For Ben Kaufman, the 24-year-old host of the Sundance Channel’s new series Quirky
(and founder of the same-name company), his “aha” moment of success came on a New York subway when he saw a woman wearing an iPod accessory made by his first company, Mophie. Kaufman, who was still in high school at the time, never forgot that rolling revelation.
“I wasn’t unique in the fact that I had a great idea; everyone in the world has a great idea,” Kaufman says. “I was unique in the fact that all the circumstances lined up to allow me to execute on the idea,” including, he says, parents who were crazy enough to take out a second mortgage on their house so he could start the company.
To give everyday geniuses their break, Kaufman reinvented inventing with Quirky.com, an online research-and-development plant in which wannabe Edisons pay $10 a pop to submit ideas — like a flexible power strip, a modular spatula system, a computer task lamp, a cord-management tool or a combo night-light/alarm clock. Each week, the worldwide Quirky community (which includes more than 65,000 registered “influencers”) selects two ideas to go into development. The chosen ideas are then tweaked and offered to the public; if enough people commit to buy, the item is produced and sold.
The six-part Quirky TV series mimics that same business model, following as Quirksters sift through 300 to 600 ideas each week. That means plenty of “failure action,” Kaufman says. Kaufman stresses that hopeful inventors must be brief and must define a crying need for their brainchild. “How does this make people’s lives easier?” he asks. For now, Quirky.com
focuses on consumer products that retail for under $150, but Kaufman won’t rule out bigger leaps in the future.
So, a Quirky car, maybe?
“Never say never,” he says. “All of us are smarter than any one of us.”