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case study: the kindle and the chumby

January 26, 2010

In Silicon Valley, every product claims to be a platform for something.

(Every company will also make $20 million in revenue in year five.)

Which is odd, because when I wake up in the morning, I want solutions to my problems, or cool things.

I want one great application – the killer app.

I don’t say “If only I had an extensible platform that I could create a whole class of cool solutions on!”

Once it does something awesome, I’m more than happy to have additional features and solutions.  But a product has to be an application before it can be a platform – see Facebook,, PayPal, the iPhone, WordPress, etc.

Let’s take a look at two products: the Amazon Kindle, and the chumby (made by chumby).

(The chumby is my absolute favorite product to beat up on for being an early-adopter targeted platform without a compelling application.  At the same time, I absolutely love the design of the chumby, the company voice of chumby, and the very idea of a chumby.  Yes, I want a bean bag that connects to the internet.  But most normal people (which I use synonymously with with early majority, late adopters, and laggards) don’t.  Or at least not yet. Read on chumbophiles, because I have a solution.)

The Kindle

Kindle 2

I own an Amazon Kindle, and I absolutely love it.

I don’t love it because it has apps.  It doesn’t (at least not yet).

I don’t love it because it browses the web well.  It doesn’t.

I don’t love it because it even browses the Amazon store well.  It doesn’t.

But I can read for hours and hours without  running out of power.  The screen doesn’t hurt my eyes.  I can get new books as I walk down the ramp onto the airplane,  saving me from the airport bookstore.

What is the Kindle?  It is an electronic book.  It is designed almost perfectly for heavy readers.  It doesn’t try to browse the web well.  (Now it will get apps, but I don’t think many people will use those.)  In fact, it doesn’t do anything very well beyond read books.  But for reading books, it’s awesome.

The people marketing the Kindle did a great job.  When something has an application, you can then communicate it.

The Chumby


This is a chumby.  It’s a bean bag with a 2.5″ LCD touchscreen.  It has Wi-Fi, and runs widgets (in open-source Flash).  The developer community is pretty strong (the forum has about 4200 users, the catalog has 1500 apps), and makes some really neat stuff.

Go check it out and come back.  It’s part of our story.  Particularly, look at the Most Popular for All Time, and Most Popular for This Week.  Those will give you some idea of what people are using it for.

Compare this to what chumby says the chumby is:

chumby takes your favorite parts of the internet and delivers them to you in a friendly, always-on, always-fresh format. It’s is a window into your internet life that lives outside your desktop, so content like weather, news, celebrity gossip, podcasts, music, and more has a place to play away from your world of documents and spreadsheets. Just plug in your chumby, connect to your wireless network, and use your computer to create a lineup of favorites from over 1,500 apps in more than 30 categories, with new ones arriving all the time. Then let your chumby do its thing — streaming everything you like, from sports scores to stock quotes, from video clips to interactive games, from photos to trivia.” –

What does the chumby do?  It does everything.  What you need to explain here is why someone needs it.  Which means it needs to do something specific.

The good folks at chumby identify some different places for the Chumby to go:


<li>in the kitchen</li> <li>on your nightstand</li> <li>on your desk</li> </ul>

I’m going to put mine in my bathroom.

(While writing this post, I ordered one.  It’s irresistible.  The guys at Gizmodo feel the same way.  )

What I Think chumby Should Do

(This is merely my opinion.)

Chumby has suggested three use cases.  Thinking of Sean Ellis’ ideas about finding product-market fit, I would multivariate test these on the website.  (In case you’re curious, chumby gets a whole ton of traffic.) Maybe try landing pages with “chumby: the internet clock radio,” “chumby: the computer for your kitchen counter,” or “chumby: widgets for your physical desktop.”  You could also do Google AdWords for these, and see what kind of response you got.

This test should give you an idea of what people would find the most compelling application for our internet bean-bag friend.

Then, you find some of the very best applications you can around this space.  If you have to pay to get them made, pay for it, but make sure they’re beautiful.  Bundle them, and have them install in one touch on set-up.

Now, you suddenly have a whole product that does something people want.  And you have beautiful applications that you can show off.  So go get the word out.

(In the unlikely event the good folks at chumby take my advice, I would be overjoyed if they sent me a chumby. Hint hint.)


How can platforms find applications?  Leave a comment below.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rishi Dean permalink
    January 27, 2010 4:27 pm

    Nice post. Totally agree on focusing on a killer app first, before trying to be a platform.

    I gotta tell you I love my Chumby. My “killer app” for it exactly as you described: internet clock radio. Clock + internet radio + ‘wake-up specific’ apps like news, weather, and a daily to-do list. The other 1497 apps, I’ll probably never even look at, let alone use.


    • January 27, 2010 4:30 pm

      Hi Rishi,
      Thanks so much. Good to meet a fellow chumby owner (you gotta be a certain kind of person to buy the thing).
      Thanks for the comment,

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