Behind The Tech with Kevin Scott - Simone Giertz: Inventor, entrepreneur & robotics enthusiast

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SIMONE GIERTZ: in making and building things it’s like, when you start, you think that there’s, like, one right way of doing it and it’s like, no, there’s a hundred different ways of doing it. And maybe five of those are really good and 40 of those are really bad. But it’s like you can – there are so many different ways to – to skin a cat. But why would you want to skin a cat? (Laughter.)

KEVIN SCOTT: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Behind the Tech. I’m your host, Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft.

In this podcast, we’re going to get behind the tech. We’ll talk with some of the people who have made our modern tech world possible and understand what motivated them to create what they did. So, join me to maybe learn a little bit about the history of computing and get a few behind-the-scenes insights into what’s happening today. Stick around.

CHRISTINA WARREN: Hello and welcome to Behind the Tech. I’m cohost, Christina Warren, Senior Developer Advocate at GitHub.

KEVIN SCOTT: And I’m Kevin Scott.

CHRISTINA WARREN: And today, we are talking to Simone Giertz, who is an incredible inventor, roboticist and maker of all kinds.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. Simone has been one of my favorite YouTubers for years. I was so incredibly excited when she agreed to be on the program today. I’ve just wanted to talk to her for a really long time. She is an inspiration to me, as someone who likes to make things. Like, I watch her videos and learn a bunch of things and get inspired about things that I then want to go do myself.

But the thing that I really admire about her is the example that she’s setting for other people, sort of teaching you that if you, you know, have a little bit of curiosity and determination and you’re, you know, you let yourself be a little bit fearless, like, you can really do anything.

CHRISTINA WARREN: Now, I know you’ve been a – you’re a huge fan of hers, and I can’t wait to hear the two of you talk shop, no pun intended.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, awesome.

KEVIN SCOTT: Simone Giertz is a Swedish inventor maker, robotics enthusiast, TV host, professional YouTuber, and most recently, entrepreneur. She briefly studied engineering physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and has since built a career creating amazing things and sharing the process of their creation with the world. Giertz builds robots that do all kinds of impractical and funny things, like an alarm clock that slaps the user, a lipstick applier, and famously, a toothbrush helmet that launched her YouTube career. She’s an inspiration to everyone who follows her.

Simone, thank you so much for joining us today.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, so maybe we can start our conversation with your childhood and how you got interested in making.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I mean, for me, it didn’t really start in my childhood, to be honest. Like, I was always interested in making things, but – and I remember, I mean, I studied woodworking in school and stuff like – like, I’m from Sweden and all kids do that and sewing. And I really enjoyed it, and I was always like a very free range kid and kind of just running around and making my own mistakes and trying to figure things out.

But I definitely wasn’t like a tech whiz kid. Like, my brother was. He was always picking apart computers and learning programming, and I was like, no, I don’t think that’s for me. And then it wasn’t until I was 23, 24, where I remember it, like, hitting me and being like, “wow, this is so cool.” But I never saw myself as somebody who would think that that stuff was interesting. Yeah, but then once I did, it was just like full force ahead.

KEVIN SCOTT: Do you remember what the inspiration was, like that moment that you had when you were 23, 24 years old, that made you think, wow, this is something I’d like to do?

SIMONE GIERTZ: You know, I think it’s, really for me, it’s the thing that excites me about tools, and I do really think of programming as a tool, is when you realize what you can use it to do. Like, I was never excited about them on their own. It was more like, wait, so you’re telling me if I learn how to program just, like, basic JavaScript and CSS, then I can make a website where there’s head – like, hair growing out of the screen. And I can turn my cursor into a razor blade and I can shave that fake hair off, you know? So, it was just, for me, it was like – it was very much once I realized, like, all the stupid, silly stuff I could do with it, yeah…

But since then, I mean, I haven’t written a line of code in years. I’ll, like, still write some, like, basic motor program, but that was a couple of years ago. I did code a lot and I was – I started getting into electronics and programming mostly Arduinos, but now, I’m just, like, very hardcore into woodworking and welding and have been enjoying that part of making a lot more.

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, I – I’ve watched some of your… actually, I’ve seen all of your videos. Like, you have no idea how excited I was to be able to get to chat with you. So, I – and this must be a weird thing, too. You’re putting so much of your life there, and you’ve got a complete stranger like me who comes along and, like, wants to ask about how Scraps is doing. And, you know, is that C&C machine still working for you in LA, I mean, like, it’s weird, right?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I think, in part, I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s also like… I don’t know how to say this without sounding cheesy, but I do think that who I am on the Internet is a pretty good representation of who I am in real life. So, it’s never like, oh, they don’t know the real me. Like, they – like, people who watch my videos do know a side of me.

So, I don’t know. It’s mostly just hard because I’m like, oh, but I feel guilty because I’m like, I should know things about you, too. It almost feels like when you’re like, hanging out with somebody and they remember so many things you said, and you’re like, I can’t even remember where you live.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. Well, so I want to really get into the hardcore makery stuff, but I did want to say, like, one of the things that I love so much about how you make your videos is you just allow yourself to be vulnerable on camera. Like, you show the whole process. Like, you get excited about a project, like, stuff doesn’t work. You get really upset about it not working. Then you, like, stick with it and, like, make it work.

Like, I was, just this past week, I was rewatching the stained glass window video and, like, I’m going on this journey with you. Like I’ve done so many of these things myself and, like, the water’s leaking out of this thing. I’m like, oh my God, I know exactly how that feels. (Laughter.)

