Behind The Invention: The mophie Juice Pack

How a failure of a product became the kleenex of backup power. 

If you ever see me smirk a bit when I board a flight, it’s not because I enjoy being locked in a metal tube for hours on end- but rather because it’s impossible to look around and not see countless travelers holding something with the name of my two golden retrievers (molly + sophie) emblazoned on the front face.

It’s rumored that the mophie juice pack now brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. Despite countless knock-offs, the mophie brand has become the “kleenex” of external power, and is used by millions of people worldwide. mophie was by no means an overnight success and certainly did not take a linear path to greatness.

As part of my ongoing quest to Make Invention Accessible, I believe companies should provide a behind-the-curtain view of how products are born in an effort to inspire future invention.

This is the story of the early days of mophie. The twists and turns that seemed like colossal misses at the time, but somehow led to greatness.

Common sense would tell you the story of the Juice Pack began in 2007 with the launch of the first iPhone, but in fact, this story goes back over two years before Steve Jobs came on stage with that beautiful beautiful aluminum bodied phone.

I began working on the mechanical system in 2005, and launched several mediocre products using our “sled” design that didn't quite take hold.
We launched the first battery case in January 2006, and no one cared or wanted it. The need for extra power pre-iPhone just wasn't there.
In mid 2007, we sold the mophie brand and the assets associated with the Juice Pack for pennies on the dollar because my investors deemed it a failure.

I wouldn't change a thing, and here’s why.

The blow by blow:

Our Very First Product

Juice Pack’s roots can be traced all the way back to the Song Sling, mophie’s first product designed in March of 2005. It may seem unlikely that a poorly designed lanyard headphone could have played a part in the invention of the battery-case, but it most certainly did.

The “big idea” behind the Song Sling was to integrate headphones into a lanyard. The resulting product would eliminate the mess of cords many people were experiencing when they used the lanyard provided with the original iPod shuffle.

Apple’s design for their included Shuffle lanyard was in some ways very smart. It hung the iPod upside down so that when you grabbed it- the controls would be facing you. The downside to this, however, was that the headphone cables now needed to travel extra distance to clear all the lanyard cables, causing a big mess and lots of tangles.

Looking back, something very small, that seemed obvious and insignificant at the time, played an indelible role in shaping the mophie you know today.

Notice the 3.5mm jack, integrated into the case. This would give way to the 30 pin, and later the lightning cable placement on the Juice Pack design.

The bottom of Song Sling was a bumper style case with a male 3.5MM (headphone) jack molded in. The sides of the case were built up just enough to hide a wire that would relocate the audio wire all the way up through the neck of the lanyard- therefore eliminating 2 out of the 4 cables Shuffle customers were accustomed to using while adding protection for the iPod itself.

Song Sling, Modeled by Cindy Taylor

At the time, molding electronics directly into a case and using the structure of the case as a way to facilitate the connection to the iPod was incredibly novel. Most of the big accessories at the time (Griffin iTrip, etc) were all “dongles” and hung off of the iPod, in order to achieve its function.

I've long described Song Sling as a miserable failure. I’m utterly embarrassed that this was the idea I had convinced my parents to remortgage their house for. That said, if I look back on Song Sling in the context of this story- it played a hugly signifcant part.

Figuring out how to mold connectors into cases, in 2005- and using that technology/manufacturing technique to shape future products was pivotal.

Beyond that, it was kind of surreal when Steve Jobs walked on stage a year later and showed Apple’s new lanyard design, which had integrated headphones ☺

Apple Levels The Playing Field

In September of 2005 Apple continued their long history of keeping iPod Accessory market on their toes. For a newcomer like mophie, this was a huge opportunity.

That month, Apple introduced two products simultaneously.

First was the “video” iPod- which removed the long used 9-pin remote jack, and introduced the 30 pin connector that we all became very accustomed to.

The second product they announced was the iPod Nano which brought with its own little controversy, it moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the player.

We can all laugh at this now and agree Apple made the right move- but at the time, this caused a huge ruckus in the accessory industry.

9 Pin jack used by most accessories pre-september 2005.

Every existing accessory being sold by every single company (large and small) was rendered obsolete. Griffin’s wildly successful iTrip, DLO’s docks, Speck’s cases— everything was gone. The entire iPod accessory market instantly became a level-playing field with no clear leader.

