Quirky.com is a company that brings inventions to life. Anyone’s inventions. For $10, you submit an idea online, follow Quirky users’ comments and, if chosen, watch as your idea comes to life, working its way through research, design, branding, engineering, and sales and marketing.
After your invention hits big brand outlets such as Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, you’ll take home 30% of the revenue. All you’ve spent as an inventor is your original $10 spot. Quirky.com does the rest. In the company’s three years, multiple inventions have grossed more than $1 million.
Since January, they’ve worked out of a 27,500-square-foot multipurpose space at 28th St. and 11th Ave. You can feel the wind off the river, and watch construction sites grow as new renters come in droves every month. There’s even a Quirky sign (“The Future of Invention Lives Here”) on the brick building that used to house a famous nightclub, the Tunnel.
Founder Ben Kaufman, 25, is already on his third successful startup. His first company, Mophie, created a headphone product voted No. 1 at MacWorld in 2005. As Quirky grew, Kaufman sought a home that fit its bold image.
“I want Quirky to become the top consumer product company in the world, now and in 100 years,” says Kaufman, wearing his signature black T-shirt in a conference room with a boardroom table he made himself from shipping pallets from the company’s warehouse. “I want to create a 21st-century Procter & Gamble. We’re not selling this. I wanted to lay some roots in a neighborhood. We’re here to stay.”
We can see why. This space is one of the most innovative places to work in New York, maybe in the digital age. Five microphones hang slyly from the conference room ceiling for phone calls. An iPad controls the room’s functionality. Three-dimensional printers live in a glass-walled cube, with purple lights illuminating it at night. In a 7,000-square-foot space called the Pit, Quirky’s staff of engineers and designers work off desks made from bowling lanes salvaged from North Carolina.
The kitchen in Quirky's offices is for cooking, testing products and photographing inventions.
There’s a state-of the-art kitchen nicer than studios on the Food Network. Quirky personnel built it themselves. The showers have porcelain tiles and little holes so you don't get wet when turning the water on or off. They have private phone booths for personal calls, a photo studio, store, materials room and huge space for company meetings called Product Evaluations.
“I didn’t want to buy any furniture,” says Kaufman, who worked on the space with the Spector Group, the architects who designed the Mercedes Manhattan dealership on 54th St. and 11th Ave. “Everything you see here we made. People consider a lot of this stuff garbage but to me, it’s an art installation.”
Bases for conference room tables are made from reclaimed sinks, bathtubs, shipping pallets and, in one case, a Bronx high school locker with books from the last person who used it, Luella Rivera. The conference room is named for her. Design highlights include exposed brick, glass walls for break-out rooms with names not fit for family publications, and hardwood floors sandblasted back to their original form.
“People walk in here and they aren’t sure what they’re looking at,” says Kaufman, who made it his personal project to design the office interiors. “Is it modern or some kind of industrial space? The thing is, we have all this incredibly sophisticated craziness in terms of machinery, yet it’s in this gritty and raw setting in an old building from the late 1800s. This is the first building in New York that combined ship, rail and roads. I want people to feel inspired when they walk in here. This is an esthetic that says we’re creative, you can trust us with your idea, and we can get it done.”
Kaufman looked at over 100 spaces when deciding to move the company from its cramped 5,500-square-feet SoHo offices. He looked in Brooklyn, the Bronx’s Bank Note Building, Long Island City, Puck Building and Empire State Building, where he put a preliminary bid in on a full floor.
“I just wasn’t feeling it there,” he says. “I looked at Starrett Lehigh, and there were a lot of companies trying to be cool. This was all mini-storage. I couldn’t see three feet in front of me. The floors were painted gray. But I saw these arched windows and so much history. This building is actually 23 buildings separated by steel doors. That’s how they protected it from fires. There’s like 200,000 square feet if we want to grow. I didn’t want any steel refinished. This is the most drool-worthy office in the city.”
After moving across the street into the Ohm rental building, Kaufman has watched the neighborhood change. In the past year, he’s seen restaurants and hotels come, the High Line expand, and more people biking and walking around.
‘This neighborhood will be the ‘it’ area in 10 years,” he says. “I wanted to put a stake in the ground. Creativity and design are linked. We spent a ton of money to move in here but that was important to us. In order to design well, you have to have a great space.”
Architect Scott Spector, principal of the Spector Group, bases his practice on that premise. His work at automotive dealerships and hedge funds tries to connect design to productivity. Referred to Quirky by Studley agent Greg Taubin who found Kaufman the space, Spector has sent many prospective clients to the startup’s new offices.
“People freak out when they see this space,” says Spector, who at Kaufman’s suggestions designed a rooftop deck to be built in the near future. “We salivated when we saw the real floors. Pure 1908 wood. Ben didn’t want anything cleaned up. He wanted total distress. This is like the template for the quintessential creative space. This is way beyond vision. After this job and doing this space, I don’t even want to wear suits anymore.”