In 36 hours, a diverse group of young entrepreneurs and technologists raised over $ 200,000 for three charities supporting people of color and the LGBTQ community: The Okra Project, The Innocence Project and The Loveland Foundation.
How did they do it? Why did they do it?
The answers are important for understanding the future of technology. It is the first real example of how and why Generation Z will start businesses. ???.fm and the people who make it up reflect broader trends in youth culture.
VCs should take note. These are the people who will build the next Facebook.
Everyone should rejoice. Young technologists are building a new future on a new set of values. Their values are inspired by the first-hand experience of growing up with yesterday’s perverse social media incentives and a genuine desire to create a better world – online and off.
It all started on Thursday evening when a group of friends started to riff on a TikTok meme. In today’s world, the language is constantly evolving – ??? has emerged as a particular rotation of the phrase: “This is what it is”. Josh Constine explains, “??? means you feel helpless amid the chaotic realities around us, but there is no escape.”
The group of friends added the emojis to their Twitter handles and started tweeting on ???.fm, an invitation-only social app that didn’t exist. Unexpectedly, the trend started to gain momentum and the inner joke got out of hand. Conversations broke out on the group’s Discord server as they discussed what to do next. Could they channel the hype into impact?
Vernon Coleman, founder of the synchronous social app Realtime and “Head of Hype” at ???.fm said: “What started as a meme quickly gained momentum! We realized the opportunity and felt that we had a responsibility to convert the momentum of social good. I think it’s amazing what can happen when qualified creatives come together and collaborate in real time. “
Where should the team focus its efforts? The answer was clear. The group wrote in an article on Friday “, we didn’t have to think too hard: right now, there is hardly any bigger problem to amplify than systemic racism and anti-blackness than much of the world is just starting to wake up.
Since Thursday, the group has accumulated more than 20,000 email registrations, more than 11,000 Twitter followers and raised more than $ 200,000 in donations.
Cynics called it a “well-executed marketing campaign” or suggested it was a malicious farce. Everything did not go perfectly and the team recognized the missteps. But, we must not trivialize or marginalize what they accomplished and why they did it.
All of a sudden, the team berated Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, controlled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, skillfully took advantage the virality of Twitter to raise awareness and channel this awareness into dollars which will have a real impact on groups that are too often neglected.
This group of 60 young technology leaders took the tools of the titans into their hands to make an impact while making a statement.
They weren’t the most connected people on Twitter. Many team members have hundreds of followers, not hundreds of thousands. But, they understand the tools as well as the technological elite.
It is the latest in a series of movements created by leaders and activists of generation Z. generation Z is able to amplify their voice – even on platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, considered as the domain of millennials and Generation X.
We saw it for the first time with the shooting of Parkland School when high school students took over Twitter then Facebook, then cable news to add a reasoning voice to a debate on guns was turned into partisan talking points.
Over the past three years, I have spent dozens of hours talking with young users and product manufacturers – this has been an important part of my job as product manager at Tinder, product manager at the Facebook youth team and angel investor. Many of the feelings expressed by the ???.fm team reflect broader feelings within Generation Z:
Generation Z is tired of a generation of baby boomers who seem more focused on harvesting the last piece of the world than their best form.
Gen Z is fed up with exclusive clubs and virtual velvet ropes. The latest example is Clubhouse, an invitation-based social app that has been valued at $ 100 million even though it is only a few months old and only serves a few thousand users – including Oprah and Kevin Hart.
For tech insiders, Clubhouse is the place to be. For generation Z outsiders, this is the latest example of black celebrity used to enrich founders and predominantly white investors.
Generation Z entrepreneurs and tech leaders are tired of a tech industry that talks about inclusiveness, but then uses exclusivity as a marketing ploy. It has been a practice for more than a decade. It all started with Gmail, the first application to use private invitations on a large scale – a tactic widely copied.
Today, Silicon Valley insiders are asking for invitations to HEY, a recently released email application that notoriously charges for two- and three-letter email addresses ($ 999 a year for a two-letter address and $ 375 for a three-letter address). The short name is a cynical program to earn money from a company whose founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, evangelize a fairer and more empathetic approach to technology. Critics have pointed out that their business model unfairly – and probably unwittingly – targets ethnic groups that have a tradition of shorter names.
Finally, Generation Z is tired of a technology industry that talks about diversity, but does not practice it. Blacks and Hispanics continue to be underrepresented in large tech companies, particularly at the leadership level. This under-representation is even worse for entrepreneurs. Only 1% of founders supported by companies are black.
Silicon Valley is not trying hard enough.
“We hear over and over that there is a pipeline problem in the technological VC and employment… it’s bullshit. We were able to bring together different age groups, cultural backgrounds, skills, genders and geographies… all based on a process of random selection of people putting a meme in their profile… the valley should realize that you can literally throw darts and get results, ”says Coleman. “If the industry is about this action, imagine the magic we would all create together.”
The story of ???.fm highlights an important truth. If the tech industry doesn’t create the future that Generation Z wants, there is nothing to worry about. They will create it for themselves.
Will you help them?
Make the rental. Send the wire. – Tiffani Ashley Bell, Founding Executive Director of The Human Utility.
The team behind ???.fm supports:
- The Okra Project – a collective that seeks to address the global crisis facing black trans people by bringing home-made, healthy and culturally specific meals and resources to black trans people wherever we can reach them.
- The Innocence Project – its mission is to free the overwhelming number of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to reform the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment – a fate that disproportionately affects people of color.
- The Loveland Foundation – enables black women and girls nationwide to receive therapeutic support. Black women and girls deserve to have access to healing, and that healing will have an impact on generations.