To those watching the spectacle unfold on social media, the downfall of bespoke gaming PC startup Artesian Builds seemed to happen overnight.
But people inside the company tell Inverse they saw the writing on the walls a long time ago.
Sporting a screen-accurate replica of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord jacket from Guardians of the Galaxy, Artesian Builds founder and CEO Noah Katz hosted a Twitch PC giveaway for the company’s “influencer ambassadors” on February 28. Before announcing the winner, a visibly annoyed Katz announced that smaller streamers who failed to “reach his threshold” of viewership would not be eligible, a rule he’d seemingly invented on the fly.
Twitch streamer Kia was one of nine creators Katz deemed unworthy of the prize. The same day, she posted a clip of Artesian’s stream on her Twitter that went viral, pulling in hundreds of thousands of views across various social media platforms. Observers and commentators rallied to Kia’s defense in the face of what many saw as Katz’s condescending attitude toward her channel. Customers with pending orders — for PCs ranging in price from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands — demanded refunds in droves. One week later, Katz told his entire staff — estimates vary between 40 to 60 employees — that they were being “furloughed.”
“I thought we were doing amazing things, I thought we were going places,” Eric Ashmore, a former customer support representative at Artesian, tells Inverse. “I thought I was going to retire and work here for the rest of my life.”
“I thought I was going to retire and work here for the rest of my life.”
Artesian’s abrupt fall comes on the heels of an equally astonishing rise. The company’s custom gaming PCs had exploded in popularity over the past two years, leading to a partnership with Intel and deals with some of the world’s most visible influencers, including MrBeast and FaZe Clan co-owner NickMercs. Like 2019’s catastrophically bungled music festival, Fyre Fest, Artesian layered a showy frontman and glitzy influencer partners atop a shaky foundation.
“We grew enormously and we weren’t prepared for it,” a former Artesian employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells Inverse. “But that’s not what led us to fail. It was a failure of management, a failure to be able to hire the right people, the failure to spend the right amount of money.”
Inverse spoke to five former employees of Artesian Builds, all of whom allege that Katz’s reckless leadership led to the overnight collapse of the company. Their accounts reveal how one man’s cringe viral moment created a snowball effect that ultimately revealed his company was barely holding it together, despite the valiant efforts of his employees.
Noah Katz declined multiple requests for comment from Inverse, saying via email that “at this time that is not possible.”
Though Artesian rose to prominence relatively recently, Katz’s company has existed in various forms for far longer, mingling the passions of game nerds and finance bros in a way that makes its eventual integration with Twitch feel all but inevitable. While attending the University of North Carolina in 2012, Katz became enamored with the world of 3D printing and shared his creations online. He created his own printing machine and built custom sets of cosplay armor, selling his work on Etsy starting in 2015.
By late 2017 and into early 2018, Katz shifted the focus of his online business away from Game of Thrones-inspired suits of armor to high-end PCs designed for cryptocurrency mining. (At that time, the company was called Artesian Future Technologies.) According to a 2018 report from The Verge, Katz sold more than 65 mining rigs in December 2017 and January 2018 combined. He told The Verge he planned to sell “5 to 15 rigs priced for around $10,000 apiece” every month.
Mining crypto was and still is, in a legal gray area. Katz struggled to find a payment platform other than Etsy to support his sales, telling The Verge in 2018 that both PayPal and Stripe had disabled his accounts. He cautioned other mining rig vendors to avoid these platforms, owing to what he described as their “immense punitive actions, unpredictable holds, loss of liquidity, penalties, garnishments, and random threatening calls/emails.”
“It’s very confusing to many people and probably has lost me a lot of business. I am exhausted,” he told The Verge of his payment processing woes.
So Katz pivoted from crypto mining to gaming in 2019. He expanded from his original headquarters in North Carolina to a second base of operations in San Francisco and rebranded as Artesian Builds in 2020. Katz positioned his PCs as the Rolls-Royce of gaming hardware, with a clever gimmick. Each unit would be built by hand, live on the company’s Twitch channel.
