Magazine photographer Joshua Waldron realized he would have to move from Utah to a big city to get serious about his career. Instead, he stayed put. Much to the surprise of his former clients, he went on to found Silencerco, which is now the country's largest manufacturer of firearms silencers.Entrepreneur Joshua Waldron told his story to Inc. senior writer Burt Helm.
I'd worked for many major publications--Newsweek, Fortune Small Business, Forbes-;but I'd gotten pigeonholed as "the Utah photographer." I didn't want to move to New York, Los Angeles, or another big city, where you start getting bigger stories and more frequent jobs. I like Utah.
I invested in a recording studio with a high school friend, Jonathon Shults. We worked very well together, but the music business wasn't for me. Then I bought a company that fabricated and installed solid marble and granite countertops, but I hated it.
Jonathon and I shot guns every chance we got. One thing I like about Utah is that I can go a few minutes from the city and there's open range. We'd set up a watermelon at 300 yards or shoot cans or prairie dogs. We started using silencers because we didn't like to wear hearing protection. After a day of shooting, your head pounds from the earmuffs squeezing it.
We started seeing flaws and problems with our silencers. We also noticed that silencer companies had horrible customer service and marketing, including 1990s-style websites. I thought, I could own this market. In 2008, Jonathon and I raised $65,000 from friends and family, got a lease on a garage in West Valley City, Utah, and made a down payment on manufacturing equipment. In 2009, we launched our first product, the Sparrow, a silencer for .22 caliber rifles.
Puling the Trigger
Joshua Waldron, shown here holding a custom Stiller rifle, favors long-range and tactical-style shooting.
I jumped on a plane and flew to all 39 states where silencers are legal to meet with dealers. We ended up taking so many preorders that we sold out our first batch of 200 silencers before they had even been made. The first year, we sold 750 Sparrows. Soon after, we developed and released our next product, the Osprey, a silencer for handguns.
Back then it was kind of taboo. For two years, I continued to get calls from magazine editors looking to hire me for photo shoots. Many of them were surprised-;and even shocked--to hear that I was manufacturing silencers. Hollywood has created the idea that only bad guys use silencers. But they're really hearing-protection devices. If you don't know that, you think, Wow, those are illegal. One of the ways we've increased market share is by educating consumers about the legality of silencers.
Going from photography to running Silencerco really isn't as big of a divergence as you'd think. Part of the reason I was successful as a photographer was that I knew how to get jobs and keep people happy. I'm also focusing all of my creative skills on company direction, image, and marketing, which helps set us apart from our competitors. A successful business is a creative business.
BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. @burthelm