There are plenty of places to buy offbeat electronics, including ThinkGeek, The Fancy, Instructables, and even Amazon, if you know what you’re looking for. But Amanda Peyton believes this category is growing rapidly and there is a growing market for stuff that is too geeky or weird for Best Buy. "Electronics move at one pace, but retail moves at another one," she said.
That’s why Peyton and fellow Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs Joe Lallouz and Aaron Henshaw decided to build a site to curate these kinds of products: Grand St., an online store for "electronics with heart."
The three founders, who are tinkerers themselves, will test products and choose the most creative, fun, and "delightful." The site will feature three to five of these products at a time, rotating in a new one every day. The three founders will take photos and write a backstory for each, tapping into consumers’ desire for quirkiness and novelty.
The site taps into our desire for quirkiness and novelty
Part of this trend is driven by Kickstarter and other crowdfunding efforts, which funded products such as the Pebble smartwatch and the Romotive iPhone robot. Arduino and the open source hacking movement, as well as the maker-centric 3D printing movement, have also contributed to the sense that electronics can be surprising and delightful as well as functional.
"Kickstarter has kind of created this whole new class of products," Peyton said. "Some [campaigns] will turn into companies and they'll have more products and they’ll want to sell beyond the units they sell through Kickstarter." But unlike Kickstarter, where even the best-laid plans with huge amounts of funding often go awry, Grand St. only sells real products.
The products won’t come just from Kickstarter. "I think there has been a lot more money moving in this direction," Peyton said. "As a result there’s going to be newer and better products. Those companies are going to need a place to sell and scale and to build awareness."
The site is launching with three products that may be underwhelming for early adopters but are still largely unheard of among the general population. The first is Sifteo, a gaming system that uses cubes with color touch screens. The second is The Wise Clock, a hackable, pong-playing alarm clock. The third is the Cosmonaut, a comfortable stylus built by a design shop in Brooklyn. Peyton says they’ve got more lined up so that the site can start rotating products right away.
"There is a big difference between mainstream awareness of these types of products and the average geeky gadgethead," Peyton said. "We see ourselves as somewhere in the middle. Everyone who reads tech blogs has heard of Sifteo but for a lot of consumers it’s a very new concept for them."
"What’s been very frustrating is this mentality of buying electronics around price or specs."
If a product is listed on Grand St., it means "we’ve tested it, we've held it, we've played with it, and we think that it's really awesome," Peyton said. There is a submission form where inventors can request to have their products listed. Grand St. does not do discounts, and its fees to sellers will vary from product to product.
The founders are hoping that Grand St. will attract a community of people who love creative electronics — the sort of tech lovers who prefer a unique gift like the Pebble or LittleBits, the kid-friendly elecronics kit, rather than the latest Xbox.
"For me personally, what’s been very frustrating is this mentality of buying electronics around price or specs, and also just the experience of walking through some of the major electronics stores," Peyton said. "It just feels kind of empty. We really want to humanize the product and we really want to bring back a little of the excitement that I think has been really lost."
Grand St. is launching today, but will only be viewable to users who register. The full site is coming in 2013.