“I want to streamline the PC building marketplace,” Katz told the entrepreneurial podcast UpMyInfluence in August 2019. “There’s a real lack of high-quality hardware out there.”
Katz’s latest venture caught fire like an overheated graphics card. In May 2020, he started streaming builds on Twitch. Just five months later, the channel had acquired more than 20,000 followers. It was at this point that Artesian started recruiting “ambassadors,” who each received their own custom affiliate links to drive traffic to the company’s site.
Collaborations with popular online content creators soon followed, including with DIY YouTubers Evan and Katelyn and Twitch streamer Mizkif. Artesian made dozens of new hires in 2021. On paper, the future looked bright — the company was constantly pulling in sales and poised for massive success. But the situation wasn’t quite so pretty behind the scenes.
“There wasn't any real direction”
Artesian Builds employees woke up to an avalanche of Slack messages on March 1, 2022. In them, Katz appears to double down on his assertion that smaller creators should not be eligible for the PC giveaway, as employees watched the fallout widen on social media in real-time.
“The ambassador giveaway is a PURE GIFT to give them FREE STUFF,” Katz appears to say in a screenshot obtained by Inverse. “We CANNOT afford to give free stuff to people that have done nothing to grow our brand.”
In the messages, Katz seemingly blames his employees, claiming that the giveaway “list was chock full of humiliating inactives” and “I asked for the purging. I was met overwhelmingly with silence.” One employee defended themselves, writing “there was no silence, I told you I was doing it and got rid of so many names” and “I’m more sad that this slowly turned around to be unspokenly my fault for not editing a list that I did edit.”
As the controversy mounted over the next week, former employees say Katz issued four apologies on the official Artesian Twitter account and YouTube channel, which he has allegedly since deleted. Inverse’s sources say numerous employees attempted to dissuade Katz from continuing to comment publicly, with one employee appearing to characterize Katz’s initial tweets as a “non-apology,” and another appearing to assert there was “no point in deleting” Katz’s responses that had seemingly failed to deter critics.
Multiple former Artesian employees tell Inverse that Katz’s reaction to the fallout of the February 28 Twitch stream wasn’t a one-time meltdown, but a broader symptom of the company’s shaky long-term foundations. One former employee describes their experience working at the company as a “dream job” that devolved into an “environment of mistrust” due to Katz’s leadership. Several former employees claim Katz “verbally berated” them and others during meetings, and that allegedly he would routinely “talk behind the backs” of other members of Artesian’s leadership team.
Cushy startup jobs weren’t easy to come by in 2020 and 2021. So it’s no surprise that Artesian’s employees — even the ones without the corner offices — were willing to put up with the less glamorous aspects of the job.
“Those people were putting in the work. He [Katz] was living a fun lifestyle, meeting famous people, and buying supercars while not being profitable,” Eric Ashmore, formerly of Artesian’s customer support team, tells Inverse. “I thought Katz was a good person and someone I was proud to work for, a showman. Now I’m just angry and disappointed.”
Victor Poon worked as Artesian Builds’ Head of Strategy for Finance and People for seven weeks in early 2021. (By his own account, he was Katz’s roommate in San Francisco and had casually asked to join Artesian as a “head of strategy.”) Right after he started, Poon noticed “nobody was really getting any work done or building PCs,” and that Artesian’s San Francisco office was unproductive and “extremely overstaffed.”
“Those people were putting in the work. He was living a fun lifestyle, meeting famous people, and buying supercars.”
Poon says he tried to approach Katz about these problems on numerous occasions, but purportedly “Noah would take it as a personal attack.”
“It was really dysfunctional, there wasn't any real direction,” Poon says. “Everyone reported to Noah, so there really wasn't any sense of organization. I was disappointed that he wasn't displaying any leadership.”
