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, amazon.com 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!