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Artesian Builds: how a custom PC company crashed and burned at the expense of a viral giveaway

By Francesca Johnson

Apr 2, 2022

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On another one of my infinite scrolls through social media, I came across some complaints—from Twitch streamers this time. Now, as someone who’s not part of the hardcore gaming community or very clued up on the nature of PC building, I almost skipped past the rabbit hole entirely. However, discourse about tax evasion, missing PCs and a Twitch as well as a Twitter reckoning caught my eye. And the cherry on top? A CEO letting go of over 50 employees altogether. Needless to say, I was hooked. So let me take you through the rapid rise and equally fast downfall of a little PC builder company called Artesian Builds.

Going down in flames bigger than the Fyre Festival, Artesian Builds now joins the elite ring of failed companies with terrible CEOs at their helm. The writing was on the wall for some, but many were in the dark about the malpractices of this slightly shady company, which was all brought to light by netizens—in a dragging only topped by Zoe Kravitz’s on Twitter last month. But how did a small startup PC-building company get here? Well, the answer actually lies in an unsatisfactory giveaway. Let’s dive in, shall we?

What is Artesian Builds?

Artesian Builds is a custom PC-building service, brought to you by its not-so-hot founder—for reasons that will become oh-so-clear later—Noah Katz. For those of you who are wondering, a custom-built PC is an alternative many opt for instead of the conventional models you can buy in stores.

WIRED, on the other hand, suggests that assembling a computer yourself is a better option. One possible reason is because OEM (original equipment manufacturer) computer parts are usually lower in quality compared to third-party parts that can be bought separately. Often, these OEM “pre-builds” will consist of your usual office desktop models, but with far more powerful CPUs (central processing units) and GPUs (graphics processing units). Simply put, they’re a better choice for your bucks.

With a DIY approach to construction, many computer enthusiasts agree with this idea and decide to take matters into their own hands by building their own computers. Those who are not as confident in their skills choose to use services to build systems for them. These services in question make computers using third-party parts to perfectly cater to their tech needs, be it gaming or video editing, for example.

PC-building companies have also soared in popularity as of late due to the graphics card shortage being overtaken by resellers—very similar to the current state of the sneaker industry. If you’ve ever lost out on a pair of Nike Dunks, you know the frustration. Well, in comes PC builders to save the day, with prices closer to official retailers than scheming scalpers. Sounds too good to be true, right?

It’s no wonder Artesian Builds garnered such a large fanbase so quickly, after its founding under Artesian Future Technology in 2018, according to the North Carolina Secretary of State registry database. But alas, what comes up must eventually go down, and boy did Artesian Builds fall.

Katz versus Kiapiaa

What started the car crash of a computer scandal was a simple giveaway gone extremely wrong. Disclaimer: CEO condescension ahead.

Artesian Builds frequently live-streamed their PC-building process for their audience online. This made gamers on platforms like Twitch the perfect candidates for promoting their high-end computers. Conceptualising this idea, Artesian announced a small-time affiliate streamer named Kiapiaa as the winner of one of its PC giveaway competitions. However, CEO Katz chose not to reward Kiapiaa with her hard-earned winnings, based entirely on her Twitch and social media follower count.

In a clip reposted by Kiapiaa on 1 March, founder Katz is heard saying “2K followers is under my threshold,” and later adding: “Here’s the reason. This person has had three months of ambassadorship and not a single click.” The CEO then went on to “purge” Kiapiaa from the competition. Not a good move, Katz.

Rather than taking the beating, Kiapiaa responded to Katz’s actions with a Twitter post to her now over 24,000 followers. “If you haven’t heard, @ArtesianBuilds do not care about their small streamer ambassadors. They have monthly PC giveaways for their ambassadors—great, right? Except they don’t care for small streamers.” She publicly condemned Katz and his company for changing the giveaway’s rules “last minute.”

Her thread went on to say: “You hear this man’s voice? He’s belittling me. It’s slander and defamation of my stream and me as a person. I won that PC fair and square.”

