Product Punks: The duo transforming your phone into a tool for action, not distraction

How Suhas Motwani and Devansh Gulhane are helping Android users reclaim their time with Indistractable

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he envisioned a tool to help everyone be productive. But what we’ve ended up with is the opposite. The average smartphone user receives 46 notifications a day. Technology designed to bring us closer together is in danger of pushing us further apart. 

The relationship we have with our mobile phone is complicated. But when we’ve got more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo moon landings, are we going to give it up? No one wants a dumb phone, after all, but we need to learn to control the technology we have at our disposal.

The brainchild of Suhas Motwani and Devansh Gulhane, the Indistractable launcher  for Android promises to clean out the clutter and help users focus on what matters. With more than 450,000 organic downloads, it’s clearly something people have been wanting for a while. 

While other launchers have tried to curb distraction, Indistractable is the first to put traction at the heart of everything it does. With a minimalist, two-tone homescreen and text-only app drawer, Indistractable helps people make conscious choices about the apps they're using, something former design ethicist Tristan Harris has long been advocating as a way to “un-hijack” your mind from your phone.  

“In the last decade there’s been a lot of social platforms vying for attention,”  Motwani explains. “They’ve spent billions of dollars just trying to get you addicted to your phone. And we were like, Okay, this is something that’s definitely going to pick up in the next decade because a lot of people are already talking about being stuck to their phones. They have the awareness that they want to get away from their devices, but it’s a little difficult.” 

Solving a problem that many of us are only just beginning to realise we have, Indistractable’s growth has gone hand-in-hand with an increased awareness of the impact technology is having on our lives. “It really picked up with Netflix’s Social Dilemma documentary,” Gulhane says. “We have over 450,000 downloads overall, and a couple of months back we launched a premium version.  It has a lot of word of mouth growth. But word of mouth is actually working for this product.” 

Growing out of Gulhane’s obsession with personal productivity, since its inception in 2018 Indistractable has evolved from side project to fully-fledged product. “I had a target of creating an MVP in three weeks,” Gulhane explains, “It was very bare bones to start with, not much functionality. But it was a good proof of concept. So from that I kept on iterating.  It was a side project at the time, so I was just committing two to three hours a day then I left it idle for six months. I didn’t think that it would get any traction or anything.” 

But by mid-2019 Indistractable had built up a big enough following to convince Gulhane it was an idea worth pursuing properly. “Around four to six months after it launched I saw that people were leaving feedback behind,” he continues. “And then with the Social Dilemma the number of installs ramped up pretty quickly and I was like, okay, this seems like a very good idea that I can continue on. And then I kept on iterating, listening to the feedback. It’s still very bare bones, but I still love where it is right now.” 

Despite (or even because of) its stripped down functionality, Indistractable has built a loyal fan base among Android users who want to take back control, but don’t want to go as far as getting rid of their devices. “Back in October, I was in Dharamshala and I wondered if I could just randomly meet any person and see that person using the Indistractable launcher on their phone,” Gulhane continues. “And then suddenly in the house I saw a person who was explaining to a bunch of his friends about this launcher. Just two days after I thought this should happen I met a person who was organically stumbled upon it and he was doing word of mouth marketing for me. That was a very big moment. A very good moment.” 

Beyond the Android launcher, Motwani and Gulhane are planning an ecosystem of applications to help people deal with digital distraction. “No one has really done a cross-platform play,” Motwani notes. “A bunch of other minimalist launchers have come up, but no one has done cross-platform. A lot of us today use different devices plus desktop, so can we have this coherence across devices? I think that will be one play that a lot of people will be interested in. Especially those who feel like they want to track what they’re doing.” 

With an Alpha version of a Chrome extension already available, the big question is whether or not Indistractable will be able to make the leap to iOS for a truly cross-platform experience. “It’s not the easiest thing to do on the list,” Gulhane concedes. “But I think that once the Chrome extension is in a good place we can look at iOS.” 

