Archive for September, 2006

Secret Chumby Industries Business Strategy: REVEALED!

September 20, 2006

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Blanche DuBois in, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

Mao Zedong (1958)

There it is. These two quotes. That’s it. That’s the now-public Chumby Industries business strategy. We’ve spilled the beans.

Seriously, that’s it.

When we started Chumby we understood that, to have any chance with a consumer electronics start-up, we were going to have to take a different approach than the Apples, the Sonys, the Philips and the Nokias of the world. These are obviously huge companies with vast design departments, consumer research groups and enormous marketing budgets. If we play by their rules, we wouldn’t stand a chance. Instead we considered how we might apply the strategies of the open source software movement to a consumer electronics device. We are in awe of the power of the open source model to seriously dent the future prospects for the world’s largest and most profitable software companies — or at least force them to change the rules of competition and innovation. Now if only there was open source oil, open source government and open source international diplomacy :)

We’ve published our complete specs so that you can see absolutely everything about how a chumby is built — you can hack it, change it, add on to it. We’ve made available our open source software toolchain — you can see how we’ve programmed the chumby and you can reprogram it yourself if you’re so inclined. We’ve even made available the flat pattern for the chumby’s soft pillow-like housing — if you don’t like the colors or fabrics that we’ve used, you can go sew up one yourself (though you better be pretty handy with scissors and a sewing machine.) Or just yank out the chumby’s electronic guts and hot glue it into a teletubby doll or an old football — we did, but be careful not to burn yourself, that glue is freaking hot!

So, in a nutshell, Chumby Industries is relying upon the kindness of all of you strangers out there (okay, some of you are actually friends) to help the chumby become a device that grows in value and becomes more useful over time — rather than another emigrant to the island of misfit techno-gadgetry. We’re counting on you for application and design innovation, for great content, and for clever customization and “crafting.” You are already hard at work. Many of you have emailed us, or Forum-posted, about the cool projects you’re working on with your chumbys — and we can’t wait for the world to see them! Let us know how we can help you. And let us show your work on our web site. Show us your chumby and we’ll show you ours :)

Now on to the flowers thing. That’s the correct quote from Chairman Mao. I looked it up and realized that I have, like many others, previously mis-quoted it as letting a thousand flowers bloom. Now I can be a smarty-pants and correct soi-disant intellectuals — and so can you. That alone makes this blog post worth reading. But, if you know the history behind it, I probably shouldn’t really be using this quote at all because the historical coda is ominous. Many people use it (usually the 1,000 flowers version) without realizing that, though this statement may have been originally voiced by the Chairman as an earnest request for ideas and constructive criticism of the government, it soon became clear to the flowers that their blooming wasn’t exactly appreciated… or worse.

But I’ll use it anyway (the 100 flowers version), probably correctly assuming that most people won’t know the history behind it (well, now you know it, doh!) and will just get the gist of it. And what is that?

That all of you out there, strangers or not, will help us make the chumby not a powerful iconic product wrapped up in an impactful branding campaign and designed for mindless mass consumption, but rather an outlet for your creativity. If you’re a Flash animator, please make cool widgets and upload them to the Chumby site for others to share (actual ability to do this coming soon). If you’re a crafter, please do something creative with your chumby and let us show it to everyone. And if you’re a hacker, please create something cool with the chumby that we never dreamed was possible (we’re still waiting for that “chumby Skype phone”). Now I know you’re thinking, “That’s all wonderful but, duh, I don’t have a chumby yet, Steve!?!” Well, some of you do, and more will soon. And the “virtual chumby” is coming, so at least you Flashers can get busy.

Anyway, strangers, when you do get a chumby (or how about 100 of them! or 1,000?), let it bloom. And my solemn oath to you all is that Chumby Industries will treat your blooming, and your criticisms, somewhat more benevolently than did Chairman Mao.

Free chumbys available (soon). “Widgetoons” wanted!

September 13, 2006

If you go to the main page of the Chumby Industries website here you’ll see the following offer:

FREE SAMPLE

If you’re a serious alpha-geek

hacker, a clever crafter or an

accomplished Flash animator,

tell us what you’d like to do

with a chumby and maybe we’ll

part with one of our precious

few prototypes.

 

Then we ask you to enter a convincing argument for why we should send you one of these “limited edition” prototypes for free. Many people have sent us “convincing arguments” (though some more convincing than others.) More people than we imagined in our wildest dreams have done this. I am personally looking through every one of these submissions (okay, not true, I asked my fellow chumbian, Steve Adler, to take half of them because there are so many.) Some of these proposals attempt to be funny, and some sort of succeed at that — but, as funny as you may be, we’re probably not going to send you a chumby. As might be expected, some are borderline offensive, and some over the border :^O — nope, no chumby for you! But the majority are really thoughtful and interesting.

 

Some people who have heard about the chumby have wondered out loud to the blogosphere, “What would I do with a chumby when I already have a [fill in the blank]?” Well, we now have thousands of great answers to that question. Indeed, many of you know exactly what you want to do with a chumby, or at least you think you know, because some of these ideas will take some serious hacking and experimentation. We’re really excited here at Chumby Industries that so many of you truly “get it” and recognize that the chumby is absolutely a “platform,” and an open one at that, and, as anyone knows who has heard the “Tim O’Reilly Alarm” widget haranguing them over and over through their prototype chumby, “A Platform beats an Application every time!” :)

 

We really are going to give away some more prototype chumbys, probably about 50 of them — but please be patient because we gave away pretty much the entire first batch at FOO Camp, so this won’t be until we get our next set of prototypes completed in a few weeks. As I said, we’re scanning through the submissions now and it’s going to take some time — there are literally thousands and we really are reviewing every one — and I’m sorry that I won’t be able to personally respond to everyone who shared their pet idea with us.