Seeing this as a huge opportunity, I raced to develop a full product line to bring to Macworld 2006 in early January.

Putting Stuff Inside Cases: MacWorld 2006

mophie came to Macworld 2006 with a new line of gear. It was called the mophie Relo line. It was a full & robust line of accessories, cases & electronics.

The Relo line was the combination of two key insights & realizations:

  1. Most people used cases on their iPods, but were forced to remove them if they wanted to use any accessory (speakers, docks, armbands etc).
  2. Dongles were really freaking annoying and electronics should be built into cases themselves.

Relo allowed you to keep your case on and simply slide them into accessories that were specially made to work with our cases.

The genius of the Relo line was simple. Molding electronics inside of cases.

The first two products played directly to the hearts and minds of the industry (because of Apple’s recent moves) and got a ton of attention at the show:

The back of mophie relo2

The first product was for iPod nano and it would relocate the headphone jack to the top of the iPod, while also splitting the sound so two people could listen at once.

From a manufacturing standpoint it was pretty sweet. We figured out some complicated stuff that later gave us confidence in our ability to manufacture a battery case. We actually dropped a PCB into the silicone compression mold, and created what everyone would begin calling the “sled” design. Male headphone jack went into the iPod when inserted into the sled, giving way to functionality in and around the case.

I remember throwing these products across the convention center at Macworld 2006 to prove that your iPod was safe & the electronics were stable.

The second product we brought to the show that people cared about was called Relo Remote, which sillily reinstated the 9 pin jack to the top of your iPod by using a male 30 pin in a sled, and giving way to a female 9 pin at the top of the case- so you could use all your old accessories.

This is an incredibly embarrassing photo. Also photographed Michael Cavotta, who helped with mophie’s origional sourcing and fundraising.

These were the two products people cared about. The Relo system went on to win Best of Show at Macworld 2006, and which really gave mophie the fuel it needed to get to the next level.

The World’s First Battery Case

Rendering of Relo Recharge for iPod Nano

We brought 8 other products to Macworld in 2006 as part of the Relo system of cases with integrated electronics.

One worth noting, was the world’s first battery-case. We called it Relo Recharge. It was designed to work with Video iPod, and iPod Nano.

This was a full year before the word iPhone was ever mentioned- 18 months before it began to ship.

Relo Recharge was a sled style case with a built-in rechargeable battery. Technically speaking, Recharge was a challenge. With heat dissipation concerns, regulatory issues, and overall size constraints we were up against a lot.

Nonetheless, the mophie team believed in the product. We did a lot of preliminary R&D to assure it would be possible to move the product into production, and brought the product to Macworld.

The result: no one cared about Recharge. We procured zero retail interest, and people didn’t understand the need for the extra bulk (and the price-tag that came along with it). At the time, iPods were app free, and getting 12+ hours of battery life.

People were more much interested in the humbler parts of the Relo line… short-lived insignificant things like headphone jack relocators.. No one could see the potential for Relo Recharge.

Recharge was shelved. Rendered a failure. We wouldn't look at it again for over a year.

Finding My True Passion

mophie was a small, 6 person team out of Vermont, comprised of highly competitive individuals. Coming off the Best of Show win in 2006, and recent venture funding we were committed to doing something incredibly unconventional and one-upping our success from the previous year.

Our lab at the Moscone Center for Macworld 2007's Illuminator Project.

mophie took to Macworld 2007 without a single new product. Instead, we brought with us a project we dubbed “the illuminator” where we asked the Macworld community to help us design & invent our 2007 product line. The goal was to have a new product line designed & launched by the end of the 4 day show.

The success of the illuminator project became my inspiration for selling mophie and beginning to work on what became Quirky. It was absolutely life changing to see a community of passionate people work together to create and invent the future. I knew this was how I wanted to spend the rest of my career.

As exciting and impressive as our project was- it dwarfed in comparison to the other big thing happening at Macworld in 2007… Apple’s announcement of the iPhone.

We didn't think much of it (in the context of Recharge) for several months.

