revolver but will eventually make rifles as well. We know the revolver doesn't have a great reputation, but we're using a new mechanical technique that lines up the barrel with the chamber perfectly using the action of the hammer. This means that you can fire our guns 5 or 6 times in a row without reloading. They are accurate and small enough for use on the back of a horse. We also manufacture our guns using machined, replaceable parts, so repair is very easy compared to current pistols on the market. These replaceable parts also allow us to assemble pistols more quickly than other factories, since we can have a line of workers, each of which install a single part at a time as the gun moves down the line, as opposed to a single worker building the entire gun. We think this will greatly increase our output ability.

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?

That interchangeable parts are the future. We also believe that the ability to fire multiple times without reloading is the most important idea in firearms ever.

The whole thing is that vintage-internet-flavored combination of fun, silly, and educational. It’s also a good reminder that products matter most. Laws matter, but the reason they matter is that they block access to products people want. So the good products have to be there as soon as the law’s out of the way (and often even before that). That’s a task for founders, not legislators.

This works in both directions. Removing bad laws helps unblock good products, but creating good products also helps remove bad laws. Recent polling shows support for gun control has continued its 25-year decline, particularly among young people, and one out of every nine US gun owners became a gun owner in 2020. Those new users have been onboarded with an arsenal of good products: educational/cultural content on social media, and an unprecedented selection of high-quality-but-inexpensive guns. And so those products have grown a constituency that can help change laws.

There’s a corollary to this products-first idea of gun rights: if you want to promote gun rights, build great gun-related products. It’s hard to start a company. But it’s much harder (and less controllable) to change an entrenched law. Focus on starting the company and there’s an outcome where your customers help chip away at the law for you.


This week’s links

Dolf Goldsmith and Ian McCollum talk about destructive devices

Throwback episode of Forgotten Weapons. Dolf’s bio starts, “Dolf Goldsmith is a renowned author and machine gun expert”, which is a description we can all aspire to.

New permits for the importation of Russian ammo into the US will be denied starting on September 7

This is a new State Department rule, presented as a punishment for Russia for poisoning Alexei Navalny. But it also effectively bans new AK ammo from entering the US. It’s not clear how much of the AK ammo in the US is made in Russia, but one data point is that prices 2-3x’ed overnight when this new rule was announced. The rule will be in effect for one year and will then have to be renewed by the State Department, but they are likely to keep renewing it indefinitely. AK ammo will stay at its suddenly-quite-expensive new prices until non-Russian manufacturers can spin up capacity, which could take something like 2-3 years.

Rare Breed Triggers video about their dispute with the ATF

A good walkthrough from the president of the company. (This was also the subject of last week’s newsletter, “OSD 130: Ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun”.)

A visit to the Beretta Gallery, one of two gun stores left in NYC

Your one-stop-shop for tweed jackets, hunting gear, and $22,000 .470 Nitro Express rifles.


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