“We make invention accessible,” boasts Quirky, a company that develops products designed by everyday inventors through online submissions, and which currently offers 400+ products submitted by more than 1,000 inventors. It’s a complex, ambitious model for a startup– perhaps overly so.
Despite glowing reviews from a variety of publications, cracks are beginning to show in Quirky’s infrastructure. At Quirky’s most recent town hall forum, CEO Ben Kaufman acknowledged that customer service is under strain.
A tour at the end of the forum showed 3,200 emails sitting untouched in the company’s inbox, and delays in product distribution — consumers can expect at least seven extra days in processing and shipping from the order estimates.
But Quirky’s problems seem to go deeper, and may have also infiltrated the products, as some may have hit the market before they were ready. One example is Quirky’s take on the smart home by way of their Wink app, which claims to be able to control home devices with just a few taps on your smartphone.
“People are using it, and people are loving it,” Kaufman said of Wink at the forum, and touted gaudy numbers such as 1 million anticipated new users of Wink in 2015, along with 3.6 million Wink-related products shipped.
But when Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes received a large installation of state-of-the-art Wink-related products (worth about $4,500 total) to review, his assessment wasn’t glowing. With the exception of the window shades, none of the products functioned as advertised, and many didn’t work at all. This is in sharp contrast to Wink’s tagline “building a smart home is easier than ever before”, an assertion Estes deemed “misleading”.
On top of these setbacks, Kaufman admitted that the company was “not necessarily making money”. Although the Quirky community — inventors, developers, etc. — has collectively earned $9 million from product sales, Quirky itself has lost over $100 million.
One fix would be to scale down the sheer number of products accepted for development, a concept Kaufman says he is looking into. This could not only help with both service holdups and product quality, but also give Quirky some breathing room to save capital and only spend where necessary.
Overall the Quirky’s model is a novel idea, but one that may need adjustments if it wants to endure past 2015.