Topic: The challenges of marketing chumby

I have a chumby and enjoy playing with it, building my own widgets, enjoying others' widgets, and messing around with it.  It's a big swiss army knife / computer - like a picture frame + radio player + alarm clock + information appliance + game player + more.  I brought it to work a few days ago (I do marketing for a software company), nobody at work really understood it.  It made me think a little about the challenges chumby faces in selling their product.

Chumby should enjoy some initial success as early adopters snap it up (think of the Make Magazine crowd).  They've done a great job of harnessing user content and setting themselves up to profit by providing the platform. 

The gap from early adopter to early majority is a big one for chumby, though.  Chumby suffers from the 'what is it' problem.  Youtube = web video, flickr = photos, wikipedia = encyclopedia, eBay = auctions.  What is chumby?  Web player?  internet radio?  Alarm clock? 

My first suggestion to chumby is - BE SOMETHING.  The homepage demonstrates the confusion of what a chumby is.  It's all of these cool things, but it's nothing specific.  Think of the many market leaders who started out being something before they could become other things.  iPod was an MP3 player, sold books, Ford had 1 model, Google was search, and so on. 

Price can be a problem, too.  Price is relative - $500 may be a good deal for a laptop, but a bad deal for a remote control.  But chumby has a problem quantifying exactly what consumers get for their money, making it harder to justify the price.   

Chumby needs channel support.  I'm sure you're working on this, but consumers often like to touch, experience, smell, etc - Success on the direct sales should be leveraged to gain momentum for a channel strategy. 

The chumby plan for world domination:

1.  Master a function.  Be the best god-damned alarm clock the world will ever know.  Or be a bedside communicator, with microphone and skype support.  Or be an entertainment machine with fantastic integration with itunes, rhapsody or whatever,  Or the super-easy web connected picture frame. 

2.  Take a beachhead.  Be the master of a specific audience, or a specific region.  Give out free chumbys in San Francisco.  Market on every graphic design website, or go to every photography convention.  Master the 'some (specific) thing to a specific audience' approach.  You have limited resources, so focus them.  In b2c markets, I suggest the regional approach - own a metro area to the point that every household in city X has a chumby.  It will build your referal sales and give you a chance to parter with regional outlets.  Picture everyone on the Boston Subway with a chumby charm dangling from their bag. 

3.  Continue to court developers.  While you master the 'something to someone' approach, developers will make sure that once a user gets a chumby for function X, they'll realize it can also do all these other amazing things.  I think you've done very well so far (schematics, wiki, design help, etc).  A few other things would be nice; some way to offer flash pro at a reduced cost.  A site/resource for collaboritive flash development.  Improved documentation.  I'm sure there's other stuff, too.  Developers will keep consumers from putting their chumbys in the closet to be forgotten about.

4.  Never seperate with your monetary goals.  Whatever your exit strategy, make sure you have an embedded revenue stream.  The current model is perfect - rev. on the device + rev. on advertising. 

5.  Offer product variations to take advantage of different price elasticities.  This is probably already in the plan, but some consumers are more price sensitive than others, and a premium product (maybe brighter screen, better speakers, nicer cover, etc), will allow you to take advantage of that to maximize returns.  A great example is TrackIR by NaturalPoint. 

Just a few thoughts.  Good luck guys!

Want to see a cool project? check out my projects on Gadget Gangster

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

Agree. It's been tough to explain to non-tech folks what the appeal is. The typical response I got early on was something to the tune of "...sooo... it's a $180 weather bug?" I found better luck describing it as a "PDA you can hug". Usually grabs their attention enough that they'll want to hear more.

If I were going to compare the Chumby to any device, I suppose a Desktop PDA is about as apt as anything else. It does many things that a PDA would: news, weather, email (viewing), and other network-enabled services. It's conceivable that someone will write a drawing widget so you could take "notes" on your Chumby with a stylus like post-it notes. Add in a contacts lookup widget and a calculator, and you have just about everything you need.

