Poolsuite: the future of leisure & commerce
019. The web3 studio creating tools for the good life, online & offline
Hey, friends—welcome back to online/offline, a (bi)weekly newsletter about technology, culture, and the future. Today, I’m HYPE to finally publish my conversation with one of my favorite people—Marty Bell. I hope you draw as much inspiration from him and this interview as I did. This newsletter is meant to be a conversation, so do reply with your thoughts/questions. And if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe below.
It was kismet how Marty and I finally met IRL—enjoying a cool Miami night with 212’s familiar house beat still reverberating on my eardrum after an Art Basel party (listen here!). It was a fun night and even more so when I realized I was in the presence of a creative genius. Marty Bell is a lifelong founder and purveyor of good vibes. He previously co-founded a clothing and nightlife brand, a lens (eyewear) experience company, a fintech company ... All of these ventures culminate in Poolsuite (fka Poolside FM), an internet leisure corporation making waves IRL on the beach via the Vacation® sunscreen and URL via the legendary music platform and NFTs.
From the 80s/nostalgic art direction to the esteemed NFT drops to the magical offline experiences, I’ve admired Poolsuite for a long time. Today, I get to obsess about the project and convince Marty to divulge some secrets (or, alpha as the crypto kids say). Let’s get to it!
The beginnings: Poolside FM
Almost a decade ago, Marty stumbled upon super-happy, genre-spanning music. “I loved it so much; it felt like (and still does feel like) a direct hit of serotonin straight to the brain to me.. I thought ‘I could build a playlist and share it with people.’” And, he did. With a gang of developers and designers, Marty curated a destination with carefree and positive vibes centered around music ... You could spend 15 minutes on the site and emerge refreshed and happy as hell. The goal was to recreate the nostalgia of laying on a beach in 1980s U.S.—I wasn’t around for that but if it felt anything like the music on Poolside or looked like it ... please find me a time machine.
The evolution of the Poolside→Poolsuite brand
Thanks to the web’s digital archive, WayBack Machine, we can peruse the Poolside (to Poolsuite) evolution over the years. I did and found some fun treasures.
Back in 2018, the site featured merch including a Poolside keychain. Now I have one sitting on the counter in my entryway. It made me wonder how the inspiration for the experience has persisted, refined, and transformed over time. Notably, the site went from Poolside FM to Poolsuite due to a trademark issue. This was an auspicious challenge because the team knew they wanted to pursue projects outside of music. In Marty’s words ...
“Landing on ‘Poolsuite’ helped define exactly what we were going to become; a suite of tools for the good life, on & offline. That’s where we’re heading now.”
We’ll refer to the corporation as Poolsuite henceforth.
Holyn: I went on a little Poolsuite rabbithole to remember what the vibes used to be like. I saw familiar objects like the keychain but also some that have yet to come to fruition. At least, not yet. How has inspiration persisted over time? How do you pick what will come along and what’s great for only a moment?
Marty: Pre-NFT it was mostly just building whatever came to mind that was personally exciting or funny to me or someone on the team. There was no revenue, no customers paying for anything, just a group of people on the internet building stuff just because; no roadmap, no KPIs. The primary considerations were (and largely still are) ‘is this incredibly fun for us to work on?’ and ‘will our community be madly in love with this?’. We kinda put stuff out there and see what sticks. If people go wild for something we’ll keep it around and build it out. If the hype dies out quickly, we’re onto the next. Right now, we’re heavily focused on building out our suite of products & experiences that we hope will make Poolsuite something very exciting to be a member of.
Holyn: You put the idea of a Poolsuite flip phone out there back in 2019, but you’ve yet to launch hardware. I have to ask ... Will the people be getting a green flip phone soon?
Marty: I want to do hardware so much. I DM’d a friend who runs hardware at Ledger the other day asking if we could do a limited edition run of Motorola Dynatac phones retrofitted to be working Ledger devices (sadly still waiting on a hard yes response on that one). It’s so far from my skillset though. If anyone wants to make hardware with (for?) us, we’re extremely down. I also want to make some kind of physical box for my living room with 10 buttons on it, that’s just a hardware version of voice notes, with 10 pre-set friends you can async voice message, picking up the messages like a 90s answerphone. Got some vintage wood & gold box in my head with no screen. Is that a really bad idea?
