My thanks again to Andrian Georgiev for interview questions [Bulgarian] related to RIM. My answers to his questions (in English) are below:
Q: What should RIM do to reinvent itself? Should it stray from its business-oriented image?
RIM had begun to move away from a business image already in 2005 or so when it started its “Pearl” brand and a consumer-oriented strategy. The company probably foresaw that business customers would not be enough to maintain the growth they had become accustomed to. The strategy has led to a growing popularity in Latin America and other regions like the Middle East where the product is used as a low-cost alternative to SMS for avid texters. Even in the US, many teenagers use Blackberries instead of iPhones because they can use it for the BBM service (at a lower cost). I believe that it is not coincidence that iMessage was launched.
The company’s salvation is not in branching into new markets but in establishing a credible platform. When Nokia announced that they would be the “third option” after the iPhone and Android ecosystems, they did not even mention the Blackberry. The fact that Blackberry is not seen as an ecosystem is the root of the problem.
Q: How should RIM accelerate the introduction of QNX?
QNX is a solid operating system and I believe RIM should have begun developing with it much earlier. By waiting long after the iPhone launched (and even after Android) to upgrade its OS, RIM missed a great opportunity. The foothold market the company had was wasted by not leveraging it into building a mobile computing ecosystem.
There is little that can be done to move any more rapidly now. Product development cannot be done any faster. What the company could do is to very carefully define why QNX based products are better than the competition and not rely on specifications. In other words, what jobs does their platform solve for users that current solutions don’t address? I note that this is the problem with the Playbook. It’s not differentiated on what it does to improve the life of the user.
Q: Should RIM move on with just one CEO?
The problem is not the number of managers but their view of the world. What would benefit the company is a better marketing manager where marketing is defined as understanding of user needs. Engineering expertise is not enough.
Q: What would you advice RIM to do in terms of R&D?
RIM is an engineering led company. Many successful companies rightly develop their engineering skills first because that is what allows them to create new products more quickly. This is true of Nokia and also of Apple and Microsoft in their early years. What is difficult is to allow marketing people to define products after that early phase. This is partly due to the fact that there is less respect for “Marketing” among engineers. Many see it as a “soft” discipline where there is little rigor. But this is not an accurate or fair picture. Great marketing determines what products should be built not just how they should be sold. Engineering can discover new products based on new technology becoming available, but Marketing can discover new products based on unmet user needs. Both need each other.
My advice would be to allow a way for R&D to absorb input from marketing.
Q: Do you think that RIM could be bought by a bigger company in the short-term?
Mature companies are usually bought for their assets and not so much for their vision or priorities. The opposite is true for young companies who are selling themselves to the public via IPOs. For young companies the vision or priorities of business models is seen as more important. When companies are only valued for their assets, they are usually very under-valued. When companies are only valued for their vision, they are usually over-valued.
RIM’s challenge is that nobody believes they have any vision and their assets are weak (no good ecosystem as I pointed out above.) So the price anybody would pay for RIM today would probably be far lower than what management thinks it’s worth. And since they are still profitable they won’t sell the company at a deep discount.
So my guess is that we won’t see any acquisition soon.