Quirky founder Ben Kaufman wants to refocus product development in America.
KAUFMAN: Hello. So, David told me I have 10 minutes to change your entire perception of everything you see in the world.
So I’m going to do just that. Let’s see if this works. The Empire State Building—I live in New York. I’m guilty of that. And the Empire State Building actually, it was built in one year and 45 days, to build the Empire State Building. It took two years and two months to build this fucking potato peeler.
There’s something wrong here. 11 years later and we still don’t have a Freedom Tower. This is the first jetliner, the Lockheed P80 from idea and design to delivery was 143 days. That’s what our country was capable of when we needed to be innovative.
Fifty years since the original Concord was designed—and it’s still the fastest commercial jet in the world. And it was flown completely mechanically, like no onboard computers, like switches and things like this.
There is something to be learned by all of this. And that is as the world has moved into a place where we’re making apps and technologies and servers and things like this, we have forgotten about the things that actually touch all of us as human beings, real things that you could hold in your hand, look at out on the street and sometimes drop on your foot.
Companies all around the world are having trouble figuring out, well, how do we be innovative? How do we capture all of this? I mean even P&G—this is a rough quote. You can’t really read it. It says we haven’t created a new or meaningful category in quite sometime. And this is from the CEO of P&G just two months ago. So what does all of this mean? This means that we need to do something about it, and that we need to take all of the cool things that are happening in technology and community and Internet and all of these things and put it into the things that matter, the things that we touch and feel every day. P&G hasn’t made anything new or meaningful in quite sometime.
But guess who has a bunch of crazy guys locked in a glass conference room in New York City. In fact, we launch two brand-new consumer products every single week, every Tuesday at 12:00 and every Thursday at 12:00, regardless of what’s going on in the world. And that’s going to increase to about 10 products per week by the end of the year.
The reason why I started this company, I was an inventor myself when I realized making real things, physical products is really, really hard. You need to have—there’s some sort of list here of tons of different disciplines, from design to engineering to manufacturing to retail, merchandising, logistics. So many things need to come together just to push one brand-new product out into the real world. And what that results in is a world where invention is very inaccessible.
Now, at Quirky, we strive to make invention accessible. And we do that by leveraging three things, three things that any company can activate, employ and put forth to bring all the technological innovation and all the passion that built the Empire State Building in one year and 45 days into everything around you.
Technology, community and experts. It’s the coming together of all three of these things that makes it possible for us to defy gravity every single week. We have got it to a place where we launch a brand-new consumer product for somewhere between 5 and $50,000 when every company from P&G to Rubbermaid to KitchenAid to all these guys are spending hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars just to throw something against the wall.
By the way, the guy pictured here, we call him around the office Detroit. He’s here somewhere. His name is Richard. And he runs our shop. Every single prototype that comes out of Quirky comes out of this guy’s hands. He actually went to college here at Wayne State.
Where are you? Where are you? Come on. Stand up! I don’t know where he is. I can’t really see. But he’s here.
So all this happens on quirky.com, where people just come together, submit their ideas. Some of their ideas are just as simple as like recycled science fair projects that they had in high school. This is one that was submitted by a guy in Wisconsin who just graduated high school at the time. And he just said there’s a problem, and I need a solution. I can’t fit all of my power bricks into a power strip. He submitted it to quirky.com. The community got to work on it. 709 people came together through a product evaluation process and a design process. And all of a sudden, we have the world’s first pivotable power strip, so you can pivot your outlets and everything can fit.
This is just one product. We do this twice per week. Okay. Jake’s product, we’re closing in on a million units sold. Jake, a 23-year-old kid from Wisconsin, has made over — close to half a million dollars in royalties just a year after his product has hit the marketplace. This is what us coming together as a world can do. His products can be found at all the best retail stores in the world.
So now I slow down a bit again and get all huh. So wrap your head around this. Everyone talks about the future, the future, the future. 100 years, 100 years of progress in this fair town. Over 100 years ago, you guys had a guy that made something like this. It was a car. It was called the Model T. It was the best selling car in 1909, and it came in black. And it got actually 17 miles per gallon.
Here we are 100 years later, 100 years later. Like wrap your head around this. The best-selling car in America is still a Ford. It’s still black. And it gets 16 miles a gallon.
Now, that was 100 years worth of progress. Let’s look at what a community can do in 100 days. 100 days of progress. Jenny Drinkard, a student in Atlanta, she looked around her dorm room and said everyone around me is using milk crates for things other than milk. And this has been going on forever, right? When was the last time you saw a milk crate actually carrying milk? It does other things. It holds records and books and things like this. She was tired of it. She said, first of all, they are ugly and I don’t want them in my dorm room. Second of all, they are not built for this.
So how do we take the milk crate and revolutionize it and make it something that actually fits into our world? She submitted to Quirky I think earlier this year. The community got to work on it. And we immediately started sketching and figuring out how to revolutionize the milk crate. Then we found a tooling shop in New Jersey. They spent a few days on it. Then we found a factory in Vermont. They had big injection molding machines. Sooner or later, there were tens of thousands of these milk crates being made.
And Jenny and her product went from zero to $1 million in four days. Made in the U.S.A., made by all of us together as a community and as a people in less than 100 days. It’s available at Staples and Office Max and Target.
So all of this comes down to one simple thing, in my opinion. Back then when we were building buildings in a year and 45 days and defying the laws of physics by making supersonic jets, we did it because we had to. That’s what we were paying attention to. That’s what we were putting all of our passion into as a nation. And now we’re putting our passion into making iPhone games and all sorts of things that aren’t actually moving us forward as a society.
Why Quirky works and why this community is so damned productive is because of this one quote from Mr. Benjamin Franklin, another awesome Ben. He says tell me, if you tell me, I’m going to forget. I’m just going to forget it. I don’t care about your new product. I don’t care about your discount. I don’t care about your promotion. I don’t care about the fact that your car now comes in pink. I’m just going to forget about it.
He said show me and I might remember. Right? So if you actually show me that car and show me why it’s better, I might remember the fact that I should, you know, visit that Empire State Building. But if you involve me, I’m truly going to understand. And when people understand the passion that goes into a product and the passion that goes into building a project and coming together as a community, then they are really going to understand and they are really going to have your back.
So thank you. And please do things other than iPhone apps, I guess.