Take comfort in this reality (even if others find it terrifying), don’t panic, and above all, be grateful for what is, and act in accordance with that gratitude, positivity, and kindness. There is no guarantee, of course, that everything will turn out to your liking, but you will still be there to see through the adversity — sane and capable of making the best of whatever comes.
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Anderson.
Joe Anderson, Founder and CEO of Reflex Protect, brings over 25 years of expertise as an attorney specializing in digital media & entrepreneurial legal matters and a serial entrepreneurial experience in his own right. Joe’s entrepreneurial journey was catalyzed by trauma from the 101 California Street Shooting, in which Joe’s friends and colleagues were senselessly murdered, prompting him to leave big firm practice at the dawn of the dot-com boom. His early experience as lawyer and co-founder to pioneer music and video on demand start-ups and next generation record labels, followed by a stint as a Hollywood feature film producer, and capped off as a co-founder of the wildly successful ed-tech firm StudySync, provided a unique skill set to pursue the Reflex Protect® mission of bringing peace of mind through non-lethal self-defense wherever people live, work, worship, or play.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
At the risk of sounding obnoxious, there’s an almost memoir-length answer to this question, not so much because my life is interesting, but rather because my history illuminates, in hindsight, how a series of seemingly unrelated events in the life of a dilettante ultimately connect in a pretty meaningful story with lessons far larger than its subject.
Thus, the story I’ll tell has elements in it specific to this Reflex Protect venture and its mission to alleviate unnecessary suffering for everyone, everywhere. There are also elements to my tale that are significant or connected to the story’s larger implications, but that may not be important to a telling of the Reflex Protect story itself. I’ll provide aspects of both, leaving to you to choose the story from which your readers would most benefit.
I was born and raised as the 4th generation scion of a Montana ranching family mere months after the discovery of oil on land settled by my great-grandfather on the Alberta border prior to statehood. As such, I was born into a family in which my parents had been the first to attend college, and the first to make livings apart from the ranch itself or other physical labor (my paternal grandfather worked in the lumber mills of Northern California). We were, then, pretty much unsophisticated rustics, but at the time of my birth previously unthought of possibilities had suddenly become imaginable — for someone with an imagination. I turned out to have that imagination, and more importantly, to have it encouraged.
I wasn’t born to be a typical Montana boy of my generation. I wasn’t particularly interested in hunting or fishing (or even ranching, for that matter), and although I tried very hard to be one, I wasn’t a natural athlete of the type that enjoys popularity in rural communities. I was bookish and somewhat sickly (asthma, allergies, congenitally bowed legs), and though I craved popularity, in addition to not being an athlete, I was (worse yet) smart.
I can recall being consoled not infrequently by both my parents that I shouldn’t worry about it, because things would get better once I got to college. It didn’t occur to me until much later in life what a tremendous level of support that truly was — being grounded in the assumption (not pressure, merely factual support) that there was a future stage of school (which I liked) called college, and that I would obviously want and be entitled to go there.
I further recall at age twelve, on one of the two family vacations we took (the first to Hawaii two years earlier, this one to California) Dad admonishing me to get my nose out of the book I was reading (as usual) and look around as we passed an interesting structure while driving from LA to San Francisco. It was Hoover Tower, and in response to my question, Dad explained that we were passing by Stanford University, which he considered to be the finest college on the planet. Unencumbered by any knowledge of what that meant, I announced I would go there. Dad informed me that if I got in, he would pay for it (which was of no real significance to me at the time, but again shows the privilege to which I was born, even if it was in Hicksville, USA).
I did eventually learn that getting into Stanford (or the other choices I later afforded myself when I knew more about it: Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) would mean I would have to maintain not only the straight As I always had, but also put together an interesting resumé in support of my application. Since sports were out, I focused on extracurricular activities and music. Once again with blithe indifference to the difficulties of the path and expectations I was placing on myself (not to mention the pressure I put on my mother who feared for my sanity in event of failure), I made myself into an admissions officer’s dream: valedictorian and first-ever National Merit Scholar in a graduating class of 49 public school kids from literally one of the most remote parts of the lower 48; worldwide President of the then 110,000 member Key Club International service organization; one of two Century III leaders representing Montana nationwide; Superior music festival ratings in voice, trombone, and as the keyboard player in state champion jazz bands and vocal ensembles; and the list actually goes on but grows dim now.