Just a few more thoughts. *thumbsup*

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

I wrote why I think it would make a good photo frame gift for non-technical parents: … much-more/

It still needs more work to be in that space perfectly, but it is a long way there.

It may also be useful to get in touch with somebody like Alex Lindsay from . They have a popular podcast talking about all things media (

They could also be the right people to do a shared training with and possibly discounted software (since they already have the channel setup).

I can see how PixelCorps could provide flash/media training, while selling (slightly) discounted Chumbys and Flash development software. That could reach the target audience from both Chumby's and PixelCorps' points of view.

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

nmcclana brings up many good points - just ask me how I justified the purchase to my better half...

My purchase was based on curiosity and the chance to experiment with my own "Bit Literacy."

On Twitter, I was asked how I am using it, and, having it turned on for 2 hours and 7 minutes, I've managed to set up 5 channels (ADD channel with quick news/weather; educational channel; Social channel (Twitter timeline, FB, Flickr); Fun (Onion/humor) and Vanity (my flickr, my calendar, my twitter, etc.)

I'm no programmer, but I am curious how I can 1) influence widget creation and 2) experiment with my own widgets (If I get that far...)

Also, and finally, I am fascinated by the community around Chumby and really wanted to be part of it - I'm not a gamer nor an avid music person, so I've missed out on many community forums/gatherings around products.

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

I stumbled across this thread while searching for something else, but I wanted to respond to it. I've never been much of an early adopter, but I wanted to give some feedback to nmcclana's points...

I think you need to perceive the Chumby in a slightly different context. What is a laptop computer, really? It's essentially no different than a Chumby. Yes, there are some processing limitations on the Chumby that are a result of both price point decisions as well as size / engineering constraints, but fundamentally this is a full open source wifi enabled device.

My other computers, at any given time, can be either a video game machine, or a Photoshop photo editing studio, or a LAMP server, or an audio / video server, etc etc etc. The Chumby essentially follows the same equation. The only real difference as I see it is that it's simply a different form-factor. We're so used to experiencing computers as devices with large screens, mice, and keyboards, that a small touch screen wifi device doesn't exactly conform to our standard experience (yet).

For instance, who's to say that someone can't mod a Chumby device to become one of those refrigerator computers that you see on the $4,000 fridges at Best Buy? A little hacking and a rework of the case (so that it can mount on to a fridge) and you've got yourself an entirely new application. Save recipes, manage shopping lists, organize family calendars, etc. . . 

At $180 per, I could easily see many people putting job-specific Chumby-based computers in several rooms of their house, each with its own purpose. Living room? Chumby runs your streaming radio through your stereo, while simultaneously acting as a digital picture frame. Kitchen? Chumby is what I described above - your family / food center. Bedrooms? Alarm clock, email reader, weather & traffic. Bathroom? Well... Let's just stay out of there for the time being wink

Anyways... Sorta went on a tangent there, but I guess my point was that I disagree with your notion that a device like this needs to master any specific task. It is what it is - a computer. Hopefully, people will be able to understand that computers are just tools - part of the solution set for solving problems or improving their lives. That, and it's just fun to play around with! wink



Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

I agree with you completely - if you see chumby as an extensible platform that answers to many common consumer desires, you see the value in it (I bought one).  Of course, we're both computer people.  Most people aren't. 

Your notion that computers are fun to play around with is true for you and I, but MOST people don't like playing around with computers.  Consumers are swamped with advertisements, commercial messages, products, and choices (Advertising Age says the average consumer sees 20,000 ads a year).  A product without a clear and tangible benefit  will struggle to gain mass market acceptance, and won't cut thru the clutter.  Think of the top consumer electronics products of all time, Light bulbs, blackberry, microwave, refrigerator, etc.  Nearly all of them had a simple, tangible benefit.  The few that were amorphous didn't catch on until a 'killer app' arrived.  Most would argue that the PC's killer app was the spreadsheet (I'd argue that it was the games, but what do I know?).  Before the internet took off people had to buy a computer.  And they bought a computer for a simple, tangible benefit.

