Simone Giertz moves from projects to products

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“I’m not happy to be royalty,” laughs Simone Giertz. “I’m happy to be a woman who does something.”

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YouTube’s former shit robot queen hasn’t so much given up her crown as she’s outgrown it. A few years ago it was time to give up breakfast machine, lipstick robot and Styrofoam mannequin head which crashes into the keyboard and kind of rolls back and forth in a rough approximation of the comments on the Internet.

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“It just started to feel disingenuous,” she explains. “If I’m not proud of it, what should I do? It was really interesting to find ways to change it as I change.”

In addition to online video, this meant moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles at the tail end of the self-proclaimed “musical chair for cities”. At least for now, this one seems more permanent. Girtz bought a house where she was able to find a way out of the traditional commute to Los Angeles by opening a workshop in her backyard.

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The house itself inevitably became her canvas. “I feel like I’m missing the field of assembly possibilities,” she says. “I want to build a deck on the roof and I want a slide in the yard next to my workshop.”

Filling the house with complete projects was a reward in itself – and fodder for the last leg of Geertz’s YouTube journey. There is wooden storage bed covered with leaves, plant chandelier and armchair this allows her three-legged rescue dog, Scraps, to sit next to her while she works on her computer (as is the case with our current Zoom call). She made her debut in September mechanical table with manual handle this opens up a surface for creating puzzles.

The latter took the lead in This is the World’s Worst Puzzle this week. The video begins with a 19-hour, 23-minute time slot in which Geertz puts together a 499-piece all-white puzzle. There is a noticeable absence – a small piece of negative space where the 500 thing should be. But, as the name suggests, this is all by design. “It’s not the worst way I spend my time,” she says in the video. “I once locked myself in the bathroom for 48 hours and I would rather do it.”

Image credits: Simone Hertz

Geertz clearly has a lot of work to do in the pitching department (“Five stars, better than being locked in a bathroom”) for what turned out to be one of her first products. The video also serves as a backdoor to launch Yetch (her last name is spelled phonetically in English), a new online store where you can currently pre-order the $35 Incomplete White Puzzle for those rainy weekends when the coolness next to the toilet just doesn’t fit.

She quickly explains that Yetch is more than your standard YouTube influencer merchandise store. This is a step towards understanding what form her work will take in a world where there are no shitty robots. This is a topic that Geertz brought up when I spoke to her on stage at the last Disrupt before the end of the world. She placed a calendar for each day on the table between us. The product is currently available online for the extremely low price of $365. The product first appeared in a 2018 video in which Geertz details the role he played in helping her develop the habit of daily meditation. With glowing days set on a gold-colored circuit board, the calendar got its own Kickstarter campaign, raising nearly $600,000 against a $35,000 goal.

Simone Girtz demoDSC04163

Hertz (left), My ankle (right). Image credits: TechCrunch

It was the perfect template for a career turnaround—one that connected current success with future ambitions: make a YouTube video about building a product, sell a product, replicate. Although Giertz says such ambitions were long before she started working on her first crappy robot.

“Even before I started my YouTube channel, I remember seeing several videos about IDEO and how they work to develop products and solve consumer problems,” she says. “I remember how I ran, showed my mother and said: “Finally, I know what I want to do!” I showed her the video and she said, “Well, that’s always what you wanted to do.” You always wanted to solve problems and create things. I just never but two together.”

The pandemic and the health problems that preceded it helped motivate the decision to turn projects into products.

Image credits: Simone Hertz

“When I found out I had a brain tumor, I felt like I had to take a backseat in my own life,” Geertz says. “These were circumstances that were completely out of my control and I just had to put up with the blows and try to make the most of the situation. I was so excited for 2020, I was finally healthy and this should have been my year. And then the pandemic happened. It really looked like it. We’re just trying to make the most of the situation and try to work within those limits. It was an opportunity to slow down my schedule and have a lot of time to create things. And I think that led directly to this grocery business, because otherwise I was just rushing through projects and trying to get them done as quickly as possible for the camera.”

Yetch’s selection is limited – in addition to the two items above, she sells a couple of extra rings: a screw and a screwdriver. Those projects that move into the product stage are assessed by her small team of newbies to begin the complex process of bringing the product to market. This includes manufacturing, navigating supply chains, and—in the case of the first product—recognizing that it’s harder to create a puzzle with a missing piece than it is to design a complete puzzle and remove it by hand.

The missing parts will then be mailed to Giertz.

Image credits: Simone Hertz

Above all, the products reflect the thesis underlying much of her work: the interplay of the useful and the useless. “Yetch’s motto is unique solutions to everyday problems,” she explains in the puzzle video. “So obviously the first product I’m about to show you doesn’t match this at all.”

For his part, Geertz sees no conflict. “I don’t think it should be a fight. For me, they organically coexist, because the useless leads to the useful. And the useless helps bring in a playfulness and openness that allows me to think in ways I wouldn’t otherwise. If I sat there thinking, “I have to come up with something cool,” I would never do it. I’m about to choke. So the useless is the end goal, and they entertain on their own.”

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