I chose Stanford over Princeton and Yale mostly just because I had told my dad that’s where I was going to go, and that choice turned out to make all the difference, I believe. I have no idea (and really don’t want to know) what kind of human I would have become had I attended an Ivy. I do know that everything my parents had told me about finally being happy once I got to college was confirmed in toto upon my arrival on the Farm in 1983.
I provide that perhaps excessively in-depth background to give a sense of who I thought I was entering adulthood, in addition to a flavor of how truly odd a creature I was from the perspective of those around me at Stanford. I had no sense of even the possibility of failure or (in retrospect) my own fallibility, and while I believe I had been raised very well by good people to be a kind, well mannered, fair, and decent human being, I also was under the impression that I could do and achieve whatever I wanted, pretty much. Stanford naturally provides high-octane fuel for people driven by that type of engine.
I made seemingly contradictory choices work all the time: I majored in political science with honors specialization in Strategic Weapons Management (at the height of the Cold War), in pursuit of which I held a highly-sought-after research assistant position for two visiting scholars at the right wing Hoover Institution, all the while following the Grateful Dead and ingesting truly heroic quantities of illegal drugs (and a maintaining a near-constant booze buzz). I performed in lots of musical theater and enjoyed friendships across all manner of social circles and segments, while also being an obnoxious member of the exclusive “in crowd” clique. I got in big trouble with the administration, but suffered no serious consequences.
Eventually, in a virtually unexamined pursuit of an assumed plan from childhood, I graduated and went to Georgetown Law, which was a continuation of my undergraduate experience, only with an East Coast tint to everything. I focused on international law and diplomacy, wrote for a journal, was the long-haired king of moot court, and was the life of the party almost every night with a diverse crowd (most of whom partied only one night a week). I glided along with the same basic assumption that there was a plan, and I was following it. Because I knew the tricks to following the map better than most, I succeeded.
During my third year, however, an interesting event occurred that changed everything. The Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. The path remained, but its relevance had changed, and I felt for the first time an opportunity to change direction in accordance with events. These events occurred at the same time Dad was undergoing a bone marrow transplant for the leukemia he had been diagnosed with my senior year, and it seemed apt that I pay attention to the apparent change in seasons. The West called me back.
I refocused from the pursuit of power and public service to the prospect of living a fine life and making lots of money. I took the highest-paying job I was offered in the place I most liked, becoming a litigation associate at Pettit & Martin in San Francisco. There, I began working for a senior associate who specialized in copyright and trademark litigation — because his office was full of the toys his clients made. It seemed cool, and I wanted to be cool. I wore double-breasted Italian suits with my long hair elegantly coiffed, to the disdain of the partners, yet advanced to first chairing and winning my own trials before my classmates were attending depositions alone.
Dad died in October 1992, removing the last potential opposing force to my arrogance and sense of entitlement. In July 1993, however, another event changed forever the path I would pursue, if not how I would pursue it.
A madman entered the 101 California Street Building, took the elevator to Pettit’s 34th floor offices, and proceeded to commit what is to this day the largest mass murder in San Francisco history, injuring and killing friends, former colleagues, and innocents in a blaze of automatic weapons fire. The shock and trauma manifested in different ways among those of us who joined the firm in 1990, but for me, I simply knew I wasn’t really doing what made me happy. I was just doing something I was good at as a natural result of my ingrained plan, rather than a manifestation of my own desires as they were evolving over time.
I quit the corporate practice of law and joined a rock band.
Over the next few years I learned that the world did not need another keyboard player, but that the artists with whom I was now spending all of my time most definitely needed a lawyer to protect their interests. So next, I put out my shingle and became a sole practitioner.
I met (and later married) a recording artist 19 years my senior whose major label record deal appeared nothing short of unconscionable to me, so I got her out of it and together we formed our own independent record label, another entrepreneurial venture. I produced records (two were nominated for Grammy Awards), pursued my own musical interests, and represented independent artists’ efforts to achieve their creative dreams. I also became involved in a series of gun control advocacy groups and helped lobby for passage of the Brady Bill.
