Kickstarter vs. Quirky: Startups Provide New Routes for Invention


Quirky: From Start to Finish

Like Kickstarter, Quirky, which describes its business as reinventing inventing, generates its product ideas from Website visitors. It also cooks up some internally and has trotted out a couple of tech-related devices. But while most of Kickstarter's projects are about the creative arts, most of Quirky's veer toward household items.

The major difference, though, lies in the level of expertise required. Kickstarter project creators are responsible for what they need to bring products to market. Kickstarter simply facilitates the raising of cash to fund those efforts.

In Quirky's case, all you really need to get going is an idea, perhaps enough drawing skill to visualize it, and $10 for Quirky's filing fee. If an idea is lucky enough to be picked by the community and pass Quirky's approval process, Quirky not only puts its in-house team of designers and engineers to work, but tries to get placement for it on the shelves of retailers who are Quirky partners. These include Bed, Bath and Beyond; Target;; and The Container Store.

For all this assistance, Quirky assumes the patents on the product, but pays a perpetual royalty to the inventor. Its biggest success story to date has been Pivot Power, a snaking power strip that avoids the problem of not being able to accommodate bulky wall wart AC adapters. Jake Zien, the developer and recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate, has been paid more than $285,000 by Quirky. Quirky also awards "influence points" to community members for voting on products, suggesting names and participating in pricing polls.
Buyer Beware
In either case, be prepared to wait as products often get iteratively redesigned and refined before they are put into final production. After receiving Kickstarter funding or the green light from Quirky, products can take weeks or months to be ready. In at least one Kickstarter case, a product that had attracted many pre-orders was abandoned and the inventor said he could not return the money, leaving backers out in the cold. Kickstarter, like eBay in its early days, takes no responsibility for enforcing delivery of pre-orders even after credit cards are charged.

On the other hand, many small companies and well-funded startups are turning to Kickstarter to help ease the financing burden and generate pre-orders for products that they would have created anyway. Quirky, in contrast, has abandoned pre-orders after trying them in the site's early days, but still has a long backlog of products to create. But it, like most Kickstarter project creators, works to keep customers up-to-date via posts and videos.

Because Quirky is generally reaching for a customer base with critical mass, the appeal of its products must generally be a lot broader and often more affordable than many of the more niche-oriented devices on Kickstarter.

But both companies open doors to a wide range of products that otherwise might have floated aimlessly, perhaps in the head of someone like you.

Ross Rubin is a tech industry veteran and technology analyst. He also writes a column for Engadget.

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