It’s the end of Quirky’s debut season on Sundance and so here is the final Quirky recap…possibly forever, who knows? To close out the season, Ben reminds us all just how cool the Quirky concept is, with its democratization of innovation. The piece de resistance of course being that they make some of the world’s best products that solve real world problems. Gosh they’re like superheroes!
We’re on to the 111th Eval meeting. 111? What was 100 like? I hope they at least had cake. So that’s 111 brand new products in less than 2 years. That’s really impressive. We learn that 111 is focused on barbecue accessories, so here’s the first inventor, Chad from Houston. Chad’s “Skew-tisserie” gets your kabobs off the sticky grill and rotates them for even cooking. Gaz likes the concept but thinks the spinning motor is overkill. He just hates the idea of barbecue meats having any kind of fun at all.
The next inventor is Tim Hayes. Tim Hayes! It’s the Tim Hayes from….last week’s episode. Tim’s Aroma must be paying the bills and he’s back for more. I think it’s a little soon though, I hope you don’t win this one, Tim, I am so sorry. Oh yeah, Tim’s horrible (not actually) idea is a tray that catches the grease and fat off your cooked meats. Some of the staffers like it.
Christine from Pennsylvania is here now with her own tray concept, a double decker tray that allows you to have a lot more storage for fewer back and forth trips to the grill. The staffers are a lot more juiced over this tray (sorry, Tim) – one uses Ben’s safe word, “modular,” and another says he’d pay thirty bucks for the thing.
The vote goes down and they show only a handful of votes for Tim’s greasy slab and almost all the hands up for the two-tier tray. Hey, what about Chad? The winner is a just choice as Christine’s design was much more practical and unique. The video chat is pretty standard, inventor smiles, everyone claps and Ben tells them they’re coming to NYC to make it a reality. Yawn.
We now drop in on Ben’s video chat to a “sensitive” inventor, Dave from Chicago, to tell him the news that they have radically altered his concept for a toilet plunger. This is one of the rare occurrences in world history where you can say there is likely no precedent. They show Dave the super sucker and, I must admit, it sucks and it sucks hard. But they want to give it a shiny stand and charge $50 for it. Dave looks kind of depressed. He thinks there should be a built-in snake and cost $35 at the most. Quirky doesn’t see the need for the snake, but I’m not sure why they want to charge so much for it.
In Christine’s background package, we learn that she’s been inventing for 11 years and is a patent holder, but that her previous ventures weren’t successful, leaving her with a lot of debt, again the standard inventor storyline for this show. I don’t doubt that real world people in today’s economy are hard up, but when shows overmilk angles like this, it becomes rather glib. I learned that word from Tom Cruise. Anyways, Christine’s looking forward to the learning process of working with Ben and the crew.
Meanwhile, Ben has a meeting about the BBQ tray and tells us that over 15 million grills were sold in the previous year. Ben loves huge markets. They don’t see anything like Christine’s idea currently offered anywhere, so the excitement factor is growing.
Christine arrives at Quirky and is a little intimidated by the youth and technology. They jump her right into ethnographic research and photograph her grilling. They go back and forth from kitchen to grill a bunch of times to simulate the problem that Christine’s new tray may solve. Whoops, we forgot our pepper grinder. Uh, oh, now we forgot the paper towels. This all seems a bit forced and unnecessary. I think we got the concept quite awhile ago. But it does teach them a few things and expose some real needs and areas needing a solution, such as tool organization, so that part is nice.
Christine knows that Quirky has a history of changing ideas dramatically during THE PROCESS, so she asks Ben to go for coffee and a heart to heart talk. No, not the Mrs. Robinson way, I’m ashamed of you. Christine tells Ben how she’s been burned by her other invention ventures and Ben totally understands. Christine maybe thinks this little tete-a-tete will help make sure she keeps control over the product vision, but we know better than that, don’t we?
Back at the Quirky office, Christine sits down for a concept sketching session with the designers. She lacks artistic skill so she’ll rely on the pros for that while she hones ideas. They quickly flesh out a few concepts, including a cutting board with hidden storage compartments and another with canvas handles. Canvas handles? Is this for Pottery Barn or something?
Ben comes in with Gaz and they get down to discussing features and price point. Christine thinks $40-$60 is the range, but Ben thinks that will be hard to reach. Gaz says the product has to be a “trifecta of kitchen, barbecue and organization.” Huh? I think that must be from Shakespeare.