After developing a reputation as an “artists’ rights” advocate in a couple high profile cases, I was asked to join the faculty of U.C. Hastings College of the Law as its Adjunct Professor of Entertainment Law. It was from my students that I learned about the burgeoning power of the Internet, as the Napster-fueled dot-com boom took over the Bay Area in the mid-90s. My legal background combined with entrepreneurial experience in the music business enjoyed perfect timing to make my one of the country’s first Digital Media/Start-up legal specialists. I spent the next 25 years helping others, whether as legal counsel or co-founder of a series of creative endeavors, achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
In 2000, with my marriage on the rocks and the dot-com bust looming, I was presented with the opportunity to combine my legal practice with the former head of business affairs at New Line Cinema, Phillip Rosen, in the first boutique digital media law firm in what was then the nascent “Silicon Beach” in Venice, at precisely the same time I was asked by one of my clients to become managing partner of a new film production company she was forming with Lance Bass of *NSYNC (and their manager Johnny Wright, as well as She’s All That producer Rich Hull) to produce film and television projects for the tween audience. Rosen & Anderson and A Happy Place shared space in a Frank Gehry building on Speedway in Venice, the latter producing feature films for Miramax and The Weinstein Company while the former guided new digital and social media companies from inception through exits involving companies that might undergo two-comma valuation changes in the course of a single year.
In 2007, sick of Hollywood and sensing the coming housing collapse and recession, I sold my townhouse in the canals, put everything in storage, and went on walkabout in Australia and New Zealand. I had been moved by An Inconvenient Truth and was reading about Big Coal, Big Corn, and the role of the petroleum industry and modern American agriculture in global warming. So, when I received an unexpected offer from an ex-girlfriend’s father to join a new solar power start-up as its CEO, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. I wanted to do something that mattered.
I moved to Carbondale, Colorado and guided the new company through the final stages of its successful patent application for its namesake Solar Suspension System. I mapped out a business plan for investors and was prepared to go raise money, but a fundamental difference in opinion over the company’s direction between the founder/chairman and me made evident that this was not, in fact, the right venture for me. Friends in wine country invited me to stay in their guest house for a while to finish a novel I had begun writing about the music industry while I figured out what was next, so I took them up on the kind offer. I had written over a dozen screenplays while at A Happy Place, several of which were optioned and none of which were ultimately produced. I was eager to write something that was actually meant to be read in its final form.
In Sonoma, I completed the first draft of Face the Music and got involved in the Obama campaign, eventually spending the 2008 election monitoring the vote in Ohio. During a campaign party just prior to the election, I met Robert Romano, another entrepreneur who had several years previously sold his Ed-Tech startup. He informed me that the non-competes from that sale were about to expire, and he was looking to “put the band back together” and create a new company to provide supplemental English Language Arts tools to teachers in a dynamic online environment.
My background as a start-up attorney, film producer, screenwriter, and experienced entrepreneur filled several roles for which he was seeking help. Together with his former CTO and a new CFO, we founded BookheadEd Learning, LLC, later to be known by the name of its flagship ed-tech product, StudySync. I served as General Counsel and Director of Original Content, doing soup to nuts legal work for the company as well as writing and producing the first 60 episodes of its centerpiece webisode series, SyncTV. It has since become an extraordinarily successful product and company, success that is about to be tremendously magnified due to its capacity to serve a global market as a turn-key distance learning platform.
Nonetheless, almost like clockwork, after about five years I found myself no longer motivated by my work. My General Counsel duties were minimal, having essentially put the company onto its long-term operational path, and I was running out of fresh ideas for SyncTV. Although I was pleased to have had a part in an educational company that seemed more valuable than the entertainment projects of my earlier career (not to denigrate the value or importance of art in any way), I was no longer feeding my own creative needs. I was drinking too much again as well.
Unfortunately, Hollywood called. One of my old (and favorite) scripts had been optioned for now a third time; giddy with a new romance with a much younger woman I had met on the SyncTV set, and convinced the time was right for my creative writing abilities to be rewarded, I moved back to LA, actually reversing direction for the first time.
This time LA was not so kind. The film did not get made; I got hit by a car on my scooter (leaving a bar); I became addicted to opiates; she became addicted to opiates; and my savings diminished rapidly in the service of addiction and attempts at rehab. I did finally finish Face the Music, but its publication, while garnering good reviews, did not achieve popular success.
