Yesterday was the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991), best known as Dr. Seuss, author of beloved and best-selling children’s books such as The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax.
Coincidentally, I’m sure, it was also the day my local public radio station, KQED, aired a story by Sam Harnett about how “politics is killing workplace productivity.”
The whole story is worth a read (or listen), but the reason I’m writing this post is the Seussian company name at the very beginning:
Only one time before has CEO Andy Ruben seen his co-workers so distracted by the news, and that was a very different situation: 9/11.
Ruben is CEO of Yerdle, a San Francisco company that helps retailers resell used products. Since the election of Donald Trump and subsequent political turmoil, Ruben said it has been hard to keep his workers focused.
I can’t recall hearing about Yerdle before this, even though it’s headquartered across the bay in San Francisco and has been around for five years. It keeps a pretty low profile: It has no Twitter presence, and its Facebook Marketplace group isn’t public. The main website’s About Us page still contains a [LINK TO FB GROUP] note to self.
Now that I know the name, however, I can’t stop wondering about it.
Even if I hadn’t already been thinking about Dr. Seuss, I’d have quickly leapt from Yerdle to “Yertle the Turtle,” Seuss’s 1958 story about a tyrannical turtle who commands his turtle subjects to stack themselves into a tower so that he can rise above the moon. Eventually Mack, the turtle at the bottom of the stack, decides he’s had enough: He burps – the publisher, Random House, worried that “burp” was too crude for a children’s book* – and the stack collapses, leaving King Yertle in the mud.
If you’re thinking “Hmm, sounds like a political allegory,” give yourself a cookie. Geisel told his friend and biographer Judith Morgan that “Yertle was very definitely Hitler.” (In early drawings, Yertle had a mustache.) He’d been exploring the political-turtle theme since as early as 1942, when he published a cartoon in PM, a New York newspaper, depicting two stacks of turtles representing “dawdling producers” from whom “you can’t build a substantial V” for Victory.
Geisel – all four of whose grandparents were German immigrants, and who spoke German in his childhood home in Massachusetts – drew a lot of political cartoons during World War II, many of them skewering American isolationism and racism.
Sadly, he was not as enlightened about Japanese-American citizens, and often gave them stereotypical racist portrayals.
As for Yerdle, I haven’t found an explanation of the company name. Perhaps the founders, who include the former national president of the Sierra Club, were aping the names of other tech companies: Yodle and Yodlee, maybe, with a dash of Google. Maybe they half-remembered Yertle the Turtle as a cute children’s-book character, and named their company after him without doing any further research. Either way, the decision was misguided. Imitation is never an effective branding strategy, and association with a Hitler surrogate is, well, a very bad idea. Do I have to mention that nothing about “Yerdle” suggests the praiseworthy goals of the company? Nah, I’ll just leave it there.
Just one more thing. To the Yerdle employees who are having a hard time focusing on work because of all the political sturm und drang: I hear you, I’m with you, I feel your pain.