Continuing, she stated that the criteria for entrants only necessitated them to have the Artesian Builds panel in the ‘About’ section of their Twitch page—which she claimed she did. “The rules say that you need the Artesian panel in your twitch About, and I do have it. So what’s the issue @ArtesianBuilds,” she tweeted in this regard, directly mentioning the company. So why not just give the girl her reward?

The series of tweets received thousands of likes upon posting and, according to Game Industry, Intel (affiliated with Artesian Builds) released a statement addressing the custom PC company’s actions. “We strive towards welcoming streamers of all sizes to our programs and do not agree with recent negative comments directed toward small streamers. We are reaching out to relevant parties to address the situation,” the company said.

To save (some) face, Katz then issued an apology to Kiapiaa via Artesian Builds’ Twitter account. The startup also extended a weak attempt at an olive branch for the entire ordeal by reoffering the prize to Kiapiaa, which she declined.

The internet uprising

On 5 March, Artesian Builds announced on Twitter that it was examining “a potential employee-led buyout of the company,” and thanked its audience for the support. Well, Twitter did not agree with that switch of narrative and had something to say about it, much like Twitter always does. And, in the reckoning of the year (so far), Artesian Builds was subsequently dragged for filth as much of the internet cheered its impending demise.

Katz, collapse and (indefinite) closure

En masse, the internet blew up with Twitter think pieces, article headlines and YouTube commentary galore goldmines in evaluating the destruction of the startup and its founder. One popular creator and commentator, Linus Sebastian from the YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips, also covered the fallout extensively.

Former employees spoke at length to Inverse on Artesian Builds’ catastrophe, detailing all the pitfalls and problems from reckless leadership to the company’s eventual collapse last month. Artesian Builds was obliterated and confirmed that Katz fired—well, indefinitely “furloughed”—his 40 to 60 employees via Slack and email. The nail in the confirmation coffin? The company’s official channels. You’ll have a hard time finding anything of use since the link to purchase computers from Artesian is officially dead. Cue the fake sad faces, people.

Dextero further noted that, among a myriad of controversies, Katz has also been accused of tax evasion, “after the company’s business licence in California was forfeited,” with information obtained by an online database.

“I thought we were doing amazing things, I thought we were going places,” Eric Ashmore, a former customer support representative at Artesian Builds, told Inverse. “I thought I was going to retire and work here for the rest of my life,” he continued.

In order to have an official (and legal) comeback, the company’s board members must “file all tax returns, pay all dues, and also pay an $800 fee to ‘revive’ their business,” according to Dextero. Failure to do so will mean that Artesian Builds “legally cannot do business in the state.” Yikes.

Either way, the PC-building company has been well and truly burned alive by the internet and tossed into the void. At least Kiapiaa thrived unscathed from the ashes.

Introducing Nikocado Avocado, the YouTuber slowly killing himself for views

By Jack Ramage

Feb 26, 2022

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Some people quit smoking for their New Year’s resolution, others join the gym. YouTuber Nikocado Avocado, however, has the aim of hitting 400 pounds (just over 181 kilos). Chances are you’ve seen the famous mukbanger’s content recommended by the YouTube algorithm—known for his aggressive outbursts, his jarring persona and gluttony.

It’s the fuel that’s propelled him to stardom. It’s his identity, his brand—from KFC to Burger King, you name it and over the five years of his YouTube career, he’s eaten it. It’s what makes Nikocado Avocado (real name Nicholas Perry) stand out among the sea of countless other mukbang content creators. Let’s just say, if mukbang was pop music, he’d be Beyoncé.

Yet despite his success on the surface, Nikocado Avocado’s journey has a darker underbelly—a story of addiction to engagement that is leading him to an early grave. To understand how he got to this point, we have to look back.

The story of Nikocado Avocado

Only half a decade ago, Nikocado Avocado was a vegan vlogger living a modest life in Colombia. At the time, he weighed between 150 to 160 pounds, a stark contrast to his weight now, which is approximately 350 pounds. On 5 October 2016, the first of many mukbang videos were uploaded to his channel—and while he made the decision to start eating meat, he would still maintain a relatively clean diet.

At the time, the content creator stuck out like a sore thumb in the mukbang community, as in the beginning, these types of videos were almost entirely dominated by women creators. During his early career, Nikocado Avocado would almost always include his pet parrot in his videos while he ate—a novel and slightly absurd characteristic which would assist him in standing out from the crowd.