I began looking for a job, interviewing for high level positions at Yahoo (right before it collapsed), and Amazon Films (just as it got started), but for the first time in my life I was beaten out by younger (and quite likely more well-qualified) candidates. The once “eclectic” resumé now suffered from an as-likely reading as being that of a dilettante. An entrepreneurial CV can present the appearance of not being able to hold down a job! Also, I was never sober, and it’s undoubtedly my good fortune not to have been hired at one of those jobs only to disappoint. Worse, however, I became a worry and disappointment to my family, not because of success or failure in work, but in the person I had become.
I recall a doctor explaining to me (as my mother and sister looked on in grief), that what was happening to me physically was, in fact, not something that might kill me if I didn’t change my ways. It was killing me right then and there. I looked for ways out; I tried ridiculous and dangerous quack remedies to shortcut the hard work of sobriety being advised by those who cared. I recall crossing the border from Tijuana in pajamas, utterly out of my mind and delusional after a terrifying African root bark treatment in Mexico, barely managing to connect with an Uber as my phone died, yet stopping at a liquor store for supplies for the drive back to Venice, where I spoke to friends on the phone about insane events that had never occurred while hoping to clear my lungs from pulmonary embolisms with nitrous oxide. I hit rock bottom.
In a final, if brief, act of sanity, I called my sister and asked for help. She took me home to Montana, to rehab at the Recovery Center in Missoula in February 2016. I expected to stay in Montana for 28 days and then return to put my life back together in Southern California. I live in Missoula to this day.
As I would come to learn, hitting rock bottom had shredded my ego, and with the help of outstanding counselors and medical treatment, as well as my own sincere commitment to a 12-step program, I began to piece together a new life, one in which the Sun does not revolve around the Earth and the Universe does not revolve around me, regardless of all appearances to the contrary. As I surrendered to this realization, a series of events that continues to this very day began to occur that provided me with clear evidence of the next right indicated step I should take. No longer was I convinced that I could visualize a future of my own desire and plot a path backward to myself to follow to achieve those goals. Instead, I recognized that I could control almost nothing, and that which I could control was limited to what I chose to put in my mouth and how I should choose to respond to events around me as they transpired.
I was guided by my mother’s principle of gratitude as the attitude to adopt in making those choices, and through that guidance I found myself open to a wide variety of possible options rather than those that suited my “plan.” I resolved within myself to respond in accordance with my traditional values, with the attitude of kindness that had fortunately been instilled in me at a young age, but fortunately now with the firm belief that doing so would not sacrifice anything in my pursuit of any goal, because instead it would help me recognize the next right indicated step.
I resolved to take the Montana bar exam at long last, only to learn that four months earlier the State had changed its rules, enabling me to waive into the bar, of which I am now a member. I chose to live in a group house sober living facility — something the old me would never have done. There I made friends and developed the foundations of a recovery that sustain me to this day. I discovered that the University of Montana (my parents’ alma mater) had a fantastic entrepreneurial incubator program; I volunteered to help aspiring entrepreneurs there. I began to develop a reputation as the only attorney in the state with a full-time career in entrepreneurial and entertainment matters, just as those parts of the state economy began to thrive.
Finally, I was introduced to a Montana inventor, Steve Mangold, who had invented and patented a better spray head that would vastly improve upon existing “fire extinguisher-style” bear sprays (a product with which I was utterly unfamiliar, as it had been originally invented in Montana after I was already living in San Francisco). Steve introduced himself as a lifelong member of the NRA and a conservative. With my background as a liberal gun control activist, this would normally have prevented further discussion, but something told me that the next right step was to hear him out.
I didn’t really know how I could help him until he showed me the invention and explained that his biggest problem at the time was going through what could be a long and expensive process to get EPA approval for his new bear spray. He was wondering whether or not perhaps the technology could instead be brought to market as an alternative to a loaded gun in a nightstand drawer. As soon as I held the Reflex technology spray head in my hand, I was struck by the idea that if the receptionists at Pettit & Martin had had access to this in July 1993, perhaps there never would have been a 101 California Shooting, and life would have been completely different.
