Santa Barbara’s GadgetFix Keeps Going Viral with Tech Talk on TikTok
The App Behind a Small-Business Boom
By Caitlin Kelley | September 16, 2021
When Edwin Guzman started his TikTok account in late 2019, there wasn’t a lot of phone-repair content to be found. So he’d post bite-sized walkthroughs of tech wizardry at his shop, GadgetFix, for fun. He’d notice the view counts ramp up little by little with each post. By the time he uploaded his 11th video to the app, he hit more than 750,000 views. He was hooked.
Guzman specializes in short clips of the gadgets he, well, fixes at his De la Vina St. shop. In his first viral clip from April 2020, he takes the viewer on a journey … of replacing the back glass of an iPhone. As a fan of the TV show Drugs, Inc., he went for a voice effect similar to the one that masks the anonymous guests on the program. Given the inaccessible nature of Apple repairs, commenters thought he was trying not to get in trouble with the mega-corporation.
“Apparently a lot of people think that you can’t replace those,” Guzman says. “So I think that’s what kind of just got the whole thing going.” Since then, he’s made a routine out of posting content — and the one-man business has reached more than 850,000 followers and counting.
Cleanliness Is Next to Viralness
There’s a side of TikTok’s 700 million-strong userbase called “CleanTok.” The hashtag is basically life hack meets visual ASMR content that took off amid the deep-cleaning frenzy necessitated by the pandemic. You can find everything from hyper-disinfected gravestones to poolside pro-tips in there. It’s also the reason why GadgetFix’s reach skyrocketed in the past couple of weeks.
In mid-August, two “dirty-ass” phones were sent in for repairs, and the downtown repairman dutifully opened their cases up to the world. The before-and-after transformations ended up going mega-viral with more than 25 million views altogether.
“Now I know in the back of my head, if I do get a dirty phone, then I’ll do a video on cleaning that phone,” Guzman notes. “That’s what people like to watch.”
The gadget fixer observes that once you hit a certain threshold, engagement becomes a snowball effect. For Guzman, his account gradually built up 400,000 followers over nearly two years. This latest spike in interactions landed him another 250,000 — in one week.
It’s not like he was chasing the CleanTok wave. The self-described “germaphobe” is so organized, he’s got a whole labeling system for spare parts above his workstation. He doesn’t even charge clients for the sanitizing service: “I kind of just do that because I’m a neat person,” he says. “If you talk to my fiancée, she’ll tell you that everything in my house has to be organized.”
So we talked to his fiancée, Pear Magaña — and she can confirm: “Not only does everything have to be organized, but … I don’t even know how to describe it,” she says with a laugh. “Nothing can be mismatched. Even his closet is pretty organized, to where all of his undershirts of the same color are in the same spot.”
Before the Post-Production
When GadgetFix opened in 2014,business was a little slow at first. “But word of mouth did play a big role, specifically here in Santa Barbara,” Guzman, who’s lived in town since he was 8, says. “It’s such a small town that word spreads pretty quickly.”
He opened the shop with his best friend, Dan Pham. “He was in charge of the computer repair side of the business, and I had the experience with phone and tablet repair,” Guzman says. A year later, Pham left to run his family’s restaurant, Phamous Café in Goleta. (His uncle took over the Vietnamese eatery during the pandemic, and he works at Chase Bank in Carpinteria now.) “So I’ve been by myself ever since,” the GadgetFix owner continues.
While Guzman wasn’t hurting for a local customer base, the turning point in GadgetFix’s online presence happened over a podcast — Gary Vaynerchuk’s The GaryVee Audio Experience, to be exact. “I love the way he speaks,” Guzman says of the social media mogul. “Every morning, people would call in and say, ‘Hey, this is going on with my business.’ And I noticed that every single person that called him, he’s like, ‘Are you doing TikTok? … Dude, get on TikTok. You should do TikTok.’ So I kind of took that to heart.”
Pham notices the difference TikTok has made in the business. “The big thing that makes GadgetFix what it is today is how Edwin pursued social media,” he says. When the duo opened the shop in 2014, they didn’t have much of a social media strategy — only the occasional post on Instagram or Facebook. “We were just kind of winging it at the time. But as the years went on, Edwin kind of perfected what he was planning on doing.”
“It’s improved my business a lot,” Guzman continues. “I’ve gotten people shipping certain things, and I’ll do a video on them as well because they will ask me to.”
Social Media Is Serious Business
The repairman estimates that he films 10 percent of the phones he works on. Typically, he films his tech exploits by holding his iPhone 11 Pro Max in front of his latest project with one hand. But he’s got a phone clamp set up above his workstation in case he needs to whip up a time lapse or two.
The camera-shy guy lets his hands do the talking under the glare of his workbench’s ring light. He likes to keep the editing process simple by recording everything in one take. “I do stutter a lot. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to do TikTok,” he says with perfect enunciation. “I was always scared of, like, ‘Oh, people are gonna make fun of me because I have a weird accent.’” Sometimes he has to redo the same shot over and over and over until he gets it right.
His penchant for publicity even surprised his former business partner. “I always saw him as a very private person,” Pham says, “so when I saw more of his social media presence, I thought that was interesting. But he’s embracing it very well.”
Guzman notes that he still handles more local walk-ins than mail-in orders. But he does get some people who have seen his TikTok videos, or their kids told them about his following. “If kids are seeing my stuff, and they tell their friends or their parents, it helps me a lot,” he says.
Dr. Jenna Drenten, acting chair of the marketing department at Loyola University Chicago, points out that the TikTok algorithm revolves around your location. “It’s increasingly geographically based, which is one of the reasons small businesses have really benefited,” she says. “So if you’re someone in Santa Barbara, you’re going to see different content than somebody in Chicago.”
Guzman recalls the time a couple came in from Oxnard. They thought their phone wasn’t repairable, then they ended up seeing GadgetFix on TikTok. So they decided to take the 45-minute drive to Santa Barbara — lo and behold, “another day, another gadget fixed.” Naturally, he has a TikTok video about that.
“It’s just mind-boggling to me, because there’s a lot of [phone repair] shops everywhere,” he says. “I mean, even in town, right now, we have five, six different shops.”
Bursting the Filter Bubble
TikTok is unique in that it helps small businesses get the kind of exposure they could never dream of on any other platform. “It’s a really good idea for businesses to get on TikTok,” Guzman says. “The organic reach that it has, I don’t pay for it.” He notes that even his first-ever video got a lot of attention — a sign that the platform works to burst its users’ social media bubbles.
It’s an observation backed by the experts who study digital marketing. “TikTok is very unique because of its ability to foster discoverability,” Dr. Drenten says. “It curates by what’s called ‘collaborative filtering,’ where it figures out who likes similar stuff as you do.”
The marketing professor adds that the platform works like Spotify in the sense that it makes recommendations based on what other people have liked and what you have previously been interested in. While other social media sites curate content based on what you follow, TikTok’s algorithm learns your interests based on your time spent watching content.
Obviously, striking algorithmic gold depends on a variety of factors, including how you package your product. “There’s a lot of TikTokers out there that are bakers, and they’ll show the process of baking a muffin,” Guzman says. “A lot of people like watching how-tos, so I think businesses will gain a lot of exposure for their brand.”
Dr. Drenten notes that how-to content is extremely effective for small businesses. “It gives us this look behind the scenes as consumers that we don’t normally have access to,” she says. “It allows us to see not just the product that’s been marketed but how the product comes to be.” Turns out the secret sauce to TikTok fame … is revealing the secret sauce to your work.