Fast Company is doing a series of profiles featuring up-and-coming content creators across social media to get an inside look at the highs and lows of the Creator Economy.
As a successful entrepreneur in the consumer products space, Matty Benedetto knows what people want. He just has more fun—and now a full-time career—doing the opposite. Benedetto is the creator of Unnecessary Inventions, a design project for which he engineers all the products you never asked for—and won’t be able to buy.
Got a shirt you need unfolded? Look no further than the Unfold-o-matic. No time to clip your fingernails one by one? There’s JiffyCuts for that. Self-conscious about eating a hot dog in public? Grab yourself the Glizzy Gripper. “You’re creating another problem by trying to solve the initial problem that was never really a problem in the first place,” Benedetto says of his inventions. “A lot of times people confuse the words unnecessary and useless. All of my products, functionally, have a use to them. They just add 10 more steps.”
Since Benedetto uploaded his first creation to Reddit in 2019 (AirPods that also serve as chopsticks), Unnecessary Inventions has grown to more than 3.5 million followers on TikTok, 1 million followers on Instagram, and 521,000 subscribers on YouTube. Benedetto has spun Unnecessary Inventions into a full-time career partially through AdSense, TikTok’s Creator Fund, and even by selling the occasional creation. But the bulk of his revenue comes from brand deals, where he believes the unique nature of Unnecessary Inventions allows him to fetch a higher rate than his particular follower counts might otherwise suggest.
“I’m creating a valuable asset to them in a physical form. It can live beyond me,” Benedetto says. “Because of that, I’m able to charge probably more than an average creator. For me, one good brand deal a month and I’m more than set. I don’t need to be the next Bill Gates.”
Benedetto’s road to Unnecessary Inventions is somewhat ironic given how entrenched he was in the traditional (and practical) consumer product space.
Now 31, Benedetto started his first company, Eastern Collective, crocheting winter hats when he was just 13. By 15, his business expanded to selling ski apparel and accessories and he was outsourcing production to China. He ran that business through college, but a skiing accident during his sophomore year eventually pushed him in a new direction. “I shattered my whole right leg, spent two and a half months in the hospital, didn’t walk for two years,” Benedetto says. “I couldn’t go skiing as much, so I was a little disconnected from it. So when I graduated college, I pivoted that brand to a tech-accessory company.”
Benedetto claims to be the first to make braided fabric phone chargers, but couldn’t get any of the patents he applied for. Regardless, his accessories sold in major retailers, including J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, and Restoration Hardware, and landed in the pages of GQ, Wired, and more. He created another company, Sondre Travel, in 2017, focusing specifically on travel accessories.
While building his companies, all of which he’s since closed to focus on Unnecessary Inventions, Benedetto says he always had ideas for “ridiculous and stupid” products that he’d usually make as one-off gag gifts. In February 2019, when the factory in China he usually worked with shut down for the Chinese New Year, he bought a 3D printer to tinker around with.
“I always had this idea of chopsticks that went down off of your AirPods. It accentuated on the design, ’cause they were still kind of being made fun of,” Benedetto says. “They weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today.”
Benedetto designed the product, printed it on his 3D printer, took a few product shots, and uploaded it to his personal Facebook and Instagram. But it was when he posted it on Reddit that it went viral. “The next morning [after posting] it’s front page on Reddit,” he says.
Six months later, he landed his first two brand deals. For the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, he created a Swiss Army-like knife contraption with all the essential components for continuous gaming. And for Bud Light, he devised a phone case that doubled as a beer holder.
Those deals landed in Benedetto’s lap, but he found that when he took the initiative in approaching brands, it was a tricky proposition.
“It was a little difficult to pitch brands that maybe weren’t looking for campaigns, or being like, ‘I’m not saying your brand is unnecessary. I’m going to make something unnecessary that’s going to incorporate your product,'” Benedetto says. “It was a difficult sell at first.”
That led him to starting a YouTube account to better monetize Unnecessary Inventions’s content, and to post longer-form videos giving behind-the-scenes access to his studio and how he makes some of his inventions.
“This is the most I’ve ever worked. It is just a marathon being an online creator. It’s just nonstop, the fact that it changes so much from week to week,” Benedetto says. “You have to be ready to be on your toes because you just don’t know what the internet and what algorithms are going to pick up. So that’s the biggest learning curve—just being able to adapt to the quickest little change or an idea pops in my head.”
For example, when his standing keyboard invention went viral, he decided to follow that up a month later with a standing mouse. He’s also made Crocs-inspired gloves that led to a visor, and, even more godforsaken, underwear.
“It’s taking what was the core of the virality and pivoting,” he says. “What would be a way to remix that original package to create the next piece that builds upon that?”
As Unnecessary Inventions grows and certain products go viral, Benedetto cops to the pressure of topping his best work. “I’ve been feeling that pressure a little bit more to elevate the products—not just to outdo each one, but to make people question like, ‘Wait, how did he make that? How does that thing work?’ ” he says. “But then at the end of the day, sometimes I’m just like, content is content. If it still gets a million views, does it matter?”
Down the road, Benedetto can envision Unnecessary Inventions spinning off into a show akin to Netflix’s Nailed It! where he’d judge other people’s inventions, or a series that has him going into celebrities’ homes and creating the wildest products of their dreams. He’s had discussions with production companies, but the more immediate expansion of Unnecessary Inventions is a museum.
“I still sit in front of my 3D printer and watch it print. It’s like magic. I would love to create a museum that shows the technology I use to bring these things to life and show the inventions in real life,” Benedetto says. “From the content to the technology behind it to the physical products, I think people would really enjoy it.
“I have a few sponsors that are interested,” he adds. “I’m just trying to nail it. If I do it, I want to do it really well.”