I knew in a second that helping Steve was the right next indicated step. What I didn’t fully realize at the time was that it would actually, finally, be my dream as well that we would pursue. At the time I was only a year sober and in no way fully healed; I had no confidence in my own ability to make this or anything happen, yet I had total confidence that this was the project I should begin work on that day.
For over three years now, I have felt that way. I gathered a diverse team (for Montana) during a time of extraordinary political division in the country to achieve a mutually espoused goal notwithstanding the Founders’ striking differences. We have proved that such divisions can indeed be bridged, an important example during this age. Others joined our journey out of a shared vision for it, each bringing specific talents and expertise (sometimes almost ridiculously uniquely well-suited to the Company mission). Initial ideas for exploitation of the patents changed to better serve markets we didn’t even know existed. New innovations followed on the original one to create an all-new suite of products, arising from a different source of intention, thereby improving tools and services that hadn’t changed in decades.
The Company mission has evolved over time to one so broad and aspirational as to seem almost laughable, except that events at a national and global level have transpired to create an environment in which the achievement of such a mission is not only possible, it’s vital. It becomes rapidly evident to anyone spending time in the presence of the Reflex Protect team that what we are doing is meant to be, and that it could not have come about any other way, in any other place, with any other people, and at any other time than it has and remain responsive to the original mission as well as its evolved one.
So, the backstory reveals that I turned out to be the right person in the right place at the right time with the rather odd but ideal skill set, world view, and philosophy, to help shepherd Reflex Protect toward its best and highest purpose. And for that, I feel gratitude.
Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
I suspect that the inclusiveness (overly so?) of the prior answer probably answers this question from the general point of view of what it was like in my personal darkest days. Instead, then, I’ll try to describe how it felt at the time when Reflex Protect was probably closest to failure (assuming that the darkest days are in the past, which I certainly hope, but know better than to assume). The roughest patch was probably in late March, when we put in motion the most recent pivot during a time when we were running very low on cash….
To set that up, let’s go back to December 2019, when things were really looking good for us and the future looked reasonably clear and bright. At the holiday party, I read a letter I had prepared for our investors to the team summarizing how far we had come:
- In 2017 we formed the company in June and developed a successful minimum viable product that was about to undergo testing to confirm that it could serve as a “hospital safe” active defense solution to the scourge of workplace violence in a healthcare setting, something that had never before existed.
- In 2018 we so proved the product’s ability in a successful pilot program for the Western Montana region of the Providence St. Joseph’s Healthcare organization. We soon also discovered that “hospital safe” meant “everywhere safe,” which created a potential solution to the “arm the teachers” debate raging in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting tragedy. We had successfully carried out a pilot project in that regard in August. Further, houses of worship, bars & restaurants, and other places followed, proving that Reflex Protect could bring peace of mind from potential violence wherever people lived, worked, worshipped, and played.
- In 2019 we began achieving sales in earnest in both healthcare and school settings, including being acknowledged as “best practices” in anti-violence safety preparedness in healthcare and approved by the Montana School Board Association for statewide use. We successfully lobbied the State of Wisconsin to enact Act 52 to ensure that Presidia Gel could be used by nurses, teachers, and any adult, not just law enforcement, proving that innovative non-lethal active defense was a truly bipartisan issue appreciated by Gun Control and Second Amendment advocates alike.
- Finally, we had entered into a long term supply arrangement with Safariland to use our Reflex technology on their pepper sprays for law enforcement, proving it to be the most significant development in less-lethal since the invention of the Taser (their tagline for our launch at the upcoming SHOT Show 2020 in January). I announced the conclusion of a sales deal with HRS, the group purchasing organization that would begin selling our healthcare solution to its 38,000 clients in January as well. We had recently launched a Growth & Expansion Investment Round that was getting close consideration from a number of investors and funds.
Although revenues were not yet keeping pace with our burn rate, we expected the G&W Round to be a success during the first quarter of 2020, and revenues (although slowed during the holiday season) had been on a rising trend and were expected to return to that trend by the middle of 2020Q1. Add to that our excellent reception at SHOT in late January, including our opportunity to replace Mace (due to its exit from the law enforcement field) with Presidia Gel products, and we were in pretty good shape. The only could on the horizon was the “novel coronavirus” that had recently been in the news.
