Archive for September 6th, 2006

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!