Getting To Know Our Neighbors

Gartner formerly put on a show named RetailVision- where manufacturers and brands basically paid their way into having meetings with retail buyers. Kind of weird, but for small brands like ours, it was a great way to get gain exposure.

We attended the show in Nashville, TN in the spring of 2007.

Next to our booth was a battery manufacturer that went by xPal/Tennrich. xPal was making external battery bricks for brands like energizer. I became friendly with a guy there named Christian, and by the end of the show was showing him the design for Recharge, and asked if his factory could produce it (despite the lack of orders). He said he was up for the challenge. We kept in touch.

mStation’s flagship product pre-acquisition: the Orb

Across the way was a small speaker / boombox brand by the name of mStation. One of the three founders of mStation was a phenomenal guy by the name of Wm. Marc Slasberry. Marc saw my vision for what mophie was trying to be and believed in it strongly. We spoke regularly after the show about our respective struggles building and scaling our companies, and within a month or two we considered each other close friends.

Besides walking away with a few big retail deals, and some awards to boot, meeting Christian & Marc were the greatest rewards of the show.

The Launch Of The iPhone

I’ll never forget driving to my parents house on Long Island in June of 2007 to camp out behind the Walt Whitman mall two days before the launch of the iPhone.

The line outside Apple Store, 5th Ave- June 2007

Finally, the world had it’s hands on it.

It was likely less than 24 hours later that complaints about battery life started to flare up across the internet.

To the mophie team back in Vermont, the answer was clear. We designed it 18 months ago.

Suddenly the work we'd done for several years had a magically perfect product + market fit.

But… it was a weird time for us. As a team, we had resolved to stop making iPod condoms, to start focusing on our collaborative product development platform… yet, we knew this product was too good not to make.

Peter Wadsworth, our lead engineer, immediately began working with myself and our Industrial designers Barbara Brattain and Jed Crystal on the initial form of the Juice Pack for iPhone.

The original juice pack design for the first generation iPhone

We decided on an iconic hidden pop color interior. We wanted to bring attention to the unique fact that electronics were built right inside of the case.

We began working closely with Christian and xPal to figure out the electronics design.

We were racing to get this product to market as quickly as possible. the need was there, and we had the solution.

Deciding to Sell

I was seriously torn in the summer of 2007. I wanted nothing more than to Make Invention Accessible and focus full time on building out illuminator into a collaborative platform where anyone could invent anything.

But at the same time we had some exciting products (like Juice Pack) in the hopper, and I wanted to see them through.

The decision to sell was easy for two reasons:

  1. Our investors at mophie were growing impatient, and didn’t want to see me splitting my time on two very complicated projects (mophie + illuminator)
  2. I had developed a real friendship with Marc at mStation and was confident in his ability to see the mophie (accessory) vision into a reality. Even before the sale was on the table, he worked closely with me and the mophie R&D team to refine the details of our battery case design.

By early August, it was clear that mStation was interested in getting into the portable accessory market. They had manufacturing expertise in complex electronics (something which mophie lacked), and a leadership team in Daniel, Shawn and Marc that the mophie team really trusted.

At the time, there were 3 or 4 working models of the battery-case that my team had completed, along with a xPal’s factory & production plans ready to go. Retailers were chomping at the bit to get their hands on the product.

A few days before the closing, Marc called me to discuss 2-3 products discreetly (the battery case being one of them), and how they would be valued.

The options were to add a bit of cash to the sale price or structure an ongoing royalty.

Through the eyes of the mophie board the products in question were resurrections of failed projects meant to fit new Apple models (after all, we had already given battery-cases a go with Relo Recharge). So the board opted for a tiny amount of cash ($50k per product or so) to be added to the sale price rather than a perpetual royalty.

It’s clear now, the royalty would have likely amounted to tens of millions of dollars.

By September 1st, 2007- mophie was property of mStation. The mophie team stayed largely in-tact and kept working with me on the platform which became Quirky.

The post-acquisition mophie logo, designed by Mat Poprocki

For the next few months after the sale, my team helped mStation tie up loose ends. Mat Poprocki designed them a new logo (the EQ styled M that they still use today). Peter Wadsworth helped them with mechanical engineering on a few products, etc.

The name Juice Pack (which is incredibly awesome) came from the mStation team, just days after the sale.