Christine leaves Quirky which means the designers are now free to do their thing and take the designs to the next level. They flesh out the cutting board idea and also one based on a picnic basket design. They are confident, but now it’s time for tough cookie Ben to give his take. It’s not good. These designs don’t hold enough for Ben, there’s no place for the paper towels. Where’s the trifecta? He rubs his face in angst. They put the sketches up on the web for the community to review. The web echoes Ben’s sentiment about these concepts not holding enough. Christine takes a look and is disappointed that they didn’t incorporate her TV Tray concept which she thought she emphasized to them.
The designers do their physical mock ups of each design. They seem to really like the hard/soft design with the canvas handles, but it looks dorky to me and not that practical. The picnic basket design has some issues, most importantly that the handles aren’t positioned properly and the basket swivels too freely back and forth. Lastly, the layered nesting tray design looks better than the others, with more storage and a modular assembly.
Ben and Gaz review the models and it’s not much better than the sketch review. The flimsy picnic basket is immediately ruled out, but I think they made that one a mess on purpose or something, it just wasn’t executed properly. Ben and Gaz seem to agree with me about the hard/soft design and basically laugh at it while one of the designers visibly swallows his pride, he liked that one so much. The nesting tray is way too bulky and clumsy so that’s out too. The sole survivor is the cutting board combo tray. Ben calls it “perfect”. Christine comes in and it’s her favorite too, probably because it has a TV Tray type feature.
Now back to Dave and his Nautilus Plunger. We learn that while the Quirky staff was really intrigued by the snake-plunger combo idea, they couldn’t get it to work right in their testing. As a result they scrapped it outright and switched to a two chamber design that makes it easier to pump and suck more. Dave shows up at the office with his own prototype he calls “The Python” that has the snake in the handle. But Ben isn’t buying it and prefers their elegant, less messy solution. The price point of $50 is a real sticking point, but Dave seems to find it elitist and isn’t sure there is really this kind of high end market. They decide to go out to a hardware store and do some market research.
At the hardware store, they get feedback on each idea. While the Nautilus (the super sucker) seemed more popular and attractive, there was a lot of negativity around the pricetag. So Dave basically comes out even on this one, and that’s not really a win. Really, more questions than answers on this trip.
They have a competition between both designs at the Quirky office to see which product performs better and they even have other Quirky community members there in person to participate. They clog up their test toilet with paper towels (is that a true test?) and the Super Sucker goes in first and undoes the clog no problem. For the plunger snake, they load the toilet with a cupcake, but Dave’s plunger splashes out on everyone a little bit when it plunges. Uh oh and Dave looks a bit worried.
The community members each get a spin with the plungers and Dave realizes some of his idea’s shortcomings such as the snake getting curled up inside the plunger. Although he was stubborn about it previously, Dave finally comes around to the Nautilus design being superior. Ben never loses, he must be real good at poker. But what about the price? The community members say $30-35. Uh, oh, maybe Ben’s can’t win that one. Is that his poker face?
Later on, Ben video chats with Dave and tells him there is some strong retailer interest and that they’re going forward with production. Yay goes Ben, he trusts them wholeheartedly now. They hear him about the feedback on the high price point, which they also heard from retailers (apparently much more influential than Dave), so they’re going to work on it. Gee that’s not vague, is it? I hope they don’t try to assemble them in their office like the Wrapster.
Christine now goes out with one of the designers to do some grilling in the wild. They take the cutting board combo model to a kitchen and load it up with all their meats, vegetables and buns and it seems to hold it all. They navigate through the screen door fine but once through, one of the trays falls off. Whoopsie. All that aside, they get to grilling and have everything they need with just one trip inside. Success. In general.
Back at Quirky, they spec the final design into their CAD software and work out some kinks before it goes to the model maker presumably for Ben’s black box, I think he calls it his “precious.” Ben tells them to sexy it up because it’s looking too boxy, and to make sure the opening for tool storage is wide enough because wide openings are sexy. They make the paper towel holder jumbo sized while they were at it. Yup, that’s sexy.
Ben shows up in PA with the black box and “surprises” Christine. Her and her boyfriend rip into Precious and pull out the tray prototype. It’s sleek and very modern looking. They put it next to Christine’s original dishtray mockup and that is some before/after image. Ben loads the tray up with stuff and they take the long trek to the grill that inspired this journey. We’ve come full circle! Christine is now full of hope, and she should be, hers is the first product this season that kept most of its original concept.
Now of course the text graphics a la Animal House. We learn there’s a lot of pre orders for the tray and that Christine hopes to make enough to cover her other failed ventures. Dave’s Nautilus plunger is scheduled to ship later this year and Dave is still very active in the community, just like Tim Hayes.
And that’s a wrap! Good luck Quirky!