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Helping Inventors Get Their Ideas Created

Aired May 6, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is human nature to invent, right? It is human nature to try to make your life better. It is human nature to try to, you know, make the world around you a better place. And what shocks people is to actually do that and execute on all those ideas. It is really freaking hard.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: It is a safe bet every single one of us had one of those lightbulb moments at one point or another, a flash of inspiration for a new electronic gadget, a toy, a kitchen utensil, something to make life easier, maybe a little bit less annoying.

But the problem is hardly anybody takes it to the next step. And that's where Ben Kaufman comes in. He's a founder and CEO of, a consumer products company that helps would be inventors see their ideas come to life.

From almost the moment an idea is accepted, Quirky's community of 200,000 community members and designers work to make that product a success. I went to Manhattan's west side to visit Quirky's new 30,000 foot headquarters. How are you doing? And I can tell you I've never seen a place quite like this.


GUPTA: Thanks for showing me around. I'm really excited. I want to see it literally from nuts and bolts, like how it all works.

BEN KAUFMAN, FOUNDER AND CEO, QUIRKY.COM: Awesome. We design the office basically around the business. So the space you're standing in right now, come Thursday afternoon, gets transformed into sort of a theatre style environment.

All right, we're up. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to quirky product evaluation. One hundred and twenty folding chairs come out here on this wood floor. Projection screen comes down. All the department heads sit there.

You have the entire quirky staff plus guests as well as people all around the world. We literally review sort of the 1,500 product ideas that were submitted that week.

GUPTA: A 1,500. KAUFMAN: The top of them, right? We're not looking at all of the ideas but the best of the best every week. The purpose of this is to crown brand-new inventors. This week, thousands of ideas were submitted to

But only 12 have made it here to Quirky product evaluation. Now, first idea comes from Quirky inventor named Kirk Spiegel. He wanted to create an electronic motorcycle steering damper that senses the road hazards and activates steering dampening to prevent motorcycle accidents

So, who wants to explain this? We're going to our invention ambassador, his name is Andrew Ehrlich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I spoke to the inventor and put it under consideration because I think it is awesome. So basically you're riding a motorcycle and if you hit a rock or a pothole, this system, this product will level out your handlebars and react to it quicker than a human can react to that, that pothole.

KAUFMAN: This is fully working. He's put it on a bike?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He made five prototypes of it. It works and he has the ability to make about ten more, he said, but he put a lot of time and effort --

KAUFMAN: Has to make many, many more than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many, many more.

GUPTA: So what happens next then? The idea has gone through that community. It seems like it showed some promise. What happens?

KAUFMAN: We'll start sketching. We'll start doing some research. So we'll do everything from industrial design to mechanical engineering to picking the colors and materials and finishes.

Our expert team here does a lot of that work, but at the same time, the community has a say and an impact at every step of the process. People here go quirky on the server, just a bunch of young kids lobbing ideas over the fence. That is not the case.

We are predominantly an older community of sort of stay at home moms and retirees and, you know, people that are leaving their day jobs, coming home, eating dinner, and spending the night working on Quirky.

JOE PINE, AUTHOR, "INFINITE POSSIBILITY": Increasingly it is not just goods and services. Increasingly what people are looking for is experience. Memorable events that engage them in inherently personal way and to be on that site is an experience, to be able to contribute to it is an experience, to feel a part of a production process is an experience.

And then you have that opportunity to be able to recognize the creation of something that you envisioned. That's just a powerful, powerful incentive. KAUFMAN: So the idea is for all of these products coming from people all around the world that we never met. We give these people an opportunity to literally see their ideas up to their full potential.

Sometimes their full potential is a week later, we tell them their idea isn't good, sometimes their full potential is five years from now and a million dollars in their bank account. We just want to make sure that we're giving it as good a run as we can.

