Yolanda Yeh ’15, Quirky

Making invention accessible. That is the concept, the reason why a boldly purple company exists – to empower people to invent and to give great ideas a chance to come to life. This is the mission of Quirky, a rapidly growing startup in New York City, where I had the pleasure of spending my spring break.

Although I only spent a few days there, this Princeternship gave me a unique window into startup culture, leaving behind the academic rigors on campus and beginning to understand the excitements of the entrepreneurial world out there. Warmly welcomed by our Princeton alumni host Nikki Laffel Kaufman ’07, and Suzannah Kerr on the first day, we were soon off, meeting people of all departments that are growing the company together. 

I was exposed to a variety of departments I had never considered, ranging from design to sales to operations and more. Everyone was so passionate about what they were doing, so willing to explain and answer any questions, excited about the company, pumped about the future, and invested completely in their potentials and the power entrusted to them. People hung out in the kitchen, joked out loud in the main working space, laughed, thought, and through all of that – solved stimulating problems with creativity and focus. I caught a glimpse of the challenges each part of the company wrestles with and was more importantly, inspired by the confidence with which each person approached these challenges. Getting advice about everything from how to make the most of college to preparing for the life beyond, I learned not only about specific career paths, but also more broadly about the value of taking risks and jumping at opportunities that may take you on a path you may have never imagined.

Nikki Laffel Kaufman '07, Quirky Staff, and Princeterns

 

My Princeternship experience at Quirky ended with my participation in their company-wide product evaluation meeting, a wonderful experience that exemplified collaboration and the openness of the Quirky company culture. My biggest takeaway from the people at Quirky is the notion that it is by going for the things we love and working hard at them that we give ourselves the opportunity to find a career where work does not feel like work. I learned that most specific skills can be picked up on the job so that it is really about pursuing your curiosities and developing the capacity to think and problem solve that can be applied anywhere. As an aspiring inventor and entrepreneur, I believe my experience at Quirky was invaluable and would strongly recommend it to any curious students. Many thanks to my hosts and Career Services for giving me this opportunity

Janie Gu ’15, Quirky

For my Princeternship, I worked at Quirky, a startup company in social product development and industrial design. Each week, hundreds of people from the site’s online community, called “ideators,” submit their ideas for inventions online. The ideas can be anything that isn’t already on the market, with the only requirement being that the product ideas must retail for less than $150 and should not be software-based. The community then votes on submissions, and final selections are made by the Quirky team. From that point on, the community participates in the development process, including design, naming, colors, logo, and market research, alongside professional engineers on the Quirky team. Final products are sold through two main avenues: 1) the online site and 2) Quirky’s retailers, including Target, Office Max, etc.

On the first day, our host, Nikki Kaufman ’07, who is Head of People and Culture (the Quirky version of Human Resources), and Suzannah Kerr, who works alongside her in the department, gave us the full tour of Quirky’s new home in western Manhattan. The office was an experience in itself, as it clearly reflects the unique culture and personality of the company, with beautiful glass furnishings and modern decorations contrasted against the array of sinks, lockers, and other random objects taken from an elementary school in the Bronx.

We were then given an hour to sign up for and get to know our way around the site, quirky.com, and prepared to make a mystery call to the Community Team, which is responsible for interacting with the online community and answering questions from consumers, designers, and inventors. We then met with Quirky Community Ambassador, Baron, who gave us an overview of what his job entails and what he does on a daily basis. He explained the challenges of working with public relations and customer service at a company like Quirky that has such a unique business model and works with such a wide variety of products.

We then met with Bret, Quirky’s Head of Marketing, who introduced us to Quirky’s marketing strategy, challenges, and opportunities. He explained how Quirky’s brand revolves not around a specific industry or lifestyle, but rather the stories of its inventors. He then challenged us to come up with our own marketing strategy to help Quirky take advantage of the month of May, which is generally celebrated as Inventors’ Month. This gave me some insight into what a marketing director does on a daily basis and the many considerations he must make to sell his product.

Janie, Nikki Laffel Kaufman, Princeterns, and Quirky Staff

 

We then met with Gaz, Quirky’s Head of Product Design, who introduced us to some of the factors to consider when evaluating / selecting idea submissions for Quirky to produce. He then took us through the production process from selection to brainstorming, preliminary design, prototyping, launching, tooling, manufacturing, and finally sales.

