Many young kids want to be inventors. When most of them grow up, however, they either grow out of it or resign themselves to the excuse that it is the work of only dreamers and the lucky, while forging ahead into 9 to 5 desk jobs. When we were younger, we had playful, creative lessons in school on famous inventors like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Walt Disney.
Those larger-than-life creators evolved into modern-day innovators whose products and online services we now cultishly obsess over. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Jimmy Wales are the great minds of today, changing the world with their creative ideas.
To be a successful inventor, traditionally, has meant having a repertoire of popular, monetarily-successful accomplishments that finance future ideas (or a team of wealthy investors who believe in your genius). Disrupting the old-school format, however, is Quirky, an online space where people with creative ideas— and $10—can collectively engage to develop their ideas into realities.
"It could be a simple kernel of genius or a built-out prototype,” says Ben Kaufman, founder of Quirky. “Whenever a person hits that wall and can’t take their idea to the next step, Quirky is there to help them get there. It's become so much more a tangible option since the explosion of social media, which has paved the way for something like Quirky.”
Great news for the idea junkie lacking a disposable income!
Creative types are typically renaissance men and women, who boast a plethora of skills they weave together to bring their ideas to life; manufacturing, distribution and sales are often the last things they’re thinking about. While that profile of an inventor hasn't necessarily changed, what has changed is the technology, methodology and platforms for bringing inventions to life.
Here’s how it works: Potential inventors submit their clever product idea on the user-friendly Quirky participation page. As with pitches on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, presentation is everything. Simple, well-thought-out ideas that illustrate the genius and passion behind the concept triumph. Slick images and an entertaining video help prove the idea is quite possibly a great one.
“Think of a problem that is universal,” says Kaufman, an inventor, himself. “Think of a solution to that problem and the easiest way to solve it.”
Submitted ideas immediately go live on the site where they stay posted for thirty days and are evaluated by public opinion. The Quirky community has over 125,000 members and has been growing by roughly 20 percent a month, says Kaufman.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people collaborating together and owning in the share of each of our products,” says Kaufman. “It’s a model that grows itself. Our strategy is to make great products with more people each day.”
During the thirty day period, Quirky's staff monitors which of the ideas become most popular within the community. (Ideas can always be edited or even deleted throughout the thirty days.) Then the favorites are ear-marked by the staff, which chooses two ideas each Friday for potential further development. Chosen ideas ultimately earn a "perpetual royalty."
“Perpetual means forever, and money forever does not suck,” reads the Quirky website.
The outcome for the unchosen doesn't necessarily "suck" either. Creatives can opt to keep their idea in the private Quirky archives in hopes of future discovery. They can also keep trying and post their critiqued (and perhaps modified) idea for another thirty days. Quirky doesn’t claim ownership of the unchosen ideas and welcomes creatives to take what they’ve learned and explore elsewhere with their big idea.
Since Quirky launched in June, 2009, they’ve collaboratively developed 212 products. Out of those products, 48 have been commercialized and sold through their national retail partnerships, which include big-box stores Bed, Bath & Beyond, Office Max, Toys "R" Us and Barnes & Noble.
It’s no easy task to come up with something totally new. Rather, reinventing the already-invented can prove most fruitful.
“Think about age-old products that haven’t been touched in years that are in desperate need of fresh thinking,” says Kaufman.
That was the case for Quirky’s most successful product, the Pivot Power. The product is a rotating power strip, which is merely an update of an already-existing product. This one simply aims to better satisfy the needs of today’s multi-gadget owner.
“We all use gadgets that have large power bricks yet there is no power strip on the market that would accommodate for the size of these plugs,” says Kaufman. “Why not make a power strip that pivots! So we did!”
Another success is the Solo, a one-handed hanger that collapses to make it easy to hang and remove clothes in one swift motion.
“Now, you don’t have to unbutton a shirt to put it on hanger!” says Kaufman. “Solo can be inserted into a wide array of shirts, using a grab and go motion with just one hand!”
Sitting at a desk all day is bound to trigger ideas, which then also explains Cordies, a weighted desk accessory that keeps cables on the desk. Contort is a four–port USB hub extender and cord manager with a flexible neck to protect USB devices from accidental damage.
“I never thought I would get so excited about a toilet plunger,” says Kaufman. “We developed Nautilus, a plunger designed for a modern-day toilet. When doing research, everyone in the office had to go home and take a clay impression of their own toilet,” says Kaufman, hedging, however, that not every idea will allow an inventor to quit their day job.
“Quirky’s line of products is so diverse that the success of all of our products is partially dependent on our retail distributors. As we expand in different areas of retail, we will be able to determine what works and what doesn’t.”
The inventor behind Pivot Power has already made six figures for his participation with Quirky. His invention is the top-selling product to date. Another inventor gave up her high-paying job as principal at an elementary school to explore her entrepreneurial side with her invention, Vamp, a hands-free clutch and iPhone case.
“We have shown the world that the best products aren’t born in the boardroom,” says Kaufman. “At Quirky, hundreds of thousands of people work together to come up with solutions to everyday problems. We enable them to develop new products that they now can have a stake in. We design, manufacture, sell and distribute Quirky products all over the world to deliver on our promise to our inventors.”
What is your idea for a solution to an everyday problem?
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