SIMONE GIERTZ: I mean, it’s like building is messy and it’s always, like, frustrating. And then when you do get it to work, it’s, like, exhilarating. And I think for me, it was always discouraging to watch videos where people just nailed it, because then I would feel like I was doing something wrong, because I’m like, my builds never feel like that. Like, they’re always – I mean, it’s, like, the difference between, like, the really beautiful Instagram vacation photo versus, like, what it actually was. And you’re like, I was kind of cold and hungry and, like, upset with my dad or whatever.

And I don’t know, I’m just trying to be transparent. Plus, like, the thing is, when bad things happen in builds, I’m always – I get so annoyed with it. But then when I’m editing the footage, I’m always kind of happy that it happened because I’m like, oh, that’s where the story is at. And it’s also like, it is nice to see, like, how I can overcome those adversities. Like, even for myself, I’m like, yeah, I did solve it and I was really upset and I felt like I wasn’t going to come around on top. And then I managed to finagle my way through it somehow.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, and I don’t know how you think about it philosophically, about just the whole struggle of making things. Like, being a creator, whether you’re writing software or making a company or building a project or whatnot, like, there’s a whole bunch of things that can make that go easier. It’s good if you’re curious. It’s good if you’re willing to explore. But, like, the thing that you show is that resilience is super important. Like, nothing ever goes perfectly.

And I felt this, you know, the same way when I was a young software engineer. Like, all you ever saw was the computer science paper that someone had written where they got into all of the answers, and you saw none of the process, how they got there. And you just felt so bad about yourself that you’re imagining how much easier it must have been for everybody else when in reality, it wasn’t.

SIMONE GIERTZ: The thing is, I think, yeah, it’s resilience, but also for me, the reason that I am resilient in these situations is because I’m so genuinely excited about what I’m doing. If I wasn’t pumped about it, then I’d be like, whatever. I’ll just move on and, like, go play video games instead. But since I’m like, I really want to pursue this and push it through and, like, make this build come to life, I think that’s what’s making me resilient. And also just because I think I am really stubborn.

But it’s not that I’m like, oh, I have to push myself and work harder and, like, be really disciplined about it. It’s mostly that I’m just, like, lying in bed at 3 a.m., being like, oh, I can solve it like this, or what about if I do that, and my brain just kind of can’t let it go because I really want to see it, see it through.

KEVIN SCOTT: That’s awesome. Well, so maybe we can talk a little bit about how you get the inspiration to make the things that you make, because you do – you have chosen over the years to make a bunch of interesting things… that are not – I mean, and if you watch makers on YouTube, there’s a lot of… I don’t even know whether…it’s not that people are copying each other, but there seem like there are these things, like everybody in woodworking goes and makes an epoxy river table at the same time. And like, there are these trends and, like, the things that you do are just so unique to you. How do you do that?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I think it’s because I’m setting that bar for myself. I’ve just always been like, I want it to be something that you haven’t really seen before or a spin on something in a way that you haven’t done before. And I think it’s just – it’s because it’s what I’m most interested in making, but it’s also because I am – I think it has to do with the platform that I’m creating for. So, it is now YouTube and social media, and then I’m always like, what’s the hook? What’s the interesting thing?

And then if I – I think if I’m being totally honest, if I was just making stuff for myself, then it would still be in that realm. But I probably wouldn’t push myself as hard. But now, I’m just always like, you know, in some way I think it might all – like, almost be insecurities because I’m, like, to justify to exist in the space, I feel like I have to present something really unique.

And I’m always like – because there are so many different videos I could be making and I’m like, it’s not interesting enough. I don’t feel like I can ask people to spend time watching this if it’s not elevated in some way. And I do think that has a little bit to do with, like, insecurities or, like, being apologetic about taking up space, which goes very against, like, being on YouTube.

But then I think it’s also just what I’m interested in. And I love, like, trying to find unique solutions to everyday problems. And that’s also what I’ve been doing now, trying to transform or, like, apply that thinking to product design. So, it’s like making things for YouTube, but then also using those same kind of qualifiers to develop products and try to create for that arena as well, which is, like, a whole other world.

KEVIN SCOTT: I mean, already, the – the things that you are making, so you have a new online store called Yetch, Y-E-T-C-H.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I’m very proud of how I managed to segue into that because it did actually come very naturally. (Laughter.) Did I mention that I also have a product store and where I’m trying to apply this thinking. Felt very pro.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) But you just are making some of the coolest stuff. So, the – the everyday calendar that you make is such an awesome idea just because it’s general purpose. Like, you can use it for any practice you’ve got, and you created it for a meditation practice you were trying to do?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I wanted to meditate every day. So, I made this calendar that’s kind of like a year. I still don’t know how to elevate or pitch it without, like visuals, but it represents a whole year. And if you tap a day, you can light it up. So, you can be like, did I meditate today? And you get to tap it, and it’s like, almost like a little gold star.

But I’ve seen, I mean, what’s really fun about that product is people are using it in ways I never expected it to. I mean, there’s people who use them as period trackers or, like, how often they water their plants or if they took their medicine. So, it’s like very just, like, here’s something that I found useful for this, but maybe you can find it useful for other things.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, it’s amazing. And then, we were just talking about it. I have a – I’m sitting in the middle of a shop right now, so my office is a machine shop and woodworking studio.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Oh wow, lucky you.

KEVIN SCOTT: So, like there’s – yeah, it’s all – all of this stuff off of cameras and. And so, like, I work with some people here. And we were talking about your, like, Philips head screwdriver ring and, like, what a great idea everybody thought it was. They were like, oh yeah, I wish I had that. Like, I had something this morning where it would have been useful.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. No, it is. It’s been really, really fun. I’m like manufacturing is… a pain. It is. It is – it is, yeah. I feel like everybody’s – it’s almost like hearing people talk about parenting and anyone who has kids is going to be like, having kids is so hard. And it’s the same for manufacturing where people are just like, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.

