this evening i was lucky enough to run into Jordan Husney at the NY Hardware Startups Meetup. before the panel discussion started, i picked his brain about a few of the ideas i've been mulling, and Quirky came up. i touched briefly on their business model, which i have been thinking about, and Jordan quickly corrected me: Quirky outsources idea generation, not design.
it wasn't until i got home that the relevant question about that distinction struck me: is idea generation something that needed to be revolutionized?
this is an interesting question. as i understand Shapeways' model, they mean to crowdsource both idea generation and design, and focus on being a marketplace between designers, manufacturers and consumers. Quirky employs their own designers, and leverages their expertise to rapidly develop ideas that they cull from a community of "inventors." from their FAQ page:
Q: What's the benefit of posting my idea [on Quirky]? Why not go do it on my own?
A: By all means, go build what you want to build! Our main jam is that it can be hard to do it on your own… or at least in our experience it was. And it can cost a lot, which sometimes means tricking your parents into remortgaging their house (cough, cough, Ben). But we’ve got an expert design staff, established manufacturing relationships, and a rock star sales and marketing team, plus all the tools and resources to get that idea out of your head and onto shelves. So if you’re willing to risk $10 for your killer idea, it’s totally worth it.
Quirky is definitely onto something here. they've identified a difficulty that has spawned a number of product development consulting firms (Dragon Innovation, MakeSimply, and PCH come to mind). interestingly, though, their services include two fields that are much touted to be going through a massive democratization: 3d design and prototyping. if these processes indeed are becoming increasingly accessible to normal people, and if Dragon et al handle everything from final prototyping to vendor management to supply chain logistics, then what exactly differentiates Quirky?
for one, they're a one-stop shop. for two, they have their own distribution platform. it's different from Kickstarter, where the designer can build real relationships with end users; the relationship is instead with Quirky, whose shopping experience feels highly curated.
but the process is streamlined, too. compare Quirky's "Pluck" with "Yolkr" on Kickstarter. the two products themselves are hardly differentiated at all. Pluck spent 3 months in development and has been in Quirky's store since december of 2012. it has sold over 10k units, grossing $134k for Quirky and netting its inventor just under $13k (including his $10 fee for posting to Quirky). Yolkr was launched in january of 2013; its 60 day campaign ended in march. it raised about $63k, and despite its estimated March ship date, has not yet done so.
comparing the two, i'm not sure which i like better; but ultimately that's irrelevant. the real question is which will be better suited to adapting to a dynamic marketplace - which is exactly what both companies will certainly be required to do.