Discover more from Zoso's Corner
S01E38: Light & Lavish
"A brand of what? I don't know. Being a company kills the magic," Gabriel Whaley recently told Business Insider. "We're trying to do stuff that the world can't even define."
"Our perspective is everything is funny in a nihilistic sort of way," Whaley said. "We're not here to make the world a better place. We're making light of how much everything sucks."
Before MSCHF, Whaley was a West Point military academy dropout who was already heralding goofy viral projects on his own, such as an app that was essentially Tinder for airplane travelers. His work landed him a brief stint at BuzzFeed in 2013, but he left after a year when the department he worked in was shut down. He officially launched MSCHF in 2016.
Now, MSCHF is 10 employees strong. They're mostly twenty-somethings — including just one woman, who was hired in 2020 — and Whaley describes them as "fans of mischief."
"If we can make people a fan of the brand and not the product, we can do whatever the f--k we want," Greenberg, the head of commerce, told Business Insider. "We build what we want. We don't care."
"We're in this weird place where we're not really thinking like a business," Greenberg said. "We just do shit, and people buy our stuff."
MSCHF isn’t a sneaker company. It rarely even produces commercial goods, and its employees are reluctant to call it a company at all. They refer to MSCHF, which was founded in 2016, as a “brand,” “group” or “collective,” and their creations, which appear online every two weeks, as “drops.”
A giant white pentagram covers the entrance floor. On a visit in December, an inflatable severed swan’s head dangled from a ceiling beam, and a rubber chicken bong — a recent drop — sat on a coffee table, full of weed.
“It’s not just a full-time job,” he said. “This is how we live. The distinction between your work and normal life doesn’t really exist here, and it’s just because this is what we were all doing whether we were getting paid or not in our former lives. So nothing has really changed, except we have more power as a unit than we did as individuals.”
“I don’t see anybody doing exactly what MSCHF is doing,” said Frank Denbow, a technology consultant who works with start-ups. “Everybody is able to get a one-off campaign that works, but to consistently find ways to create content that really sticks with people is different. It reminds me of Banksy and his ability to get a rise out of people.”
The company’s only LinkedIn post is a five-word sentence that reads “We are a dairy company.” Besides this Linkedin profile the company has virtually zero social media, and the only way to stay up to date with the company is through their app or their website.
After discovering MSCHF, there’s a question everyone wonders at some point: “Who made this company and why?” Well believe it or not there are real people behind the company, 10 employees to be exact, plus founder and CEO Gabriel Whaley. The company runs out of Phoenix, AZ, and was founded in 2016. The goal of the company is two things, according to Whaley. Nihilism and mischief. They don’t want to make the world a better place. They want everyone to know how much the world sucks.
1: Appeal to the internet: MSCHF always makes sure to stay ahead of trends and appeal to internet culture so that people like them.
2: Exclusivity: MSCHF has new drops every two weeks, on the second and fourth Monday of the month. Often these drops are highly exclusive, such as Jesus Shoes, tennis shoes containing water from the river Jordan that allow you to literally walk on water. Only a few thousand of these shoes were made and they sold out in minutes. Another way MSCHF feeds the flames of exclusivity is through early access to drops and secret drops. Secret drops are randomly given to a random number of app users, who are then the only people with access to them. Early access to drops involves a secretive process that only the company itself has true knowledge of.
3: Brand popularity: MSCHF has managed to give a company a personality, and an extremely likable personality at that. The complete lack of pattern but a high concentration of quality in their drops leads to people becoming fans of MSCHF, not the products they make. This allows the company to do whatever chaotic thing they want.
4: Not caring: Whaley has made very clear in interviews that he does not care about making money (although they have no trouble with that) or even being a company, saying in an interview with Business Insider, “Being a company kills the magic. We’re trying to do stuff that the world can’t even define.”
This time–here, the collective is back with the most expensive tap in the world : the Birkinstock. The shoe has an official sole of the German brand Birkenstock, in cork and rubber and the collective spent 122.500 dollars in bags Birkin from the house of Hermès, bags that have been transformed into raw material to make the straps but it is not a collab between the two brands. The pair is sold between $ 34,000 and $ 76,000, depending on size.
A viral marketing company is engaging in blatant copyright infringement as part of a new campaign. MSCHF has launched AlltheStreams.fm, a 'pirate radio' site that is currently streaming shows from Netflix, Disney+, HBO Go and others with zero permission from copyright holders. The company informs TF that once one network shuts it down, five others will take their place....