And, like, the everyday calendar, especially because now, a lot of the other products that we’ve added to the roster, and it’s still just, like, a seedling of a product company, don’t have any electronics in it. And I’m like, I don’t know if I ever want to do another electronics product – (laughter) – because, like, the amount of things that can go wrong with it and we’re using capacitive touch, which is very reliable. But I mean, there are thousands of calendars out in the world there now and living happy lives.

But yeah, it’s definitely, as somebody who’s terrified of disappointing people, I’m like, couldn’t I have a dream that meshed well with my personal anxieties and wasn’t, like, one of the most triggering things where you’re like, we’re sending out thousands of puzzles, and what if something’s wrong with them? What if the boxes come scratched? What if somebody’s going to be disappointed and sad? But so far, so good.

And it’s honestly – it’s just – it feels really nice to be able to, like, find not a life beyond YouTube, but, like, something else to do and something else to, like, revive the purpose of my YouTube channel for me, because it’s like I’ve never had as a goal to have the world’s biggest YouTube channel or been feeling, like, super motivated by the numbers.

So then, it’s like, okay, what do I want to use this for? And like, being a product designer has been a dream that I’ve had almost my whole life. And I remember being a kid and I was, like, kind of wanting to go into, like, interior design. And I was always, like, redecorating my room. But then I didn’t think it was cool enough because it felt too conventional. So, I was like, no, I’m not going to do that.

And then when I was going into college, I was always like, I’m going to study physics because it’s the hardest you can do. And I want to prove to myself that I’m smart. And then I dropped out after a year because I was like, no, this is not – I don’t think this is that fun.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) Well, so let’s talk a little bit, if you are okay with it, about the process of making the everyday calendar. So, you get the idea for this thing. Like, then, what do you go do, because… Did you start with the intention that you were going to make a thing to be manufactured and sold to other people?

SIMONE GIERTZ: Not at all. And I think that’s what I want to retain as well. Like, I’m always, and for YouTube as well, I’m making things for an audience of one. (Laughter.) Like, I’m making something because I really want it. And then if other people find it interesting, then great.

So, I made it. I made this version of it that had a bunch of toggle switches, so it was 365 toggle switches. And I just did it as – as a video. It was untested, so it was on the YouTube channel. And then it, like, actually worked really well for me and I started wanting to think of, like, if it could be a product.

The problem with any product where you have 365 of a component is, like, cost just immediately starts taking off, and there was no way for us to have mechanical buttons or toggle switches or anything in a calendar. And I remember us wanting – I kind of wanted it to almost look like an elevator button grid, but, like, smaller. But it would have been like a $1,000 product, which I didn’t want.

So, we ended up using capacitive touch because it’s – it can just be in software. You just need some special chips to monitor the capacitive touch, and actually ended up using circuit board as the front plate. So, it’s this, like, designed, very embellished looking circuit board, but if you’re looking close, closer at it, you can see all the traces.

So, that was really fun. It was a fun design challenge to take these materials that are not really meant to be consumer facing and try to make them look really pretty and beautiful enough for you to want to hang it on a wall.

KEVIN SCOTT: And just the process of creating and who you’re collaborating with, had you ever laid a circuit board out before? Had you, like –

SIMONE GIERTZ: I had done some PCB design before, but very minimal. So, I started working with an electrical engineer, and a mechanical engineer and just some other people. Like, we were really just a small team of friends and trying to put it together. We did a Kickstarter campaign, raised some money, shipped those out a couple of months late after a lot of headache. But, like, we managed to get them out.

And – and yeah. And now, we’re finally like the pandemic unfortunately came in between there with all the chip shortages and stuff like that. So, our BOM cost, so our bill of materials went up with, like, 40%, which just made it an unfeasible product for us. So, we kind of had to hold off on manufacturing more. And now, we’re looking at – we just had another batch come in and now, we’re looking at adding another batch.

But it is – there’s some reliability things we’re working on to think about, because we have 365 LEDs. The fault rate of an LED normally is, like, one in 10,000 over a couple of years, which sounds reasonable, but that means that, like, one in 30 calendars can get an issue down the line, like, a couple of years down the line. So, we’re replacing those.

But there has been a lot of, like, trying to figure out how to increase the lifespan of the LEDs and doing a lot of stress testing, seeing if we can reduce the heat when we’re soldering them and, you know, a lot of different things. And that’s like, you know, you kind of think that you design a product, and you put it out there and you’re like, done. But there is a lot of iterating, and trying to figure out how to improve it and how to make it a better experience, both for the manufacturer, and for us and for the customers.

So, I’m learning so much and it’s really – it is, like… I can’t, even looking back like two years ago, I’m thinking of how much I’ve learned and that’s really nice. It’s like a lot of – because we’re learning by doing and there’s not – we’re a really, like, skilled, but young team and it’s… You know, I just feel really fortunate to be able to do it, and to be able to do it this way and to be able to do it on my own terms and kind of follow the whims of my creativity. It’s… Yeah, I’m just stoked.

KEVIN SCOTT: It’s just awesome stuff. And it for a curious person, it seems like the way that you’re doing things, like, you’ve got a lot of surface area for your curiosity to explore –

SIMONE GIERTZ: (Laughter.) That’s the nice way of putting it.