In the early stages of his mukbang career, he seemed to be relatively unscathed by his diet. According to research on the psychology of mukbang videos, this type of content impacts the “viewers’ perception of food consumption and thinness because mukbangers who were very thin and slim consumed very large portions of food and did not gain weight.” This is no doubt a spell which Nikocado Avocado found himself under—claiming to be a long term fan of mukbang videos, it’s plausible that he was convinced he was immune to obesity caused by mukbang eating.

This was short-lived, however. When he weighed himself in May 2017, he’d gained 50 pounds. The problem is, instead of seeing this as a genuine health concern, he instead integrated it into his content with the goal of gaining both more weight and more views. In another upload titled “I’m getting fat & don’t know why,” he would state that his weight gain was “a medical mystery” that it was just “water weight” or “stress.” 

By the time he hit the 300 pounds mark in April 2020, his mindset had visibly changed. No longer was Nikocado Avocado claiming any ambition to change his ways—instead, he’d claim he passed the point of no return and that it was easier to embrace his weight for views rather than going through the effort of losing it. This only amplified his viewership—as his weight continued to grow, so did his ad revenue.

By April 2021, with more than five million subscribers across six channels, he’d earned enough money to move into a $2.3 million penthouse flat. A comment left on the video announcing his new move states, “enjoy your house bro. You got not much time left.” It encapsulates the dilemma Nikocado Avocado faces: the exchange of health for money. Or, on a deeper level: the exchange of health for meaning.

Why do people enjoy watching mukbang videos?

But how has the YouTuber amassed such a vast and loyal fanbase? According to Kagan Kircaburun—a psychology researcher at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) who specialises in behavioural addictions online and is the first academic researcher into the addictive behaviour of mukbang watching—the answer is not black and white.

“According to our research, there were many reasons why people watch mukbang videos. We pinned down six main reasons why people are drawn to the videos: entertainment; sexual gratification; obtaining healthy eating gratification; discovering different foods—particularly Asain cuisine; using mukbang to escape from real-life problems or unpleasant feelings; and, finally, to watch their favourite YouTuber,” Kircaburun told SCREENSHOT.

That said, the researcher also added that, in some circumstances, mukbang watching can have therapeutic value. He recalled a time when he interviewed a woman who watches mukbang videos to help her deal with the symptoms of anorexia. “It made her feel relieved, reducing anxiety and helping her eat,” Kircaburun noted. “Listening to the sounds of eating, as well as watching the facial expressions of mukbang creators, can also have a therapeutic effect for those dealing with eating disorders,” he continued.

This echoes the views of mukbang video creator Rammseth Mukbang, who noted that watching someone “eat a certain meal can soothe people who are on a diet—like they are ‘eating in spirit’. I’ve had feedback that my video helps people after a stressful day. We are entertainment, but there is also a human touch… We bring comfort to viewers, we make a positive impact.”

Emily, a 26-year-old student living in Philadelphia—and self-proclaimed “lover of mukbang”—highlighted how it was the “relatability and human aspect” that draws her to mukbang content. She shared that she often watches mukbang videos while eating too and that “reading the comments helps me feel like part of a wider community.”

This is also something Rammseth Mukbang touched upon, describing the online community as “flawed yet beautiful.” In his experience, there is a significant disconnect between larger and smaller creators. “Bigger channels naturally move away from the community. Between smaller channels, you develop some fun banter and real connections. You all want to grow, so there is a sense of camaraderie.”

Like with most things in life there are always two sides to the coin—the good always comes with the bad. Mukbang is no different. Kircaburun warned that there are numerous ways in which watching this type of content can lead to unhealthy behaviour. Not only can the videos “affect someone’s eating and table manners negatively,” it can also lead to “some adolescent and young people becoming obese as a result of watching the content for a long time,” he explained.

“Making these videos involves consuming a very high capacity of food, some creators are professional eaters. But young people see this and think it’s normal. This can lead to a warped perception of food quantity and ultimately obesity,” Kircaburun added. Nikocado Avocado’s story is an embodiment of this, a reflection of the impact mukbang making can have on the health of its creators (and viewers too). A hyperbole and amplified reflection? Perhaps, but a reflection nonetheless—and something which urgently needs addressing.

