Sometimes living in the Bay Area, the home of Dreamforce, is like sleep walking through life. Mostly because you want to fall asleep when a nearby stranger starts talking about their new startup idea or how cryptocurrency is definitely not a pyramid scheme.
San Francisco has the highest density of billionaires of any city in the world — the literal definition of innovation. We are surrounded by geniuses who are re-forming the world in their image, which is the best possible image because rich people are the smartest people in the world. (How else could they be so rich?) Nothing defines industry-disrupting products better than continuing centuries of wage theft, labor exploitation, and gentrification — this we know.
We have come to expect the best from Silicon Valley and its top-notch capital allocators, and we have not been disappointed. Only a peasant is content with a plain old toaster. In Silicon Valley, we settle for nothing less than a Revolution. How about a toaster that is smart — complete with a touchscreen that allows you to control your toasting with 63 precise settings for only $300. Of course, 62 settings would be too few and 64 too many. The number 63 is not only divisible by 9, but the sum of 6 and 3 is also 9 — and 9 is, in fact, the largest single numeral of the base 10 numbering system. I could go on, but I think you see my point. While 64 is a common factor in computing, deliberately choosing 63 is an expression of humility, a bold repudiation of the norm, an exemplification of how Silicon Valley can think different. This is innovation. This is our revolution.
You must be thinking, dear reader, what could be better? But I assure you that perfectly toasted bread is merely the tip of the iceberg of success. Like the passengers of the Titanic discovered, there is so much more below the surface. Let’s take a moment to pause during this holiday season to reflect on the technological achievements that have graced our lives. In doing so, we can dream of what life-changing inventions are yet to come.
[Editor’s note: Some of the ingenious products or companies below may not have originated in Silicon Valley or the Bay Area proper, but every thought leader knows that Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a place.]
Picture a grocery store aisle lined with coolers full of beverages and frozen foods, except instead of a glass door, every cooler has a screen. Get it? Like a screen that’s a cooler for drinks, but also like more interesting than other screens. The founder used to run a failed tea company, so he knows what the people want.
From his interview with TechCrunch:
“The joke was, I went from IT to tea, and now I’m back to IT,” he said.
That is so funny! Founders have the best ideas and the best jokes.
The idea of replacing simple glass doors with electronic displays might seem unnecessary or even annoying […]
Unnecessary? Please. Annoying? Don’t be so modest. Putting a screen on something that previously didn’t have — or need — one is literally peak innovation. It’s like when you know what you’re doing is wrong, but no one is watching so you do it anyway — except this time a certain someone is giving you $100 million to not stop.
After all, we’re used to doing as much research as we want before buying a product online, but very little of that information is available in the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Avakian said Cooler Screens is changing that: “You could ask the screens, ‘Show me all the vegan items’ or ‘How many calories are in this product?’”
This is a truly remarkable breakthrough. Until now, there has been no way to tell if an item is vegan or how many calories it has. Cooler Screens have taken the screens out of our pockets and put them directly in the aisles — doubling as an amazing new advertisement delivery platform. To assume that the coolness of Cooler Screens is derived merely from their proximity to refrigeration devices would be remiss. These things are so cool. You don’t even to have open them to see what’s inside! Screen time, my ass.
You will be pleased to know, dear reader, that yours truly had the pleasure to encounter them in real life. Thus is the joyous experience of a typical Bay Area denizen.
In what can only be described as the best liquid cooling system of 2020, Cooler Screens is a glimpse into the utopian future of beverage selection computing.
Yo is like sending messages, if all you ever wanted to send was a single word — yo. The foresight of these founders is unprecedented, like an infant discovering object permanence. Back in 2014, no one could have predicted the impact that Yo might have in our political discourse. Just imagine if social media companies had followed suit, only allowing users to yo each other. Had the brilliance of Yo’s founders been embraced, we might have avoided catastrophe. Yo raised $1.5 million in funding.
Some may scratch their heads at why anyone would give such a basic app that kind of cash.
The people scratching their heads are the ones who did not just receive $1.5 million dollars to pursue the communication revolution, so who’s basic now? I rest my case.
“We are fascinated by these uses of simple yes/no, on/off communications tools,” Betaworks co-founder John Borthwick wrote on the Betaworks blog. “As the notification layer becomes the primary interface of alert-based information on your phone — as the OS’s allow navigation and controls in those alerts — there will emerge a new class of applications that mediate this layer for web sites, other app’s and connected hardware.”
Fascinating is an understatement, and their foresight is astonishing. No one expected the notification layer to become the primary interface of alert-based information on our phones.