KEVIN SCOTT: Because it’s not like you’re just building a bunch of electronic products. Like, I’m – I’m just super curious. So, you – you’re making these rings. Are they cast and machined or…

SIMONE GIERTZ: So, the rings are manufactured. They’re not cast, they’re not 3D printed. We looked into doing some of that, but since we wanted to actually be a functional tool, the screwdriver ring, you just can’t get the hardness of the material using that. So, they’re all machined.

And then the screw ring was really tricky to figure out how to do. So basically, it’s a ring. It looks like a Phillips head screw, but then it’s, like, embedded into a normal kind of signet ring.


SIMONE GIERTZ: And the way you manufacture screws is you kind of have this, like, rod of metal come and then they stamp the screw head into it, kind of stamp that face into it. And we couldn’t really do that because it would deform the ring too much, and also, that tooling would be incredibly complex to make.

So, what we ended up doing is using lasers to do it and the amount of precision – like, the amount of time we spent coupling the screwdriver ring and the screw ring with other items, and trying to see if they, like, hold in place or fall out, just because we want that really good fit, it’s just – you know, you go in such detail. In a way, I’m like, no customer is ever going to notice this, but also, like, knowing that we can get it to that level where we’re feeling really happy with it, it’s like we’re not going to be able to stay away from it.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. Well, and I love that. There are other makers out there, like one of my favorite YouTube makers is this guy, John Grimsmo, who makes knives. And, like, they are super obsessed with knives.


KEVIN SCOTT: They make every last thing. They make their own bearings. They make – like, every piece of that knife is custom machined in their machine shop. And like, it’s completely unnecessary, but so awesome.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. I just love it when people are excited about something and almost, in particular, they’re excited about something that I’m not, because I’m always like, how? What is it about it that just gets you ticking and, like, gets you so in – want to get into the nitty gritty of it all? I don’t know.

KEVIN SCOTT: I feel the same way. When I watch other makers, sometimes, I’m watching it to learn something that I am going to go reproduce. And sometimes, I watch it just to, like, see how fascinating other human beings are in expressing their creativity. Like, I would never in a million years, like, you know, know – and this is not a ding on the product – like, it would never occur to me to put a Phillips head screwdriver tip on – on a ring. But I love that you did. Like, it’s just amazing.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, I feel like everybody’s brain is, like, in their own corner of creativity. And you go and you see something that some other maker or some other artists and make – is making, and you’re like, wow, you’re just having a blast over there. And that’s, like, your arena. And I definitely feel like I have my own little pod and, like, kind of the area that I’m making in. And, yeah, but…

KEVIN SCOTT: So, I have to mention your puzzle as well. So, my wife’s pandemic obsession, like the thing that she would do when she was, like, just completely overwhelmed with the stress of being locked in a house with two little kids and a cranky husband, was she would go just work on a puzzle. Like, we had a big table set up and there was a puzzle on it at all times, and she would solve it. And she – I would buy her puzzles. And evidently, my taste in puzzles is Godawful, because I would buy her ones that were just the most miserably hard to solve.

And then I saw yours, which is a, what, a 500-piece puzzle? It’s all white and you randomly remove a piece – (laughter) –

SIMONE GIERTZ: A piece from every puzzle, yes. So, you get 499 out of 500 pieces. And it is, as far as I’m concerned, the world’s first officially incomplete puzzle. Yeah, I came up with the idea of this, like, years and years ago, or I think maybe like three years ago. And I came out of the bathroom, and I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to tell my friend what I was laughing about. (Laughter.) And I still don’t.

And then it’s like it goes so long where I’m like, is the joke still there? You know, you spend so much time with it and so much time, like, designing the boxes and thinking about it. And then you’re like, is this still funny? And sometimes, it’s like trying to look at your hands and being like, are these normal looking hands?

But I’m still I just think… You know, the thing that blows my mind the most about it is that people are, like, down for the joke. And I mean, it’s just sometimes, you take a step back and I’m like, we’ve sold, like, 1,000 incomplete puzzles and it’s just so bizarre. But yeah, here we are.

KEVIN SCOTT: But it’s a hilarious joke. I told my wife I’m going to order her one. I told her about it and she was like, why would she do that? (Laughter.)

SIMONE GIERTZ: I know! It’s like the most wholesome, villainous thing to do. (Laughter.) Like, there’s no harm in it, but it’s really like – people are like, why? Why? But the funny thing is, because I put together this puzzle two times now, three in total with another iteration, and when you realize which piece is the missing piece, it’s almost the most fun part of the puzzle, because I mean, all the other parts are miserable, really, but it’s like where you’re like, oh, that’s the one. And it’s almost more of a satisfaction to find the one that’s missing. But yeah.

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, and the completed puzzles actually I mean, there’s something almost like you should frame it and hang it in the Museum of Modern Art. Like, the – it’s – it says something, but both the fact that a human being would have the patience to go spend all of this time on a thing that can’t be finished, as well as the aesthetic of the – this stark white puzzle missing one piece, I – I think it’s very clever, very clever.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I mean, it’s spending time on this thing that’s not going to be finished. But also, like, generally, when you work with a jigsaw puzzle, when you’re done, you just crumble – crumble it all together anyway. So, it’s like –


SIMONE GIERTZ: But it is, it’s interesting how much of a… I was going to say eyesore but almost, like, thought-sore it is because you’re always like, oh, it’s not going to be worth it because it’s missing a piece. And you’re like, and that’s what I wrote on the box. I had a lot of fun writing all the copy text for the puzzle. And what I wrote on the box was like, this piece – this puzzle has one piece that’s missing and 499 that aren’t. And it’s almost this thing of like, it’s so easy to just focus on that one thing that’s wrong. And then you’re like, oh, but there’s so much that is right, and that is just the way I wanted it to be, but…

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, and one of the things that I love are the never finished things, because so much of what I spend my time doing, like, it has to get finished. You can’t – you can’t run a business without finishing things. But in my personal life, I love unfinished things. And folks asked me a lot, I’ve got this shop and they ask me, oh, what’s the – what’s the best thing you’ve built in the shop or the thing that you’re proudest about in the shop? And I’m like, well, it’s kind of the shop itself and it’s never finished. (Laughter.)

