Quirky Recap S01 E05 – “Hell Yes”


The show has apparently moved to Friday nights, but that doesn’t work with my schedule, so here I am still publishing the recap on Wed, I hope you don’t mind, all two of you reading this….me and my mom.  Ok that’s a lie, my mom’s not great with a web browser.  When a show gets moved to Friday nights, that’s typically not a good sign in TV land.  So fingers crossed that Ben and Gaz get to continue their hissy quarrels and not be banished to the dungeons in the basement of the Nielsen offices.  Next week is the season finale, do you want more Quirky?  Well make sure you tell Sundance.

Time to see who will be this week’s Quirky inventor and have their dreams realized.  It has better odds than the lottery, so get over to quirky.com and start inventing, you people inspired by the tuna and peanut butter in your garage.  At this week’s Eval, they have changed it up a little and are entirely focused on gadgets for coffee pod machines like the Keurig.  The whole single cup brew category has exploded in recent years, partly due their ability to economically customize beverages for individuals, so everyone in the office can have something different rather than all drink out of the same pot.  I’m sure men buy this at home too so their wives can have vanilla latte while they drink roasted mud.  I love stereotyping.

The first inventor up is Tim from Ohio who presents the customizable coffee organizer, a set of modular pieces that you can put together in a variety of ways and which also hold the coffee pods.  Ben likes modular.  Gaz is surprisingly high on the concept too, which is probably the kiss of death, so this one can’t win the week, can it?  Let’s see the competition.

Now we meet Jeff from Canada, who wants to make pod coffee portable.  He has no drawing, no idea of how to make this work, so I’m really curious how the crew will evaluate this one.  Will a certain lead designer show his Scottish pride and deem it incompatible with Newtonian physics? One staffer says it could be iconic if they made the “french press” of k-cups.  Then Gaz lowers the boom, but not the way we thought.  “It does work,” Gaz says, looking down at his web browser, ” because it exists.”  Way to research, Jeff from Canada! Ten bucks well spent.

One more to go and it’s Marvin from Los Angeles and his Smart Cup idea.  Much different from the last one, Marvin has a 3D rendered animation of his concept which is a mug with a built in filter that holds ice and makes ice tea or coffee.  Wait a second, I thought we were working on coffee pod concepts?  Whatever, I guess, and we learn that the community likes it because so many people like iced drinks (that’s true).

After the show of hands, the Eval team conference calls with the winner (I guess this time they can’t video chat), and that is….Tim with his modified milk crate storage system.  For some reason, we learn that Tim is going to a bachelor party this weekend and to celebrate his quirky crowning he declares that he “will get drunk as f***.”  I can’t believe they aired that expletive with no bleeping.  George Carlin is turning in his grave.  Ben tells us he lives for these moments, I presume he means when he inspires people to have sailor mouth.

We learn that Tim is a freelance designer, which must be why his drawings are so good.  Hmm, last week we had an Industrial Design teacher and this week another designer.  I thought this show was supposed to be about amateurs and these guys seem to have an unfair advantage.  Non designer quirky people unite!  They are stacking the deck against you!  Tim shows us his calendar with his student loan deadlines.  I’m not sure but it seems like financial need is also a prerequisite for being featured on this show.  But Tim does seem very sincere and likeable, having dinner and drinking what I hope is cheap wine with his fiancée, so let’s root for him and not against him, ok?

Tim shows up at Quirky, now free of his party hangover and sits down with Gaz and the design team for a brain-dump-storm.  Tim calls his idea “grown up legos” with the way you can put the pieces together and design your own storage system that fits into your space and style.  He says “people should have fun assembling it” (I assume this means it won’t be sold at Ikea). When asked what material he envisions, Tim says “wood,” and the designers nod agreeably because wood is sooooo sexy.

Like always, they have a photo session with Tim using all kinds of pod brewing systems.  They show him inserting the pod, filling the reservoir with water, etc.  What does that have to do with the storage system?  They do show him taking the numerous steps of adding sugar and cream the non adult Lego way, but I still wonder why he had to brew the coffee too, why not start with the cup of coffee?  It pays to be thorough I guess.  The politically correct answer is to say you record absolutely everything because you don’t know where an insight may appear.  Sure, why not, that sounds good.

This week’s mid-production invention is from Matt, the creator of the Wrapster, which helps you keep your headphones secure and untangled.  Of course, it’s meant for iPods, because there are no other kinds of music players, at least not cool ones.  Now we get to the snafu part of the show where we learn about a product’s bumps on the road to commercialization.

We get a visit from John, Quirky’s head of operations, who brings the practicality hammer to people’s starry dreams.  The good news is they have huge orders for the product, but the low price point ($5) is creating an issue with coming up with packaging that fits the economics and doesn’t kill their profit margin.  Ben says with their quarter ending next week, they need to sort this to include in their quarterly numbers.  What a cliff hanger!  Maybe they should have separate online submissions for packaging?

Ben decides to take Tim out for some one-on-one quality time.  Tim says Quirky is changing his life and oh gosh no, he calls Ben “God.”  Thank Ben that Gaz wasn’t here.  “God” is a little much and makes Tim seem a bit obsequious.  I would have preferred he label him the more appropriate “baby Jesus.”  Ben wants to make Tim feel good too, so he tells him the product plays in a big market, which is a huge plus.

