Blackberry – A Sad Tale of A Company That Lost Its Direction

Today Blackberry, more formally known as Research in Motion (RIM),  announced a layoff of about 40% of their workforce and writing off about US $1 billion.   Blackberry is a perfect example on how to set a successful company to fail by improper planning.

I had worked with some of Blackberry’s engineers at Motorola and also in many standards forums. I feel really sorry for many smart Engineers and other people that have been let down by the management.  It is very unfortunate that they have been led to this abyss by poor decision made by some people that are perhaps no longer there.

I really liked Blackberry as it was a wonderful phone for two way communication. It integrated a nifty keyboard, had a decent battery life  and more importantly, it provided secure communication channel for the corporate and personal communication.

However, grand success of the earlier devices also made management and the company  lose its direction and forget its vision.  It appears that the grand success in early 2000 went to the heads of certain people that were running RIM  at their peak time. As a result the company became isolationist and  very arrogant. They wouldn’t help developer community at all. Emails sent to their support department remained unanswered for days and they expected to be paid for every inbound call even if the call was for clarifying a very minor and simple matter.  As a technology company, you have to help other companies that are sharing mutual interest with you. You don’t charge for basic calls.

Their persistent demand for money from our young  development engineers irritated me no end. Not only our projects were getting late and our engineers frustrated, we were losing money on every single day’s delay added to a project. As an outsourcing company we don’t make money unless we deliver the project in time and withing budget. Ensuring that is my job.  I even knew people in BB through my OMA  standardization meetings, but even those guys were of little help despite their best intentions.  At one time I got upset that I had to call RIM’s support line, and tell them that they will close in another 3 years if they continue to behave like that with the developers. That was circa 2010. I didn’t mean it – it was just a wake up call for them to be better.

Let me explain why Blackberry lost its direction in early 2000s.  At, my company Rapidsoft Systems Inc. , we have been in mobile apps development business much before iPhone and Android came to the market.  We started with Symbian, Brew and BB. Our team developed over 200+ mobile apps so were pretty familiar with mobile apps development. At one point, when  we wanted some information about a BB SDK feature in 2009, support person at BB wanted us to pay $75 for support call for  something that should have been documented in the developer manual in the first place.  A few hundred dollars from a developer contributed almost nothing to BB’s profit, but it pissed of many developers and company like ours.  As soon as iPhone and Android came, people like us abandoned the BB right away.

Figure 2: Our rDialer Calling Card App For Blackberry

 

 Figure 2: Our Selected BB Dialer App For a Partner Company

Their app distribution platform is pathetic compared to other vendors. They have been in the business longest, and still no innovation on the app distribution platform. When whole world wanted a nice touch screen device, they continued pushing their 10 year old keyboard design.  Big mistake.

Here are my take on why they failed to learn:

A- Always innovate and have the best people in R&D and Strategic Planning
B – Never underestimate power of completion
C. Never stop listening to others, no matter how successful you are.
D. Never argue with the market.  Market waits for no one.
E. You can monetize many services but  to be successful you may not want to monetize every service. Google makes the best use of this strategy.

To be honest, BB-10 and BB-30 are great phones. Unfortunately, a smart phone at this point is commodity with so many phones competing in the market.  It will very hard for any single manufacturer to dominate the market as BB did in early 2000s.

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