“Netflix has all the Netflix stuff, Disney has all the Disney stuff, and never the twain shall meet. Let’s change that, however briefly,” it reads.
“Whenever media becomes inaccessible, piracy thrives again – from the 1960’s BBC 1-hour limit on pop music, to the iTunes store mp3 tyranny of the 00s. Today, All The Streams comes in response to the fragmentation and walled-garden paradigm that has risen to prominence for online video streaming services.”
The people behind AllTheStreams say they don’t care about several things, including but perhaps not limited to user-utility, scalability and terms of service. “All The Streams is made to revel in platform independence, and to demonstrate how even the most lo-fi hacks can be the equal of giants. We’re going to play anything and everything we feel like,” the manifesto continues.
“We’re going to make a frankensteinian playlist of media that none of these streaming platforms could ever recommend to you because it would cost them the profits of their exclusively-owned content. Sit back and enjoy the ride: like all pirate media offerings, we’re doing this for you.”
“MSCHF’s only endgame is the endgame itself.”
The 29-year-old is a ghost. A content ninja. The Artful Dodger of WWW. And that’s the way he likes it.
"I think people have missed a big opportunity on the internet," he said. "While it is an insanely efficient distribution vessel for content, no one has really pushed the envelope of 'the internet' as a story-telling medium. As an art form.
"Everyone simply takes traditional formats like written word, spoken word, static image, and moving image and distributes them through the tubes of the internet at every turn. Not that the content is bad, but what a waste when you can do so much more with the internet!"
He lived a sheltered (but happy) childhood as a mixed-race kid in the rural south of America. Korean mom. Ex-military caucasian dad. No TV. No internet. It was all about studying to get into Harvard or Julliard -- neither of which happened.
So at age 18 he packed up and went straight to West Point, a military school in upstate New York.
There, he was met with similar settings. No TV, no internet, no freedom, no privacy.
"West Point is where I found myself," Gabriel explained. "An outsider and a rule-breaker. Causing mischief was my escape.
"The only way I managed to cope at West Point was to sort of pull myself away from the groupthink, and take the time to truly appreciate just how ridiculous everything was. I found humor in that. It was funny. And that's how I survived day by day."
He threw in the towel after two years. The thought of a decade in that place was somewhat unappealing.
Gabriel continued: "So I left, and immediately was lost. I had no world view. I didn't know what culture was. What was the internet? How do people dress? How do they act? What do I do now? So I became a sponge. A friend recommended Urban Outfitters, so I depleted my bank account on v-necks and skinny jeans."
But all the skinny threads in the world couldn’t quench his thirst for cultural knowledge. Fascinated and obsessed with the internet, he learned how to code.
One of his first projects took the form of a website where he sold bad advice on Twitter for $1 per tweet. It went viral (sorry, Gabriel), made some headlines across the globe and -- more importantly -- got him noticed by BuzzFeed, which offered him a job.
"As an outsider, I saw people moving in patterns, talking in groups, creating and following trends. And like West Point, it was hilarious and fascinating to me."
Gabriel nestled into an arm of BuzzFeed that, ironically, was doing very similar things to what MSCHF is doing now. It was his dream job.
MSCHF, born from "miscellaneous mischief," officially launched when Gabriel convinced Casper to take a chance on a 25-year-old. They wanted viral (sorry) success, and the agency served it up hot and heavy with Late Night Snap Hacks. It was a simple website that helps you fake a social life on Snapchat so you can chill in your bed instead of going out.
Social shares out the wazoo. Press everywhere. A spotlight on SNL. Mission complete. If that wasn’t enough to have the brand scrambling over designer mattresses to sign a multi-year contract, then Lord help the world’s agencies.
"So I anticipate that creativity is about to have another golden era, this time on the internet, because brands and creators are going to be forced to be original again, and take some creative risk. I think MSCHF is one of the first to be part of that re-correction."
"The day I pivot into other services, like PR, branding, etc, I commoditize MSCHF," said Gabriel. "And that's just not the business I want to run. I'm in the business of creativity, and I want to keep it that way."
MSCHF is a home for the misfits, the makers, the doers who do because their impulses don’t allow them to behave any other way.
It’s the exact opposite of military school.
A young man complains of “living in his head.” He explains that he is unable to “take hold of reality” and to “advance” in the direction of financial autonomy. I take his word for it and advise him to find two pieces of gold and paste them to the soles of his shoes—he’ll walk on gold all day! This should allow him to leave his head, put his feet in reality, and advance. In this example, I took hold of the terms used by the client himself.