It was the most intriguing front door I’d ever seen: a column, much like a silo, concrete and sterile. As I approached, a sliding door opened. I entered the space. The door closed behind me. Steel walls in a circle surrounded me. There wasn’t a visible exit. It was like the transporter room on Star Trek. The only thing in the room was a tablet mounted to the wall. I woke it up and pressed the screen to speak to the secretary. A hidden door to my left opened. I was presented with my true objective . . .
I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse, but I’ve seen a lot of corporate interiors in my life. Nothing compares to TASER’s HQ. The complexity of the open concept building — a maze of steel and glass connected by catwalks and cables — rivals that of a naval vessel. A secretary as sleek as my surrounds handed me a visitor’s badge, confounding my expectations of a burly alpha dog greeter.
I was broken from my momentary daze by a man in an untucked blue shirt and an extended hand. Pleasantries extended, Steve Tuttle affirmed my architectural metaphor. TASER designed their HQ to resemble a starship, boldly going where no law enforcement supplier had gone before.
We made our way up to Steve’s cubicle, no bigger or smaller than those surrounding it. Steve was one of TASER’s five original funders. Back in the day, he used to wind the wires for TASER cartridges, by hand, in a garage. Steve reminisced about his company’s early products, recalling how each was received.
TASER’s early days were a struggle. Police departments couldn’t see past their batons. Consumers couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of a conducted electrical weapon (CEW). When police departments finally began adopting TASERs, the company had to suddenly switch from promotion to defense. TASERs were seen as tools of oppression. Lethal weapons disguised as non-lethal weapons. Wrongful death lawsuits arrived — still arrive — fast and furious. All successfully repelled.
TASER’s now a publicly traded company. Their latest earnings report pegs fourth quarter revenue at $56m, up $9.2m or 19.7 percent over the previous year. International sales generated $12.1m in the quarter, reflecting the success of their foreign growth strategy. Net income for the fourth quarter of 2015 was $5.1 million. Tuttle and TASER’s days in the garage are long gone.
After lunch, Steve escorted me to the assembly area. I quickly saw the truth of Steve’s assertion that TASER is a tech company that makes weapons, not a weapons company that makes tech. Everything to make TASER weapons is proprietary. TASER not only designs their own products, they design the machines to make them. I marveled at the ingenuity of the jigs and machines.
Steve knew the names of each of his employees. Many of them were immigrants who’d worked at TASER for upwards of fifteen years. As impressive as the products and machinery were, the workers’ soft-spoken pride in and dedication to their work are the key to the company’s manufacturing prowess.
We made our way to the back of the manufacturing area where the new Pulse is assembled. TASER builds the Pulse on less than one hundred feet of continuous surfaces in a space hardly larger than an average living room. TASER is evolving their workspaces using the concept of ‘kaizen’ or continuous improvement. The company is dedicated to streamlining production by increasing production rate and quality.
On the cartridge manufacturing line, mill-like machines wind the wire used to transmit the charge from the weapon to the barbs, while other machines make the compressed gas cylinders that power the device. Workers assemble and X-ray the finished cartridges before packaging them.
I followed Steve back into the main area. They’d set up a little shooting range against a lobby wall. I fired the new, consumer-friendly Pulse, and was impressed with its simplicity and ease of operation. [Full review to follow.] After a few cartridges were spent, I sat down in the lobby with TASER’s Business Manager and Digital Consumer Marketing Manager. Matt and Heather discussed the public’s perception of the company and its plans for the future with me.
They told me that TASER is committed to non-lethal self-defense (and police accountability through their video products). While they prefer police and other civilian defenders use a non-lethal solution when and where they can, they acknowledge that there are times and places where a firearm is a faster and better solution to a violent conflict. It’s not their job to decide which is the better tool. It’s their job to provide a viable, non-lethal option. A nearby wall of patents highlights their single-minded focus.
While both TASER and gun makers help Americans protect innocent life by “stopping the threat,” TASER caters to those who can’t, won’t or shouldn’t use deadly force to accomplish this goal. People who — in the main — believe that all life is precious. As they do.
Steve, Heather, Matt and rest of the TASER team advocate for a solution that preserves our good nature as human beings and allows those of us that make mistakes to live to have a second chance. In short, TASER is a highly profitable company run by dedicated individuals who truly believe that their products have and will continue to make a difference in the world. In my opinion, they’re not wrong.