“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.