Juice Pack’s Rise to Fame

Juice Pack’s rise from a failed product (Relo Recharge) to a huge market success probably has a lot to do with the focus of the mStation team post-acquisition.

It wasn’t long after the sale that they wound down their mStation operations and changed the name of their company to mophie, recognizing its power as a consumer brand.

They transitioned out of nearly all of mophie’s legacy products, as well as mStation’s, and began working almost exclusively on perfecting the art of battery-cases.

This is a discipline that I absolutely admire- and one that has paid off in spades.

While it was somewhat disappointing to see the rest of the product line go- It was always comforting to know that the team at mophie was laser focused on doing right by the invention and right by the product.

mophie now has an entire line of portable power products, from batteries built into ultra-protective ruggedized cases for military use, all the way to cases that are so slim that having a battery inside of it is practically magic.

The brand is almost as powerful as the product and mophie has done a great job of keeping an engaging and irreverent voice. I remember seeing a mophie campaign last year using the phrase “creators of the original juice pack”. I thought just the fact that they needed to say that meant things were on an incredible path.

Connecting the Dots

Invention is a wild ride and it’s incredibly powerful to look back and see how little breakthroughs and failed projects can lead to ground-breakingly powerful consumer brands.

Had it not been for molding the headphone jack on that Shuffle lanyard, Apple transitioning to 30 pin connectors and leveling out the industry, Relo system getting the accolades it did, not signing up for that weird little show called Retail Vision, and not giving a failed invention another chance… who knows who’d be keeping us juiced up every day.

Regardless of the financial outcome, putting mophie in the hands of the folks at mStation (mophie) proved to be one of the best decisions I could have made. It gave the invention a team that was solely dedicated into making it a success.

What Would I Do Differently?

People ask me often if I have any regrets about mophie & my time there.

I don’t care much about the money that would have been gained by choosing royalty instead of cash, or selling the company too early, or anything along those lines.

I have one disappointment:

My relationship with mophie was effectively severed a few months after the sale in 2007. Despite this, I certainly get a lot of credit for mophie & the Juice Pack.

I’m sure this doesn't make the team at mophie feel particularly great and it’s time the record is set straight.

We talk a lot about the “heavy lifting” at Quirky. The fact that the hard part isn't the idea- it’s the rest.

Scaling production, refining the design, perfecting quality, gaining distribution, getting the word out there, etc.

This is what turns an idea into a product and a name into a global brand.

Let the record show… when it comes to the Juice Pack, the “heavy lifting” was done by the post-acquisition mophie team.Not me.

The current mophie team is a creative, inspiring group of people with an unwavering focus on execution. Their efforts, long hours, and attention to detail are the only reason why mophie is what it is today.

I do hope that one day I can work closely with the crew at mophie again. I truly love the brand and the products- and they'll always hold a very special place in my heart.

mophie loves you.
molly + sophie
Next Story — Quirky Opens Up
Currently Reading - Quirky Opens Up

Quirky Opens Up

Quirky is a platform for invention. Unlike many platforms, though, until recently it only had one customer… its own consumer brand.

For years, the idea of partnering with another brand and allowing them to tap into our invention machine rubbed us the wrong way. We were so protective of our community, that the risk of an outside brand betraying their trust seemed too high. Since our launch in 2009 we have been frequently approached by some of the world’s largest companies — hoping to tap into the power of our community and bring new products to life. To some it was a marketing schtick — to others, a way to augment a shrinking internal team — to us, it was always a non-starter.

We resisted each one of these inbound requests with great effort. We believed very deeply that every prospective partner would endanger our community. We thought that the introduction of third parties would make it harder to protect our community’s IP, assure royalties were paid, etc. On a personal note, my lack of what a friend calls “frustration tolerance” led me to believe that within a month of working with a global brand i’d tell ‘em to go fuck themselves — which would ruin the partnership and reflect poorly on the community.

Then in 2012, a small company called Undercurrent introduced us to a big company called GE.

GE was the company I idolized. The original invention company. The company that in many respects, we were attempting to build in modern form. They truly believed in us and for a company like GE, we were willing to look past all of the risks. We embarked on an expansive partnership with them in early 2013.

Our partnership with GE was (and continues to be) deeply transformative for Quirky. Not only did we learn a lot about technology and engineering from them, we learned a lot about ourselves.

