Bug Labs Won't Roam Alone... On The Road to CES

By Jeff Glueck

Donny's subject for the "Road to CES" show on December 20th was the founder of an interesting company called Bug Labs, Peter Semmelhack.

Several experienced marketers including myself were asked to give advice to the start-up. Bug Labs makes an open source build-it-yourself hardware set of components (like Legos with batteries) that allows the tech-savvy programmer to build any gadget they want.

I advised Bug Labs they need to do 3 things:

(1) Boil down what they do into a simple, easy to understand message.

(2) Deliver on their mission / promise and create passionate customers

(3) Help those customers spread the word.

I think Bug Labs got a lot of advice on the show but there were a few suggestions we did not have time to cover.
Related to the first goal, we talked about creating a mission statement.
It should be simple and tie to some universal values, and no more than 10 words. Merck's is "To preserve and improve human life." That works.

For Bug Labs, how about "Build whatever you can dream?" That's the spirit, empowering creativity, even to "long tail" ideas that only a small set of customers would ever want.

On the second goal, only Peter and his team can over-deliver for customers. But one of the ways to create passionate customers is to think outside of the traditional channels and find customers who aren't served well today. For Bug Labs, I think they should consider the educational market. They could devote energy to visiting engineering societies and gatherings of academics and teachers in software and engineering and science, at the university and even high school level.

If students learn how to programs open-source hardware gadgets at school, and Bugs get cool on campuses, they can spread from there. It's perfect for classroom projects--invent a device, program it with Java and Linux, and prove it works. It can be a campus competition to invent the most useful new gadget. Or bigger still, Bug Labs could sponsor a national student competition to win a free year's tuition, and get the word out via teachers and schools.

I think it's a mistake for Bug Labs to try to become a "household name" This is a product only tech-savvy geeks could love, to start. Most Americans spent the '90s still trying to get the time on their VCR's to stop flashing.

For the third goal, I think Bug Labs is a name that is not self-explanatory, which is OK, but they need a tagline therefore that does a lot of work. Peter is using "Include" but that's not very clear and obvious without explanation. I suggest he use "Build Usual Gadgets (B.U.G.)" as his tagline and even in the lockup on his logo. And on T-shirts, flyers, emails, and all their materials. It explains the company and the name. And it's a good mantra for the mission of the community they want to build: A community of hackers, and eventually more "ordinary" users who might download a solution set that's easy to install, the way Facebook users mainly download open-source applications--less than 1% actually write them.

Good luck to Bug Labs!

-- Jeff

Questions? Comments? BigIdeaCES@CNBC.com