This is out of our comfort zone. Maybe we move forward, you know, on a sort of alternative track with her and try to help and commercialize this product and make more than ten of these things. Anyone in favor of that? Raise your hand. Raise your hand. What does the community think on that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They like it, especially the people and comments from motorcycle riders said they loved their idea.

KAUFMAN: Congratulations to Kirk, you are now a quirky inventor. We don't want to just make more stuff. We want to make stuff that makes people live a happier life.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, as a people, must invent. Not because we need to find new ways to make money or to showcase our intelligence, but because it is part of who we all are.

KAUFMAN: The best products that we see are solution oriented items. They're products that solve problems that a large number of people experience on a semi-regular basis.

It is also something that we feel good about making. We don't just want to make more stuff. We want to make stuff that, you know, makes people live a happier life.

GUPTA: I love the kids box, having three kids.

KAUFMAN: We created this thing where people want to play with, you know, cardboard boxes. It is a fun thing. You make a fort out of it but you don't want to let your kids cut up the cardboard boxes so how do we make a safe cutter that kids can use.

GUPTA: Pencil sharpener.

KAUFMAN: Motorcycle helmet with led light indicator. The brake light on a motorcycle is so small. All the research has been done that that's why you can't see a motorcycle person.

So we created this motorcycle helmet where there is the whole back panel is a giant led and it connects the bluetooth to your bike, so as you brake, the whole back of your helmet lights up, so it is this giant red light.

This is where we're using all sorts of materials, foam, cardboard, et cetera, to prove out all the different concepts. This is an interesting product. They're creating a plug replicator for people that have arthritis.

If you plug this in, basically the whole thought process here is instead of having -- getting in there and using a lot of motion, you can just come in and just pop it right off. So it is a simple geometry, right, it just sort of wedges out and knocks the plug out.

GUPTA: That's great.

KAUFMAN: This is our 3D printer. It is one of the most state of art 3D printers in the world. Not many of them out there literally you're printing out parts, I mean, by hitting print.

No longer do you need these giant steel tools, and, you know, eight weeks and hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove out a concept. We can prove out a concept in hours.

GUPTA: All the products have Quirky on them.

KAUFMAN: Most of the products carry Quirky branding. The reason for that is we want to tell the full story of, you know, idea conception all the way through delivery.

And that allows the average customer who is buying the product to read the story in the back of the box. On the back of the box, we show the photo of our inventor.

JAKE ZION, INVENTOR PIVOT POWER: I'm Jake Zion. I'm 23 years old. And I invented pivot power. I was very interested in trying to put a -- bring it to shelves in stores somehow. But I didn't know what that would entail.

I had no idea being a guy with an idea how to make all the rest of that happen and what I got with Quirky was, like, my face and name on the box, and whenever a unit sold, there are pens with my name on them.

KAUFMAN: We purposefully do not take any intellectual property rights from you. Until we tell you we're going to make your product, until we tell you we're going through the design phases and actually figure out the engineering, figure out how it is actually going to work. So we actually share 10 percent of our off line revenue and 30 percent of our online revenue back with the community.

We share that royalty not just with the inventor, but with the community and people that helped with the inventor. Our product is owned, created, influenced by over a thousand people.

JENNY DRINKERED, INVENTOR: I'm jenny drinkered, a two-time Quirky inventor from Atlanta, Georgia. My latest invention is right here and here. There is -- it is an organizational system made out of milk crates that can handle all the needs of, you know, college and high school students.

I think this is a completely unique opportunity. And it is not something I would have experienced in any other realm. I honestly believe that.

GUPTA: Is there an average length of time from idea that you decided has passed through the community, has passed through your own evaluation process, from that point to an actual product, what is the average time?

KAUFMAN: Average is around sort of 120 days.


KAUFMAN: But the beautiful thing is our record is 39 days. We have taken an idea from sketch submitted to our site to every store of Bed & Beyond around the country in 39 days. No other company in the world can do that.