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, yeah. But that’s also such a different area of making, because I’ve never – I haven’t gotten to the point or my brain hasn’t latched on to, like, shop layout as a fun project to work on. I’m just like, I just want it to work. Like, my shop is a mess. I call it the butthole of the house because I’m like, just let it be ugly. Like, it’s just going to – it’s just there for its function.

And then I’ve been thinking of like, oh, I should really get better about structuring things, but it just hasn’t, like – it hasn’t clicked for me yet where I’m like, oh, that brings me a lot of satisfaction, but I think I’ll get there eventually. But it’s also I’m just a messy person in general, and I’m always leaving a trail of projects behind me.

KEVIN SCOTT: But I – I think that’s fine.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, but sometimes, I’m like, I wish I was – I wish I was that person and that I was that person who was like, I’m going to make labels for things and not just throw them into random bins. But I mean, there’s pros and cons to every setup. I do move fast, so there’s that.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. Well, I mean, the way that I think about my working environments, I can be incredibly messy, but what I like about my shop is I walk into it and everything is where it’s supposed to be, and it’s clean and it is ready for action. It’s all potential energy. And it makes me – and this is what I need as a creator. I need to walk into situations, and I get inspired by the possibility that sits in the order.

And I know other people who are, like, way, way more creative than I am, who have completely different processes and it’s okay. Like, it’s fascinating to me, like, how everybody works.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, to me, it’s like step one is always clear a big enough space on my workbench where I can work on the project. (Laughter.) It’s always, like, just pushing things off to the side. But there’s still – I still have hope that I’m going to be one of those neat people, but it’s like – also, like, doing machine maintenance and stuff, I’m just…

KEVIN SCOTT: Well, and then it’s working with other people is sort of fun, too, right? Like, I –share this shop with, like, someone who works with me, and it took us a while to figure out, like, hey, here’s our – here’s our dynamic.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, and that’s also, if you’re sharing a space with somebody, then I’m all for being clean and stuff. And I will, like – the only time I will really properly clean my house is if somebody’s coming over. But when it’s just left to my own devices, especially in the workshop, it’s like, yeah, it’s just pure chaos. And then I’ll have fits of cleaning and be really orderly for all of 25 minutes, but yeah…

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) So what – what interesting stuff are you doing now? You mentioned woodworking and welding.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. Oh, I was just – welding because I was just welding today. Oh, I’m working – Oh, I love this project so much. It has been the most interesting engineering challenge and I’m just stoked about it. I’m making a music instrument that pops bubble wrap.

KEVIN SCOTT: Oh. (Laughter.)

SIMONE GIERTZ: So, it’s like, you know like those little music boxes that have, like, the little barrels with spikes on it and it plays a tune.


SIMONE GIERTZ: So, imagine that, but it’s bigger and you feed in a sheet of bubble wrap and it pops different bubbles. And the bubbles popping resonate in different length tubes. So, it actually plays different notes. So, right now, I’m at like a very fun part of the build where I’m going to – I’m probably – tomorrow, I’ll probably have a first attempt at a final assembly. So, I have almost all the parts. I still need to C&C and machine some – the – some wood parts, but it’s all, like, coming together. And it’s probably not going to work, so there’s most likely going to be a rev 2.

But yeah, I’m – I’m just stoked about the concept. I think it’s so fun and I’m just – it’s one of those ideas where you’re like, I think of it and then I’m like, somebody must have done this. Like, there is no way nobody has done this. And then I, like, Google, and you get to the bottom of the image search or you, like, search on YouTube and you can’t find anything. And you’re like, nobody’s done this. (Laughter.) And yeah, so I’m stoked. It’s been a fun project on every level so far, and – and really complicated, but super fun.

KEVIN SCOTT: It sounds crazy complicated, actually.

SIMONE GIERTZ: It has been crazy complicated, but I’ve – I’ve started working… Like, one of the push and pulls of my career is in the beginning, I was so stubborn about putting in, like, every screw myself. And I think a part of it is, like, being a woman in a field with not a lot of women, and I always felt like I was always wanting to be ready. If anyone questioned my skills or questioned who had build a – built a project, I would be able to say, like, no, I did absolutely everything. No dude ever touched this project.

But then, like, in recent years, I really like – I love working with other people. It’s so fun to problem solve with other people, and I’ve started working with this engineer. He helped me on the companion chair, and the puzzle table and the scissor lamp. So, we’ll like design it together in Fusion and sit and problem solve together. And it’s let me, like – I’ve – I’m learning so much. It’s letting me do much more complex projects than I would have the bandwidth to do myself.

So yeah, it’s been super fun to just, like, try to solve these incredibly specific problems. Like, I spent probably a week just popping bubble wrap, trying to figure out the optimal shape and surface to pop bubbles reliably and to make sure that we could perfectly control pop location, because it needs to pop within a very small area for it to resonate in the tube. And just, like, getting to spend so much time on such specific problems is – is such a treat.

KEVIN SCOTT: Do you do any 3D printing for prototyping?

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. Yeah, I do. So, it’s – the first thing I tend to grab for is my laser cutter because it’s always the fastest. Like, you can do something within a couple of minutes. But then 3D printing and then last is just C&C’ing. So, it’s nice to have like things in different tiers of prototyping. But yeah, this – this build is going to have some 3D printed elements, but most of it is going to be C&C’d. And I got a rotary kit for my C&C so I could make the barrel on the – on the C&C, which was a whole new learning experience, but very fun.