Ultimately, Yo embraced what all programmers and technologists aspire to achieve: manifestation of the Unix Philosophy. Do one thing only, and do it very well. And it was going very well until some college kids did a #YoBeenHacked to it. Regardless, when I heard that Yo was valued at $10 million, I could not believe it was so low. I mean, yo.
The only thing better than a fresh-squeezed juice is having a $400 machine to do it for you. And the only thing better than that is a $700 machine to do it for you. It just tastes better. After raising $118 million for what can only be described as the freshest idea of 2016, Juicero shockingly shutdown 16 months later. The Guardian reports:
The company’s founder, Doug Evans, who compared himself to Steve Jobs, had previously bragged that the juice press wielded four tons of force, and in the face of embarrassing videos of the squeezing by hand, the company noted that the machines were connected to the internet and could ensure users don’t make juice with packets that have expired. The packets, however, had expiration dates written on them.
Steve Jobs, indeed. The juice packets had zero buttons. Juicero was a foolproof idea until the meticulous, opinionated tech bloggers embarked on their savage witch hunt to destroy a company. When you think about it, the true downfall of Juicero wasn’t Juicero itself, but the fact that users were doing it wrong. If only the engineers had remembered to do some tests, they could have made the bags harder to squeeze.
Despite defeat, Juicero can be revered for its trailblazing conceptual epiphany that undoubtedly contributed inspiration for the creation of Soylent, a drink you don’t have to squeeze. We are all building upon the shoulders of giants. Soylent obviates a time-consuming cultural cornerstone of society — cooking and sharing a meal together — thus freeing up time for what’s important, like putting screens and Bluetooth on literally everything.
[Editor’s note: I recommend beginning your Soylent regiment now. When our future utopia of near-zero crop yields arrives due to climate change, you’ll be far ahead of everyone else who still considers “food” a daily necessity while acclimating to their new lives on Mars.]
Have you ever thought, I wish this salt shaker had Bluetooth and a speaker? Me, too. Nothing makes a mundane kitchen appliance more innovative than adding an Internet connection. If you can’t get that, the next best thing is Bluetooth, which is never annoying and always works.
Smalt reminds me of when I bought my first iPhone. With the iPhone, I no longer needed to carry around a phone, a camera, an iPod, a GPS, and a notepad. With Smalt — finally — I no longer have to carry around a salt shaker and my Bluetooth speaker on a bike ride.
Whether you want to dispense a pinch or a teaspoon, turn the dial or simply ask “Alexa” and wait for magic to happen.
Magic, indeed. They really thought of everything. I can’t wait for Alexa to dispense a pinch of salt for me — a task other smart speakers will never be able to do. We no longer have to relinquish the measuring of our sodium consumption to rudimentary guesswork. Smalt was the innovation that made 2017 the year it was. I’ve been hoping for them to release a pepper mill companion to Smalt. Can you imagine how good these would sound in stereo?
Microclimate’s “AIR” is currently on the market and nothing defines the future of our dreams like purchasing AIR. Priced at only $300, this combination futuristic astronaut helmet and HEPA filter is the definition of a bargain. Martian cosplay enthusiasts and early adopters of Google Glass will be pleased to know that AIR’s full-faced, fog-resistant acrylic dome will also protect your face from a stranger’s fist.
The entirety of Microclimate’s offerings can be summarized by a very smart “investor”:
Hilarious that people actually support taking money away from the world’s best capital allocators (entrepreneurs & investors) and giving it to the world’s worst capital allocators (governments). We should keep resources in the hands of our smartest, most ambitious citizens.
“Best” is doing a lot of work in that sentence — just like a billionaire. In the midst of a global pandemic, I dare you to find a better allocation of capital than a $300 piece of PPE in limited supply. A 75-cent N95 mask might save more lives more effectively, but you get what you pay for. Obstructing your face with an unstylish, soggy piece of fabric is simply not as attractive or modern as a persistent glare from ambient lighting. Who needs a vaccine when you can have AIR?
If you thought Silicon Valley’s influence was limited to the realm of technology, think again. At the intersection of culinary artistry and high-end gaming consoles, we find the collaboration that is KFConsole — which can only be described as finger clickin’ good. However, KFConsole is best described by its creators, as CNN reports:
“The Bargain Bucket-shaped machine features the world’s first built in chicken chamber, which is kitted out to keep its contents hot, ready for consumption during intense gaming sessions,” KFC added.
Your chicken will be kept hot thanks to a custom-built cooling system that keeps the console hardware at a regular temperature while using heat produced by its components to warm the chicken chamber.
This American treasure is no joke. Literally, it is not a joke. Revered technologists and efficient capital allocators have finally delivered a solution to the problems facing our youth.
