When Ben Kaufman started Mophie, the iPod and iPhone accessories maker, as a teenager, he had to teach himself a lot about the process of invention.
He sold Mophie in 2007 and started his next company, Quirky, with the idea of helping others like him turn their ideas into products faster—assisting with everything from refining the name and design of a product, to manufacturing it, to getting it onto store shelves.
Quirky resembles crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo in helping gather input for new products from interested buyers. But unlike those services, Quirky actually takes the product all the way to market. Given how many crowdfunded campaigns stumble when it comes to manufacturing, that’s a crucial difference.
Now Kaufman is reinventing Quirky. He calls it “Quirky 2.0“—and it’s changing almost every aspect of how Quirky’s 100,000-person community collaborates on inventions.
Curious about what this involves? So am I. I’m hoping to interview Kaufman on stage at the next SXSW Interactive Festival in March 2015. Like Quirky itself, this is a community effort—I’m counting on you to vote for my panel. The deadline for votes is Friday, September 5, so I need your help.
I caught up with Kaufman by phone while he was on the road in Atlanta, courting Home Depot to stock more Quirky products on its shelves.
“We’ve been pretty focused on the same mission we’ve had since Day One—make invention accessible,” said Kaufman. “The big change that you’ve probably seen, as time has gone on, as we’ve been able to add more experts on the Quirky team, we’ve been able to make a more sophisticated kind of product.”
After starting with what Kaufman calls “small, plasticky kind of stuff”—cord managers and kitchen gadgets—Quirky’s now turning out sophisticated gear like a smart air conditioner. It’s set up a subsidiary, Wink, dedicated to smart-home products, including a namesake app to manage them.
But Quirky’s ultimate product may be its Web-based collaboration tools, which can do everything from come up with names for products to figure out how to price them, based on community input.
“The next six months are going to be really big,” said Kaufman. In November, the company plans to launch Quirky 2.0, which will unbundle various parts of its services. Today it primarily attracts the inventor who comes in with a concept or a sketch, Kaufman said, and hands the rest off to the community and Quirky, the company.
The next version of Quirky will still serve those inventors, but it will also help larger teams and even other companies that want to rely on community input to refine and shape products, with or without Quirky’s manufacturing services.
It’s a bold bet that could put Quirky at the center of many more kinds of invention. Or, like any risky new product, it could flop.
The best way to learn how Quirky 2.0 will play out? Vote for me and Kaufman to talk at SXSW Interactive 2015.
Lead photo courtesy of Quirky