Product Punks: The non-existent new product leveraging tech's FOMO culture

How It Is What It Is made tech's self-proclaimed cool kids stop and think.

In a move straight out of Malcolm McLaren’s Situationist playbook, a ragtag group of young technologists successfully punked the whole of tech Twitter with the promise of an ultra-exclusive new app. 

Riding the fomo zeitgeist that has powered the recent word-of-mouth rise of Clubhouse and HEY, It Is What It Is drew attention to the in-crowd bragging that accompanies the launch of every new product Silicon Valley deems worthy.

Despite landing at number one on Product Hunt and picking up write-ups in The Independent and Forbes, It Is What Is didn't even exist. In reality, it was a clever meme designed to channel the whirlwind of interest into something worthwhile instead of a cliquey new social media app.  

Like a fine piece of performance art, It Is What It Is encouraged people to reconsider what really matters. Getting an invite to the hottest new email client doesn't; standing up in support of Black Lives Matter certainly does. 

What started out as a joke ended up raising more than $200,000 for Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund,The Okra Project,The Innocence Project and others, and drew sharp focus on the technology industry’s obsession with exclusivity at the expense of the marginalised.

A great rock 'n' roll swindle or a much-needed slap in the face for the Internet? You decide.


PUNKS & PRODUCTS.

The Gospel According to Peter Thiel: With investments in high-profile companies like Airbnb, LinkedIn, SpaceX and others, PayPal Mafia don Peter Thiel is arguably one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley. In his book, Zero to One, he outlines an approach to starting a business that borders on the mystical. This article dives deep into what’s kept him at the vanguard of every major cultural and technological shift of the last two decades. (City Journal)

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Has a Secret Disaster Relief Squad: For the last five years former Googler Sergey Brin has been running Global Support & Development (GSD), a secretive organisation primarily staffed with ex-military personnel that uses high-tech systems to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance during large-scale disasters, including the Covid-19 pandemic. This article explores the emerging trend among tech billionaires to view philanthropy as just another industry ripe for disruption. (The Daily Beast)

Napster Founder’s ‘Screening Room’ Obtains New Patent for P2P-Polluting Anti-Piracy Tech: In 1999 a pair of teenagers changed the music industry forever with the launch of Napster, a file-sharing service that made piracy mainstream and paved the way for iTunes, Spotify and the digital music revolution. After going to war with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich over copyright infringement, Napster founder Sean Parker is now fighting the pirates himself (albeit in the movie industry) with SR Labs, a startup aimed at protecting creative works from the existential threats they face online. (TorrentFreak)

How the Custom Ringtone Industry Paved the Way for the App Store—and Then Vanished: For a brief moment in the early-to-mid 2000s, ringtones were the new pop singles. Insanely irritating tunes like Crazy Frog earned their creators hundreds of millions of dollars as everyone with a cellphone began to embrace customisation. This article tells the story of the ringtone industry’s rise and fall, and the role it played in kick-starting the digital infrastructure we now take for granted. (OneZero)

Tired of Zoom calls? Company offers at-home hologram machines: Fresh from digitally resurrecting Ronald Reagan and Tupac Shakur, Los Angeles-based executive David Nussbaum is bringing a bit of Star Trek to the remote working boom with PORTL, a phone booth-sized machine that enables users to talk in real time with a life-sized hologram of another person. It sounds cool, but at a cost of $60,000 a unit it’s unlikely it’ll be replacing your webcam anytime soon. (Reuters)

Welcome to Product Punks

In-depth profiles of the founders and product people changing the world

In January 1977, seminal British punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue published its now-legendary guide to forming a band. Stripping back rock ‘n’ roll to its bare bones, it was a rallying cry for a generation bored of the bloated stadium rock of their older siblings.

In New York and London, teenagers began creating their own culture rather than waiting for the media to sell it to them. Bands, record labels, fanzines and art projects emerged from the streets instead of the pages of the music and fashion magazines. It was the birth of a defiantly DIY ethos that has endured into the digital age.

With the rise of Agile methodologies and no code development, doing it yourself has become the norm. Instead of forming bands, kids in college dorms are creating startups that are changing the world. Technology has become the new rock ‘n’ roll.

From Silicon Valley to Singapore, from Brighton to Barcelona; bright young minds are creating products that are having a bigger influence on global popular culture than The Sex Pistols or The Ramones ever did. This newsletter celebrates the product punks who are building our future, one chord at a time.

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