Here's to the Misfits
There are plenty of Silicon Valley, California, stories that are worth telling. You can tell a story that goes back a generation, about Silicon Valley as the land of the engineers, the people who tinker and hack and iterate and refactor. There may be no place on the planet where smarts can take you farther than on this little peninsula—especially technical smarts, the ability to harness physics and math to human needs and desires. Technology at its best seems friction-free, and Silicon Valley is a place where the world seems pliable beyond our ancestors' wildest imaginations.
You can go further back and talk about the '49ers, the ones who converged on northern California during the first Gold Rush, leaving everything behind in hopes of striking a seam of abundance—a story that still seems relevant more than 160 years later. The gold is gone, but the sudden and arbitrary lightning strikes of riches are still here—neighbors in identical houses with similar jobs who end up with three or six zeroes of difference in their wealth. You may have to be fantastically hardworking and absurdly gifted to enter this lottery, but it's a game of chance all the same.
I'm here partly to listen for the echoes of these stories—but I'm also here for a different reason. I'm wondering what it's like to be fully immersed in technology and possibility and fortunes dangling within reach—all while following a first-century rabbi who lived the fullest human life ever lived, without a single piece of technological magic. If you have a dream, Silicon Valley is the place where you come to build it. I'm wondering what you build if the gospel has shaped your dreams.
Driving south from San Francisco, at the narrowest part of the peninsula, there's a gritty industrial interlude before the 280 freeway levels out on the way en route to the affluent municipalities beyond. Here in South San Francisco and Daly City, tired service-industry workers trudge home from the bus stop to boxy houses on crowded side streets.
In a white-walled room tucked behind the garage in one of those unremarkable houses, Sonny Vu sits at a folding-leg table, the kind you might see in a church basement. He's convincing a banker he doesn't need any money.
The banker is dressed in northern California business attire—tailored suit, no tie, a nice watch peeking out from beneath his sleeve. Vu is dressed in a black knit T-shirt, jeans, and indoor flip-flops. He opens a MacBook Pro and talks through a presentation about the company he founded, Misfit Wearables.
There's no watch on Vu's wrist. Instead he wears a thin wristband that holds a tapered, dark-gray aluminum disk about the size of a quarter. This is Misfit's first product, Shine. It's a device that attracted 127 online articles about Misfit in the tech press, everywhere from Wired to Mashable to TechCrunch—"without anyone knowing what it did," Vu says, grinning. He pops it out of its holder and sets it on the screen of his iPhone. "This has been tracking my activity for the past week. I just set it here, and it uploads all my data. No cable, no Bluetooth," he explains as tiny lights blink around the circumference of the disk.
Shine is an activity tracker, a device to record how often and how far you walk, bike, or swim. It's hardly the first to market—products from Nike, Jawbone, and Fitbit have already arrived—but Vu is betting that there is a place for great design in the geeky space of "wearable technology." Apple's iPod was a late arrival in the personal music player market in 2001, but soon dominated the category thanks to its elegant design. In the same way, Vu aims to make technology you actually want to use—and wear.