This is one man’s perspective on what I’ll call ‘PC-run-wild’ in Silicon Valley. My company has had to stop selling knives, which were an important part of our business. This did not happen because we’re bad at selling knives, or violated any laws, or acted in any way less than the high standards to which we hold ourselves. Simply put, it seems the powers that be in Silicon Valley have decided that small businesses should not be selling knives online. As a mini-David against Goliaths like Google, Facebook, Twitter and PayPal, I don’t have a lot of rational options other than to just vent and share my story with you.
First let’s agree on what dangerous or hazardous items are. Personally, I view a fixed blade or folder as a normal, everyday product - shoot, most of us have more than a few in our kitchens, and some of us have our EDC knife (some of my friends have multiple EDC knives but that’s a different story). But my observation is that many of the leading Silicon Valley players take a knee-jerk ‘just say no!’ mentality to knives, without reason or rationale.
My company, U.S. Elite, offers high end outdoor and tactical gear. While we support the 2nd Amendment, we do not sell guns or ammunition. We do sell a lot of apparel, footwear, eyewear, pouches, packs, watches, and other types of gear (up until recently we were a Benchmade Knife dealer, but that’s the point of this story). Well, we were advertising some apparel and footwear with Google and all of a sudden we got shut down. Just like that! No warning, no notice, just green to red in a flash.
Scratching our heads, we checked in with Google and got this response: “Due to our Dangerous Products or Services policy, we no longer allow the advertisement of knives anywhere on your website. Although you may not directly have ads for knives, knives cannot be anywhere on the website advertised with AdWords.” Say what? So a line that we’ve nurtured for years, invested countless hours, factory visits, and tens of thousands of dollars in inventory, without any warning we’re off the site? Or on the other hand, give up a revenue driver that’s almost 20% of our business? Daaaaaammmnnn. That’s hardball.
Mind you, this wasn’t a conversation about automatic knives or anything regulated; this includes all knives, even the Benchmade Prestige Kitchen Set. Every damn knife. Off the damn site.
Funny thing? Even at the moment of this writing (April 2015), Amazon can advertise and sell knives on Google. So Google, if it’s some ‘moral’ policy that you’re enforcing, that seems kind of hypocritical don’t ya think? In other words, ‘moral’ unless Amazon the giant pays you a ton of money, then it’s OK?
We’ve had these run-ins with Google, Facebook, Twitter and PayPal. When we tried to advertise with Twitter, they gave us this response: “We've reviewed your account and confirmed that it is ineligible to participate in the Twitter Ads program at this time based on our Weapons policy. You can learn more about this policy at twitter.com/adspolicy/weapons.” We sent five (5) follow-ups to ask what specifically we we’re violating in the policy, and guess what we received back every time? “We've reviewed your account and confirmed that it is ineligible to participate in the Twitter Ads program at this time based on our Weapons policy.”
We’ve had similar issues at Facebook. With PayPal, which for customers is an alternative to paying by credit card, for the merchant it’s literally a bank account. Well guess what? PayPal all of a sudden stopped processing all transactions for us, and froze over $20,000 in the account, without notice or warning. Guess why? Yes! We violated their policy.
I used to view some of these companies as bastions of freedom and democracy, and capitalism at its finest. Shoot, they even helped empower overthrows of dictators. Free communication, from individuals to the masses, for the benefit of science or education or whatever good cause you could want.
Based on our recent experience, I’m scratching my head - is there an underlying social agenda here? Is it to please and kowtow to politicians? Is it simply easier to ‘Just Say No!’ than to apply thought and reason? Or is it a side deal with giants like Amazon to just force little guys out?
What say you? Steve Keefer
Steve, who served in the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, is CEO of U.S. Elite & Founder of CrossFit SOAR. You can read more about him here.
OK. So...David never gave up, and kicked him some Goliath ass. This thing's got me fired up - getting blacklisted by Silicon Valley for selling kickass knives - we've been out of the knife business since April 2015. So after burning a bunch of calories trying to Plan A, Plan B and Plan Z, we're gonna give this a shot. Spent a ton of time trying to break through to the Google Ivory Tower...we hope we have a workaround...wish us luck!
So without further ado, I'd like to re-introduce Benchmade Knives, awesome made in USA quality. Never leave home without one! (or 2, 3, 4...;))