Meet the Hub, a $49 gadget raising funding on IndieGoGo, a metallic puck billed as “an insanely powerful home device, boasting a durable aluminum chassis, in-built 802.11 b/g/n Wifi, cloud-based monitoring software, and more.”
Check out the extremely slick Hub launch video here:
Did you notice that at no point does anyone actually say what the Hub is, or does, or that it doesn’t actually seem to be for anything? Or that when they talk about “SmartListen” technology, the Hub doesn’t actually do anything?
If you answered yes, that puts you above the classmates of the Yale students who made the video — who apparently didn’t realize that it’s all a big joke, and actually started applying for jobs at this very fake startup.
“This is our fault,” says John Chirikjian, the Yale student at the center of the Hub hoax.
The idea came last summer, when Chirikjian was coming off of an internship with Microsoft in the Seattle area. The moment of inspiration came when he came across Samsung’s SmartThings Hub, a box that connects all your smart home gadgets to each other.
“For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it is, or does,” says Chirikjian.
So he and his friends, most of whom work in tech-related fields and are devoted fans of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” decided to get together and make their own fake smart-home gadget, in the spirit of the SmartThings Hub, that merely “looks like it did something.”
The intent was to lovingly satirize the smart-home market in particular, and Silicon Valley startup marketing in general. They tapped talent from Yale’s on-campus comedy scene to star in the video, and started filming in January. Over the intervening months, the launch video and faux marketing materials came together slowly.
When the Hub officially debuted earlier this week, Chirikjian and his friends pretended like this little metal puck was actually, really, their new startup venture, Mark Zuckerberg-style. While some of their expanded circle of friends immediately got the joke, especially once they noticed Yale’s resident comedians in the video, others thought it was serious.
Those classmates who didn’t get the joke were supportive, but clearly concerned that Chirikjian was betting his future on an idea that wasn’t very, well, smart. “You watched them sort of creep around it,” Chirikjian says.
And then, people on campus started taking the idea seriously, arguing amongst themselves as to what the Hub really is, projecting their own ideas onto this tiny metal puck.
This “astounded” Chirikjian, who really thought the video was so “on the nose” that everybody would be able to tell it’s a joke and they’re “not actually selling anything.” He says it’s actually kind of a creative failure that the joke wasn’t more apparent, but they decided to roll with it.
Things went to a new level when a Yale student e-mailed with the Hub team, providing suggestions for new product features and integrations for the fictional device. That conversation concluded with Chirikjian offering the guy the position of Chief Strategy Officer for Hub — the company doesn’t actually exist, so why not?
“From there, we thought, ‘this is hysterical,'” says Chirikjian.
Emboldened, Chirikjian and his friends sent out a blast e-mail to the Yale computer science department e-mail list, with a list of job openings for interns and software developers. Chirikjian again figured that it would be obvious it was a prank.
But then they started getting e-mailed resumes, texts, and calls, all looking for a job with Hub. And all of them had their own ideas, again, about what Hub would do. Some thought it was a router, some thought it was an Amazon Echo-style assistant. Nobody really knew what was up.
“We were just astounded,” Chirikjian says. “We don’t even know what we’re selling anymore.”
Still, even if Yale students were taken in by Hub, it looks like the rest of the internet wasn’t so easily fooled: The Hub IndieGoGo campaign has only raised $21 of its $10,000 goal at the time of writing.