The Logic of Partnership
From November 2002, when RIM began licensing its technology to cell-phone makers like Nokia, to May 2005, the company’s stock rose more than 800 percent. But even as the company grows, critics continue to warn of looming “BlackBerry killers.” RIM is sometimes depicted as the strong first mover that will later get crushed by a large player. As early as 2000, analysts predicted that PDA manufacturers and cell-phone makers would soon provide push e-mail functions that would make BlackBerry technology obsolete, and in April 2005, the Wall Street Journal listed a number of wealthy companies – both those making e-mail devices and those making network software – that were all nipping at RIM’s heels. “Awakened by RIM’s achievement, tech giants and hungry upstarts are responding with an arsenal of gear aimed at cracking the BlackBerry’s stronghold,” the Journal wrote. One month before, the Economist cited a pessimistic analyst who said, “Business-model transitions are always fraught with challenges.”
It is that notion – that RIM has abandoned its strategy by loosening its proprietary grip on wireless e-mail – that most frustrates executives at the company, who contend that from the beginning, RIM’s goal was to build a middleware platform for mobile e-mail that was compatible with multiple devices, applications, networks, and protocols and that spanned the globe. “We’ve always wanted to go there,” says chairman and co-CEO Jim Balsillie, “but the question was, Would anyone go with us?” Balsillie, who has run RIM with Mike Lazaridis in a rare joint arrangement since 1992, says that the answer, at first, was no. “[There] was really a lack of interest, in the rest of the market, to work with us until we became a standard.” As Balsillie sees it, RIM’s licensing effort signals that it is the market, not RIM, that has changed. “There was no interest in partnering with us until we became successful,” he says.
Of course, RIM did become successful, and as it did, it made overtures to handset makers, proposing partnerships. By the middle of 2002, Nokia and others finally became receptive when they saw that the new GPRS network would be strong enough to support cell phones that could send and receive e-mail. When Nokia approached RIM, says Balsillie, “Our attitude was, ‘Great, beautiful, love it.’” By March 2003, RIM was calling its new licensing model BlackBerry Connect. After the Nokia deal, others fell in line, including deals with Siemens, Motorola, and HTC.