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Plugged in to new ideas

(Quirky Photo)
By Anthony Savvides
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2011

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Q. What first inspired you to think about Pivot Power?

A. The story is that I had the idea when I was still in high school. I was taking a summer “Pre-College’’ program. We were essentially supposed to come up with an idea and take it through all the stages of developing a product that we had learned about. In the end, the idea that I wound up doing for this assignment was this sort of telescoping power strip. It was developing it for this summer program and doing a lot of sketches that wound up helping my submission to Quirky four years later.

Q. When did it become more than just a final project at RISD?

A. Well, even during that summer program, I thought it was an idea that was better than just a project; I thought it was a viable product. But I knew nothing about bringing a product to market. I was working with a family friend who is an intellectual property lawyer. He and I were doing our best to investigate the patent landscape to see if anything similar existed; the answer, essentially, was no. Sometime in 2010, he let me know about a company called Quirky. A few weeks after that I sent them the idea because I was bored in class one day.

Q. Were you frustrated with the problem that this idea helps to solve?

A. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I think that annoyance is kind of the seed of necessity because it’s only when something is so annoying, then you’re so frustrated that it feels like you need to invent a solution. I have plenty of little gadgets and I had just spent one too many hours plugging and unplugging and looking at this stupid thing that had eight [outlets] on it when I could only fit five. I spent so much time trying to get that to work that I probably said, “Damn! I wish I could just flex this thing. I wish I could just stretch and make all of them fit!’’ And then I was like, “Well how hard would that be?’’

Q. Turns out not too hard, right?

A. Yeah, apparently not. It wasn’t exactly trivial. You should ask the engineers who worked on it at Quirky; it wasn’t easy. But it’s easy for the consumer, and that’s great.

Q. Is the final product how you envisioned the initial idea?

A. The colors were pretty similar. I mean, Pivot Power is very close, but my thing solved the problem more by sliding and telescoping and extending and also rotating, but mostly by telescoping. [Pivot Power] is a better solution to the problem and a lot less complicated to manufacture. And what [Quirky] does really well is read between the lines of the people’s submissions and figure out what the problem is that this person is trying to solve. Essentially, whatever comes out of their process is not going to be the exact thing that the inventor submitted in most cases, and that’s because they usually wind up producing the best solution to that problem; more inspired by the inventor’s original idea than sticking exactly to the submission.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. Do I plan to continue innovating? I really hope so. Design is my favorite thing, and I think it’s best when it solves a real problem. Obviously, the problem Pivot Power solves is a bit petty. . . . There are bigger problems in the world, to be sure. I hope that I can make a career out of identifying problems that people care about and solving them. I hope that that is the theme.

Interview was edited and condensed. Anthony Savvides can be reached at ASavvides@globe.com.

WHO
Jake Zien
WHAT
The 22-year-old Milwaukee native graduated from Rhode Island School of Design two months ago. Now he has hit the big time. After a high school project became a working design, Quirky Inc., helped him patent it and promised him a cut of the sales. Pivot Power, a flexible power strip designed to bend and fit bulky, oversize power chargers, has been available nationwide since June at Bed, Bath & Beyond, as well as on the Home Shopping Network. No surprise, it’s a big hit with the college crowd. After all, they’ve got to plug in all those TVs, gaming consoles, iPods, e-readers, speakers, laptops, printers, and cellphone chargers somewhere, right?