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.
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.