We quickly learned that we (together with our community) were capable of taking on a much more sophisticated type of invention (not just the small plastic stuff we had been commercializing earlier). We realized that our way of working taught GE how to be a bit faster and more responsive to consumer trends. Most importantly, the partnership opened us up to an enormous opportunity — our community inventing alongside a company like GE. This was a huge milestone in our never ending quest to “Make Invention Accessible.”

You see, by the middle of last year the “invention” part of “Making Invention Accessible” was becoming the easy part. The “accessible” bit was becoming increasingly difficult (as we were operating a full stack invention brand across 12 consumer product categories):

- We were receiving more ideas every single week, but only manufacturing the same amount (or less) of product every year given the increase in product complexity that we were taking on. Quickly making Quirky more of a lottery than a meritocracy.
- While we were manufacturing a lot of products across different categories, many of the products did not sell because of a lack of distribution in the category, or a lack of scale that could provide competitive pricing to the consumer / retailer.
- The Quirky name / brand wasn’t right for every category. No one wants a ‘quirky’ home appliance, they want a ‘good’ one.

We realized that to “Make Invention Accessible” across all categories of consumer products, we can’t do it on our own and that partners like GE bring a massive amount of opportunity (and accessibility) to our Inventors.

Introducing Powered by Quirky

Announced earlier this year, “PbQ” will allow some of the world’s largest consumer product brands to tap into the creative excellence and speed of the Quirky community.

Quirky will continue to own the full value chain in categories that represent emerging invention opportunities (Connected Appliances, Connected Home, and Electronics). It will launch consumer products under brands solely focused on excellence in their category- See for example our recently launched Poppy brand.

In all other categories, Quirky will have a partner brand. For instance, you won’t be surprised to hear that our partner in lighting is GE. ☺.

Last week, we announced that Harman and their consumer brands (JBL, AKG, Infinity, etc) will be our partner in the Audio category.

Later this week and in the coming weeks and months, we will be announcing many more partnerships with global brands. Each partnership representing a large brand’s belief in the Quirky community’s ability to provide them with a level of creativity and speed that they would not be able to achieve on their own.

Powered by Quirky partnerships will allow us to scale into an infinite amount of categories while leveraging the consumer trust and scale already present in brands like GE and JBL.

This represents an enormous opportunity for our community, and provides Quirky with the ability to stay absolutely true to its mission without the costs and brand constraints that were present in our ‘own everything’ model.

The Acquisition of Undercurrent

My lack of patience for corporate bullshit is alive and well, however. Which is why I’m incredibly excited to announce that Quirky has acquired Undercurrent, a company founded by Josh Spear & Rob Schuham in 2007.

You see, not only was Undercurrent the company that introduced us to GE many years ago- but they were there all along the way. Every time it seemed like GE and Quirky weren’t understanding each other, Undercurrent jumped in and helped us push through…

They acted as translator, mediator, coach, and therapist for both sides of the partnership.

Undercurrent is one of those things that is incredibly hard to explain until you see it in action. The 33 members of their amazing team help the country’s largest companies prepare for and embrace our ever-changing world. Quite simply, their work inside these large companies greatly reduces all the forces that stand in the way of a great idea being implemented by anyone, anywhere in the organization.

Aaron Dignan, Undercurrent’s CEO will join Quirky and run our Powered by Quirky business. He and his team will assure that our partners are fully embracing all that the platform and community has to offer. Undercurrent will also continue the organizational design work that they have become known for over the past 8 years.

The Future

Building an Invention machine is complex, and often unpredictable. One thing has remained constant in the last six years, and that is our belief in our mission (Making Invention Accessible), and our community (now 1.2 million people strong).

We love the fact that “Making Invention Accessible” isn’t a goal that can ever be attained, and will remain tireless in our desire to make progress every day.

I truly believe that of all the things we’ve done in the past six years — the introduction of strong partner brands and the deployment of Undercurrent’s methodology within partner companies will have the most profound effect on the accessibility of invention since our inception.