Within weeks, things were really scary. There were serious supply chain issues from China affecting our chemical agent and plastics vendors. The former was actually battling a serious flu shutting down operations, which would slow delivery of our new Pocket Presidia Gel product that we hoped to be a big seller to nurses. None of the funds were investing in anything, nor were any of the angels, and our revenues were showing little sign of returning to November form. Trainings for schools and hospitals, upon which future sales were predicated, were canceled, and it was clear those key markets could be offline for an indeterminate period of time.
We canceled all travel plans and moved our staff to working remotely on March 13th. Down now to maybe two months of runway, we were suddenly looking insolvency dead in the eye. We knew we had to make some changes, because the earth had slipped utterly out from under our feet, and we were now in free fall with others crashing around us all the time. The darkest days, however, were yet to come, and in hindsight, we were absolutely among the lucky ones.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
I have to say that the mindset of the team was poised and focused. If I take any credit for anything, I expect it’s simply maintaining my day-one leadership mantra of staying in the present, planting seeds, and avoiding expectations as much as possible. I preached expectation avoidance to prevent a bias toward pursuing an outcome that might not be in the flow of events actually occurring on the ground in real time. This was, of course, directly adapted from my own personal recovery program and was therefore applicable to the company given my leadership role in it.
That said, however, no one argued with the approach, and all stoically got about the day-to-day business of working remotely and responding with a positive and grateful attitude for the fact that, at least for that day, we were still in business and still capable of achieving our mission, however that mission might need to be adjusted to suit reality. There were, fortunately, rather self-evident next right indicated steps made apparent to us all.
For example, it became evident that we needed to pivot from a focus on healthcare and schools to the then brand-new opportunity to serve as a substitute for Mace for law enforcement. Although the Pocket Presidia Gel product was not suddenly going to become a best-selling healthcare solution protecting nurses in dark parking lots at shift change, it was fortuitously the precise size as the Mace duty belt pepper sprays. We trusted that our product was not only a suitable substitute for Mace, but also a superior product compared to pepper spray generally.
Hence, if we could get some word of mouth going about our superior proximate control formula (accompanied by a game changing decontaminant formula that flatly amazed experienced cops when it came to rapid clean-up), we could find a source of some LE sales. So, we turned our focus to finalizing a solid strategic alliance with Tactical Defense Training and getting that process moving as rapidly as possible, essentially launching Reflex Protect Tactical as a new division on less than a month’s notice.
Additionally, COVID lockdowns were also making folks feel unsafe in general, so focusing on the Pocket Presidia Gel as the newest innovation in personal self-defense (as our pepper spray competitors were finding themselves unable to keep up with demand) was likewise a positive use of time, energy, and effort in planting seeds that might bear fruit through direct sales on the Internet sooner rather than later.
Finally, I realized that the only chance for investment, with all the professional money gone quiet while everything sorted itself out, was to turn to the public equity crowd funding market where individuals might try to make relatively small investments in high return start-ups with the potential to recoup recent stock market losses. Launching the campaign required commitment of enormous effort, keeping our marketing team very engaged and busy.
We knew we had the best product yet invented for a need that was only becoming more apparent every day, so everyone simply took the challenge as an opportunity for Reflex Protect to break out in response to an emergency and acted accordingly. I’m terribly proud of them all.
Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
We’re actually still in the next chapter, or perhaps starting the chapter right after that one, but what happened next is yet another example of unexpected consequences and opportunities arising where you might least expect.
As a result of the pandemic, the IRS determined not to require individuals to file (and therefore not to pay) their taxes on April 15th as they would have every other year in history. As a result, because of payouts I receive from StudySync to cover taxes on what would otherwise be phantom income attributed to me as a share of its profits, I was sitting on enough cash that otherwise would have gone to pay those taxes to risk loaning those funds to Reflex Protect instead. These personal loans extended our runway from what would have been insolvency on May 1st through the receipt of PPP and SBA EIDL loans in June, which kept us afloat until the conclusion of our equity crowdfunding campaign on August 1st.
