Steve's ITK

By Steve O'Hear

Steve's ITK: Provenance

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Steve's ITK

July 12 · Issue #62 · View online

Steve's In The Know: Everything I published recently, commentary you won't find elsewhere, write-ups of events I attended or spoke at, and industry rumours.


Dynacord echocord mini (imported from Germany)
Dynacord echocord mini (imported from Germany)
Opening thought: Provenance
My highlight of the last few weeks was finally purchasing a working tape delay (echo) machine for my home studio (see this explainer). Stuffed with mechanical moving parts and hailing from the 60s and 70s, tape delays can be notoriously unreliable and need regular maintenance, and are not for the feint of heart. Perhaps more puzzling, the sound effect they produce is entirely replicable in software. Virtual modelling techniques are now so advanced – right down to modelling the behaviour of individual components on the circuit level – there is little objective reason for owning the real thing.
So, why then, was I so determined to buy a tape delay? Ignoring the possibility of a placebo effect, for starters it does sound really good, in that classic warm and ever so slightly saturated way that tape does. But I also enjoy the way it looks, the tactile feeling of hardware, and knowing the story behind it. Part of the allure is the emotional and historical connection to physical gear from a bygone era. In other words, provenance.
Provenance, of course, is a well-used marketing ploy in the world of tech startups. VCs arguably invest in stories – it is why VC firms increasingly invest in their own story telling and have taken to Medium en masse - and at their worst there is no story more contrived than a startup founding story. The why and how of a startup’s existence can be a powerful promotional tool, helping to add a human element to an otherwise abstract business or technology innovation.
This also ties into (and feeds) a consumer trend where young people appear to care deeply about the values that drive a product or service and how this fits into their own moral compass. Consumers also want to feel closer to the products they consume and the people behind those products. Perhaps provenance is a part of this, and the success of direct-to-consumer brands, especially those with a sustainability positioning, bears this out.
Beyond marketing, can digital products truly have provenance in the way that physical products can? I would argue that in theory they can (sticking to the dictionary definition of provenance) but one aspect I struggle with is that digital products aren’t static. One of the strengths of digital products is that they are fluid, benefiting from regular updates and (mostly) improvements. They remain a perpetual work-in-progress. However, might this also be a cultural weakness? Is there such a thing as a digital product that in years to come will be deemed to be a classic by future generations?
Of course, product revisions are nothing new. In music hardware, online forums are filled with people debating which specific version of a particular piece of gear sounds better. In digital, product updates are spaced less and less far apart, often go unnoticed, and without a physical manifestation, they aren’t frozen in time. I guess the closest we get to a digital classic can be found in user interface design – for example, the provenance of the Macintosh GUI is well-documented and revered. Or perhaps video games, but these are more akin to movies and other art forms and go beyond mere products.
One thing I’d like to see more of is journalists seeking out the provenance of products – physical or digital – but told by employees not just founders (who may or may not be “product-led”). The cult of founder remains an alluring angle for any journalist. However, the first 5-10 team members can have an equally oversized impact on a product and the decisions that shape them. The stories we publish would do well to reflect this.
Get in touch
Want to continue the conversation? Just hit reply to this email – I answer every single ITK email I receive.
Things I wrote recently
Founding partner Hjalmar Winbladh is leaving EQT Ventures
K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups
Creandum backs Amie, a new productivity app from ex-N26 product manager Dennis Müller
LocalGlobe and TransferWise’s Taavet Hinrikus back ‘frictionless finance’ startup Radix
Yamo scores €10.1M Series A to offer healthier food choices for young children
Nauta Capital launches fifth fund with €120M to back early-stage European B2B startups
Enterprise architecture software company LeanIX raises $80M Series D
How European seed firm Connect Ventures finds ‘product-first’ founders
K Fund has another €70M to back early-stage Spanish startups and is launching a pre-seed program
Organise, a platform for worker rights, raises £570K seed funding led by Ada Ventures
OurPeople, the team communication and engagement platform, raises $2M
Sophia Bendz is leaving Atomico to join Berlin-based seed firm Cherry Ventures
TransferWise to offer investment products but has ‘no plans’ to become a bank
Berlin’s DeepSpin raises seed funding for its ‘portable, ultra-low-cost’ MRI system
Willa secures $3M from EQT Ventures to let freelancers get paid immediately
Connect Ventures outs $80M third fund to back ‘product-led’ seed-stage founders
France’s api.video raises $5.5M to make it easier for developers to add video features
Hoxton Ventures’ partners assess Europe’s early-stage landscape
London fintech Curve to power Samsung Pay Card in the UK
Zopa granted full UK bank license as it gears up to launch savings account and credit card
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