Holyn: It’s a great idea, but it has to be in a conversation pit—you know the kind I’m talking about—with no tech allowed except the gold answerphone. But let’s switch gears and talk about touching grass—outside. Specifically, sunscreen! It’s a perfect IRL extension of Poolsuite. But of all the leisure-friendly products, why did it make the most sense to pursue?
Marty: I’d been pitched so many product ideas for Poolsuite (then Poolside FM) over the years but they always felt too obvious—swimwear, a branded beer, pool floats, etc. It just didn’t feel exciting enough, I thought if I just kept holding out and building the brand & audience, the right thing would come along. I thought it was going to be events. But when I started speaking to (future collaborators) Lach Hall & Dakota Green about sunscreen, I realised that sunscreen as a product has all of what made Poolside FM go viral in the first place; layers of experience & nostalgia. It’s not just ‘this swimwear looks like it's from the 80s.’ You have a lot to play with, from complex scents made up of various notes designed to inspire deep nostalgia, the rub-in experience, the design of the packaging, the tone of voice on the website and our social interactions, etc.
Holyn: The sensory experience makes it a standout amongst other sunscreens and I’ve tried a million at this point. It’s almost like you can touch and smell Poolsuite—it brings me back to lounging on a floatie and drinking a marg in Miami each time.
Marty: In credit to Lach & Dakota, going hard on fragrance was their idea, I just became a collaborator alongside them and the great minds/noses at Arquiste Parfumer to craft exactly what that scent would be. We really wanted to be known for the scent, and for it to be so good people would want to smell like it even when they’re not in the sun, so we made a standalone Eau de Toilette (“VACATION” by Vacation®) to really hit that home. And it has gone down a storm! Multiple advisors told us we shouldn’t do this as it distracted from the sunscreen. It made up a large % of our revenue in year 1 and was picked as one of Vogue favourite products of 2021.
Holyn: Vacation’s in over 1,000 stores now … I think Nordstrom, Kith, and Ulta, right? Obviously something is working! I don’t know if I should admit this as a skincare nerd, but I tried the sunscreen on my face the first time I used it ... Thankfully, it blended into my brown skin pretty well and didn’t break me out. It was dumb, but I was in Miami and feeling almost as bold as you did when picking such a regulated product to start with.
Marty: Sunscreen has a pretty big moat in how difficult it is to get off the ground from a regulatory perspective, so we knew competition wouldn’t be as rife as in other categories. I think some of the best brands in the world were ‘80s sunscreen brands, most of which still exist but as very sad, dry versions of their former selves. It’s an extremely exciting challenge to recreate one of those in the modern day.
Why Poolsuite embraced Web III
Holyn: Looking at your background, it’s no wonder that Poolsuite emerged. I always think about Steve Jobs taking a calligraphy class and learning about typography, which later influenced the design of Apple products. Connect the dots for us—you’ve designed products and curated experiences. How did you stumble upon crypto?
Marty: I’ve been buying Ethereum since 2015, backed dozens of ICOs in 2017 of companies I haven’t heard from since, got my ass handed to me in 2017 with my alts portfolio sitting at -95%. I never saw that world merging with where my personal passions lie; in throwing parties, making art, funding real-world properties, or creating a membership pass to an eclectic product studio. It all just clicked out of nowhere, and I’m so so glad it did.
Holyn: The dots always connect, even if you have to get rugged by an ICO along the way. Poolsuite feels so nostalgic, like a throwback to a time before “the internet.” Yet you jumped into the future by launching NFT membership ... Why embrace Web3?
Marty: I’ve been trying to find a way to monetise projects like Poolsuite for years. An organisation that’s focused more on having a good time and building things for/with a fan base vs. trying to build a hyper-growth tech startup that’ll sell in 5 years. I just wanna build hot shit with some of the most talented people I know, serve it up to our community with a smart, sustainable economic model powering the whole thing. If it feels like we’re moving slowly to anyone, it’s because we’re thinking long-term in the way we build. I want to work on Poolsuite for the rest of my days. That means nothing we do is to make a quick buck, it is all to build a brand and offering that can last for decades to come. Before we dropped the NFTs, I’d mapped out a big game plan powered by Patreon. It was to create a product playground funded by monthly subscriptions. Then I stumbled upon an NFT being used like a membership pass and it was this huge fucking light bulb moment. It’s everything I’d been looking for, and I jumped in head first to rework our plans to fit this world.