That raise, although not a panacea, nonetheless provided sufficient runway to get us to the realization of the first revenues being generated from Reflex Protect Tactical. Regardless, however, the results of that pivot have the potential to be much more far-reaching than we expected at that time, because the universe was not at all through with throwing curveballs in the summer of 2020. The murder of George Floyd and ensuing BLM demonstrations, counter demonstrations, riots, and the election year politics relating to all of the above (as well as ongoing COVID-19 issues) have transformed the Reflex Protect with Presidia Gel and Reflex Remove active defense solution and proximate controlling force products from a substitute for Mace into a complete replacement for traditional pepper spray products of any kind or brand on police duty belts nationwide.
Similar to the way Gun Control and Second Amendment advocates alike find common ground in the use of Reflex Protect products for teachers and nurses, so too can BLM advocates and law enforcement themselves agree that those same properties make those same products a superior tool for police. Reflex Protect is safer, more effective, less potentially harmful, and much more likely to be used in a potentially violent situation than messy and cross-contaminating pepper sprays. In fact, since July 4th, Presidia Gel has potentially saved numerous lives and prevented injuries, keeping minor events from blowing up, unlike what the country had watched on the news throughout the summer.
As news of this revolution in less-lethal use of force for law enforcement is shared by both sides of the debate, more and more attention will be paid to Reflex Protect, the seeds we have been planting all along will bear fruit more rapidly, and the opportunity to come out of the summer of 2020 not only in a strong position for when schools and hospitals reopen, but also with an entire Tactical division of the company competing in the law enforcement market — something we had never planned to do — makes for a bright future once again.
We are no longer under the radar and are, in fact, the subject of M&A discussions and competing Private Equity offerings at as we speak. In short, the Company’s response to the COVID-19 and BLM unrest crises, in the worst economic crisis in nearly 100 years that killed many businesses and could have killed us, instead has the potential to catalyze explosive growth and possibly even an early exit. I take no credit for this result except insofar as I stayed true to the philosophical approach the company adopted day one, so that as a team we shepherded the company and its products through the dark days one at a time, with an attitude of gratitude, and most importantly perhaps, we didn’t panic.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity?
All three of the suggestions I’ll make below have a connecting theme, which is that in my opinion, a persevering mindset is most easily maintained by mental training in the art of acceptance — acknowledging that no one knows what the future will bring, and no one knows in the moment it is occurring what the long-term implications of a given data point or event will be (good or bad).
Take comfort in this reality (even if others find it terrifying), don’t panic, and above all, be grateful for what is, and act in accordance with that gratitude, positivity, and kindness. There is no guarantee, of course, that everything will turn out to your liking, but you will still be there to see through the adversity — sane and capable of making the best of whatever comes.
The best ways I have found of developing such a mindset:
- Plant seeds every day.
Don’t let the idea that you don’t necessarily know what is going to happen prevent you from taking action. Far from it. Just make sure that the actions you take align with your values and mission for the long term.
Some days you might take a meeting or make a call with a potential buyer in a different market, because who knows whether that market might someday become important to you, but if it does, you’ll be happy there’s already a tree poking its way into a potentially future forest.
Plant seeds, however. You don’t need to uproot and transplant entire trees or forests all at once!
- Clear ditch instead of moving earth (i.e. no expectations).
This has been the lesson learned in Reflex Protect. In the past, I would set goals or visualize outcomes I wanted and plot a path back to the present, then drive toward that goal on that path (subject to adjustments and mid-course corrections, of course) with purpose and determination.
I liken it to determining that an Eastern Island monolith belongs on top of a given hill and visualizing it there, then pushing it up the hill. Sometimes it falls over and crushes you. Sometimes you damage or wreck the monolith. Sometimes it arrives at the top of the hill, and you wonder what made you think that’s where it belonged in the first place… It’s there now, though, by gum!
What I didn’t realize was that by pre-ordaining the goal and visualizing the outcome, I was effectively excluding opportunities that might arise through changing circumstances. I was putting blinders on myself.
Reflex Protect, because of my adoption of these perseverance mindset tools, has instead felt like clearing brush out of an irrigation ditch in advance of the coming winter runoff. The water is coming, and it knows where it’s going to go. There’s a ditch already in place, WHETHER I KNOW IT OR NOT. My job is to identify brush that’s in the way of that flow (the aforementioned opportunities I might not otherwise have seen), and take action to allow the free flow of water in the direction it indicates it’s going in any event.