KEVIN SCOTT: That sounds fun. And you’ve got an Avid C&C machine that you put together yourself?


KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, those are super cool.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I love it. It was such a game changer for me.

KEVIN SCOTT: So, it’s really interesting. I’ve been a woodworker since I was a teenager, which is – (laughter) – I’m older than you, so that’s a very long time ago. And, like, one of the funny things that I’ve seen in woodworking over the years is you have people who try to define what real woodworking is. So, there are, like, some who are like, oh, if it’s anything but hand tools, it’s not real woodworking. And then, like, people now are saying, oh, well, if you use a C&C and not just hand power tools, it’s not real woodworking, which always struck me as… I mean, and no – no disrespect.

SIMONE GIERTZ: If you didn’t – if you didn’t fell the tree yourself –

KEVIN SCOTT: I love – I love those handwork traditions.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Did you not grow the tree and then fell it and dry it? Then no, it’s not – it’s not woodworking. (Laughter.) Yeah, I think it’s always like… I get it, but I mean, it’s the same with, like, when GPSs were starting to come out and people were like, oh, it’s not real driving if you have a device help you navigate around the city. Like, to me, it’s just it’s all parts of the same coin and you’re comfortable with different tools.

And it’s like, for me, as somebody who started in electronics and started in kind of computer design, it’s been such a – for me, the C&C kind of perfectly came into my build process because I’m always making drafts in the computer anyway. And I’m using Illustrator and Fusion to design it, and then being able to pop that onto a machine, like the first thing I grab for is never really, like, a knife and a piece of wood, and I start, like, carving something out.

So, I think it’s just all like – we just think of the world in different terms. And for me, I’m – I’ve always thought computer first. And –


SIMONE GIERTZ: It’s just different. There’s so many ways you can solve a problem. And I think that’s one of the things, like, that I’ve learned in – in making and building things, is, like, when you start, you almost – you think that there’s, like, one right way of doing it and it’s like, no, there’s a hundred different ways of doing it. And maybe five of those are really good and 40 of those are really bad. But it’s like you can – there are so many different ways to – to skin a cat. But why would you want to skin a cat? (Laughter.) It’s such a weird expression.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) Yeah, I’ve never understood that metaphor.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, there are so many ways to build a chair.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yes, correct. (Laughter.) Yeah, one of the things that really inspires me about how you approach making, and Adam Savage does the same thing, is you have so many tools in your arsenal. And, you know, one of the things that I used to – the lies I used to tell myself is like, oh, I can’t do X. Like, I am a woodworker, I can’t be a machinist. Like, I work with wood. I can’t weld stuff or do metalworking, which is just sort of a silly – silly, self-imposed set of constraints, because of course, you can do all of these things.

And I just love watching you just having an idea and, like, you just apply so many different tools at the – at the – like, how do you… How did you get to that point, like not letting yourself get siloed as a – like, a maker of type X?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I mean, I can list the things that I never thought I would be able to do. It’s like almost every skill I’ve acquired at some point. Like, I remember thinking, oh, I could never program. And then you start and you’re like, oh, this isn’t – like, other people are doing this, so I can probably figure it out too.

I didn’t think I could solder. I remember being really scared the first time I soldered, and then you’re like, oh, I can do this. I didn’t think I could weld. I was terrified of welding. And then you have somebody show you the ropes, and then you’re like, okay, I can do this.

The same with C&C’ing. I was really reluctant to get into C&C’ing because I was like, I’ve heard it’s so complicated and I feel like I could never learn and – or driving a car. I mean, it’s like almost everything, it’s like I run into, like, no, I could never do this. I can’t. I’m just not going to be good enough or be able to figure it out. And then you start and you’re like, so silly of me to think that I couldn’t do it because you’ve just got to find the right way to learn, you know?

It took me three attempts to start learning Fusion, because – Fusion 360, because I would just get stuck on their instructional videos. And I was like, this is so complicated. And then you just find somebody who can teach you in a way that works for you or find a way to learn it. And it’s – yeah.

SIMONE GIERTZ: But I do remember, like, more in a branding way or, like, I was really nervous about getting pigeonholed as, like, the Queen of Shitty Robots, which is what I used to do. I used to only build, like, funny robots and weird machines, which I loved. And like, I’ll still do that. I feel like a lot of the projects I do now draw a lot of – still have a lot of those elements.

But I was really happy to feel like I was able to move beyond that and expand beyond that, and have my audience kind of be down for the ride. I feel I’ve – they’re – they’re just the most kind, supportive people and they’re just like, oh, if you’re excited about it, we’re excited too, which is a very, very supportive community to have.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. And – and, like, the breadth of this stuff that you work on all the way from the whimsical to some hardcore engineering things, like the Truck-la that you built, the – turning a model 3 Tesla into an El Camino or like a truck.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Like a truck, yeah.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, crazy.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, it’s – you know, it’s – I try to do things I’m genuinely excited about and that does throw some curveballs.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) Which I – I think it’s so – it’s so inspiring. So, maybe last couple of questions before – before we go. So, one is –

SIMONE GIERTZ: You’re so – can I just say you’re so sweet. I feel like I’m just getting to sit here and have you say a bunch of really sweet and kind and thoughtful things. (Laughter.)

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) It’s very nice. I can’t even begin to tell you how big a fan I am of what you’re doing. And one, because I’m genuinely…. genuinely, like, entertained and inspired by what you do. But, like, the thing that I really admire is what you’re doing for other people.

