Proof Research

A Conversation with Josh Sonju, Co-Founder of NEMO Arms

NEMO ARMS
New Evolution Military Ordnance

NEMO_facilityNEMO Arms, Inc. is a Montana-based weapon systems integrator committed to research and development and deploying advanced weapon designs and technologies that enables Special Operations, Federal Law Enforcement and private sectors to effectively and confidently carry out their missions knowing that they are armed with the finest primary weapons in the world. What does that mean? Well, it means they’re making rifles that not only look incredibly cool, but that are really different from anything else on the market. NEMO’s core values are all about innovation and today they’re effectively changing the perception of what constitutes a tactical precision rifle. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Josh Sonju, one of the company’s co-founders and the VP of Research and Development, to find out what makes NEMO tick.

PROOF Research:
Tell us a little about NEMO’s origins. When did you open your doors? What was the vision?

Josh Sonju:
Late in 2011 a group of people assembled with a common vision to build firearms for the people that need them the most—primarily law enforcement and military. We saw an unmet need in what those operators were currently fielding and we thought we could do better and meet that need. So, we started a company based on that ethos—to build innovative products that those people and their environments demanded and that they could rely on with utter confidence, maybe with their lives.

PR:
What does your team look like? What kind of backgrounds do they come from?

JS:
Well, it’s a great team that comes from pretty diverse backgrounds, which I think is a real strength. Obviously we have employees who have worked in the firearms and aerospace industries. We have a lot of different expertise levels within a range of roles, whether it’s corporate, marketing or finance. My wife, Adyn, is the President and CEO. Specific to firearms we have a mechanical engineer, as well as Daniel Neitzling, my brother-in-law, who is our Director of Engineering. We also have people with pretty extensive vetted military backgrounds. Our Sales and Marketing Director is a former Green Beret; he also has a Masters of Science in Management degree along with a soon-to-be Masters Degree in Business Administration.

PR:
Talk a little about how the company has grown. It sounds like in the beginning days it was just the founders with a vision to meet an unmet need in the industry. What does the company look like today compared to what it looked like then?

JS:
We keep a pretty small overhead. We see that as just good business practice. Have we grown? Yes. Sales have certainly grown. But it’s a cyclical industry just like anything else and there are definitely highs and lows that can be driven by culture and politics. Our whole first year was focused on development and building our product line, so in terms of sales we really haven’t been in the market that long. Plus, it’s a very crowded industry. Since the beginning of the AR style rifle platform the industry has really been monopolized by a handful of companies—Colt, Armalite, etc. These companies have been out there for a long time and really have the lion’s share of the market. And, over time, there have been other established companies entering the market—Remington, Smith& Wesson, etc.—and then there has been a deluge of mom and pop or medium size companies springing up. So, yes, we’re growing. But we’re young and it’s a slow process.

PR:
Let’s talk about that deluge of competition. In an industry that is so saturated with ARs, and given that so many companies are making very high quality ARs, how do you differentiate yourself?

JS:
That climate has existed for at least the last five years. There are a lot of players and they’re all looking to get their slice of the market. You have to look at it like it’s a commodity. If you’re over supplied you either have to lower your price or produce something that’s better or newer or different. It is a crowded industry, but we’re building rifles and components differently than our competitors.

Our flagship product is the Omen, a 300 Win Mag AR. We were the first to chamber an AR in 300 Win Mag. When we started the company we saw that as filling an unmet need. Obviously it wasn’t a need on the commercial side because everyone wanted a black rifle, an AR-15, but when you look down the road, obviously when you have all these companies pumping out thousands and thousands of rifles pretty soon there’s going to be a flood of those types of rifles. And while our Omen rifle is based on that platform, it’s chambered in a caliber that is not produced by 99% of the market. It’s not really even an AR-10. We went up to a hunting/sniper caliber.

PR:
You mentioned seeing unmet needs in the military and law enforcement markets. Who would you say is your biggest customer?

JS:
We are in those markets, but at this time our customers are primarily commercial customers. We are dealer direct, so customers go through our dealers. We’re distributed nationwide and we also export internationally. Our customer base tends to be cyclical, but primarily it’s a commercial market. Of course our goal is to further penetrate the military market, but that’s an extremely difficult market to penetrate because of the requirements involved. Getting a new product into the military is extraordinarily difficult; you’ve have to go through years of development, and it’s very political, just like any other government procurement process.

PR:
Is that true for law enforcement as well?

JS:
Law enforcement is a little different. Actually, it’s a lot different. There’s a lot more discretion, a lot more latitude given to local law enforcement on the products that they want.

PR:
You probably don’t want to go into any detail about supply chain specifics, but can you talk about that process?

JS:
Sure. We engineer everything here. That’s one of the things that differentiates us a lot from others. We do our own research, development and engineering. If you look at everything that’s out on the market you see a lot of similar products, because that’s what they can build with the components that are out there. We engineer our components here because our platform is very unique and there’s nothing out there that meets our needs. Everything has to be made specifically to our unique requirements, because we accept nothing but the best.