Chumby is awesome for people who setup LAMP servers, prefer bash to ash, eschew software firewalls, and debate the differences between mp3 encoders.  But until the mass market can understand chumby in 1 sentence, with a single, tangible benefit, I don't think my parents will be buying one.  Heck, even my coworkers aren't interested, and they're all nerds. 

Always a fun debate, and I want to see Chumby do well, at least to protect my investment.  AND the idea of making computing more accessible is a goal of mine, something I'd like to see happen.  Chumby has gone very far (they have a working product in people's hands that is completely loaded with potential).  But that potential might be limited if they can't convince people to buy the units.  'If you build it they will come' is expecting too much of consumers.

Want to see a cool project? check out my projects on Gadget Gangster

7 (edited by mesham 2008-08-25 14:58:39)

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

I'm in marketing so this thread was interesting to me. I have not yet bought my chumby, but I already love my virtual one. My husband keeps saying he'll get it for me for Christmas; I just don't think I can live without it for that long. My VC (my virtual chumby, of course) needs a physical home desperately.

Anyway, I became interested in Chumby becuase my work computer is old and sluggish, and I couldn't listen to Radio Paradise on it AND do work. And my unreasonable bosses seemed to think that doing work was more important. **sigh**

I do like new gadgets, but I expect my computer to work--I don't want to play with complex settings and troubleshooting... technical stuff. But I do like customizing my computer, creating custom toolbars to help me work more efficiently, etc. So Chumby is probably perfect for me. How would I describe it to my mother, who is good at send & reply email but still has trouble downloading her photos?

All the web stuff you want without having to sit at your computer. Photos of the grandkids? Check. Weather updates? Check. Fox News? Check. Funny pictures of kitty-cats? Check. Incoming emails? Check. Stuck in the office? NOT. A big plus living in Florida (waiting for Fay, despairing over the democrats, laughing at lolcats)...

No, I don't really think that'll do it either. Nowhere near snappy enough. Plus, frankly, setup would be too much for her, too many choices. What would work: an "Add this to my Chumby" button on every website she used. Or perhaps at least a category of "Retired folks Top 10" in widgets...

Oh, when I said I was in Marketing, I didn't mean any creative aspect of it... ;-) Good luck Chumby...

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

One of the major benefits of the chumby in this particular situation is that it can be managed remotely, unlike a computer (at least without special software).

*You* can manage your mother's chumby for her, through the website.  You will still have to walk her through connecting to her wifi, but other than that, it's pretty much plug and go for her.

We already support "add this widget to chumby" buttons which can be added to web sites - however, it will take some time to convince people to add them.

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

out of curiosity, is it possible to give us an idea of how well the chumby is doing?

i'm sure we've all noticed the white model is currently sold out, which - i hope - is a good sign.

i just got my chumby, but being a somewhat geeky person i've been hearing about it for a long time. among my geeky friends i am only the second person to get one and it took a bit to convince me i needed it (my ihome broke as an alarm clock and a got a $100 gift certificate to Amazon). i'm also using it as my primary alarm and i know there is some debate about the validity of using the chumby in this way ...

i've had a few friends who've seen it in person and they were very intrigued by it but i don't think i convinced them to get one. one friend i talked to decided to get his sister one as a Christmas gift, but i don't think he'd be interested in it for himself.

anyway, my point is that i think it would help to "master" a function in order to bring the chumby into the mass market. personally i think if chumby does focus on "the best alarm clock ever" market it will do well. particularly if you can eventually release the "chumby lite" at the $100 price point.

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

How well Chumby is doing is a fun intellectual exercise.  I seriously doubt the Chumby folks will confirm anything, but here goes my estimate;

Only quick number I can find is the # of registered forum users (2,500). 