On one hand a success, on the other a death sentence

“On one hand it’s a success story, at least from a marketing perspective,” noted Paul Smith, CEO of Baked Bean Marketing—an online marketing agency that specialises in managing high profile influencers—when speaking to SCREENSHOT. “In five years, he’s amassed almost three million followers and hundreds of millions of views.”

But at what cost? It’s clear Nikocado Avocado has bitten more than he can chew. Smith added, “On the flip side, he’s 300 pounds more than he weighed when he started making videos. You have to ask whether all that money he’s generated from this brand is worth it? Let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of this is about money—but is it worth the health implications? That’s the burning question.”

Given the fact that obesity is linked to more than sixty other chronic diseases, the answer to that question is blatantly obvious. So why does he continue to grow bigger? Smith described this as a snowball effect—a damaging cycle caused by YouTubers “all fighting for the same view.” He explained, “You make one video mukbang video today where you eat a certain amount of food. Tomorrow, to keep up engagement, you’ll have to put out a video even better than that. In Nikocado Avocado’s case, for instance, it’ll be a bigger portion of food. It’s a never-ending spiral.”

This is on the mind of every online content creator. It’s the toxic nature of the internet that, unfortunately, keeps us all hooked—tapping into our primal drive to keep growing engagement and, ultimately, feel valued. The Nikocado Avocado case can be likened to clout-chasers hungry enough for views to throw themselves on top of trains for TikTok views or fall off cliffs for a selfie.

This isn’t a secret either, social media apps are designed to be like this. Often in our mind’s eye, when we think of social media addiction, emphasis is placed on the consumer, but it impacts creators too. Akin to the addictive behaviour of doomscrolling, Nikocado Avocado (and most similar YouTubers sacrificing their health for viewership) are showing tell-tale signs of an addiction disorder. With Nikocado Avocado’s story in particular, his deadly habits have been cemented through an unmistakable brand: with extravagant, violent freakouts and a merch empire of T-shirts that read “you made me do it” or “it’s just water weight.”

An addiction to food, views and meaning

Smith “absolutely” believes that this snowball effect can breed addictive behaviour. “If you make three to five thousand pounds from advertising revenue—sometimes five to twenty thousand—off the back of your videos, ask yourself: would you stop?” And I agree. It’s easy to paint him as the perpetrator here—an individual who has damaged his health through the consequence of his own actions.

But that viewpoint is narrow-minded. Instead, it’s better to think of him as the victim—a person who’s dug himself a hole he can’t escape from. This rings true when you consider how his diet is not just drastically altering his body, but his mind too.

Behavioural science experts believe that “all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive; and whenever “a habit changes into an obligation, it can be considered as an addiction.” Nikocado Avocado has created a situation where his habit of eating vast quantities of food in front of a camera has turned into an obligation. To treat such an addictive disorder requires a multi-level approach: from personal support to specialised training. But to what extent should YouTube and similar social network channels step in—and do they at all?

Luckily, the internet isn’t as Wild West as it was 15 years ago. YouTube does have policies that every content creator has to abide by otherwise their videos will be removed, but these are nowhere near as stringent as those on traditional television networks, Smith further explained. “It’s a completely different ballgame to mainstream television. I believe there should be more control over what’s posted online. YouTube doesn’t take action 95 per cent of the time—unless it’s explicitly dangerous—so where does it end?”

Perhaps it’s the mere-exposure effect, but from researching his journey over the last few months, I’ve developed a soft spot for the guy. Indeed, Nikocado Avocado is the manifestation of modern-day internet culture—the good and the bad. He represents how new media, unlike traditional TV, has allowed any creative who sees a gap in the market to make a success of themselves, just with a camera and an internet connection. On the other hand, he embodies the worst of what digital culture has to offer: an addiction to engagement which can lead to a death sentence. Until measures are taken, from outside sources and Nikocado Avocado himself, he’ll continue to eat himself into an early grave… One mukbang at a time.

 

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