We make decisions every day across 300 products adding two to five products a week and decisions are -- that's our culture. The decisions are aided by the community, who are our customers.

At the end of the day, we're pleasing them. There is a huge push now to start bringing some projects back to the U.S. and to start proving the fact that we can literally take ideas from anywhere in the world and create jobs here.




KAUFMAN: The reason why I'm here today is I firsthand witnessed how inaccessible invention was, how hard it was to execute on a simple little product idea. My mom is one of the smartest business women I've ever seen. I mean, she -- she from a business perspective taught me almost everything I know.

MINDY KAUFMAN, BEN'S MOM: Working was a very important part of my life. I'm in manufacturing. So Ben always saw that you can make things and I made things. So he was able to come to a factory and see things being made.

KAUFMAN: To find any reason to get there, I would get there and anything was possible, right? There were machines making things. There were 18 wheelers pulling up, literally, pulling away with pallets and pallets full of product and displays and you could just see, you know, things go from a meeting to store shelves.

And as we walk through the mall, right, on weekends, as a family, my mom would point out everything she had a part in making. You know, on the cosmetic counters and all this stuff. That was awesome, like, my mom made that. ROY KAUFMAN, BEN'S DAD: The story of Quirky is really about a working mom who basically believes in investing in her children. And this was a 17, 18-year-old young man who came to his mother with an idea where I thought the two of them were completely out of their mind.

And he asked to put a second mortgage on the house, and at the time, it was probably half of the equity that was in the home for what looked like a good idea.

KAUFMAN: I was literally sitting in the back of math class, my senior year in high school, and trying to figure out a way to listen to the white iPod shuffle without my teacher realizing I wasn't listening to her.

MINDY KAUFMAN: So he had an idea, he came home with it on a piece of paper, on a napkin -- I don't know what it was on. I said, great idea, develop it, do it. I gave him what to do and he did. I think he even made the part, the -- out of ribbons and tape measures and he made what he thought was this great idea.

KAUFMAN: So literally I went home, prototyped this product out of ribbon and gift wrap, and created a land yard headphone so the only distance I had to clear was from here to here.

It is at that point that I showed that prototype to my parents, convinced them that it was a good idea to remortgage their house and hand me the money it would take to go ahead and commercialize that product.

MINDY KAUFMAN: He made what he thought was this great idea. And I said, wow, it is a great idea. So then I said, well what good is it? He started doing the numbers. I'm a number person, and I made him do numbers.

And he was -- do you know how many shuffles they sold and if you do the math and -- I said, OK, do the math. What is your sales projection, how much do you think it is going to cost, where are you going to make it, what is your gross profit margin. And I kept kicking back whatever he gave me and made him do better spreadsheets.

KAUFMAN: I did more diligence work for a product for my mother than I did for the top venture capital firms in the world. She made me do all sorts of spreadsheets.

What if you end up with too much inventory, what if the tooling isn't right the first time, and all these things as a 17-year-old that I had to try to figure out and model out for her?

MINDY KAUFMAN: I was, like, wow, on paper this really works. Let's do it. I really just said let's do it.

KAUFMAN: She put me through the wringer.

MINDY KAUFMAN: I just believed that it was something -- he was very -- he's very passionate, Benjamin. He is. He's very passionate. He believes in himself and I think the belief in himself and the confidence I think, you know, as parents, if you can give your children confidence, that's really all they need.

KAUFMAN: There will be no quirky if my mom didn't invest in her son. That's easy. Who knows what I would be doing right now? And she was able to teach me how to manufacture, how to create things.

So it is a little bit more than my mom investing in believing in me. It is also the fact that, you know, together they taught me all the things that were possible in the world.




KAUFMAN: I really enjoy the design and the creative process and, like, you know, pulling little leverage there and tweaking little details from a design perspective. But what really gets me excited is when I literally when I hand an inventor their product for the first time.