A few assumptions to fill in everything else;
* Chumby customers are more likely to register for forums than non-technical audiences. 
* $100 BOM with a total COGS of $140 (distribution is a pass-thru).
* $30 combined CPM for ads, 6 impressions a day

LOWEST END   (100% of buyers register on the forum)
2,500 registered forum users = 2,500 customers
$30 Gross per chumby = $75K
$4.5 / Month in ad rev per user = $11K / Mo annuity

MEDIUM END (10% of buyers register on the forum)
2,500 registered forum users = 25,000 customers
$30 Gross per chumby = $750K
$4.5 / Month in ad rev per user = $110K / Mo annuity

HIGH END (5% of buyers register on the forum)
2,500 registered forum users = 50,000 customers
$30 Gross per chumby = $1.5M
$4.5 / Month in ad rev per user = $220K / Mo annuity

It's a question of what % of chumby buyers register for the forum.  I have to believe that more than 5% of chumby buyers register on the forum.  I think I'm pretty good on the COGS estimate, but my CPM estimate might be spotty.

This excludes SG&A / fixed expenses / startup costs / etc.  Another number to keep in mind is the average revenue per employee in the US (about $250K according to the US Economic Census).  So a company that does 2.5M in revenue is 'right sized' at 10 employees. 

OPEX for the service is probably minor (I'll betcha my wooden nickel they did a fairly reasonable leasing deal with IBM), but other costs add up.  30 employees takes about 7,500 sq ft, and @ 2.50 a square, that's about $20k / Mo.  Assuming a cost of $100K / employee, that's $3M in employee expenses. 

Is the white Chumby really out of stock until December?  Wow - the lead time on carapaces is 3 months?  It might be time for another textiles vendor.

Want to see a cool project? check out my projects on Gadget Gangster

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

very interesting analysis! thanks!

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

A $100 chumby would likely be a loss leader, it may be worth it, though, depending on their ad revenue.  There aren't many expensive components you can remove...

Positioning has gotten better since I first posted.  It's tough marketing it as a 'super alarm clock', though, because the product has a few shortcomings.  #1 lesson of marketing; don't make a promise that fails to deliver. 

I guess I go back to the PC; when did it exit the 'computer club' scene?  When there was a single clear & obvious benefit.   

Once you demonstrate the benefit, consumers will jump thru hoops to get your product. Until you demonstrate the benefit, they're unlikely to do anything.  Not to pick on anyone (I've done the same thing many times), but the current homepage is an example of 'maybe they can't find the buy button' design.  It's premature to ask for the sale on the slide deck (like asking for marriage on the first date).  My suggestion is to move the conversation from 'us' to 'them', very explicitly.  Even basic stuff;

'Buy a Chumby'
'Get your Chumby'

"Chumby is..."

"Chumby does.."
"You can..."

Nerd companies tend to be introspective in their messaging & take for granted that everyone else sees the brilliance of their product (or that everyone else even understands it).  Something to be eschewed...

Question for the chumby folks... When doing the product development & debating the 'auto on' functionality, did you think it would be a big deal?  I picture it as being a minor discussion item... Anything you thought would be a big deal that no-one seems to care about?

Want to see a cool project? check out my projects on Gadget Gangster

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

We already support "add this widget to chumby" buttons which can be added to web sites - however, it will take some time to convince people to add them.

Were can I find more information regarding this?

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

cbreeze wrote:

Were can I find more information regarding this?

It's pretty simple - browse the widgets for your widget and copy the link for "add to channel" and add it to your page.

The link is typically of the form:

When clicked, this should prompt for login if necessary, and then prompt for the channel to which to add the widget.

I'll see if we have graphics somewhere that you can use for the button itself.

Re: The challenges of marketing chumby

Yeah if you have a graphic you could pass my way, that would be sweet.