 

I’ll also reveal a bias as I consider the submissions. We’re extremely eager to get chumbys into the hands of great widget creators, i.e., Flash artists who can make clever or elegant or amusing or just plain useful Flash Lite animations that will run well and make sense on a chumby. We’re especially convinced by Flashers who can point us to examples of their work. I am dying to have some really cool serialized anime “widgetoons” that will come out in new installments every week, or every few days?, and will draw people in. This could be a really compelling art form for our audience, and the chumby is the ideal platform for these because a chumby widgetoon can be easily virally spread from chumby-to-chumby (or at least will do this as soon as we complete our chumby-to-chumby “send” function). I’d also love to see some clever chumby “advertoons” — fake animated Flash advertisements for imaginary products. My favorite of this genre has to be “Fruity Oaty Bar” (but Flash animations please, not video — our current processor in the chumby can’t take the pounding of real video.)

 

Soon we’ll have ready the new “virtual chumby” on our site — so stay tuned to thINK tank. This will give everyone the ability to get a better sense of what a real chumby will be like. You’ll be able to load in widgets and see them run, see how the control panel works, and even embed your virtual chumby in a variety of places on the Web where you might like to see it and share it with your friends. And Flash animators can think of it as a “chumby emulator,” a place to test out their widgets before submitting them to Chumby Industries for everyone to share (by the way, this widget upload feature also is “coming soon.”)

 

Of course we’ll still be delighted to receive submissions from you hardware hackers and crafters out there, so I don’t mean to give you short-shrift, but we recognize that the chumby will get pretty stale pretty quickly if there isn’t a steady diet of new and clever widgets (maybe I should have titled this post, “It’s the widgets, stupid!”)

 

So hang in there, some free chumbys will be coming. And in the meantime, please get cracking on those widgetoons and advertoons!

Is the chumby for alpha-geek hackers, or teenagers, or grandma, or what?

September 6, 2006

Some of you have wondered what’s up with our marketing message. If you go to the Chumby Industries site, you see a picture of a teenage girl admiring a chumby and chumby core electronics hacked into a Hello Kitty pillow. However, the blogosphere is now replete with postings about the chumby from our alpha-geek hacker friends. Okay, so how does this make any sense: an alpha-geek hacker toy for teenagers?

Though this is probably going to be a clear violation of Marketing 101, the answer is… well… both!

I’ve seen a few people on blogs wondering aloud what they would do with a chumby. I’m guessing that not too many of these skeptics are teenagers — I’m also guessing that some of them sleep with their laptops on their night stands. In fact I might try that too if I thought I wouldn’t be socially-tarred by my non-geek friends, and if the laptop’s fan wasn’t so damn noisy. Anecdotally, but unsurprisingly, most teens and 20-somethings who have seen this product know exactly why they want one — they want to stay connected, easily and all the time. They know exactly how they will use a chumby, and how it fits with, in and around and their MP3 player, their cellphone, and their PC.

So, to be crystal clear, we expect that the large and primary market for the chumby is this so-called, “connected youth” market. For more background on this market (assuming you’re not a member of the “connected youth” market already, duh!) see the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s reports and danah boyd’s work. It is an extremely large and global market, and we believe (and are getting reminders every day) that youth has a real hunger for a product like the chumby that isn’t one-dimensional, limited, or redundant. And that their fathers wouldn’t buy at Sharper Image.

So where do the hackers fit in?

Ah, that’s easier to answer because we are personally not teenagers (though we sometimes wish we were), we’re hackers. We hackers have been hungering for a powerful control platform for a range of projects we’d like to accomplish. Something with a decent microprocessor, a programmable Linux core, good input/output capabilities, a variety of sensors, and a display, ideally a touch screen — and with an accessible and comprehensible set of documentation and tools for hackers. That’s the chumby.

We’d also like this hacker platform to be inexpensive — and wouldn’t it be great if we could actually find large markets for our innovations so that our work wasn’t simply limited to cool “science projects” generating awe from our geek friends? This is where the value of the chumby to “connected youth” and hackers crosses over.

The large global “connected youth” market that wants to buy chumbys will hopefully generate some serious volume so that we can price chumbys very affordably (volume being the largest driver of cost for electronics) — we’re targeting a $150 price point for when we launch next year. This makes the chumby cheaper for this youth market and, critically, also for hackers to enable a wide range of hacker projects and experiments. Hackers get very excited when they see cheap, powerful parts and large markets — and the belief that all that’s required for fame and fortune is some clever innovation.

We can’t wait to see what happens when the most productive innovation machine the world has ever known (the global hacker community) gets its hands on a cheap and powerful Net-connected control platform and creates an unimaginable array of cool new Net-connected products, many of which will be scooped up by this hungry and high-volume “connected youth” market.

So we’re willing to bet that, at least for what we’re trying to do, Marketing 101 precepts are wrong — that we can serve two masters at once and that the result will be an unbelievably virtuous cycle of innovation and product volume. We’d rather take our marketing advice from Purple Cow anyway.

Oh, and grandma? We love grandma. Will one of you “connected youth” please buy her a chumby, plug it in, and point it to your Flickr feed so she can enjoy pictures of her grandchildren? This will make her really happy. And will one of you hackers create a “Grandma, did you take your medication today? Yes or No” widget so that, until she tells her children that she did indeed take her pills, she can’t get more cute pictures of the grandkids? This alone would help address an important health issue and help keep grandma connected to her family, and her family to her well-being.

Unless of course Grandma wants a kick-ass Net-connected control platform for her hacker projects. You go, girl!