96. I was an arms dealer and owned a weapons factory – today it finally closed down

When people say things like that, they’re usually joking.

The title is 100% true.

For four years of my life, I made money selling weapons to international customers. For one of those years I was also one of the owners of the factory that produced the weapons.

We didn’t sell guns and ammo, though, but latex swords and leather armour. The company’s name was Palnatoke, and for many years, it produced the best latex swords in the world.

I joined in 2009, as the Marketing Director, and in 2012 when the company went bankcrupt, Anders and I bought it, and kept it running together with the former owner (now Product Boss), Kristoffer. It wasn’t what it was in its glory days in 2007, but we still made latex swords of the highest quality. And axes too, not to be forgotten. ;-)

I learned a lot from being a part of running that. And since you probably clicked on the story, because of the title, I give you:

10 things I learned as an arms dealer for the (larp) revolution

  1. “Arms dealer” is an awesome title. Especially when I added “international”, people’s eyes would go wide. Of course, I’ve only come across a very small group of individuals, who thought I was actually selling real weapons, but it never failed to provoke a smile.
  2. Running a factory is all about tweaking. If it takes a minute to apply a specialized glue to a piece of the sword, and you can cut that down to 40 seconds, then you win six hours pr 1000 swords. Whenever you produce at scale, tweaking matters a lot.
  3. If you’re afraid of routines, this isn’t for you. It’s all about developing and learning processes and perfecting them. Experimentation matters, but routines matter a lot more. I wouldn’t be good in such an environment (which is why I stuck to sales, marketing and administration), and I’m impressed by people who are.
  4. There’s always something to invest in. In our normal operations, we don’t necessarily know what we’d do with 10.000 euro, if someone gave them to us. Sure, we could use them, but we’d have to think on how they would work for us. In a production company, there are always ten things you can improve “if only you had the money”.
  5. It’s very much a numbers game. If you can sell X units to Y distributors and make Z profit on each sale, you can pay rent, expand the company, build the inventory, etc. I seldom care about details. Usually that works, even though it’s sometimes problematic. Here? I didn’t care much whether we sold things at 47%, 50% or 52% distributor discount, but I had to learn.
  6. I’ve never worked with as crazy innovators. The core staff at Palnatoke, who continued on with us (Kristoffer and Mads) were both gifted problem solvers. Mads built a brilliant rat trap, that might have had global succes with the right backing, and Kristoffer can construct machines out of duct tape, old wires and random steel bits. It was amazing to watch them create stuff.
  7. Having 1100 m2 of space is risky. While clearing out stuff and looking at old boxes long forgotten, it became clear that you can store a lot of stuff if you have a lot of room. And oh, did we have a lot of room. Today, we looked at Kristoffer’s old surf boards, that had been there since 2007. They looked quite good. We also found piles of chain mail. Not suits. Piles.
  8. Marketing products was fun. I normally sell expertise or events. Our company does events of all sorts and we also get paid to do teaching, consulting, lecturing, facilitation, etc. It’s very rarely that we get money from selling physical (or even digital) products. It’s fun to market them, because it’s well-defined. A latex sword can be used for many things, but it will never be an oven or a bicycle.
  9. It feels good to see a production line moving. Now, this was not big, industrial production with assembly lines and an old school factory vibe. But it was still great to come down to the factory and see what had been (physically) produced since last time. At our office, a lot of stuff happens, but at the end of the day the office usually looks just like it did in the morning.
  10. I’m glad I got to be a part of it. It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t even always profitable. But my time being involved in factory level production was both valuable and interesting, and I’m glad I got to experience that. Of course, I would have loved for things to have gone differently, but I’m very grateful that we took the chance and went all in. It’s also good that we’re now all out!

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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