Holyn: Web3 can be a technical and hostile experience, especially for first-timers. One thing that stood out about Poolsuite is your decision to add membership cards to mobile wallets. Mine is in my Apple Wallet now. How did this integration come about?
Marty: One of our giga-brain developers (Ryan) just said one day “I think I could put these in Apple Wallet... give me a couple hours to mess around” and just like that he had a demo working. He had a good idea and the environment to make it happen, and a project that the functionality makes complete sense for. Everyone on the team has so many good ideas it’s kind of overwhelming to decide which we do. I think Poolsuite is great because people can come into it, and as long as it makes sense within our brand world, they can kinda make whatever they want if everyone else is excited about it and it makes sense for the community. We also want the community to play a part in submitting ideas for the things we make too, that’s coming soon.
Holyn: I can’t wait to ambush you with all my Really Good ideas. Aside from collaborating, what else can the community expect? When can I use my Poolsuite card? Dare I say ... What’s the utility here?
As our name might suggest, we’re building a suite of tools for the good life. Some of what’s on offer now, and a hint of what’s to come as part of the ‘suite’ for our community:
Guestlist: we just held our first two invite-only parties in London & NYC in the last 2 weeks with a line-up of exceptional artists like Breakbot, Natasha Diggs, Artwork & DJ Holographic. These events were the beginning of our IRL community and they really did feel like the start of something huge. We’re scaling our events up into a worldwide series with big name artists at unique & iconic venues, which will be ticketed to the public but always complimentary for our NFT holders. We announce our next event later this week!
Bottomless early access to all Poolsuite drops: there’s no end to the number of weird & wonderful ideas on the back burner, but to highlight a few (current and upcoming) …
Wallet Service: The first Apple Wallet NFT integration, which we’ll make use of at our aforementioned events
Manor DAO: access by default to the property and various holder-only perks—so to be part of this project requires no extra funds or input for current NFT holders (although there will be the opportunity to back Manor DAO separately for further access & perks)
Palm Report: An eclectic twice-monthly newsletter (launching this week) with ‘insider memos’ for holders
An upcoming identity & virtual fashion-focused NFT offering, complimentary for holders
A stream of perks such as gifts and discounts from ourselves, our friends, and our brand partners
But most importantly, the Poolsuite app. Our existing music app, Poolsuite FM, which has a sizeable user base, will soon begin to transition to become the home of all the seemingly disparate things we’re building, where it all clicks together… more on that soon!
The future of leisure & commerce
If I could teleport back to any NYC era, it would be the Studio 54 / Factory era when creativity, indulgence, and discovery were abundant. There’s a NYC legend that Bianca Jagger rode a white horse to Studio 54 for her 30th birthday party, though she simply rode it inside the club. It’s an iconic nightlife moment, so it’s only fitting that Poolsuite had a (prop) white unicorn at their NYC party about a week ago. There were also disco balls glistening above a pool, which some people were bold enough to wade into.
The IRL Poolsuite experience is special—the music syncs with your heartbeat, the crowd embraces you with abandon, and small details like a pool or disposable cameras cocoon you against gravity and the worries of the world. As I reflected on the NYC party, I realized the parallels between Marty and Ian Schrager, creator of Studio 54, PUBLIC and EDITION Hotels, and the boutique hotel concept. In one of my favorite quotes by the hospitality mogul, he says …
“All that you have to distinguish what you are doing is in that magic you are able to create, that excitement, that revelry, that fun, that abandonment that you’re able to create. And it’s quite exhilarating when you see a few thousands people on the dance floor almost operating like one single organism.” — Ian Schrager
While Schrager wouldn’t prescribe to exclusive nature of an NFT collection, I’d argue that Poolsuite has similar magic to what he’s created around the world. In fact, I believe Poolsuite’s impact is only in its first inning (yes, I can make sports references, too), evident by the recent resurgence of 1980s serifs and copy in brand/product ads … I could pontificate for paragraphs about how influencial the Poolsuite/Vacation brand is, but I’ll spare you. Beyond design, Poolsuite occupies a unique space between online/offline and lifestyle/commerce, all of which are threaded by a social community. The product studio aspires to bolster its offline presence starting with Manor DAO, which it announced earlier this month.