Beyond Android, iOS and Chrome, Motwani and Gulhane have big plans for Indistractable, but they’re taking it slowly. “Initially, a lot of people we talked to wanted a suite of productivity apps to fight distraction and that’s exactly where we want to go,” explains Motwani, when asked about the product roadmap. “But since we had limited bandwidth, it didn’t make sense. Let’s just take a step back and get this to a place where we are super confident and then move on instead of doing a bunch of things. Right now we’re focusing on getting the Chrome extension done plus the launcher. I’d like to get those done then focus on the other apps.”

The duo are also excited about the idea of building a community for people who want to use technology for productivity, not for procrastination. “Promoting that community is something we’re looking forward to this year,” Gulhane says. “Once we have our Android app and Chrome extension properly working together, we want to build a community of like-minded people interacting with each other.”

First, though, they’re looking forward to reaching their first million downloads, and the opportunity to move their vision forward. “In terms of numbers, I think the first milestone is a million.” Motwani concludes. “We've also kicked off our premium version a couple of months back, so we have some internal targets that we want. It's a lifetime app right now. But I think we might be able to change the model a little bit. And with the community angle coming we want to create a promotion that allows us to work on this a little bit, and add a couple more developers to help us build out the rest of the ideas we want to try a little faster.” 

indistractable.xyz


PUNKS & PRODUCTS.

When Mortal Kombat made America lose its mind: Following the release of the brand new Mortal Kombat movie, this article takes us back to 1994 when the second instalment of the legendary fighting game was threatening to destroy civilisation. Looking back, the response seems laughably out of proportion, but it’s an important milestone in the way the public perception of video games has changed.

Do your deep work in lo-fi: Staying focused when you’re working from home can be hard, as anyone with children knows. Thankfully Mailbrew co-founder Fabrizio Rinaldi’s side project is here to help. A beautifully curated selection of live YouTube radio stations, it’s the perfect lofi soundtrack to boost your productivity.

A digital oasis for music lovers: Founded by former Spotify marketing strategist Tony Lashley, Marine Snow is a new kind of music streaming service that puts discovery front and centre. A network for digital crate diggers, it aims to surface artists and songs that wouldn’t normally find their way into your Discover Weekly playlist.

Tweet when your audience is listening: There are a lot of Twitter scheduling tools out there, but they’re usually aimed at marketers wanting to pore over their stats. Chime Social, on the other hand, strips scheduling down to its fundamentals—analysing your followers and recommending times to tweet to get the most engagement from your audience.

Mint your own poop on the blockchain: People keep shitting on digital collectables, so they’re hitting back. CryptoPoops are adorably hilarious NFTs generated live on the Ethereum blockchain that could end up making you a shit-ton of money.

Product Punks: The London-based software engineer making bookmarks fun again

How Boris Tane is rebooting Delicious for the knowledge management age with Bkmark

Bookmarks have been the fundamental unit of the Internet since we first started sharing interesting links with our friends in chatrooms and email threads in the nineties. 

But in the four years since Delicious failed to make bookmarking social, our relationship with our URLs has hardly changed. We're either not bookmarking them at all and leaving 100s of browser tabs open, or we're clipping them to tools like Notion and Evernote, which is overkill for quirky sites we just want to remember to send to our friends. 

Founded by London-based software engineer Boris Tane, Bkmark is a lightweight extension that promises to bring sharing back to the forefront of our bookmarking workflow. Born out of lockdown boredom, Bkmark solves a problem familiar to anyone who lives and works on the Internet—how do we control the firehose of new links and websites coming at us every day and actually make them useful? 

“It was full lockdown, you know, and there was nothing else to do,” explains Tane about his decision to start building Bkmark. “And I started thinking, OK, I’ve always had this problem with my bookmarks so I might do something about it. I talked to a few friends and they were like, yeah, I have the same problem. I was like, OK, it's probably not a huge problem, but it's a problem that exists. And there are probably people out there who are just like me and have two hundred, three hundred bookmarks all around the place. And that's when I started building.”