Back at the Quirky office, the designers show Tim the pictorials of him making coffee and explain how it illustrates the various steps they would try to eliminate with Tim’s product.  I would have liked a little more detail on that, but instead we go to the community feedback. We learn that 40% of the Quirky community uses a pod system and 11% intend to purchase one.  There’s that big market that turns Ben’s iris’s into dollar signs.  But there’s a catch of course.  They also say the product should be priced at $15-$30, which doesn’t quite economically fit Tim’s vision of a “wood sculpture” type product design.

In the sketching phase, they produce some concepts very close to Tim’s original and some alternate designs.  One is a shelf with a hidden swing out system for storing pods.  Another is a “pedestal” system that to me looks like a pole with a lampshade.  The stem has hooks for mugs and the lampshade opens up to store pods.  Tim likes that it fits his “should be like furniture in the kitchen” concept.  Tim has a lot of concepts, he is like a giving tree of design inspiration. Yet another concept is a four section tower for storing pods, it’s kind of blah.  There are more, one that has a moving carousel to dispense pods and “The UFO” which is a flying saucer that opens up with hidden storage.  Quite a selection and they’ve really fleshed out a lot of different directions.

They eliminate some designs and show Ben what they think are the best.  Ben sees the lampshade and immediately says “waste of space, next.”  I completely agree.  Ben craps on just about all of the concepts and asks what happened to the modularity?  He is frustrated and not sure his staff is really inspired on this one.  You have to be this tough to make great products, so it’s back to the drawing board, literally.

As they go through some new sketches, the designers have some trouble naming the new concepts.  One is a modular system that resembles skyscrapers (another Tim concept) called the “Skyline”.  Hey that’s not too bad.  The next is a tower system that one of them wants to call “tempting towers,” but they instead go with “Pivot Pod,” which is probably wise, but isn’t that too close to the power strip thingy from the first episode?  Then we see a sketch that looks like cubby holes stuck together.  The girl designer suggests calling it the “slot box.”  Really?  It’s a good thing these guys can draw pretty things.  They call it the “Flat Pack” instead.  That’s not really better.

Ben takes a look at the new designs and gravitates to the Flat Pack.  It’s simple and modular, and I picture him thinking “cheapest to manufacture.”  Tim finally gives his feedback on the various concepts, I’m not sure why at this point because it seems Ben has picked the one true king already, but hey, we must follow THE PROCESS.  Tim likes the coolness of the Pivot Pod, but it doesn’t hold anything else but pods so it’s out.  He does like the Flat Pack and shows a design he did which replaces the pod holes with rails so that it looks nicer (TIM CONCEPT ALERT!).  Gaz is impressed, so we know it’s good.

Physical models are made of the Skyline, Flat Pack and Tim’s “Rails” design and they bring a focus group in to get feedback.  I thought the Rails might come out on top, but surprisingly, the Skyline becomes a clear favorite for its more striking visual appearance.  Now it’s time to get real with materials and production details, you know, the fun stuff.

We now revisit the Wrapster packaging conundrum and the solutions are not coming out.  The quarter is closing quick and they need to fix this fast.  They decide to do all the packaging themselves in the Quirky office and make a party out of it.  Now that’s putting your nose to the grindstone!   In the boardroom, they calculate they need 100 people to get 20,000 units done in 3 hours.  They could really use TOC or a Lean/TPS Sensei here to help them design an efficient assembly process.

The packaging is just a piece of printed cardboard that needs to fold over and stick together.  So they try out a bunch of different processes with glue sticks, glue guns and rubber cement, hey, this is just like how they design products (or a kindergarten class).  They time how long it takes with each and find the glue gun the fastest, but the messiest and settle on the glue stick.  On to the forced labor party!

They start at 7pm and make a little competition out of it to keep it fun.  They video chat with Inventor Matt and show him all the dedicated Quirkyites toiling away and he is immensely grateful.  One of the workers is also seriously pregnant.  Doesn’t that break some law or something?  They work long into the night but get it done in time to make the quarter.  I sure hope Ben bought these guys a pizza or something.

Ben has an exciting announcement.  Bed Bath and Beyond is giving them an entire wall to display Quirky products, including the Wrapster.  We see a time lapse video of them assembling the display that goes late into the night, but it looks good with the inventor pictures that mimic the packaging and the Quirky style.   Matt sees his section of the wall and is delighted as a peach pie.  They expect huge sales and the money is already coming in.  Matt better make brownies for the Quirky staff or give them Starbucks cards or something.  If he doesn’t, well, he’s a jerk.

It’s the end of the episode, so that means Ben shows up at Tim’s house with his black box of +1 treasure holding the Skyline!  It looks NOTHING like the previous model, which was ugly and clunky.  This prototype is made of bamboo veneer with curved lines and is really quite striking.   I am completely impressed.  The little modules can be clipped together, mounted on the wall,  and is all kinds of awesome.  Fist bumps all around.

In the end of show text graphics, we learn the Skyline is now called “The Aroma” and is in presale.  Tim is still inventing and has a second Quirky product up for preorder too, but they don’t say what (go to the website silly).  And finally we are not surprised to read that Matt’s Wrapster is taking off and will be a best seller.  And that’s a wrap….ster.  Next week is the season finale!

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