Turn Your Idea Into a Quirky Product

I believe there are many people like me always finding something dissatisfying in our lives and curious enough to think further about remedies. However, many of us also have a full time job, kids and family, and house-work to do. It is really challenging for us to invent and develop something using only the limited spare resources of one person.

Crowd sourcing and funding that leverages community to share the task of solving a problem is a big trend today. In 2014 total monies raised through crowd funding grew 167% to 16.2 billion. I am curious about this new trend and wanted to experiment with a few of the crowd sourcing platforms myself.

Recently, I put one of my ideas on Quirky.com (Quirky 2.0) and experienced a real crowd sourcing invention process. Fortunately, the projec—Soda Bottle—was selected at ‘Eval’, which is an evaluation event that is held weekly at Quirky to select the best ideas based on community’s opinion (this is the all important step in which to qualify). I am very proud to say I passed ‘Eval’ to become a Quirky inventor at my first try. The beauty of Quirky is that the idea can be as simple as a raw idea and the community members with various skills can help you to complete the invention, so the platform can make the development of the invention more accessible.

Through the two-week process I have four important learnings that may help others like me to better navigate this process and be successful. These learnings did help me succeed in the project.

1. Be curious and diligently define the right problem to solve for.
I got the Soda Bottle idea when I was on a family trip to Texas. The flight was delayed and the waiting area was very crowded. I noticed a lady who sat next to me bought a bottle of water and poured a bag of flavoring powder (red color) into the water and shook the bottle violently to mix it. Immediately, I was curious to learn why did she spend extra money on the flavoring agent and water option rather buying a bottled soda.

We had a brief conversation and I found that she loved to drink soda but was aware of the excessive amount of sugar in the bottled soda and wanted to create her own drinks by using different flavoring agents. No fizz was a compromise, because there was no way for her to create it on-the-go.

So, I figured it might be a good idea to create a bottle that can help the user make fizzy soda on-the-go. I knew the combination of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate can produce CO2, but less well known is that the sodium ion can also cause salty off flavor—so this obvious chemical approach might not be readily used. We all know the famous quote from Charles Kettering “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” 4iNNO has a training program that teaches methods to better define and re-define a problem to solve. The problem I needed to solve for this consumer is “How to conveniently make carbonated beverages on-the-go without compromising flavor?”

It turns out the solution is already well tried and tested—use carbon-dioxide gas—and an all-important quick review of patents revealed that nobody was protecting what I envisioned.

2. Know the Quirky platform and process
There are three important elements to Quirky: The project requirements; the process; and the audience. The following figure illustrates the necessary components for a project to be qualified for the all-important ‘Eval’ evaluation:  quirkyFlow

The components on the top have to come from the project team. The project team can be just one core inventor or a collaboration between the core inventor and other community members, which is managed by the core inventor. The competition and market research can be done by the community. A catchy name can help others on the platform to better understand the project.


The Quirky process is a filtering process with several stages. Every week more than 2000 projects are initiated, only a small number of them are completed then qualified to Eval. Eval evaluates about 15 ideas each Thursday. Most of the time, less than one third of the ideas are selected by Quirky community and advanced to the development phase. Making it to the development phase means the idea has a very high chance to be manufactured by Quirky or Quirky’s partners, ie. GE, Wink, Harman, etc. Once the products hit the store shelf, the team members and community members who contributed to the project start to earn a share of the revenue of the product that they invented.

The key to success on Quirky is to be selected in Eval, since the drop-off rate after Eval will drastically decrease. During Eval, each idea will be given 90 seconds of voting window when the community just simply vote like/dislike to determine the fate of an idea. It is very important to survey the previous successful projects to get a sense of the preference of the community.

3. Tap into the Quirky community
The Quirky community is a great resource for us to tap into to get help on design, video pitch, 3D modeling, or even refine our ideas. In addition, it is better to engage with the community before Eval, so the idea can get some early supporters with some form of vested interest. Remember though to think like a businessman – you are exchanging shares in your invention for skills, so act smart and choose only the right contributors for the really value-added requirements. Don’t squander your upside on dead-wood.

