Reality show follows ‘Quirky’ inventors

  • By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Tuesday, August 30, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Reality shows devoted to inventors have been tried before (see: ABC’s 2006 show “American Inventor”), but none has been as intriguing as Sundance Channel’s “Quirky” (10 p.m. Tuesday).

Named after the website, the series follows inventors who submit their ideas for inventions to the website. Ideas are then voted on by visitors to the site who also get to be involved in the design process.

Andrea Zabinski of Adams, Pa., is among those who frequent the site. Her invention is among two products featured in tonight’s premiere episode.

Zabinski, 43, said she was cooking pasta for her family — husband Rich, 5-year-old son Logan and 2-year-old daughter Rowan — when she looked at her kitchen counter.

“I had gotten out three bowls, and they’re always big bowls because we do big pots of pasta,” she recalled. “I thought it would be great if there was just one, so I went and looked for an all-in-one strainer bowl, and there’s no such thing.”

That’s when she set about designing a product that she’d eventually submit at It wasn’t her first submission. Zabinski, who operates a software company, began dabbling as an inventor about two years ago and has seven products she’s concocted in various stages of development, including two more with Quirky (a juicer and an oven mitt).

The premiere focuses on the creation of the strainer/serving bowl that comes to be known by the name Ventu. It retails for $54.99 at

In Tuesday’s premiere, Zabinski offers her input throughout the design process and gets most of the functionality she wants out of the final product, sacrificing only her microwave-safe request for the strainer bowl, which is made out of stainless steel with wooden handles.

Sitting at a booth at Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard in late July, 24-year-old founder Ben Kaufman credits “the power of the community” with his company’s ability to get products to market faster than conventional product development.

“All these people coming together make these products possible,” he said. “We make decisions quicker; we’re able to test stuff easily. We don’t spend time on stuff that isn’t going to sell. There’s all this constant validation (from people online) that helps us make really smart decisions.”

Kaufman said the site’s fastest turnaround for a product was 39 days, but most take about six months.

That’s been Zabinski’s experience. Her product has not yet been released, but it’s expected to be soon. For a product to be manufactured and brought to fruition, it must be picked up by a retailer (Quirky works with HSN and Bed, Bath & Beyond) or presell a certain number of units.

Last week Ventu was listed as “in production.” It has been picked up by a retailer, Zabinski said.

“We presell so we see sales coming in, and it’s doing really well,” Kaufman said in late July. “It’s going to be a great product.”

Zabinski is cautiously optimistic that exposure for Ventu on the “Quirky” TV show will give it the promotional push it needs to become a popular product.

“Anybody can come up with an idea, but until they hit the shelf, they’re not real yet,” she said before Ventu went into production. “I have a feeling it will get out, but I hate to have a lot of excitement about it until it does.”

Quirky spokeswoman Tiffany Markofsky said Zabinski will earn $1.93 per Ventu sold. community influencers — including the woman who suggested the name of the product — share a percentage of the wholesale price per unit sold. (Zabinski said she’s earned about $5,000 for her work as an “influencer” on other people’s products.)

Turning Quirky into a TV show is an effort to get the word out about the site so more people will submit ideas and purchase Quirky products.

“The goal of the business is to make invention accessible,” Kaufman said, “and in order to make invention accessible, we need everyone to know invention is now accessible.”

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