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- Date Established
- New York City
- Connects inventors to each other
- Free to use
- Quirky gets the rights to your intellectual property
- The process by which inventors get paid is convoluted
- The company warns against using them to make money
Over the course of the past decade, crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter have received lots of attention as tools for funding new tech gadgets and other inventions. This story is well-known. Less well-known is the story of Quirky, a company that, like Kickstarter, was founded in New York in 2009 with the goal of helping entrepreneurs develop their inventions and bring them to market.
However, Quirky isn’t a crowdfunding platform but rather a service that connects a wide community of inventors for the purposes of advice and collaboration while also facilitating the production and sale of select inventions.
Launched by Ben Kaufman in 2009, Quirky got quite a bit of attention in its early years. There was even a reality show on the Sundance Channel that cataloged the happenings around the office at Quirky. The Washington Post reviewed it thusly: “Meant to celebrate innovation and entrepreneurial can-do spirit, ‘Quirky’ instead eerily reflects the vapidity of the American economy and employment picture, where ideas trump labor and success is measured by top-level paydays instead of actual toil. Hipsters invent, while Chinese labor manufactures and shoppers mindlessly buy.” Ouch!
Despite all the early attention, Quirky didn’t work out as intended, going bankrupt in 2015. In its post-mortem of the company, New York Magazine noted that “it would appear that the company’s raison d’être was also the reason for its downfall, a colony of amateurs green-lighting unscalable solutions to nonexistent issues.”
However, Quirky wasn’t dead — it was just resting. Quirky’s assets were acquired by Q Holdings LLC in late 2015, and in 2016, the company re-launched with new financing and owners. (Unfortunately, this left Quirky’s pre-bankruptcy inventors in the lurch, as Quirky still owned their intellectual property but halted all manufacturing and royalty payments. In short, Quirky was reborn, free of all obligations to those who had entrusted their IP to them. Capitalism: catch the fever.)
Understandably, Quirky is trying to put this sordid history behind them as they move forward. Let’s explore the platform and see if inventors should feel comfortable placing their trust in Quirky 2.0.
Table of Contents
Quirky is an invention platform that a) connects you to a community of entrepreneurs ready to assist in fully realizing your product, and b) physically produces your invention via third-party licensing to companies such as Shopify and HSN if it deems your idea to be viable in the market.
The service is free to join, but when you’re developing your product idea, you share “influence” with those in the community who help you through the process. “Influence” refers to a portion of any future royalties you’ll receive from sales of your product. You’re also signing away the rights to your invention to Quirky, and you’ll only get your intellectual property back if you request it back one year after you originally submitted your product, if and only if Quirky doesn’t take any steps to develop, commercialize, or patent your invention. Even then, Quirky doesn’t guarantee that they will return your IP to you.
If Quirky ends up taking your product to market, their policy for disbursing revenues is as follows:
The Company will distribute a portion of all revenue generated from the commercialization of a Product Idea [. . .] selected and developed through the Site, to those Users who contributed to the development of the Product Idea, in proportion to each User’s Influence, which is determined at the sole discretion of the Company[G7].
As for the products Quirky chooses to take to market, they state that they evaluate each product on its uniqueness, its patentability, whether or not there’s a market for it, and how viable it is to manufacture. And once your product starts generating sales, they will only start to distribute payment once the amount payable in your account exceeds $50 and only on a quarterly basis.
If this sounds like a good deal, Quirky has some words of warning for you in their Terms of Service:
Users should not participate on the Site or in the Services primarily for financial gain, as any actual monetary compensation actually received by a User in connection with the Site, may or may not bear any relation to the actual time invested on the Site, or the quality or quantity of User Content submitted, or Influence allocated. Because the Company may elect in its sole discretion to not commercialize or to cease commercializing any Selected Product Idea at any time, there can be no guarantee that you will ever receive any payments or actual compensation in connection with participating on the Site or providing User Content even if you participate or provide User Content.
They later state:
Use Quirky because it’s fun, not because you expect to make money. We’ll do our best to help you earn royalties and cash out, but we can’t guarantee any payments (only smiles).
It calls to mind the disclaimers attached to those old ads for telephone psychics: “For Entertainment Purposes Only.” Not that it isn’t a big deal to get a service to arrange the manufacture of your products for you, but “Use us for fun, not for profit” is a somewhat discordant stance to take in this highly competitive field populated by ambitious entrepreneurs!
Terms & Fees
Unlike with crowdfunding sites, there are no set fees to pay. If Quirky judges your product to be worthy of manufacturing, it will do so, but the precise proportion of the revenue generated from sales that will go to you? That’s entirely up to Quirky, as they freely admit.
Invention Evaluation Process
Quirky lays out five phases of its invention evaluation process in their FAQ:
- Concept: You submit your idea to the company, either privately or publicly (to seek input from other creators).
- Review: Your idea is then put in the queue for Quirky to review — their policy is to do so within 45 days of your idea being submitted, during which time you can’t further revise it.
- Development: If Quirky thinks your idea is worth it, they will create industrial design sketches and renders, do materials testing, create prototypes, and conduct a pricing analysis while updating you as they refine your invention.
- Production: If your product makes it past phase three, it will be sent to the factory for production.
- Launched: Your product will now be sold, both in Quirky’s online shop and in whatever retail outlets agree to carry your product.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Quirky’s Terms of Service page is fairly extensive, yet a lot of it has the same “maybe we’ll give you back your intellectual property and maybe we won’t” tone as the sections discussed earlier. Quirky seems to think that since their service is free to join and use, they don’t owe you any guarantees.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Quirky’s website features a contact form, an email address, and a street address. And after you submit an invention for review, Quirky will eventually get in touch with you.
There hasn’t been much at all written about Quirky since their implosion in 2015 and subsequent rebirth in 2016.
According to their homepage, Quirky currently has over 1.3 million members, has had 321,000 inventions submitted, and has sent $11 million in royalty payments to inventors. Clearly, there are signs of life left in the reanimated corpse of this one-time darling of the entrepreneurial chattering class. Yet you get the sense in reading through Quirky’s literature that they consider themselves more of a fun gamble for an inventor than a reliable means by which one can make money and build a company.
I won’t be overly critical of their business model, especially considering membership in Quirky costs nothing (though you are forfeiting the rights to your own work). However, there are services out there which are more likely to help you achieve success as an inventor and which won’t require you to relinquish control over your idea. Plus, it’s not entirely clear that Quirky’s business model has been sufficiently reworked to avoid another spectacular collapse — a collapse that buried the dreams of many starry-eyed inventors just a few short years ago.
Two and a half stars.