Quirky, a company I blogged about quite regularly, has just announced the acquisition of the consulting firm Undercurrent “in pivot to serve corporate clients” as Inc. notes. It is an interesting move, as it represents a shift from being (only) a product maker & distributor to (also) being a crowdsourcing agency that works for big clients. “Having joined forces with Undercurrent, Quirky can now give large companies access to its community of inventors and will give those companies exclusivity to certain product ideas,” Graham Winfrey’s Inc. article explains. So they’ll do pretty much the same than eYeka.
CEO Ben Kaufman explains in a blog post that it was Undercurrent that introduced Quirky to GE, the industrial conglomerate, which ultimately lead to a major investment by GE in the crowdsourced design company. So there were tight links between the companies already, and I would guess that the first products that will go to market will be GE products, facilitated by Quirky. A number of GE+Quirky products are already being sold today – tomorrow’s products will be facilitated by ex-Undercurrent-now-Quirky consulting.
Service is an underestimated part of crowdsourcing, especially when you aim to work with big companies who are used to working with smart creatives, planners and consultants who help them navigate the long road from idea to market. It starts with IP, continues with inter-agency relationships, internal politics or reorganizations, and goes on to a long list of gates to go through to have a crowdsourced idea hit a shelf. Kaufman says, in his own words, that he expected this type of difficulties: “[I thought] 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.”
I thought that within a month of working with a global brand I’d tell ‘em to go fuck themselves. (Ben Kaufman)
But I guess he realized that it required a service dimension to work with the big brands and companies of this world. I recently talked to a Local Motors manager, who told me that it was hard to deliver crowd creativity to brands (they worked with Domino’s, B’Twin or BMW) if you don’t have a continuous relationship with them, which is crucial to follow up on crowdsourcing projects. If their brand-sponsored mobility projects often ended up nowhere, it’s mainly because there was no one to champion it internally after the crowd was brought in with ideas. So I think that the move is smart, and very pragmatic.
Besides, I like the branding idea that Kaufman outlines in his post, which is to co-brand crowdsourced products that hit the shelves with the partner. As Inc explains, products that will originate within Quirky’s community and get released by partner companies will be branded under the partner organizations’ names while carrying a “Powered by Quirky” seal. I’m not sure it is a very easy thing to do, though, even if there have been precedents (like this Swiss Mojito toothpaste, which has a “Inspired by consumers” label on it). But Quirky has such a momentum that it’s nothing but impossible. Undercurrent’s (still) CEO Aaron Dignan says that the new Quirky will be powering innovation in every company worldwide: “It’s the invention platform that will power every company on the planet someday.”
Quirky’s invention platform will power every company on the planet someday. (Aaron Dignan)
That’s a bold ambition, but a legitimate one. If there are people at Undercurrent and/or Quirky who are interested in learning more about crowdsourcing for the world’s biggest brands and companies, which is what eYeka and others already do, they shouldn’t hesitate to download our trend report. As of now, I have only two Quirky occurences in my data (both are with GE) but I would love to add more in the future. More importantly, I wish the new Quirky the best in making inroads into corporate innovation, it’s a fascinating task!