WTF IS MANOR DAO? I’m glad you asked! Imagine a lavish mansion in a warm European country, probably somewhere close to a beach. There are 10+ rooms, a pool you can swim laps in, a renowned chef, exquisite art decorating the walls, and the most fun and eccentric guests. This guest makeup will be similar to the NYC party: a mix of Poolsuite NFT holders, Manor DAO NFT holders, and non-members who seek a life of leisure. I honestly don’t remember discussing crypto once at the NYC party—fashion, furniture-making, travel plans, food, and the pool/music dominated my conversations. I saw tastemakers and crypto nerds and beauty people … People didn’t lead a conversation with their careers, a welcomed aberration from the typical NYC gathering.
Poolsuite is carefully curating the Manor’s cultural advisors. You can imagine lounging by the pool next to icons who aren’t of the crypto persuasion—if anyone has Drake’s, Gwyneth Paltrow’s, or Lewis Hamilton’s contact, please let me know. This is my vision, though—the project is a DAO, so every NFT holder will get a say on manor location, art, programming, token economics, and more. Marty and the team are being intentional about the launch by working with projects like Boys Club (a women-focused DAO) and pushing out educational web3 content to bring a greater variety of people into the fold. May good taste prevail!
Poolsuite has a lot more in store. I don’t have all the details (SHOCKING, I KNOW) but some friends and I have some Really Good ideas:
Token-boosted Vacation products—engrave my name on my Vacation perfume bottle for free, please
Get a partnership with Delta that gives Executives NFT holders a 5% discount on flights to the Cayman Islands
Let me select the month’s DJ—my sister Jeilah DJ’s house and has an exceptional ear soooooo … I love Tensnake but what if listeners can contribute to music discovery?
“A cassette tape (and player) with the most popular streamed tracks on Poolsuite.” — Charles
“Credit Card Loyalty Program (e.g. Amex, Chase) could be a simple scalable way to provide Poolsuite folks a ton of IRL experiences through a single partnership.” — Sam
“The whole premise of Poolsuite seems to be re-writing history through their unique lens: the past, present, and future of internet leisure. Poolsuite could create an ever-evolving "history book", released in a Nouns DAO format. One moment (in any medium of media) that captures "internet leisure" released every 24 hours or every 7 days, forever. The content could even be co-created by outside brands or current Poolsuite holders. All collectors are tied into "Leisure DAO" with 100% of proceeds going back to the DAO. Collectors get to vote on what moment is expanded upon.” — Tylr
“Classpass-type member perks to beautifully curated leisure-making in select cites like tennis pass at some of the worlds best tennis clubs or figure drawing classes at some beautiful palace/institute etc. DAO members could propose their own immaculate-taste hosted experiences along the lines of skill-making but make it leisure-making.” — Nisreen
Poolsuite has been a journey since 2014; many dots connected and culminated into the online/offline experiences we know today. From launching the Poolside FM internet radio to getting rugged by ICOs, to creating a sunglasses brand, to perfecting scent with Lach & Dakota, to the NFT gold rush of 2021 … All the cards fell perfectly to create what is one of the most ambitious and creative endeavors in web3. Poolsuite doesn't depend on notoriety, stunts, or financial engineering. Instead, the internet leisure corporation creates magic.
Poolsuite doesn’t feel like the internet or web3 technology—it feels like the purest atoms of being human. It feels like coming home, like letting go, like choosing peace and embracing freedom … Leisure is freedom. They also say decentralization (web3) is freedom. Imagine deciding you’d rather enjoy a margarita-filled jacuzzi than anything else? As captain of the so-called jacuzzi, I’d say there’s nothing you deserve more. We all deserve the leisure and freedom Poolsuite purveys.
This sentiment is incredibly hard for any corporation to achieve, whether online or offline. The fact that Marty and Poolsuite understand what people seek, beyond and within the confines we sometimes create for ourselves, sets the stage for a generational brand that I hope my children experience. Poolsuite will enable leisure both online and offline in a way that brings anyone onchain by thoughtfully imbuing web3 (and other) technology into its suite of products.
Welcome to the good life.
Thank you for reading! Special thanks to Marty for granting me this interview and to Packy, Nisreen, Bobby, Charles, Tylr, Sam, Miguel, & Rliriano for your feedback. If you’re new to online/offline, make sure to subscribe to join the conversation.