When BGR published the famous open letter from an anonymous BlackBerry executive back in 2011, it was easy for some of the company’s defenders to brush it off as the bitter ramblings of one disgruntled employee. But now Bloomberg Businessweek has gotten a lot of former BlackBerry executives and partners to go on the record about their time with the company and it turns out that realization of the company’s impending collapse was widespread by the time BGR’s letter posted more than two years ago.
The first thing that these interviews confirm is something that was painfully obvious to outside observers for years: Namely, that BlackBerry’s senior management didn’t take the threat of the iPhone at all seriously.
“I remember being at a [customer] meeting and the CIO was carrying an iPhone,” said Chris Key, who served as BlackBerry’s global account manager between 2001 and 2009. “I found out that a lot of senior executives … were carrying iPhones. That was a big red flag for me. The attitude for most of the people in the senior leadership at BlackBerry was, ‘The BlackBerry solution is secure. It’ll lock down company data. It’ll allow the organization to maintain complete control over the business use of the device. iPhone is a music player and a consumer toy.”
But while BlackBerry was laughing off the iPhone, the quality of its own products started falling apart. Kunal Gupta, the CEO of app developer Polar, cited the release of the horrendously buggy BlackBerry Storm as the moment he knew something was amiss up in Waterloo. CrackBerry editor Kevin Michaluk, meanwhile, said he first started getting concerned when BlackBerry shipped the Bold 9000 smartphone with a “completely unusable browser.” And for Alkarim Nasser, the founder and managing partner at app developer Bnotions, the PlayBook tablet was the final straw for his company’s dealings with BlackBerry.
“We didn’t really give up on them until late 2010, when the PlayBook launched without e-mail,” Nasser told Bloomberg Businessweek. “That was the nail in the coffin. We stopped offering a BlackBerry app. Customers stopped asking for it.”
Ray Gillenwater, who served as BlackBerry’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand from 2007 until 2012, told Bloomberg Businessweek that things didn’t get any better when co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down in 2012 and were replaced by Thorsten Heins. In fact, Gillenwater says that the issues that plagued BlackBerry and severely damaged its brand over the span of just a few years remained the same.
“I was very worried when an insider was chosen as the new CEO,” he said. “I was especially worried when suboptimal execution continued: missed delivery dates, buggy products, weak marketing.”
Overall, the impression you take away from former BlackBerry employees and partners is that the company really didn’t know to deal with the surprising success it encountered during its heyday in the 2000s and thus wasn’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of competition first from Apple, then from a slew of Android vendors and now even from Microsoft. Thus just as quickly as BlackBerry rose to global prominence it just as quickly sank back down into oblivion, as the Bloomberg Businessweek chart posted below illustrates.