At 5 a.m. on May 17 2021, Poon received an email from Katz obtained by Inverse with the subject line “Artesian Builds & You.”
“At this time effective immediately, your time at the company has come to an end,” the email read, adding that he needed to return a “3070 furnished to you by Noah.”
According to Poon, his dismissal allegedly came immediately after an argument with Katz, where Poon told the CEO and two other Artesian executives that “we needed to lower our costs.”
“Legal counsel, not me”
Amid the fallout of the February 28 Twitch stream, several well-known content creators have questioned the quality of Artesian’s products. On a March 3 live stream, Mizkif said the computer he received from Artesian was “just garbage” and “nothing was right with it.”
The same day, Twitch streamer KristoferYee said on a live stream that a fellow creator told him the processor on his custom Artesian PC had been “throttled” to stop it from overheating, impairing its performance.
Throughout 2021, demand for Artesian’s custom computers appears to have grown beyond the team’s ability to keep pace. According to Ashmore, the company was producing between “15 to 25” PCs a day at the East Coast facility, while Katz and the West Coast team were only building two or three each day. The San Francisco office housed numerous employees who worked on backend issues, like marketing and glass etching. But the former employees who spoke to Inverse say this wouldn’t explain such a significant disparity in output.
Allegedly, the problem wasn’t just quantity, but quality too. “There were quite a lot of lackluster machines coming out of the West Coast warehouse,” Ashmore says.
“There were quite a lot of lackluster machines coming out of the West Coast warehouse.”
Artesian’s internal imbalances were exacerbated by global shortages that made high-powered graphics cards difficult to come by, meaning hundreds of orders meant to be delivered in three to six weeks were taking four to six months to produce. So in January 2022, employees debated ordering 250 Nvidia GPUs on the secondary market in a desperate attempt to fill outstanding orders. According to employees, Katz nixed the idea.
“We were told the company didn't have any money,” Ashmore says, “[Katz] assured us that there was payroll, but there wasn't enough to do that order of GPU. A month later, nothing happened, and now they [the customers] are still waiting six months.”
Ashmore says Artesian issued over $100,000 in refunds within the first 24 hours of the February 28 live stream and $300,000 by the end of that week. He also alleges Katz personally asked him to stop issuing refunds via text message, claiming the instructions came from “legal counsel, not me.”
“The amount of people that refunded their order was more than what they could actually return,” another former Artesian employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells Inverse.
Former Artesian employees tell Inverse they were blindsided by the news they were out of a job. Like Ashmore, they weren’t planning to leave any time soon and assumed the company had a bright future ahead.
“Obviously, I feel lost,” former Artesian Video Editor Anwer Eissawe tells Inverse. “We did not know this was happening and did not have time to even start looking for jobs.”
Though their lives changed overnight, some former staffers have already landed on their feet. Eissawe and several other former employees have joined CandieBerrie, a custom computer wrapping influencer and past Artesian partner. PC manufacturers like SkyTech Gaming and NZXT tweeted support and links to job opportunities on the day of the layoffs.
“[Katz] was mean to you like 90 percent of the time, you didn’t get credit for anything, and you didn’t want to complain about it,” CandieBerrie said on a March 22 Twitch live stream with Kristofer Yee. “It’s like a cult, so you think you are doing a good job.”
But being on the other side of Artesian’s collapse hasn’t stopped Ashmore from wondering what could have been.
“We were a great company and we were doing amazing things,” he says. “We were — it just wasn't Noah doing it. It was the employees and their dedication and actually care about getting these people their PCs. It was never Noah."
A previous version of this story said “Artesian issued over 100,000 refunds within the first 24 hours of the February 28 live stream and 300,000 by the end of that week”. After conferring with sources, we have updated this section of the piece to say they “issued over $100,000 in refunds within the first 24 hours of the February 28 live stream and $300,000 by the end of that week.”