Strategy at San Diego’s Chumby Coming to Fruition Under New CEO

10/5/10Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s Chumby Industries, creator of the consumer gadget that is a plush toy, alarm clock, Web terminal, and video and music player, raised an additional $3 million in debt, options, and rights to securities, according to a regulatory filing yesterday. The latest funding, which co-founder and investor Steve Tomlin describes as “no real news…simply a planned follow-on tranche from our existing investors,” brings the total capital raised to $26 million since Chumby started almost five years ago.

If the funding was routine, however, there’s nothing routine at the startup these days.

Tomlin has stepped down as Chumby’s CEO (he remains on the board). He was replaced at the helm about five weeks ago by Derrick Oien, who was previously a senior vice president at Good Technology, the mobile tech developer in Redwood City, CA. Before that, Oien was a co-founder of Intercasting, the San Diego mobile social-networking developer that was acquired by Good Technology in 2009. He also served as the chief operating officer at San Diego’s MP3.com.

Chumby classic

Chumby classic

I must confess that I never really “got” the soft-and-cuddly Chumby, now called the Chumby “Classic,” when we profiled the company last year. But I’m finally coming to understand that the stuffed animal as a Web-enabled device was a kind of stalking horse for a broader vision of the company’s software technology platform, an Internet apps portfolio that now has more than 1,500 apps, and a gadget that serves as a model for a host of similar category-defying consumer electronics devices.

This became clearer in February, when Sony Electronics unveiled its “Dash” personal Internet viewer at its North American headquarters in San Diego. The Dash, which Sony sells through Costco and retail outlets, embodies Sony’s own take on a personal Internet appliance, alarm clock, and online media-streaming device—based on technology that Sony licensed from Chumby Industries.

Infocast Internet Media Display

Infocast Internet Media Display

Likewise, Chumby Industries has partnered with Best Buy to deliver Chumby’s portfolio of apps to the U.S. electronics retailer’s “Insignia” line of Internet-connected products. The first device, which already has rolled out is an “Infocast” Internet Media Display with an 8-inch touchscreen that enables users to navigate through their own online content, including photos, videos, and music, without using a computer. It also can access music and news provided online by Pandora, CBS, The Weather Channel, The New York Times, and other Chumby partners.

Another example came just a couple of weeks ago, when Chumby Industries and QNX Software Systems, a subsidiary of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion, announced that the application platform QNX developed for automakers has integrated Chumby’s media and Internet content. As a result, automakers and their tier-one suppliers can build multimedia display units and other “infotainment” products that provide access to streaming news, music, sports, social media, weather, and other Internet content that Chumby provides through its 1,500 apps.

Chumby’s new CEO wasn’t ready to reveal where the company plans go from here, except to say, “You’ll start to see a lot of products coming out in the next few months.” At another point in our conversation this morning, Oien added, “We’ll have a substantial amount of news between now and CES,” the Consumer Electronics Show held each January in Las Vegas.

“I have a strong media background, in terms of content and licensing, and in devices,” Oien tells me. Looking ahead for Chumby, he adds, “I have a very clear perspective in terms of where it’s going, and most of the issues have to do with scale.”

That is the ultimate question for the company, of course—whether Chumbies will ever reach a mass audience. So, in addition to thinking of Chumby’s business in terms of hardware, software, and content, Oien says he’s also thinking of the business in terms of audience—and how to reach them as Chumby-based technology is deployed through hundreds of thousands, or even millions of Web-enabled display screens. It’s also obvious that Chumby’s new CEO is thinking of its audience as really, really big. He says, “That’s what I did at MP3.com under Vivendi, where we had the ability to create a Madison Avenue sales force to sell into that.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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