Here’s to an “Ever Better Future” of “Making Invention Accessible”
Next Story — The Internet of Less Things for You to Think About
Currently Reading - The Internet of Less Things for You to Think About

The Internet of Less Things for You to Think About

Nearly every important wave of invention in consumer products could be marked or explained by the moment we all stopped worrying about something, and started worrying about something else.

Horses are slow and stinky. We get cars. We worry about safety. We wonder if we have enough fuel to make the trip. And geez, what kind of impact will this fuel have on our planet?
Washing clothes was an incredibly arduous & time consuming task. We get automated washing machines/dryers. We begin worrying about which of the 85 settings is right for your garments. Did you remember to pick up the detergent on your way home? Will this thing buzz and wake your newborn child?

I could go on forever.

Consumer product companies have been inventing amazing products that seem to simplify the world around us for centuries.

There is a hidden consequence of all of this invention:

The more things you have — the more things you have to think about.

Is it working? Does it have enough supplies? Is it on or off? Did you leave directions on how to use it for the guests? Is it time to get it serviced? Is it far enough away from the kids? The list goes on. Multiply this list by the dozens (or more) of inventive products you have in your home and you’ve got quite the to-do list.

The first several years of the “internet of things” can best be described as “interesting” and “novel” but certainly not “transformative”.

Nearly every consumer product company has spent a great deal of time and money making their products more expensive and complex so that consumers can monitor and control the state of those products with their smart phones.

Said more simply, we’ve all created products that are 50–100% more expensive than their unconnected alternative for the purpose of turing our phone into a universal remote control. And like most universal remote controls — these products are not the easiest to get setup and running.

Once again, we’ve fallen into the invention trap. New technology is great — but this particular use case has simply given the consumer more things they need to worry about.

Could this be the first wave of consumer product invention in history that doesn’t just give folks different things to worry about — but actually gives them less things to worry about?

The promise of the Internet of Things is a future where buying a new product doesn’t mean adding a series of new tasks to your to do list, but where buying a new product means that you’ll actually be able to spend more time on the things that truly matter: you & your family.

Less things for you to think about, more things that think about you.

Ah…… “IoLTFYtTA”

Introducing POPPY

At Quirky, we’ve been hard at work for a number of years in the connected universe. For as long as we were accepting / soliciting product ideas in the space, we’ve been receiving phenomenal ideas for home appliances. But something was missing. We didn’t want to fall into the invention trap. Would you really pay *that much more* for a coffee machine just so you could trigger it from your phone?

Today we announce our first Powered by Quirky brand, POPPY. The first in a line of sub-brands that are powered by the ideas of our community members all around the world & focused on mastering the art of a specific category. Some of these brands we’ll own (like POPPY)- and some will be global brands that use our platform as a service (like the ones we’ll begin to announce next week).

POPPY will build beautiful and intelligent appliances that automate the usage and replenishment of some of the most present consumables in your life.

By leveraging Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, POPPY’s appliances will make sure that you’re never without your critical consumable products, and that the usage and consumption of critical items such as baby formula are tracked and logged for the purpose of sharing with your pediatrician, etc.

Poppy is the first appliance brand that manufactures products that truly think about you.

Here’s what the IoLTFYtTA future looks like, and how our first three POPPY appliances will play a small part:

We’re truly excited for the future.

Thanks to our three wonderful Inventors & the incredibly talented folks at Amazon for making this all possible:

Formula- Wendy Leon (Naples, FL)

Pet- Chris Becker (West Bend, WI)

Pour-Over- Mo Herzig (Miami, FL)

Next Story — Remembering James Golick
Currently Reading - Remembering James Golick

Remembering James Golick

Late Friday Night, the world lost James Golick.

The outpouring of love for James on Social Media has been fitting. He was a leader of so many communities.

He was kind. He was brilliant. Above all, he gave a damn.

While I would have loved to condense the impact James had on me and my family into a tweet or three, I couldn’t.

My relationship with James in began 2006 or so. I was working at mophie making mundane iPod condoms up in Vermont and had the crazy idea of using the internet to help people bring their product ideas to life.

Our one tech-savvy employee at the time (Michael Twentyman) knew of James though his technical writing, and noticed he lived just 90 minutes away in Montreal.

We reached out, shared our idea- and James officially became one of the first (and only) believers.

Lots of people have ideas.

Very few people believe in ideas in their rawest form.

