Ben Kaufman's Accomplishments... and i have learnt a new word today! QUIRKY
"Everyone has an idea," says 21-year-old serial entrepreneur Ben Kaufman. "Every day, people walk around going, Wouldn't it be cool if...I want to harness those ideas and let people have a forum."
Kaufman did that as the founder of Mophie, a start-up that makes innovative iPod accessories. But he needed to outdo himself.
Kaufman started Mophie when he was a high school senior with an idea to produce the Song Sling, a case for the iPod Shuffle that you wear around your neck. Plenty of 18-year-olds have ideas; Kaufman made his happen. "I convinced my mom and dad to remortgage the house," he says, "and they gave me the $185,000 in equity and let me give it a shot."
Says his mother, Mindy, "When you see someone who has a dream and a great idea, you don't want to stifle it."
The $39.95 Song Sling turned out to be a success, and Kaufman ultimately designed and manufactured 22 other products. In order to keep the buzz going, he says, "I needed to hit the shelf with a new product within four weeks after each new iPod model dropped." This meant a lot of trips to the factory in China.
To ensure that his exacting standards were met, he'd sit in front of the machines as the parts were coming out, saying "no," "yeah," "maybe," "closer." He pushed supervisors to speed up production times and stuck to his guns when they wanted to cut corners and raise prices.
What often motivates him, Kaufman admits, is danger. "Our accountant once called me in and said, 'Ben, we'll be out of money in two weeks,' and I was like, Yes! That's what gets me going." Adds product engineer Peter Wadsworth, "There are two things that inspire Ben: lots of money and no money."
Kaufman decided last year to change his business in a big way. He sold the Mophie product line and rolled the proceeds into Kluster, a virtual forum that allows consumers and businesses to collaborate on the design of products and services.
He launched Kluster at this year's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California, inviting the elite gathering of "thinkers and doers"—2,700 people from 104 countries—to log on to Kluster's computer system and brainstorm a new product. Given a few guidelines on size and materials, they decided what to create (a board game about climate change), wrote a deck of question cards, and came up with a name, logo, and marketing strategy.
Just 72 hours after the exercise began, Kaufman went onstage with a fully rendered prototype of the game, Over There, telling the audience, "This is what you guys made."
As Kaufman envisions Kluster, companies that want to create a new product will use the platform (kluster.com) to put out a challenge to a relevant group of consumers—mothers, say, if a company is designing a new toy, or action-sports fans if it's planning an event for Red Bull—and offer a cash reward for a winning concept. Participants will be able to propose ideas (called sparks), suggest refinements (amps), and "invest" in ideas they believe in, using an alternate currency (watts).
Kaufman and his team are still tweaking the software and preparing to launch several projects for corporate clients.
And after that? "I want to build another company within Kluster," says Kaufman, "where all the products will be consumer-generated and there will be a café where people can talk about ideas. I've got so many ideas ..."
Getting Ahead with Ben Kaufman
What was your first business?
When I was 12, I started BK Media—a really creative name. My mom was a product merchandiser. She'd created this huge point-of-purchase merchandising system for a cosmetics company that took six hours to set up. I said, "What if I make a video so you don't have to send people—you can just send the DVD showing how to install it?" I finagled my way into making all these videos for big companies and wound up making a ton of money.
Do people ask you for business advice?
Yes, and I don't necessarily like it. What I can give them is just this one piece: I can't tell you if your business is good, I can't tell you if your idea is good, but I can tell you that if you feel passionate about it, do it and don't be afraid to fail. In fact, failure should motivate you—that's what it does for me.
Why did you drop out of college your freshman year?
I learn a ton more on a daily basis here at Kluster and on the streets than I would in a classroom. I'd rather do it and fail, and do it again.
Do you have a business philosophy?
I'm a firm believer that you don't have to be the first or the only one—you just haveto be the best.
Will you get bored with Kluster?
Our investors have always worried about my short attention span. But when I pitched them, I said, "If we build Kluster correctly, any idea I have—for a business or a product—can be put through Kluster." That's what's cool about it.
How do you spend your downtime?
I'm a Facebook addict. I don't really understand the business, but I understand the product. I love the product.
Why are you so confident?
Confidence comes from not being afraid to fail. And when I do fail, I just say, Okay, I'll fix it.