Quirky.com Founder: How to Be a Twenty-Something Mogul
By Jessica Stillman
Recently news hit the web that product-design startup Quirkyhad received $6 million in venture capital funding. The company is, as the name suggests, quirky. Would-be inventors pay $99 to submit a product idea to a community of like-minded innovators, who select one idea for further development each week and then help shepherd it through the design and marketing process. The product is finally distributed to the public, with each contributor taking a cut of the profits.
But it's not just the idea behind quirky that's remarkable; the site's 23-year-old founder Ben Kaufman is pretty remarkable, too. Just two years beyond the legal drinking age, the college-dropout-turned-entrepreneur has two companies under his belt and a take-no-prisoners approach to business. Does he see his age as an asset or a disadvantage? Does he ever regret the day he walked away from a college for good because a professor wouldn't allow him to step outside a business class to take a real-life business call from his manufacturer in China? Kaufman gave Entry-Level Rebel a whirlwind interview about the life of a twenty-something mogul-to-be.
You started your first company at just 18 years old and had $1 million in revenue by age 20. Did you worry about your age, and how did you get people to take you seriously enough to fund you even though you were so young?
I think that my age has helped me get where I am. I'm not afraid to do things and fail and start over again. Some people take me seriously, and some don't. I think that will always be the case regardless of my age.
Among ideas submitted to Quirky, what really captures people's attention and makes an idea come to life?
The simplest product ideas are the best. The kind of products where you say to yourself, "Doesn't that already exist?" or "Why didn't I think of that?"
You dropped out of college after something like six weeks. Do you feel you're missing out because you haven't gone to business school? Do you think it might be in your future?
Definitely not. I never stop learning. I am surrounded by so many smart people of all ages, and I guess I just have a good filter. The funny thing is that I keep getting invited to speak at business schools.So what would you say to other young entrepreneurs: Get a lot of training or just jump in and roll up your sleeves?
Definitely the latter. Just get to it.
Quirky is a sort of mash-up of entrepreneurship and online communities. Do you think being young and, in a sense, growing up with social media helped you come up with the idea? Does your youth change your perspective?
Actually, no. My first company, mophie, was an iPod accessory company -â€" bricks and mortar. I started with the idea of consumer-influenced products back at Macword in 2007, on a trade-show floor where hundreds of people got excited about developing our new iPod accessories. I realized then the power of collaborative development. Quirky combines traditional product development with the power of the Internet.
What tips do you have for entrepreneurs who are trying to get funding and support?
Find the right partners. Believe in your story, trust yourself and always persevere. It can be a very tiring and draining process that is extremely rewarding once you get there.