Friday, September 2, 2011


One of the most effective and influential (if not the most) pioneering inventors of our time — in this new world of digital devices and new media is no other than, Steve Jobs.  Freshly retired since just last week, Jobs who's become synonymous with Apple walks away from his helm as Apple's CEO with about 313 patents that includes his name as the inventor. 


This passed Tuesday, Quirky (a social-media-community that focuses on sharing product design ideas), turned new reality TV series, launched on the Sundance Channel promising to "bring back more inventors into America once again," according to Ben Kaufman, the founder and CEO at last Wednesday's launch party in New York.  Kaufman practically yelling at the top of his lungs — drunk with excitement and confidence — thanked all who contributed to the launch while promising to revolutionize the country with his new army of what he refers to as "inventors," (aka "ideators"). 

The 24 year old entrepreneur from Long Island came up with his company called Quirky back in 2009: It rallies an online community who've all had the same dream of having one of their designs made one day.  Every week Quirky launches two products based on the ideas that win the most votes from its social-media-design-community.

The business model is definitely "quirky," indeed: The start-up treats their so called "inventors" as the stars during the whole process of development (which in reality includes a team of at least four product designers to come up with an effective design of off the original concept).  

From there, the "ideator" participates in the approval — all along doing photo-shoots and press publicity to get the press and people talking on the whole idea that even regular citizens with no real product design background can now make their dreams come true through Quirky's magic.  The packaging even has the "inventor's" picture on it, along with the number of people from the social media's community, who ended up contributing to the final product — called "influencers" and who also supposedly get a cut of the profit. 

Ben Kaufman with Andrea Zabinski with her product
prototype strainer/bowl, Ventu.
The business plan is really the brilliant aspect of this whole Quirky concept: to sell the idea of creating "inventors" to a community who are willing to pay a submission fee for their product idea's consideration. 

In an Emmy speech (for the new reality show) prepared by Kaufman, he notes, "When I first started Quirky I  had no idea it would become a hit TV show.  I really just wanted to make some money by exploiting people's ideas  help inventors and creative people all around the world" (see full speech HERE). Aside from collaborating with Sundance, the two year old start-up has even scored some sterling partnerships behind the newly launched brand, such as with ObjetGeometries (a object printing machine), Bed Bath and Beyond (a chain of selling platforms) and HSN (a selling platform on TV).

Episode One features two products: One is called Pivot Power (see featured video below), an adjustable outlet strip so that it can hold large adapters in every outlet.  The other is the Ventu: an adjustable strainer that transforms into a serving large bowl (protype pictured above).  It seems that most of the products that make it into Quirky's fruition usually solve a simple problem to update outdated designs. 

All of the manufactured items that make it through the red-social-media tape do make sense as upgrades to already pre-existing daily merchandise (most of which are either electronic accessories or  housewares). A lot of them are designed with humor and wit, and it's not hard to see how they've won the most votes to make it into manufacturing.  In fact, Quirky won't even begin the process to start making the "idea," happen, if there aren't enough pre-orders to make sure that the item will in the end sell to the market.  

Hence, the business deal appears to be quite legitimate indeed: with big sponsors behind them, a healthy cost benefit analysis, 23 million dollars of funding, and now a reality show to promote the weekly launches. 

What Quirky isn't however, is a school of inventors.  Inventors transform how we live in immutable ways — nudging us to take a leap into the future, ready or not.  They discard outdated products, rather than update them — forcing entire societies to pivot into using newly invented ones all the while making everyone wonder how the whole thing works to begin with. Google's digital engines, the iPhones, iPods, and iPads as well as Facebook are just a few of such disruptive inventions that haven't just changed the times, but they in fact, define our times.  

Real inventors aren't just players in the game, they are the game-changers. And they certainly don't just take any old household product that need  updating and pass them up for new "inventions."  These two concepts are entirely two different "ideas." 

As romantic and as sellable as Quirky's idea is — to abuse the use of the word "inventor," and to market the idea of inventing inventors – it simply diminishes the grandeur of what it truly means to create something out of nothing — thus making a mockery of the works of the real innovators such as: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, and of course Mr. Steve Jobs.  It also does a great disservice to a country — still widely known for birthing some of the most revolutionary minds to date, despite these harrowing times.  And so in light of the recent resignation of a real inventor, see a small tribute video (below) as well as Jobs's advice to entrepreneurs who're still looking to change the world without looking to be called an "inventor," because the mark they'll make in history simply won't need any further inventing (above).

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