4. Leverage the social network
Getting support from Quirky community is great, but one can also leverage his/her social network to increase the chance of success in Eval. I did post a link on my wechat and LinkedIn pages to ask for support from my social network. Outside support is always important, I learned that less than 30% of the fund came directly from Kickstarter community and more than 70% of the fund were from FB, Twitter, direct link, etc. for a successful campaign on Kickstarter.

Hope these quick learnings are helpful. Happy inventing with the community!

Quirky’s mission is to make invention accessible. It was super successful after founded by CEO Ben Kaufman in 2009. In total Quirky secured 169 million of venture fund. To date the most famous product, Pivot Power, has sold more than 600,000 units and made a $1.6 million payment to the core inventor and community. In addition, the Quirky platform also formed a partnership with GE to work on connected home initiative.

However, recently Quirky announced the CEO left the company and they laid off more than 100 employees after failing to raise another round of funding. Initially, Quirky wanted to become a product company, with an e-commerce platform, that produced and distributed products based on the selected ideas from their platform. However nearly one year ago, Quirky found the previous vision may not work well and started to transition to Quirky 2.0, where Quirky would solely focus on the community platform and the partners would take the ideas to finish the go-to-market steps.

There is no doubt that Quirky burnt through their cash too fast. To take ideas to market is a high risk business, this is what VCs, startups, and large corporations try and fail at with regularity—but they pursue it because with high risk sometimes comes high reward. But how can we increase the chance of success?

At 4iNNO, we offer Corporate Accelerator Service to large corporate clients to help them start new ventures with lower cost, faster speed and higher chance to success. Fortunately, I worked on one of these projects with an amazing client in Asia. Comparing my learnings from the previous project and what I read about Quirky, I think there are three things that can be done differently and may alter Quirky’s current situation.

1. Focus on consumer jobs to be done (JTBD) and get it right.
In the 4iNNO process, we usually spent a eggMinderlot of time upfront to get the JTBD right. The primary and secondary research can help us to uncover the value of a certain JTBD to our target consumer. Failing to get the right JTBD can cost a fortune. The Egg Minder is a good example. I estimated it took at least $300,000 to put this product on the shelf (design, molding, chip design, manufacturing, marketing, MOQ, etc). However, it has only sold 500 units according to the Quirky website.

I like the idea and I think it is neat. But the JTBD was wrong. The value of introducing a connected solution for this JTBD is unnecessary for most consumers. [As an editorial note…I think that this is true of so many ‘connected’ devices that the idea of the Smart Home is becoming corrupted by them, but a blog for another day!].

2. Constantly align What’s Needed, What’s Possible, What’s Required. To ultimately deliver a successful product to the market, we need to constantly align the consumer need (What’s Needed, WN), the technical possibility (What’s Possible, WP) and the business requirement (What’s Required, WR). Quirky uses a market research survey with 5-6 simple questions to get a temperature check on consumer segment, preferred distribution channels, and pricing. I do not know if there is any more primary research Quirky does before advancing a certain project to design and prototyping phase, but this is too basic. In my opinion you should not be overly trusting of the inventor’s assertions and very basic consumer research telling you that the JTBD is right and important.

For a certain project, it may be helpful to add one due-diligence step before a prototyping phase, which is to deeply study the target consumers and to find out their motivation to buy the product, to make a pre-sale or to ask them to recommend the product to others.charts

From the business side, making money only from product sales seems to me too slow and uncertain to keep up with the cash burn rate. It could also help to think about other ways to make money on an idea rather than simply tweaking small features, e.g. licensing agreements; making money from service but not the physical products; etc.

Constantly aligning WN, WP and WR can drastically increase the chance of success, it makes sure the final product can be manufactured, solve the consumer need, and deliver the vision.

3. Use small iterative steps.
A big leap from engineering prototype to mass production is extremely risky. Small iterative steps can help us to learn more about the targeted market and be more confident along the way to the mass production. It also give us the opportunity to find out what could go wrong at the end and fix it immediately.

I really hope that Quirky can survive and learn from the challenges and keep making the invention accessible.

Qian Li, PhD