Even fewer people have have the skills, motivation, and straight up chutzpah to make ideas into something.

James was the rare breed of human who had all of the above.

He never wanted a job (although I relentlessly tried to put him in one). He hardly ever let me pay him. He just wanted to do the work. To see things through, and work on things he believed in.

James helped lay the technical groundwork for Mophie, Kluster, and ultimately Quirky. His belief in me during the times in my life when very few people did meant more to me than he ever knew.

In retrospect, the impact he had on my work wasn’t really about his code. It was about his confidence in the various projects. His passion for what we were doing gave all of us the energy and drive we needed to push through all the invariable bullshit…

As Quirky grew, we kept in touch via twitter etc.

About 18 months ago, we were fortunate enough to be brought together again. It was another crazy idea with too few believers that reconnected us.

I tweeted about a new idea my Wife was working on. He immediately replied, and wanted to learn more. Once again, James would become the person to take a crazy idea, and make it an actual thing.

This time it was Nikki’s idea of building custom fit products using mobile, computer vision & 3d printing.

When introducing James to Nikki I remember giving her some words of caution… “James is going to be the amazing dude to help you get this thing started, but then he’s going to be onto the next thing- he’ll never work anywhere. He doesn’t want to, and frankly he doesn’t need to.”

Boy was I wrong.

I’ve never seen two people hit it off faster than Nikki & James. James became the CTO of Normal, moved to New York and truly became Nikki’s partner in the business.

Together, they were both a rare combination of straight up hustle and intensity. They believed in each other deeply, and built a truly beautiful partnership. Together, the accomplished so much in such a short time.

Just last week we had a special dinner celebrating Nikki’s Birthday and a successful holiday season at Normal. James was the happiest I’ve ever seen him. Not only was he in awe of the amazing sushi (and the fact that Jay-Z happened to hold the bathroom door open for him)… but he was so excited about his new relationship with an absolutely amazing woman who he had just fallen in love with. He was looking forward to the vacation they were headed out on together… but remarked strongly about how eager he was for the new year. He loved New York City, and had such high hopes for what Normal could become.

I feel incredibly lucky to have known him.

My thoughts & love go out to James’ family (Jill, Marlee), the Ruby & Developer Community, the Normal team… and all who were as fortunate to have been as energized by his existence.

Something tells me there is plentiful Jazz & Scotch in heaven?

Next Story — Why Our Little Dustpan Company Is Jumping Into The Connected Home.
Currently Reading - Why Our Little Dustpan Company Is Jumping Into The Connected Home.

Why Our Little Dustpan Company Is Jumping Into The Connected Home.

The story behind Quirky’s investment in the connected home, and the launch of Wink.

The New York Times recently broke the news that Quirky will be setting up a standalone company that will provide a platform for connected devices. For those who don’t know us so well, or just see our products (like our dustpans, and powerstrips) on the shelves of Target and The Home Depot— the move may seem odd.

Following our tradition of letting people peek behind the curtain, here’s the full story of why we’re playing in an extremely competitive space— and why I believe we’re well positioned.

Why Quirky Exists:

I started Quirky over five years ago with a simple 3 word mission. I say it so repetitively that the Quirky team has practically made it into a drinking game….. “how long until Ben says…”

Making Invention Accessible

Drilling down deeper, we’ve come to believe that there are two big things driving the inaccessibility of Invention:

The Creation Of Invention- We believe the best ideas in the world are not actually in the world, they are locked in peoples heads. There are tremendous barriers and skills needed to successfully launch a consumer product idea and it is truly preventing us all from seeing the best the world can offer.

… Our community of close to a million creative people and inventors have been working together to tear down these obstacles. We have been building three great new consumer products per week for several years- by simply unlocking the creativity of the world.

The Adoption of Invention- Invention, while awesome- is often hard to understand and grasp. Often times it takes years for technologies to propagate off of the coasts and into the real world.

…. Our investment in platforms such as Wink will hopefully allow the general public to adopt invention at a greater rate.

Our Beginnings:

While you may think our roots in spoons and dustpans are a disadvantage to entering this incredibly tech focused & crowded space, it’s precisely the opposite.

Quirky is an incredibly complex machine. In the end, it’s truly a company focused on the execution of consumer product ideas— and that’s not easy.

