OSD 164: The eForm 4 is building momentum
A micro profile of PEW Science, a company on the forefront.
We wrote the following in “OSD 146: The real NFA tax is time”, when the ATF introduced the eForm 4:
You can think of product development across an industry — whether it’s software or silencers — as a MMORPG version of what a solo developer is doing at their desk:
Make change → see how it performs → adjust → rinse and repeat
That’s a feedback loop, and it’s how good products emerge over time. Because the output of each loop feeds into the input of the next one, the gains compound. And that means that speeding up the loop produces exponentially faster results — and, at a certain threshold, fundamentally different results. Thinking about the software engineer, if their builds take 1 minute, they’re able to invent cool stuff. If the builds take 1 hour, they’re slow. But if the builds take 1 week, it’s not just slower — it’s different to the point that it breaks the feedback loop entirely, and the cool stuff just never gets invented.
That’s where silencers have been. There are two brakes on demand for silencers: the $200 tax, and the 10-12 month wait time for the paper Form 4. The $200 tax has been getting inflated away for 87 years, and for someone spending $800+ on a silencer, it’s more a troublesome hurdle than an absolute dealbreaker. But the yearlong wait is a different story. That stops people in their tracks, and prevents the industry from getting to a healthy feedback loop of product development.
What would a healthy feedback loop look like? Industry-wide standardized mounting systems. More light-duty cans. And come to think of it, why doesn’t just every hunting rifle in the country have an integrally suppressed barrel? It’s because the yearlong wait has made that a nonstarter. Nobody’s going to wait a year to pick up their gun.
That was four months ago. How has it been going?
First, the data. From the self-reported wait times on /r/nfa, eForm 4 approvals take 60-70 days. That’s still a long time, but it’s an 80% improvement over the paper Form 4. And remember the model above: when feedback loops get faster, the gains are nonlinear.
So what about those gains? Four months isn’t enough time for new products to have become popular yet, but we’d showcase PEW Science as an example of the types of companies that emerge in a healthy industry.
Jay Idriss started the company in 2019 to do “independent sound signature testing for suppressed weapon systems”. In other words, he tests hundreds of suppressor-gun combinations and rates how well their sound is suppressed. Here’s a recent test for the HUXWRX (formerly OSS) HX-QD 556k on a 10.3” MK18.
In 2020, he formalized his methodology into a composite score called the Silencer Sound Standard. He has also added freemium pricing for the content, a service for silencer companies to hire PEW Science for proprietary testing, and a podcast.
So a guy turned his passion for guns into a side business. Being relentless about responding to customer demand is turning that side business into a decent standalone business. Fast-forward a few years, with the background context of a silencer market that 10x’s, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the business 10x’s too.
And multiply that by the background context of hundreds of other Jay Idrisses seeing that the gun space is growing quickly enough to be worthy of the ambition that they might otherwise have focused onto a different industry.
That’s what positive feedback loops look like.
This week’s links
Good drill you can do at home.
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