The KFConsole is outfitted with high-end hardware components from top brands like Asus, Seagate, and Intel. When Apple announced its M1 chip, the Internet was rife with accusations that Intel is doomed and has failed to innovate. Let KFConsole put that debate to rest. What metrics could possibly matter more to average users than the ability of your processor to produce so much heat that it can indefinitely keep a bucket of chicken warm? Cooler Master has yet to announce a ship date for KFConsole, but as long as it includes a side of gravy in the box no one will complain.
In a stunning display of feminist praxis, three white men in Germany (remember, Silicon Valley is a mindset) did an innovation by manufacturing a problem to solve and then establishing a well-funded startup to produce a solution. Startup Pinky launched it’s titular product in early 2021, the Pinky glove, a bright pink glove that you wear while removing a tampon or pad, which then forms its own bag. That kind of dual-purpose minimalism would make even Jony Ive blush, which makes it all the more peculiar that they failed to find product-market fit.
The gloves might appear to be another misogynistic manifestation of period-shaming and their pink color may seem like a clueless expression of heteronormativity, but when you consider the additional environmental waste the product introduces to the routine task of changing a tampon, there’s much more to be ashamed of than ovulation. Still, how were tampons ever removed without proper hand attire? The men of Silicon Valley demand answers.
As it turns out, the three men came up with the idea of monetizing menstrual cycles after living with women for the first time in their adult lives and finding themselves unable to cope with seeing used pads and tampons in the trash. Despite almost immediately shuttering after launch due to backlash from every person who read the press release, Pinky remains the definition of success in Silicon Valley.
If your first startup doesn’t fail, you’re doing it wrong — and that is worth de-stigmatizing. These three very intelligent men were able to not only formulate and produce a viable market solution, but also invent the initial problem — all while persuading very smart investors to give them money and disregarding the very people who would supposedly participate in their sanitary revolution. When white men consistently churn out such high caliber ideas, it’s no wonder that founders of other genders and ethnicities are routinely ignored and overlooked.
Quibi both debuted and dissolved in 2020 — a year that is widely regarded as one of the most enjoyable of the century so far. If Quibi were a year, it would definitely be 2020. The streaming service company lasted a victorious 6 months and received nearly $2 billion from very educated investors.
In a society that prefers either a single 15-second TikTok or binge-watching literal days worth of uninteresting Netflix originals, it’s shocking that Quibi’s middle ground of less-than-11-minute episodes failed to find product-market fit. Their shutdown shocked all Silicon Valley denizens, who couldn’t believe that challenging the hegemony of the streaming services offered by the top few largest tech companies ever established was a bad idea. After all, those tech giants used to be startups too and startups are the best possible places to work.
“There was no question that keeping us going was not going to have a different outcome, it was just going to spend a whole lot more money without any value to show for it,” Jeffrey Katzenberg told Deadline on Wednesday in his first interview after the decision to shut down Quibi just six months after getting it up and running.
A bold and timely decision — as expected from a “founder”, all of whom have very good ideas and are very intelligent. The last thing that Silicon Valley wants to do is “spend a whole lot more money without any value to show for it.” That is not innovation.
Yet — Quibi is an iconic Silicon Valley success story, not because they lasted longer than the majority of startups, but because they got almost $2 billion without any value to show for it. By studying their imaginative and original business model, which can only be described as AirBnB for TV shows, we can learn the secrets to success. Quibi exploited a loophole in the union contracts of workers in the film industry in order to cheat them out of money — the ultimate reason why the platform cleverly cut everything up into 5-10 minute very good “low budget” episodes. Giving workers the rights to engage in collective bargaining is exactly the kind of bureaucratic regulatory accelerant that stifles innovation.
We are lucky that Quibi ever existed at all. Had they instead purchased government legislation to permanently misclassify full-time workers as contractors like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and InstaCart, they might have succeeded in sparking the short-form TV revolution.
Swimply, or Uber for swimming pools, allows poor people to rent out private swimming pools that rich people are too busy being rich to use themselves. It’s like an hourly version of AirBnB where you are prohibited from ever entering the house. They raised $10 million from very intelligent investors, initiating what can only be described as an aquatic revolution.
As the oldest of 12 children, Bunim Laskin spent much of his teen years looking for ways to help keep his siblings entertained. Noticing that a neighbor’s pool was often empty, Laskin reached out to ask if his family could use her pool. To make it worth her while, he suggested that they could help cover her expenses for maintaining the pool.
Such a poetic, wholesome origin story, and a very true reminder that even billionaires grew up paying-off their neighbors to use their pools — just like the rest of us.
