Crisis, What Crisis?

David Murphy

DM: So how was 2011 for RIM Rory?

RON: It was a great year. The absolute facts are that in what is the greatest, most dynamic market on earth, we added 20m customers worldwide last year. That’s a 34 per cent year-on-year increase, revenues were up 57 per cent, and we are now a $20bn organisation, operating in 174 markets worldwide. We launched seven new devices with new browsers, NFC chipsets, we have $1.5bn cash in the bank, so it was an unbelievably good year.

The global averages sometimes hide the local realities. We were delighted to be No. 1 in smartphones in the UK, Mexico, S. Africa and lots of other countries.  We continue with the process of globalising the business. We are in a cultural technical transition towards BlackBerry 10, but until then, we have seven new products that offer great experiences, and we are doing great with it as we build to BlackBerry 10.

DM: And what about the bad news, the outage, the pretty shoddy way in which you responded to it in terms of communicating with the customers affected, your joint CEOs stepping down?

RON: As a brand, we are known worldwide for secure, reliable, real-time wireless messaging, and we failed to deliver on that, so there are two things that we are addressing head on. One is to add further resilience and network integrity to make sure we can run our global infrastructure platform to support our 75m customers worldwide.

Our platform supports 25 petabytes of data every month across 175 countries, and it is key to the BlackBerry proposition, so right up to CTO level, we have been engaged in a full, deep audit to identify every software component, every hardware component and testing the network to live up to our promise and deliver on it.

We were not happy with the communications response (to the outage). When you get a group of incredible engineers who have built an incredible company, and something like that happens, all they want to do is fix the problem, but these days, it is as important, if not more important, to communicate the issue and explain to people with a humble face what’s happening, and how you are fixing it, as it is to actually fix it, and this is why we engaged on this end-to-end communications audit.

We recognised that as a company, we were not grown up enough to have as mature a response in terms of communications as we should have done, but that sort of thing only needs to happen once in a company. The problem will never happen again, but if it does, the response will be different. We know we need to explain and communicate what is happening and when it’s happening. We need to apologise and demonstrate when we are taking action and communicate what we are doing about it.

As for the CEO’s stepping down, those guys took the company from nothing more than a good invention to a $1m, $5, $100m, and last year, a $20bn company, on the basis of an incredible product and terrific global expansion. What they did for the company was tremendous, but we recognise that when you are a $20bn organisation, you can’t do things the same way you did when you were a $1m organisation; it takes a different skillset to manage the growth, and this is what Thorsen, with his 27 years’ experience, brings. 

DM: That’s a very straight answer, but what about those customers you inevitably lost when the outage happened? How do you get them back?

RON: We have to focus on our communications with the customer at every step of our relationship with them, and follow the lead of the rest of the mobile industry in focusing our efforts on retention, as much as acquisition.

The core of what we have to communicate is the incredible customer experience we deliver. The only way to win or retain customers is to continue to deliver this very rich customer experience. BlackBerry is for people who create and share content, not simply consume it. If you look at the way we work with wireless email, BBM, the ease of sharing. With BlackBerry, it’s so easy to share and build content, and we will build on that with BlackBerry 10. It’s important to have great apps and games, but it’s just as important to be inside the game and share the experience as you’re playing it, just as important to share music among your community as it is to acquire the music in the first instance, so we continue to focus on that core principle. If you look at BBM, we have built a 55m strong community in just three years through the power of sharing.

DM: And what about developers. There’s a massive battle on there among the various mobile platform to recruit the best developer talent. What effect did last year’s problems have on your attempts to attract new developers and keep your existing ones?

RON: Well we just had our first European developer conference a few weeks ago in Amsterdam, our fourth Developer Conference overall, and we had 2,000 developers there. It was our largest developer show ever. We were expecting 1,000 people and we got 2,000, which shows the tremendous interest from the developer community across Europe.

There are three points I would make here. Firstly, our 75m BlackBerry users worldwide love apps: we have 2m downloads from BlackBerry App World every day. Secondly, they will pay for them: we are the second most profitable app store in the mobile world, and we have a disproportionate number of developers who make more than $100,000 per year from our app store. And thirdly, because the BlackBerry platform makes it so easy to share, it’s arguably easier to get your app discovered in our app store than in some others.

DM: So final question, what would you say to those people who say that RIM should just turn out the lights, sell up or give the money back to the shareholders?

RON: Well our CEO has gone public to say there will be no change in ownership, our leadership team is investing in the BlackBerry experience for today and tomorrow. And I would just point people to what I said earlier. We are thrilled to deliver our service that is used by 75m people worldwide,  thrilled to add 20m new customers last year. Vendors don’t dictate platforms of choice, consumers do, and we are proud to be the number one smartphone platform in a number of countries.


Rory O’ Neill is VP, regional marketing EMEA, at RIM