A product you can see on the napkin and posted on the internet and here I am, some random dude, handing it to them and it is a real life physical thing they can buy at Target next week. That, to me, is the most special part of the process.

Growing up, right, I would go to my mom's plant and she would -- she had one of the largest injection molding facilities on the eastern seaboard. And so I know what manufacturing here looked like. And it looks great.

It looked like people pretty happy in their jobs every day coming to work and making things. Now that's very different than what I see when I travel abroad to factories and it is not necessarily the best of conditions and it is not necessarily something you're happy about.

So where we made most of our products in China in the past, there is a huge push right now to start bringing some projects back to the U.S. and to start proving the fact that we can literally take ideas from anywhere in the world and create jobs here.

And that's the beautiful -- talk about great jobs, we'll take ideas from Switzerland, you know, from our inventors in Switzerland and make that stuff in Vermont. That's awesome.

We put a half a million dollars into this company in New Jersey just last week. And that's one product, right. That's one product. It is going to, you know, it is going to be a full factory of people making, you know, a dozen hardened steel tools for the next eight weeks and then it doesn't leave New Jersey it goes for a month, right.

These tools go up to Vermont and there is 12 machines running 24/7, making this product. But, you have a chance to go to New Jersey and sit with this guy, you know, at the tooling shop and hear his story of his grandfather's, you know, company getting started and making products for General Motors. And, you know, that entire street where he used to work, used to all be tooling factories. Like this one street in New Jersey used to be the tooling capital of the northeast. And he's the only shop left.

The only shop left, he says because one company has said I'm not making my stuff in China. That one company kept him alive. It scaled down significantly, but they're still in business. Here he is with his two sons, trying to groom his two sons to take over.

I never felt so good about walking into a factory. Usually walking into a factory I -- and I'm ready to leave. Now I feel great. I could name 15, you know, injection molding machine operators for my mom's old plant that I think of when I think of U.S. manufacturing.

And to me it is exciting to think that we're going to have people like that again. And I'm going to be able to go 25 minutes to a plant in New Jersey and say, Larry, how's she cooking today, versus, you know, a 17-hour flight to Hongkong, a two-hour drive to Shenzen and I can't even communicate.

ROY KAUFMAN: He truly does believe that there are American jobs that need to be filled and we need to have manufacturing back in this country and he wants to make that happen. And one thing you've seen with Ben is when he wants to make something happen. He's going to do it. So I do think it is a sense of patriotism. He just doesn't wear it on his sleeve.

KAUFMAN: I would say it is about that and so much else. It is about the fact that it just feels right. And feeling right might be the fact that, you know, manufacturing is in my blood.

It being right might be the fact that I've seen the way it is done elsewhere in the world and that just doesn't make me feel good about myself. I don't know if that's patriotism or just plain, you know, common sense, but at the end of the day, it feels right.

MINDY KAUFMAN: For Ben, success is other people's success with his success. I think he's learned that no individual is -- no person unto themselves should be big, that what should be big is what you've accomplished with the people that get you there. And I think Quirky and his inventors and sharing profits I think that's -- that's what I think is big.

KAUFMAN: They still say I can't do it. I'm still every day I go up against sort of the age thing. But, you know, every year that goes by, every decision that I make that isn't sort of wildly unsuccessful is another proof point that I know what I'm doing.

And I don't know when it goes -- I don't know when I'm -- when I lose this or young, I'm a young entrepreneur, or when I just become an entrepreneur, I think maybe 30. I don't know.


GUPTA: Quirky has just been around for just about three years. And already Kauffman and his team have either designed, manufactured or engineered about 75 products. Without a doubt, Quirky is an innovative model for an internet start up.

We put Ben Kaufman on the list because Quirky is opening up the paths of creativity and invention, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to share their ideas and possibly see some of those ideas come to life.

For more on this show and other agents of change, go to Also follow us on Twitter @cnnthenextlist or Facebook at

Also join me on my life stream at I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching THE NEXT LIST.