But an even better story than their origin is their 2018 launch, TechCrunch continues:
The Cedarhurst, New York-based company launched a beta in 2018, starting with four pools in the New Jersey area.
“We used Google Earth to find houses, and then knocked on 80 doors with a pool,” CEO Laskin recalls. “We got to 100 pools organically. Word of mouth really helped us grow.” […] That year, Swimply did around 400 reservations and raised $1.2 million from friends and family.
Swimply’s founders were no amateurs. Clearly taking cues from the singular triumph of humanity we call Facebook, they deduced that the foundation of every successful company in Silicon Valley is illicit surveillance and extracting value from users at any cost. The most efficient capital allocation is when the capital has been pre-allocated all along. They knew this very good fact. Rather than debase themselves by finding ways to invest in public pools for local communities, Swimply had the courage to leverage and monetize the preexisting assets of the ruling class. Ideas that lack this je ne sais quoi don’t get funded. It’s that swimple.
Our bright future ahead
Without the great minds of very astute investors and very talented founders to anticipate the needs and desires of consumers, we might all still be using old-fashioned toasters and have no place to swim. Like Henry Ford said, “You don’t want a faster horse. You want a Tesla.” Except this is Silicon Valley, so we quote Steve Jobs:
No one wants to die.
Unless you live in Silicon Valley.
* * *
While all of the above products and companies are very real and very humorous, there is little to laugh about when critiquing the oppressive power structures that control the tech industry and serve to perpetuate systemic inequalities and defend white supremacy. Look no further than Silicon Valley’s own backyard, where there exists the highest density of billionaires as well as the third largest population of people experiencing homelessness in the entire country.
The mythology that investors are the “smartest” and “most efficient” capital allocators fails to withstand even the slightest amount of scrutiny. The ridiculous products and companies above are not exceptions, but unremarkably common. You do not have to look hard, nor far, to find absurdity in the world of “investing” and “entrepreneurship”. These are the same people who regularly whine about inefficient government spending and complain about wasteful government programs.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, if not for their boasting that they are the most apt and trustworthy citizens to divvy the spoils of power and unilaterally determine the allocation of resources that shape our society. With even the most rudimentary examination, the true nature of so-called “investors”, “venture capitalists”, and “entrepreneurs” is evident. The only concern for these counterfeit philanthropists is extracting value and accumulating more wealth, despite their already-massive fortunes and despite the obvious needs of their own communities. Had only a portion of the resources allocated to the companies above been instead used to house the nearly 30,000 people living on the streets in the Bay Area, homelessness here would be eradicated. Instead, in an area where there are enough vacant homes and apartments to house everyone, we simply complain about shit-covered sidewalks.
Our ostensible “greatest thinkers” and “smartest investors” can get us a fucking toaster with 63 settings and an abject failure of a juicer, but they can’t imagine how they could possibly ensure the dignity and basic human rights for everyone that lives in their own community. They willfully ignore the problems they helped create, and when pressed to explain themselves suddenly “making the world a better place” is a task that is beyond their domain of expertise. They would rather create more dead startup toys than solve real problems. Even the billionaires who claim to be solving climate change with expensive electric vehicles undermine their own crusade against carbon emissions as they ride their dildo-shaped rockets erupting with massive amounts of pollutants into low Earth orbit and repeatedly hype cryptocurrencies that consume as much power as entire nations.
Perhaps more important is where those massive investments are not being redistributed. Black and Latinx founders received less than 3 percent of all venture capital funds raised in 2020, not a surprise considering those in power have deep political and cultural roots in white supremacy. As long as you are an affluent white man with an ivy league degree that you purchased with your family’s money and your company can be described in terms of how “similar but different” it is to at least a dozen existing companies, investors will be begging to give you more money than you have ever dreamed.
The tech industry is not full of geniuses, it is full of privilege, tax evasion, political meddling and financial crimes. Venture capitalists and CEOs have deliberately positioned themselves as frugal, altruistic philanthropists who got where they are because of their hard-work and scholarship. In reality, a combination of inheritance, nepotism, privilege, exploitation, wage theft, and propaganda campaigns are the true sources of their wealth.
Yet, despite the immense and seemingly unalterable power that the tech moguls wield, there is one thing they fear: the collective action of us — the workers — who are tired of having our labor power exploited and harnessed as the means to pursue the unsavory desires of the rich. It should be no surprise that we are walking out, leaking documents, and going on strike. Every action we take undermines the hegemony of tech corporations and usurps authority from their investors. Tech workers have been organizing since the tech industry existed, and we shouldn’t stop now. When we organize together, we reclaim the power that always belonged to us from the beginning.