One of the tragic things to me is folks going around the world thinking that they don’t have agency over creativity and that, like, all of the stuff that they are consuming and that they use in their lives is – is magical and beyond their understanding or… And, like, you just inspire people to go past that, to say, like, hey, you know, we – all of these things were built by people. We can understand how they’re built. We can go hack on them, like change them, modify them, make our own things. Like, that’s a super powerful thing to be putting out into the world.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I just think, for me, as well, it’s so, like… things seem so set in stone. And, you know, I’ve been thinking about, like, forks, for example, and I’ve never questioned what a fork looks like. But you – then you realize, like, this is just built upon decisions that people have made. Somebody came up with this design and within these parameters, and it’s just, like, generations of humans trying to improve on things, and then realizing I can be one of those people.

And it’s just such a – and you flail your way through it. (Laughter.) You flail and you futz, and then you get somewhere. And sometimes, you don’t. And it’s… It’s a really fun way, for me at least, to be in the world because it’s like everything is malleable and, like, have – like, being able to have bought a house for the first time. And I’m like, I can do anything. And you’re like, does the window really need to be this way or could it be something else? Could it be something more fun?

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. I had a colleague one time, who I think had her PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon. And she was, like, one of our awesome product managers. And she – we were talking one day and she – she just was obsessed with home renovation stuff.

And she’s like, yeah, it’s like these… I have people in my team who look at what I’m doing, like knocking walls down, like, you know, that there’s something behind the drywall, like the – the chest to Narnia, that there’s magic behind there. (Laughter.) And she’s like, I try to explain to them that, like, there’s no magic. It’s just, like, hey, I’m interested in doing this. And like, I figured it all out.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. You watch a lot of YouTube videos and then you figure it out. You watch a lot of YouTube videos and then you Google, what are the most common accidents people who do this have? Like, whenever I’m learning a new tool, I’m like, what are the most common accidents with, like, angle grinders? And then you’re like, okay, these are the things I shouldn’t do. (Laughter.)

KEVIN SCOTT: Oh, angle grinders.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, they’re terrifying.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. The closest I ever came to seriously injuring myself was with an angle grinder.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, they’ll do it.

KEVIN SCOTT: And a router table.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Oh, I’m sorry.

KEVIN SCOTT: Not good. (Laughter.) Well, so, maybe the last couple of questions. So, one is what are you sort of excited about in the future? Like, what’s the thing that you don’t know how to do right now that you – that you want to go figure out at some point in the future, like a thing you want to add to your arsenal of skills?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I do want to work more on vehicles. I’m kind of on the lookout for another big vehicle project, but it’s – I think I’ve set the bar a little bit too high for myself because I’m, like, trying to think of like Truck-la, and she’s just a really hard act to follow. But I really want to do that and do more, more just vehicular stuff because that’s such an interesting area.

I also – I want to learn how to build houses. I really want to, like, at least design a house at some point, but that’s a couple of years down the line. But then, now, it’s just a lot of, like, product development. Design for manufacturing is a really interesting area.

And honestly, like, a lot of the things that I’m hoping to see the next couple of years is just, like, growing as a CEO. And in that leadership role, there’s a lot of other parts to the business where it’s like, you know when you grow up on YouTube or being a YouTuber and you’re kind of, like, yeah. You’re just this kid making videos in your living room. And then the business has just grown, and I’m really excited to step more into that role and just, I don’t know, learn about that. But, like, leadership is never something I’ve really thought about, you know?

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. But I – I think, just like everything else you’re doing, like, you’re going to be great at it. So as long as you approach it with humility and curiosity and, like, you’re willing to try to introspect on what you’re doing so that you can get better all the time, like, every – everybody starts out –

SIMONE GIERTZ: I can just be like, hey, can I be on the podcast again? And you say a bunch of really sweet, encouraging things to me. (Laughter.)

KEVIN SCOTT: if you ever need encouraging words about leadership, I can – I can absolutely offer them, because I remember when I – you know, nobody – I don’t believe in this notion of born leader. Like, you… as soon as you find, like, a reason to be a leader, like there’s a thing you want to help a bunch of other people accomplish, then it’s just this journey of, like, how do I get better and better at doing that?

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah. And it’s really like – it’s such an individual like journey as well, because it’s like I’m running these businesses and I want to – I’m figuring out what the company culture is and how I want it to be. Like, what do we actually prioritize in the business? How can you create a really, like, kind and supportive environment that’s also productive? And I know it’s not it’s not looking like a normal enterprise and I want to retain some parts of that.

But then you’re also like there is a lot of structure that is required. And yeah, there’s just a lot of, like, you know, you try something and then you’re like, did that – was that – did it feel right or was that right, or should I iterate and try to course correct? And there’s definitely a lot of that, both in building, but also in running companies and in interacting with people or in, like, normal relationships. You’re just always like, did this feel right or – or should I do it differently, and constantly trying to find better ways of being in the world.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah. Yes, and I think that’s a perfect mindset. I mean, it’s a really, really powerful thing, like waking up every day, just sort of reflecting on what you’re doing and how you can get a little bit better at it, just step by step.


KEVIN SCOTT: So, last question: You do so much fun stuff for your job, but I ask everyone on the podcast, like, what they do in their, quote unquote, free time or leisure time when they’re not working… for fun.

SIMONE GIERTZ: It’s been a struggle. Because if left to my own devices, I’ll just keep on building things. So come Saturday, and I’ll be like, I’m going to work on some house projects, and then I just end up being more in the workshop and doing a lot of firing up my C&C and doing a lot of the same stuff. So, I’ve just been trying to – my New Year’s resolution was to try to make more friends and build more community, which is interesting because it’s almost the thing that you just expect to happen. And I’m like, no, I’m actually going to make an effort.

