In July 1993, a gunman opened fire at the San Francisco law firm of Pettit & Martin, killing eight people and wounding six more. Several of the casualties were friends and former colleagues of Joe Anderson, who'd worked at the firm. Joe is an entertainment attorney, a fourth-generation Montanan from Shelby, and a serial entrepreneur. After the shooting, an enduring question haunted him: “Is there a reliable way to stop violence without being violent?”
Back in Montana, Joe met Steve Mangold, who’d invented an alternative to firearms: a pistol-style spray-head designed to precisely deliver self-defense gel indoors, up to a range of eighteen feet. In 2017, the two co-founded Reflex Protect, a safety company dedicated to providing non-lethal self-defense products and active-threat training. Joe said about their start-up, “We developed a product that’s a 21st-century fire extinguisher for violence.”
Joe describes how the 1993 shooting led to the founding of Reflex Protect in 2017: "I was involved in the gun debate and certainly took a position about gun control at the time. And then over time, I became dismayed that this conversation really was not going anywhere. I kind of just let it go, like I think a lot of people did. I was originally involved politically, but never in terms of my entrepreneurial work. It wasn't until I moved back to Montana and Steve put the Reflex technology spray head in my hands and said, "I think this could be an alternative to a loaded gun in a nightstand drawer." And here's this fellow who's an NRA member, he's a hunter, he's a serious gun person - but like many serious gun people, he recognizes they're not always the solution; having options is a good thing. And when he put it my hands, I saw not just an alternative to a loaded gun in a nightstand drawer, but also something that, had it been in the receptionist's hands at Pettit & Martin, might have made my whole life different.
"I kind of knew at that moment that this was the time for me to get re-engaged in this question of violence in general and certainly gun violence in America, but having the opportunity to do so in a new way. Because we're really trying to reframe the debate away from where it's been, which has been very much a guns vs. no guns sort of black-and-white debate, into: Let's accept the way things are for a moment. Let's allow the debate to continue, of course. But: violence is. What can we do to actually deter or prevent or protect people from that violence? That's been a remarkable story for us."
Today on Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs, we’re talking with Joe Anderson about his fascinating career, and why he believes a product like Reflex Protect could change the national conversation about guns. Joe joins us from his home in Missoula, Montana.
Production support for “Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs” comes from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, dedicated to investing in people to improve the quality of their lives. And from the Greater Montana Foundation, encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans. And from Blackfoot, providing communications solutions for Montana businesses. Plus opportunities like C2M Beta, an innovation lab aimed at helping startups thrive. C2Mbeta.com.