Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Book: Losing the Signal by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

This is the story of BlackBerry's dramatic rise and fall. The company pioneered the smartphone product category and in 2009 became its biggest maker with roughly 20 billions in revenue.  Its phones started as a tools for business executives, then was seen carried by celebrities, politicians (Obama refused to give it up after having been elected President), and regular consumers seemed to embrace it, too.

As the story goes, a few years later, Apple and Samsung entered the market and took the lead from BlackBerry (formerly RIM).  Today, BlackBerry sales constitutes less than 1 percent of global smartphone market.

It was hard to imagine, but before Apple and Samsung, BlackBerry was the Apple and Samsung to vendors like Nokia and Motorola – conceived as innovative, reliable, and user friendly. Their phones brought consumers into the smartphone market.  While expanding at a furious pace, the company went through intellectual property fights that distracted its leaders, who over the years started to grow apart in the overall direction.  Apple then championed the conception of a smartphone being the most personal computer for the masses, a strategy that was profoundly different from BlackBerry's catering to a business professionals user base.  Steve Sinofsky wrote on the importance of re-evaluating underlying assumptions about its product when such new entrants emerge.  These were the major accents of the book.  Here’s an excerpt of the book.

Overall, the story was enlightening.  I'm sad as a Canadian who went to the university overlooking BlackBerry’s campus. However, the rise of BlackBerry was and has been a big boon to fostering the tech talent in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.  Their lessons and experiences are carried with its employees as they join other companies.  The two co-founders, Mike and Jim, continue to be active as mentors and investors in the KW area and in Canada at large, helping to build and enrich institutions such as the Perimeter Institute, the Quantum-Nano Centre at University of Waterloo, and the Centre for International Govenance Innovation.  While a chapter of the BlackBerry story has closed, I look forward to the next fruits of such sown seeds in Canada’s technology sector.