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Quirky files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as Wink smart home system goes up for grabs

Before Kickstarter emerged as the leading hub of crowdfunded devices, there was Quirky, a company devoted to reinventing invention. Founded by Ben Kaufman, who had previously founded the Mophie accessories company best known for its iPhone snap-on batteries.

Quirky has a model that is in some ways the opposite of Kickstarter’s or Indiegogo’s. Rather than have the crowd fund a product and have inventors create it, Quicky’s model was that the crowd would suggest products and then Quirky would create it. The company’s New York offices were a hub of professionals specializing in all aspects of product creation including marketing, legal, sourcing, branding and industrial and mechanical design. Inventors would get a perpetual royalty on designs that became products, and people who suggested product names and other attributes would also receive a small percentage. Quirky staff voted on which products moved forward in a weekly meeting. It scored what became perhaps it’s biggest win relatively early with the snaking Pivot Power power strip that spawned several spinoffs.

Not surprisingly for anyone who follows more open crowdfunding campaigns, there were always far more ideas than viable products. The problem was that Quirky would still approve too many products, resulting in long product queues and a lot of unsuccessful inventory. A few months ago, Quirky — hewing closer to the Edison Nation model — sought to alleviate some of its retail burden by partnering with leading brands as it had with GE for a new line of more tech-focused products as part of “Quirky 2.0” but those efforts haven’t had much time to bear fruit.

The collaboration with GE, however, did help to spawn a number of connected home products, including Wink, a hub for setting up and controlling the smart home. Quirky spun out Wink into its own company that has developed compatibility with a broad array of products while developing a pricey touchscreen light switch. It could become an ingredient for a company making a run at the smart home.

Quirky products were often thoughtful and had clever designs because they were vetted by a community. However, the company experienced the opposite problem of most Kickstarter hardware projects. It knew how to make and distribute products, but it didn’t have enough validation from preorders to prove out at least initial demand. Unlike many Kickstarter passion projects that get by appealing to a relatively niche customer base, Quirky’s machine has needed scale that has often proved elusive.