Quirky.com: A Startup that Works "Old School"

Last Updated Sep 14, 2011 8:02 AM EDT

At 24, Ben Kaufman looks like every other millennial entrepreneur I run into in Silicon Alley. Sporting black. Check! A little scruffy looking. Check! Cool attitude. Check! But when I interviewed Kaufman, the founder of Quirky.com, for BNET's show, "Secrets of Successful Startups," I discovered he doesn't talk like most tech entrepreneurs. In fact, he sounds more like an industrialist when he mentions unit sales, his model shop, warehouses and trucks. As he puts it, "We're the oldest school startup ever."

If the two-year-old Quirky is old school, it's with an Internet-y twist. The company is a rare online-offline hybrid in a world of apps and garden-variety e-commerce sites. Quirky helps inventors vet their product ideas online by having fellow site members vote up the best ideas. Then offline, it designs selected products with a team of designers. Quirky also crowdsources online feedback from "influencers" on the site and then manufactures the products and sells them offline, in retail stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond. "We take bits and turn them into atoms," Kaufman likes to quip.

Racking up $6 to $10 million in sales (the company's 2011 run rate), Quirky.com now has 100,000 members and has brought to market 175 real-world products. Check out what he says about how he came up with the idea for the company and how he is managing its growth:


In a conversation before our live BNET interview, Ben Kaufman seems stymied when asked to describe his management style. "I don't know that I think much about it," he considers. Then, he admits, "I'm mediocre with people. I can be good. [But], it all comes down to what I want to be on a given day."

My guess is that Kaufman is being humble on this given day. After all, he has 65 employees and is ably running not just one, but effectively three companies: a design shop, a social network, and a manufacturing company.

Here's how Ben approaches delegating:


Tune in next Thursday (1:30 pm ET) for a "Secrets of Successful Startups" interview with Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of Joyus, about overcoming the challenges of starting a business in a soft market.

Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro , the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.

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    Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro, the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.