PR:
So you’re just not ordering a bunch of lowers from a supplier and having them stamp it with the NEMO brand.

JS:
Exactly. Everything we use is custom made to our specifications. We have a unique product so we can’t just go out and buy off-the-shelf parts. Even though we do sell AR-15s and AR-10 style rifles there just aren’t very many parts that you can just bolt on because we’re doing something very different. That doesn’t mean our platform is so different that you can’t accessorize, because we know how people like to accessorize these rifles. So smaller components like a muzzle brake or trigger, sure, but the chassis itself requires custom parts. It’s a larger caliber and so unique that nothing out there will fit onto it—nothing is strong enough to withstand that kind of power.

Omen_300WMPR:
On the Omen you’ve begun using carbon fiber-wrapped barrels from PROOF Research. Tell us how you made that decision and what that relationship is like.

JS:
Like many other industries we’re always looking for the newest and most innovative product. But there’s a lot of flash and gimmicky stuff out there. So when considering something new you really have to vet and test and decide if it’s a real value add and worth it. You really have to ask yourself if it fits a need and not that it just looks cool.

Carbon fiber barrels aren’t exactly new, they’ve been around and there are others out there, but there have always been challenges. However, the technology is emerging and PROOF is at the forefront of that technology. PROOF has put a lot of time and money into developing a carbon fiber barrel that is very capable. In fact, it’s meeting the needs that our military customers are looking for—significantly reducing weight without compromising anything else that you look for in a precision barrel.

The military really has extraordinary requirements. They want lighter, smaller, and more durable in everything they look at. They want to shed weight for the soldier. The barrel is the heaviest part of the rifle, so reducing weight there sheds a significant amount of weight off the entire platform. But, they still want the accuracy; they still want durability. Basically, they want all the benefits, without the weight and PROOF’s barrels accomplish that. That’s where PROOF comes into play for us. We want to reduce weight, but we can’t compromise any of the other attributes of a precision barrel.

full-bg-barrelsIt took a long time for us to be sure that the PROOF barrel was something that we wanted to use; we use it on our longest barrel Omen. But now it’s definitely something our customers have come to expect, especially since our rifles are at the top of the price range; they’re expecting to get a quality product, and that’s what they get.

PR:
Let’s talk about that price range. Carbon fiber barrels are significantly more expensive than steel.

JS:
These barrels do come with a price, but it’s something the military is willing to pay for in order to reduce weight for that soldier who’s slugging his gear around the battlefield. And, it’s a price many commercial customers are willing to pay. If you’re a hunter hiking in the high country shedding two pounds is significant. There’s definitely a market segment that’s willing to pay top dollar for the very best product. That’s what we’re offering.

PR:
You’ve talked about the Omen, what about other products? Tell us a little about your product line.

JS:
We do sell the three major product lines, which are basically small, medium and large. We make an AR-15 in 5.56, .300 Blackout, and 7.62×39, an AR 308, and the Omen, the AR Magnum in three magnum calibers; .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag. We also sell components individually for people who want to do their own builds. Those are our major platforms.

For a complete listing of NEMO products visit www.nemoarms.com

Nemo_ammoPR:
How about ammunition? Have you gotten into that market yet?

JS:
We have. We’re currently manufacturing our own ammunition for our flagship platform, the Omen. That, of course, is 300 Win Mag. The reason we started doing that is because it’s such a high quality and unique product and we felt that our customers would expect nothing less from what they shot out of it in terms of accuracy and performance. Sometimes it’s hard to find that in the marketplace. If you have a high performance car with bald tires on it, it’s not going to perform very well. The same goes for ammunition. We felt it was important to have the same high standards for ammunition as we have for the rifle.

PR:
What’s your vision for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?

JS:
Well, we’re always looking for new and innovative products. Looking down the road I see a lot of companies that are going to be going out of business because all they’re really doing is copying everyone else. What we’re doing is always looking to innovate. We’re looking at what people might want and need in the future and that’s what we’re doing. Whether it’s the next-door neighbor, who likes to hunt, or a law enforcement officer or the soldier on the battlefield, we want to be providing products that meet their most demanding needs. So, it’s hard to know what the company will look like in ten years because our model it to continuously innovate. Where that innovation takes us is hard to say.

PR:
Anything exciting on the horizon that you can talk about?

JS:
Around here there’s always something new on the horizon, but at this point it’s probably too soon to talk about them. In many ways this is a small industry and people like to copy what others are doing. So, we’re keeping things pretty close to our chest right now. Like I said earlier, we’re always innovating and always looking at that next new thing that will either meet and unmet need or take a current solution to a whole new level.

PR:
Well, given what you’ve got out there so far, we can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

JS:
I don’t think anyone’s going to be disappointed.

To learn more about NEMO Arms visit www.nemoarms.com

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