The next day, we delved deep into the details of the operations of the company, first meeting with Julie, who handles Quirky’s manufacturing in China and sourcing suppliers, who gave us an overview of how she coordinates the company’s overseas operations and makes sure that all the logistics and details of each product are communicated to the right people. For example, she told us about one miscommunication between Quirky’s engineers and the Chinese engineers at the factories; this led to a huge recall of products and enormous losses. We then met with Nancy, Demand Planner, who works to ensure that demand is always being met and that products are always on the shelves when they need to be. She explained how this job is especially difficult at a company like Quirky, that produces so many different products that there is no past data from which to draw predictions about demand. Lastly, we met with Justin, who handles Quirky’s logistics and distribution channels. This involves distributing the products, once they’re supplied, to people’s homes and the stores of different retailers. These meetings gave me invaluable insight into the field, because until then, I hadn’t truly understood what the job of “Operations” entailed and I definitely hadn’t realized the multitude of tasks that Operations departments do on a daily basis.

The next day, we met individually with our departments of interest. I met with Nathan, Quirky’s Head of Tech. This meeting was especially valuable to me since I was able to learn about the technology and web development side of Quirky, and also gave me the opportunity to talk to someone who had similar goals and interests to me. Nathan shared his diverse and fascinating life experiences with me, from being an English major in college to working at Google and briefly in entrepreneurship before coming to Quirky. He gave me incredibly helpful advice on honing my technical skills, getting internships, picking a major, and career development.

We then met with Chad, Quirky’s Head of Sales & Business Development, who told us about selling the Quirky products to various retailers and buyers. His openness and easygoing nature also made me realize the importance of networking and interpersonal relationships. Lastly, we participated in Quirky’s weekly Evaluation meeting, where the entire company meets to discuss the week’s product submissions and chooses the best ones for the company to produce.

This experience at Quirky was invaluable for me. Especially since it is such a small company, I had the chance to observe all the aspects of the business, from engineering and design to marketing and operations. In addition to gaining insight into a wide range of career paths, I received career advice from several professionals in fields relevant to my own interests. I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the diverse life experiences of the Quirky team, many of which were infinitely different from my own, and just being a part of the fun, open, and collaborative culture at Quirky. I would definitely recommend this Princeternship for anyone who is interested or even considering the possibility of working in the product development industry or at a startup.

Reena Glaser ’14, Quirky

I was lucky enough to spend my spring break at Quirky, a startup company in New York City that works to make “social product development” a reality.  In other words, Quirky asks anyone from anywhere in the world to submit their ideas for inventions, and then if that idea is chosen, their entire team will work to try to turn that idea into a product on inon the market.  Pretty cool, right?  Even better, I got to take part in the process this week for choosing the ideas that the company will work on and so much more.  I had the chance to meet with employees with many different specialties within the company ranging from product design to brand management to operations.  So much happened in only three days, and as a result, this Princeternship has given me a life-changing perspective about my career search.

When I arrived, I met the other two Princeton students who were involved in this experience with me and we were given a full tour of the new Quirky headquarters.  This office was unlike anything I had ever seen: the conference rooms had glass walls so that the space felt open for collaboration.  The tables in each room were designed by the Quirky team and were supported by unique objects such as sinks, toilets, and high school lockers.  The main office space was also a large open room so that there was no separation among employees and departments.  This setup really captures the atmosphere of Quirky where everyone works together on all of the steps in the product development process and where everyone is enthusiastically engaged in the company’s mission.  This was demonstrated to us as well; even though we were hosted by one person, we still had the chance to fully interact with over fifteen other employees and departments.  Our experience really showed the team-oriented environment of Quirky and the hard work that is put in by all of the people who work there to make their company successful.

Reena, Nikki Laffel Kaufman, fellow Princeterns, and Quirky Staff

Most importantly, I want to take this opportunity to once again thank our alum, Nikki Laffel Kaufman ’07, for making this Princeternship possible.  I got my first real experience in business and I met a wide range of people who have been valuable resources in helping me figure out my next step in my career journey and to learn about the real types of opportunities that are out there.  The people at Quirky are what really make this company incredible, and I am deeply grateful to have gotten to spend time with them over the past three days.  Thank you again, Nikki and the entire Quirky team, for making my spring break unforgettable!