When I was fourteen I became an arms dealer, of sorts

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

When I was fourteen I became an arms dealer, of sorts.

While other kids played video games, I inadvertently started a business. It began when my overprotective mother refused to let me and my brother have the Nerf guns that were so popular at the time. After much “discussion,” I finally convinced my mother get me the foam dart gun I longed for.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has picked up a Nerf gun can tell you, they are disappointing because they are horribly underpowered. But disappointment can be the mother of invention. Unbeknownst to me, the eleven-dollar toy gun that hardly shot across my room would inspire my love of designing, building, and ultimately selling my creations.

It didn’t take long until I was wielding a screwdriver, tearing apart the shell of the frustrating little toy. I soon discovered why my plastic gun was so lackluster. The internal plunger-like piston was configured with dead space that wasted the vast majority of the tiny gun’s potential force: the plunger was not optimized for the barrel. My motivation became to improve the gun’s design. Using the basic volume and pressure formulas that I researched on the Internet, I was able to lengthen the plunger stroke for maximum compression, which, after a bit of trial and error, allowed my once wimpy gun to fire farther and more accurately than any of my friends’ store-bought models.

After re-designing the toy, the next step in the process was advanced product testing and market research. The foam dart guns were tried out for factors like lateral strength, air seal fit, and ability to ambush an eight year old brother while he was watching TV. My guns always succeeded at that last test.

The fact that I, a fourteen year old, had reinvented and optimized a device from Hasbro — a multimillion dollar industry giant — astounded some people when I shared what I had done in an online forum. Trips to my local hardware store became more frequent as I began trying new and different ways to improve this and other toys: different load springs, looser and tighter barrels, and even homemade, precision-crafted foam darts. It wasn’t long before I became so fed up with the limitations of Nerf blasters that I started making my own toy guns entirely from scratch, and soon I created a YouTube channel to showcase them. There must be something magical about dart guns to prepubescent boys beyond my brother and me, because some of my videos soon went viral. I taught myself how to use Blender and Autodesk software in order to quickly test and visualize possible designs before building, and I learned how to use video editing software to make instructional videos to help my hundreds of subscribers build their own toy guns, just like mine.

I continue to utilize my design skills: in fact, I am now building mountain bikes and developing other business startups. During my junior year, I collaborated with two friends to design the Dillo Digit, an insert for sports gloves that can help prevent goalies from breaking their fingers. Through our Introduction to Engineering class, we entered our design in the nationwide Spirit of Innovation contest. We continued to improve our design and won a $1000 cash prize at RPI’s High School Business Plan Competition. We now have a patent pending for our design and we are targeting possible investors.

The truth is, becoming a Nerf gun arms dealer was a great place to start, but I don’t want to spend my life cleaning up after Hasbro or building weapons (even if they are only toys). I want to design and develop my own products, and run my own business someday. The skills I have gained from my various small business ventures are just the beginning.

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