Founders Need To Know When To Go

Why “doing more marketing” won’t help at Research In Motion, the Canadian maker of the Blackberry smartphone.

I have had a Blackberry for many years now. I’m used to it and in spite of all the wonders of its competitors I have in my mind that Blackberrys are best for email. That may, or may not, still be true, but I can’t think of any other reason why I haven’t changed to an iPhone or its equivalent. That single idea about email even kept me hanging in there when the Blackberry network collapsed recently. Thinking about it though, that’s not much to hang a strategy on is it?

The two guys who made Blackberry, as it was until quite recently, the leading handheld messaging device have stepped down from their joint leadership roles. The warning signs were there all along, as “joint leadership” sounds to me like a compromise. Sadly, I don’t think this is going to be a Churchill Moment (see yesterday’s blog for more on that). The joint chief executives and sometime chairmen, who built Research In Motion in the first place, have left it far too late to give someone else a chance. I guess they are bowing out gracefully so that the new guy can sell it.

Very often, businesses just do not do enough to anticipate the future. Even when faced with a crisis, they leave it far too late before taking action. Although this has always been the case, the argument is more obvious today with such short technology life cycles. RIM’s crisis has been going on for some time now. It is a wounded beast and likely to be eaten up by someone better placed to leverage its intellectual property and remaining, but diminishing, market momentum.

It’s a tremendous achievement to create a great business and a brand such as Blackberry; it’s quite another thing to keep it alive for long, particularly in the technology sector, right now. Apart from anything else, technology is all about continuous innovation and you rest on your “techie” laurels at your peril. If you haven’t got your eyes firmly fixed on the horizon, squinting at the emergent future, you aren’t going to win in the big money game that is smartphones. After all, RIM are competing with Apple, more of a cult phenomenon than a business, and Google. If that weren’t hard enough, the ultimate success of a business will also depend on the owners’ attitude, the culture they create and the awareness they have of the limits of their own special powers.

So, all in all, I doubt that RIM will survive as an independent business. Some of my rationale is laid out above but, to be honest, the comment from the incoming CEO that the company needed to “do more marketing” was the real killer blow. Everyone knows the old story and, sadly, he just doesn’t have time to create a new one.

To paraphrase pundits with a higher profile than I have, if RIM is still around as an independent business in six months, I’ll eat a blackberry!


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