- Stay in the present.
This is key for when times are bleak. In my experience, most challenges and discomfort come from worrying about what’s going to happen IF something happens or IF something doesn’t happen in the future. You’re not worrying about that very moment, actually, because in the moment there’s no time to worry, there’s only time to act, choose not to act (which is in itself an act), or fail to act — the last of which is not an option.
This doesn’t mean you don’t prepare for foreseeable or imaginable events actually to occur while continuing to analyze what actually is happening and looking around for nimble moves to take. That’s not worrying; that’s planting seeds or checking out the options out there.
When it comes to feeling anxious or worried, however, almost always when I stop and ask myself, “How is everything right now? Right this minute?” I generally find it’s okay and there’s evidence before me of a next right indicated step I can take.
Do not ignore that choosing not to act can often by a very fine choice when there is no other evident one, but failing to act at all by avoidance or running away is, in my experience, never the next right indicated step.
My experience has been that whatever I was worried about does not happen in exactly the way I was worried about because of intervening events. Those events may be the result of my choice of action (or intentional inaction) or they may come from outside and even unexpected sources. There was always, however, something available to me when the time to act or decide came.
Note also, that even if what I find myself worrying about were to happen, then at that time, I simply accept that reality, accept that I cannot necessarily know what that might mean for tomorrow, and look once again and with gratitude for the next right indicated step, the next bit of brush to remove, in advance of the water’s direction.
Not only do I find this approach useful and frequently successful in improving my decision-making, but perhaps even more importantly, using it gives me comfort, reduces anxiety, worry, and stress, and makes life far more pleasant on a day to day basis.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many that I’d be asking for trouble to single out almost any of them. Some people helped me get to where I am by providing excellent examples of what not to do, how not to lead, or of values that emphasize certain outcomes in preference to others that are not, upon reflection, congruent with my own.
I should mention, however, my brilliant cousin Kemia Sarraf, a physician in Illinois who wrote extensively during the first few months of the pandemic in a blog that was very helpful to a lot of people, myself included. Her tagline was, “I can fix anything but dead.” I loved this. It aligned perfectly with my ideas about acceptance, gratitude, and the next right indicated step only carried out to its logical extreme.
It also, however, was a great reminder about values and what really is important when we make these decisions and judgment calls. Most of our concerns as entrepreneurs in respect of our ventures seem really, really important (because they may well be to the business), but in the big picture of life, they’re not really that important at all when compared with living our best lives and caring for our loved ones.
The other person I will mention who specifically helped me get to where I am with Reflex Protect, the unsung hero of the company, is a man named Jim Prendergast who is not even a part of the team. He is, rather, the kind and generous soul who recognized my potential early in sobriety to achieve the kind of lasting recovery he had enjoyed. He offered me a room in his home and an example of living in gratitude some four years ago now, enabling me to begin piecing both my life and career back together. Without his generosity and guidance, it is fair to say that I would not have had the support I needed to take on Reflex Protect in the first place.
My mother and Jimmer both live in gratitude. Their example has provided a context for my recovery that has guided and sustained me on the journey that has been Reflex Protect to date, and they keep me walking the path the same way, with humility, regardless of moments that might be defined as “success” or “failure.” They are both constant examples of the power of kindness, and it is from their example and values that I have drawn sustenance whenever things seemed like they were getting scary or just too hard.
I’m eternally grateful (as should be our shareholders and customers!).
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on only two projects at this time — Reflex Protect and improving Joe Anderson in his mission to be of service to others to the best of his ability.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now I think we’re in the middle of either catalyzing or launching a portion of a substantial movement for change in the U.S. At first, the idea became a product. The product gave way to a mission. The mission could inspire a movement, a demand supported by government, law enforcement, and the citizenry they serve alike to join together in the mission to alleviate unnecessary suffering from violence for everyone, everywhere.
Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
You know right from wrong. You may not always know good from bad, because we are small and brief while the world and the universe is infinitely large and long. There’s simply never enough information for us to know whether “what is” is in fact good or bad, a judgment that depends not only on time but on perspective and point of view.
We can choose to react to whatever it is, however, with gratitude and in accordance with our values, which is why knowing right from wrong is so important.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.