A serial maker, Tane embraced the build in public ethos for the first time with Bkmark, and it’s already played a big part in the product’s initial success. “The products that I built in the past were fun projects just for myself, you know, where I’d give myself a couple of weeks, three weeks, maybe one month to get it out,” says Tane about his previous side projects. “I was completely doing it wrong—in stealth mode, not talking to anyone, thinking that I know all the answers. I think the main difference with Bkmark is I put it on Product Hunt and then somehow I got onto Indie Hackers. And I was like, OK, I might go with this and talk openly about what I'm doing.”

What’s also been different this time is Tane cares deeply about what he’s creating with Bkmark. “I think the biggest difference between my previous projects is that I'm actually just doing something that interests me,” he continues. “It's not just a startup idea. There’s a lot of potential in something that I actually want to do. And there is this amazing community where I can exchange ideas with people, talk to people about what's going on.”

Tane already has bold plans for Bkmark, but he’s taking it one step at a time. “What I’m focused on is really making it helpful for the people that are using it now and the paying customers that I have now,” he explains. “I really need to be laser focused on just one or a couple of ideas, make sure that they are actually the things that my customers want, that solve that problem for them, and then move forward onto the next.”

It’s the next set of problems which are the most exciting, though—like helping indie hackers monetize their expertise through their bookmark collections; something that’s not really been done before. “There are a lot of opportunities, like allowing people to build collections of bookmarks on areas that they're experts in and selling those like we see a lot of people selling on Gumroad.” Tane continues. “Why not do that with bookmarks and things like that?”

Working full-time as a software engineer and building Bkmark on the side, Tane is already having to cope with the pressures that come with being a first-time founder. “As a founder, you have to do all those customer conversations. You have to decide what the pricing is going to look like.” he continues. “I’ve had to break away from being the tech guy who is always on his keyboard and looking at his terminal to the person who can talk to people and sell to people without being pushy, because no one wants to hear a sales pitch every single time they speak to you.” "

The effort Tane’s put in has been worth it, though. “Getting that first Stripe notification that you got paid for something you built, that was crazy.” he says, excitedly. “I was on the train and I received an email. That had never happened to me. Most people go from university, get a job. So we associate remuneration with labor, whereas getting that notification when you're not actually working, it's something fantastic.”

For Tane, though, Stripe payments are just a nice byproduct of the the buzz of building solutions to real people’s problems. “One of the best things has been all the customer conversations that I'm having,” he concludes. “Hearing people's stories, the problems that they're facing and trying to figure out how I can provide a solution to that. That is really, really cool.”

bkmark.io


PUNKS & PRODUCTS.

Buy Rick Rubin’s first tweet: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are big news at the moment, and there are a lot of crazy digital artifacts to get your hands on if you’ve got cash to burn. For an offer over $1,700 you could buy hip-hop legend Rick Rubin’s first tweet. Which doesn’t sound that crazy when you compare it to some of the other NFTs out there.

Start making a racket with Racket: Following the meteoric rise of Clubhouse, audio is fast becoming the next big social media battleground. Launched last week, social audio start-up Racket blew past several thousand sign-ups within a couple of hours, proving without much doubt that sound is pretty hot right now.

Meet Maya Gold Patterson, the woman leading the design of Twitter Spaces: After being stagnant for so long, Twitter’s product delivery is now in overdrive. Of all the features launched in the last few months, the most interesting is Spaces—the social media giant’s answer to Clubhouse. Led by self-taught product designer Maya Gold Patterson, it’s already the most exciting thing to happen to Twitter in years.

Steve Jobs Stories: A college dropout who co-founded one of the most successful companies in the world, Steve Jobs is the original product punk. This newsletter brings together stories, articles and videos that dig deep into what made the Apple icon so successful. From firing people with no notice, to driving a car without a licence plate, Jobs did some pretty crazy things, but there’s much to be inspired by (like his incredible 2005 Stanford Commencement Address).

A privacy-focused tool to capture your screen and collaborate with anyone around the world: Built by two ex-Googlers, Snippyly is an external version of the Internet giant’s most-used internal productivity tool. Letting you take screenshots, add comments, and share them instantly with anyone in the world via a private link, Snippyly brings a little bit of what it’s like to work at Google to everyone who’s working remotely.

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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