An inventor's Quirky path to success

Today's quirky idea may be tomorrow's must-have consumer item. At least, that's the idea that drives the company Serena Altschul has been watching in action.

An earlier version of this story was originally broadcast on March 23, 2014.

With all the beer and laughter, it looks a lot like a college improv show. But this weekly meeting in New York City is all business.

"We like to say the best ideas in the world don't come from the board room, they come from the living room," said Ben Kaufman.

It's an unusual approach for a consumer products company that brought in $48 million in revenue last year -- unless, of course, that company is Quirky.

"Good ideas should be out there because they're the best ideas," Kaufman said, "not because they're the ideas of the people that somehow have the means to be able to do it."

Quirky manages an international online community -- some 900,000 strong -- that submits, tweaks, and every Thursday night votes on all sorts of product ideas.

And what they vote on gets made.

Some products produced from inventors' submissions to the website (clockwise from top left): Cordies, for all your cable needs; the Pluck egg yolk extractor; the Switch multi-faceted switchblade; and the Stem citrus spritzer.

The site gets up to 3,000 new ideas a week.

"We're all creative people, right?" Kaufman said. "It's hard to get through a dinner without someone saying, 'Oh, wouldn't be cool if ...?' Or, 'I've got an idea for ...' And Quirky really captures that and gives those people a chance for the first time, literally, ever.

"The quickest we have gone from a Thursday night [meeting] to a retail store is about 29 days, and that was with Pluck" -- Quirky's egg yolk extractor.

The company is the brainchild of Kaufman, who started it five years ago, at age 21. "The company started with a three-word mission statement to "make invention accessible," he said.

What's usually inaccessible to most inventors are all the important steps after that "A-ha!" moment, and that's where Quirky jumps in.

With constant feedback from its vast online community, the Quirky team actually designs, markets, patents and manufactures the invention

Kaufman showed Altschul Quirky's R&D center. Most companies hide theirs behind locked doors, or you need security clearance. At Quirky, you walk in, and you can't miss it.

If a product makes it to the retail shelves, 10 percent of the revenue is shared with the inventor and every member of the website who helped along the way, whether it was voting on a color or even picking a name. Last year Quirky's inventors and its online influencers shared $3.8 million.

"People that don't know a lot about the invention process often are like, 'Well, that doesn't seem like a lot of money,'" said Kaufman. "And I just say, you know, find a better deal. Not in a cocky way, but just, like, literally find a better and more cost-effective way to bring your product to life."

The company currently has more than 100 products on sale, in stores like Target and Best Buy. Some of them -- well, let's just say we were a tad skeptical about a citrus spritzer called Stem. To Altschul it looked like a real lemon.

From rubber bands with hooks to hot dog slicers, the ideas that get made into Quirky products can seem, well, quirky. But some are downright practical.