BlackBerry is a relic, fascinating in the way a neolithic spearhead might be to future generations who will marvel at the primitive toolmaking abilities of our ancestors. At least, that's what the latest cover of Bloomberg Businessweek suggests.
The latest "corporate autopsy" reporting on the pride of Waterloo, Ont., hits newstands soon, but already the "oral history" from the weekly U.S. magazine is online. Commentaters have been picking it apart for clues as to the company's demise.
We've collected a few of the most interesting tidbits below, but if you really want to know how things went wrong we suggest you read The Globe and Mail's in-depth investigation published in September, here: How BlackBerry blew it: How the smartphone inventor failed to adapt.
The following condensed excerpts from the Bloomberg story feature a number of first-person accounts of the formerly high-flying company then known as Research in Motion, broken into three broad eras:
Pre-iPhone boom times:
Patrick Spence, senior vice president and managing director for global sales and marketing, 1998-2012: About a week after we launched [the BlackBerry 950], one of the orders came in. It was from Michael Dell. We didn't have a lot of promotion at that point. He had found BlackBerry basically on the Web. I sent him an e-mail: "Hey, Michael, I saw that you placed an order. If you need any help don't hesitate to let me know." I got an e-mail back in like 30 seconds, like, "Thank you, I'm super excited about it."
Jesse Boudreau, vice president, BlackBerry software excellence, 2004-08: In 2006 the BlackBerry Pearl came out, and it was the "candy bar" format, and it had a track wheel, and it had really good connectivity. It was really nice for scrolling around, and it could play video, and it had a camera. Up until that point, Mike had said, "That's crazy, why would I ever want a camera?" All of a sudden BlackBerry becomes a consumer play.
Vincent Washington, senior business development manager, 2001-11: Everyone started to see we were onto something big. If you're in a movie – it's that scene when they cut to everybody going to Vegas. .... I was on a team called the Fast 100. We were tasked with preparing carriers for launch. There was a group of us. We went around the world from Germany to Brazil to Chile. Three years went in a blink of an eye. There wasn't a meeting I couldn't get. All I had to say was, "Hey, I'm bringing the BlackBerrys."
Paula Dymond, channel sales manager, 2004-11: Jim [Balsillie] was always thinking about the big picture. You'd ask him a question, and he'd go off on a tangent. And then he'd ask, "Did I answer your question?" I'd say, "Well, not really." His thoughts were up in the clouds. Everybody was given their goals, and you had to figure it out. You almost felt like you were running your own business.
The field reps and carriers were asking, "Why don't you guys advertise?" I do remember asking the question, and it came down to, "We don't need to." Being successful at RIM was all about being close to the carriers. I'm not sure what we were doing to get customers in the door.
Washington: [Mike] Lazaridis used to come into these meetings, and it was almost likePulp Fiction, where he'd open the case and there would be this golden glow of devices. We were all super eager to see it. Around 2007 the glow was getting a lot smaller every time he came around.
Downward slope as declining sales and product mis-steps begin to tear at the firm:
Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor of political science at the Balsillie School of International Affairs: I was with Jim on an icebreaker in the Arctic in the summer of 2010 for a weeklong seminar on Arctic issues. That's when things really turned. Saudi Arabia, India, and others were saying RIM had to open up to national intelligence. He gave a talk at the end of the week to everybody on board. He identified six moments where RIM could have failed. A combination of luck and acumen had put them on the right path.
There was a certain realism, a fatalism. Jim realized he was engaged in a rare historic phenomenon. He could push but also had to step back and see fate unfold. He was already starting to engage in the next things in his life. I found it a bit discouraging. But I also thought, "Here's a guy who's got his feet on the ground. He's been part of a really interesting historical moment, and he's getting ready to move on." He was fully aware of the seriousness. He wasn't deluding himself at all.
Washington: One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, "Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I'm your brand ambassador," basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here's a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, "This kid is a fad. He's not going to last." I said at the meeting: "This kid might outlive RIM." Everyone laughed.