We are a Product Design Firm, Manufacturing Company, Retail Distributor, Social Platform, Marketing Agency, and Engineering team all bundled into one nice little package.

We’ve kept a generally low profile for five years while we have built up all of the necessary disciplines to deliver invention. Each year that went by we increased the level of sophistication of the products we brought to market.

We are not ashamed of our rubber bands with hooks. We are proud of our egg yolk sucker, and we are damn glad to have solved the frustrating problem of your power bricks not fitting into your power strip…. These products are not only real things that the world has asked for (and probably wouldn’t exist without us) but they have allowed us to quietly build and tune a machine that will, as time goes on, consistently deliver invention of increasing impact.

How Wink Came To Be:

In early 2013 we began to see a trend within our community that connected devices were going to play a large part in the future of consumer products. By mid 2013 roughly 20% of our idea submissions were in the connected realm.

When we started to bring some of these ideas to life early last year- we had to design an app and a set of cloud software. The vision was that one app would allow dozens of products to all work together with one simple interface.

This effort was headed up by Nathan Smith, who previously held the position of CTO at Quirky.

As soon as we began to show the Wink app to retailers and partners, we realized that we were uniquely positioned in an extremely underdeveloped marketplace:

  • As a community company, we believe deeply in open architectures- something few others in the space truly embraced.
  • We are truly a hardware company born on the internet. Not a internet company trying to get into hardware, or a hardware company trying to get on the internet.
  • The retail community trusted Quirky, after 5 years of servicing them with transparency and grit.
  • We are a design lead organization and always put consumer experience first (read: we are just as much focused on the art as we are the science)

Around September of last year we tossed around the idea of setting up Wink as a standalone business focused on making connected devices accessible. We contacted some of the world’s largest consumer product companies to gauge their interest in allowing us to help them on the software side of their connected hardware efforts.

The response was positive. We knew the work would be difficult, but “someone had to do it”

Quirky incorporated Wink as a wholly owned subsidiary in early November of last year.

Since then Wink has built a truly phenomenal team— and taken on one of the hardest user experience and technological challenges in the market today— patch cabling the connected world.

Why this makes sense for Quirky:

To make invention truly accessible to consumers (not just inventors), Quirky needs to invest in platforms.

The original invention machine (our friends at GE) proved this to be true:

During the great depression no one could afford to buy GE’s great new appliances— so GE needed to build a platform to make their invention accessible— that was the beginning of GE Capital/Finance… one of GE’s strongest businesses.

The world is becoming more connected and there is nothing connecting the great things that already exist in the marketplace. Wink is here to bridge the gap and make this category truly consumer friendly.

Wink is the key to Making Connected Devices Accessible—- one of the most important categories of invention today.

Our launch of Wink will not affect Quirky’s consumer product machine- but will bring us closer to achieving our overall corporate mission … To Make Invention Accessible.

How Wink will work:

We were able to build Wink because of our amazing partnership with The Home Depot, GE, and over a dozen of the world’s top consumer product manufacturers.

Wink is only as powerful as its partners allow it to be and we are lucky to have some of the best partners one could ask for. Together they make up nearly all of the key household items from the most trusted brands in the marketplace. Most importantly, because of their scale, our partners are able to deliver product at an extremely reasonable price— something this category has previously struggled with.

Wink will work with everyone, including some of Quirky’s largest competitors (which is why we spun it out to be its own business with its own leadership and physical location).

Wink will be truly open to all and accepting of all of the standards and protocols that exist in today’s market.

Wink’s goal is to hide all that techie stuff from consumers so all they see is a great product packed with a great user experienced connected by Wink.

We believe the Wink platform will open up the connected world to millions of consumers who want it and can be helped by it—but currently cannot afford it or do not understand it.

Important Notes:

To answer some of the questions that are out there:

Wink is not owned by GE. it’s wholly owned by Quirky, and operated as a Standalone entity (Wink has their own office, leadership team, etc).

Wink is no longer an app for just Quirky & GE products- it’s an app for all brands and all products.

Wink does not (and will not) favor Quirky, we will be treated like any other brand/partner.

Sign up to continue reading what matters most to you

Great stories deserve a great audience

Continue reading