I moved to L.A. mid-2020, so, like, during the pandemic and I’m still, like, I’m just going to try to, like, meet more people and actually make an effort to, like, create that environment where, like, you can hang out and build community. So, I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’m just, like, trying to see a lot of people and be social.

And then I spend a lot of time with my dog. That’s really it. Like, we go to the park and I throw a stick repeatedly. She has a blast. I enjoy looking at her having a good time. And then we go home and we rest.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, she’s – she’s so cute.

SIMONE GIERTZ: I just – I just gave her a new haircut, and she now has a mullet, which is very funny. (Laughter.) It just makes people laugh so much.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) You’ve got to put that on the video.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, I just laugh every time I look at her, but I feel like she’s finally come to her true self.

KEVIN SCOTT: Is she self-aware of the bad haircut or the mullet?

SIMONE GIERTZ: I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I think all she can tell is that people look at her and they get very happy. (Laughter.)

KEVIN SCOTT: So, we have a shop dog, a brown standard poodle whose name is Douglas Fur.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah, good one.

KEVIN SCOTT: (Laughter.) Yeah, and Douglas knows when he’s got a bad haircut.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Yeah? Oh, I don’t think she knows. She just gets very excited about being so aerodynamic when I cut her short. Yeah.

KEVIN SCOTT: That’s – that’s so awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today, and thank you for what you do. It’s just great stuff.

SIMONE GIERTZ: Thank you so much. Yeah, and thanks for watching all my videos. It’s not just for research for this podcast. It means a lot.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, for sure.


CHRISTINA WARREN: All right. That was Kevin’s interview with Simon Giertz. I thought it was really, really great. I mean, she’s incredible, right? Like, the stuff that she does, as you said at the top of the show, she’s a great example for so many people out there. But what was amazing to me is how she’s just so kind of fearless to give things a try. And that attitude, I think, about learning and exploring and trying things out is just really, really, I think, rare to see people do it the way that she has, and also, really awesome just to see the results where she’s saying, well, if other people can do this, why can’t I try? I don’t think we have enough of that in this world.

KEVIN SCOTT: Yeah, I totally agree. We have so many people, and, like, I do this myself sometimes. Like, I have, over and over again in my own life, sort of looked at things and said, oh, I don’t understand how this works. And like, I think it’s too complicated for me to understand. And, like, that – that is – you can certainly live your life that way, but, like, it’s so much more interesting when you just can focus your curiosity on a thing, like figure out what makes it tick, like, what must the people who made it have been thinking when they created the thing; and then just giving yourself permission to tinker around and to try to replicate people’s results or make brand new things that have never existed before yourself.

CHRISTINA WARREN: No, I totally agree with you. I have a tendency sometimes to do the same thing where I think something is too hard, and I don’t want to even attempt it because I’m just like, well, there’s no way I could figure it out. But hearing Simone talk and thinking about it and thinking, no, I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to learn to actually fix my own plumbing if I want to, you know?


CHRISTINA WARREN: It’s inspiring, actually. I wanted to ask you, you know, when did your, I guess, love of making start? Did it start as a kid or has this been something that’s come about more as you’ve gotten older and as you know, you’ve done other things and been exposed to people like Simone?

KEVIN SCOTT: It did start when I was a kid. Like, I was always super, super curious about how things worked. I was, you know, the bane of my mother’s existence when I was a little kid, because I was the four year old that was trying to take things apart and shove metal objects in light sockets and all sorts of, like, highly, highly dangerous and destructive sorts of things.

But, you know, the thing that I did when I was younger, is I just sort of put these weird constraints on my making. Like, I would just convince myself that, oh, I only know how to do this and I can’t do this other stuff. So, like, for a very long time, like I – the story that I told myself is I am not mechanically inclined. And – and so, like, oh my God, it’s so much easier to make things with software than it is to, like, make things with, like, physical things.

And then I you know, I’d done some woodworking stuff when I was a kid and I became a more serious woodworking hobbyist, you know, as an adult. But even then, it’s like, oh, well, I’m only a woodworker. Like, I can’t – I can’t do this other stuff. And, like, the thing that I’ve just learned over time is that, yeah, you can – you can teach yourself how to do anything. And when you have more tools in your arsenal, you can do more really interesting, creative things.

CHRISTINA WARREN: Yeah. No, I think that’s – I think that’s a great point. And I think what’s great about what’s happening now, what we didn’t have access to before, is we have this community of makers, people like Simone, who are making this amazing content and teaching others, and giving them ideas and showing off what it looks like, which is empowering. It really is, for people who might not know where to get started or might be afraid of doing something wrong, having those guides out there for us is just really awesome.

KEVIN SCOTT: Hundred percent. I mean, we should all be just incredibly grateful with how generous all these makers are, that they are sharing what they do with all of us and teaching us, like, what their creativity looks like. Even if, you know, we’re just curious and never going to do things ourselves, like it’s still just an incredible act of generosity on their behalf.

CHRISTINA WARREN: No, you’re completely correct. And I think that goes for all types of art, which making definitely is. We’re very fortunate to have so many generous people, as you say, sharing with us, and Simone is definitely one of them.

All right. Well, that is all the time we have for today. Thank you so much to Simone Giertz for joining us. If you have anything that you would like to share with us, please e-mail us any time at [email protected]. You can follow Behind the Tech on your favorite podcast platform or check out our full video episodes on YouTube. Thanks for tuning in.

KEVIN SCOTT: See you next time.