According to industry analysts, the future does not look bright for the BlackBerry, which had been king of the smartphone market. Here are five lessons entrepreneurs and start-ups can learn from the on-going BlackBerry/RIM saga.
Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, has been experiencing several challenges over the past several months. Its smartphone market share has eroded considerably, and its foray into the computer tablet market this spring was widely regarded as underwhelming at best, relative to similar products on the market. Further, the company has been promising to transform itself by launching a common platform for all of its devices, but the release is constantly being delayed. In the meantime, its customers, even its bedrock corporate customers, are leaving in droves.
With the release of its third quarter results and outlook about 2 weeks ago, RIM appears to be desperately trying to reassure investors that it is not on the brink of collapse. Sadly, the tech industry is not convinced. While we wait with bated breath as to whether RIM will be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, there are a number of lessons that entrepreneurs and start-up owners can still learn.
1. Know thyself and your market
The BlackBerry’s strength has always been its security features and its email management capabilities, which made it the system of choice for corporate and enterprise customers. The fact that its handsets became a mass-market consumer product has perhaps overshadowed what the device does best. Moreover, the Blackberry’s strengths are not necessarily considered essential to the average consumer, who is now looking for improved features and functionality – similar to those offered by competing manufacturers. Hence one of the inevitable question that RIM must be grappling with, is whether it is possible to hold on to its mass-market appeal, or is it better scale back and focus its survival strategy around its strengths?
Takeaway: Fully understand your strengths and weaknesses. Figure out your niche markets. To the extent you can, play to your strengths and try to minimise your weaknesses.
2. Don’t rest on your laurels
From about the mid-2000s, the BlackBerry had become the one of the most coveted phone worldwide. Although from time to time new devices would be released, essentially they were not drastically different from each other. Hence by the time Android came on the scene in 2007—8, but more importantly in that same period, Apple launched the iPhone and its Apps Store, history has shown us that RIM had not begun to reposition itself. It launched some iffy products not taking into account where the market was heading, while its competitors improved their offerings, and in the case of Apple, revolutionised the market right under RIM’s nose. Now, RIM is trying to play catch-up.
Takeaway: Do not sit in awe of your accomplishments and be complacent. Your competitors are continually working on improving their position in the market. Keep your ear to the ground and try to stay a step ahead, but the very least, try not to fall too far behind.
3. Timing is everything
Many of RIM’s competitors, such as Apple, have to varying degrees, either established regular cycles to launch their new releases, or at the very least, the industry is aware of launches several months in advance. Such is not always the case with the BlackBerry. RIM was expected to launch its new platform, based on the QNX operating system it acquired in 2010, this year. However, the release was pushed back to early 2012, and in the last week or so, that date was again revised to late 2012. Although various reasons are being given for the delay, the crux of the matter is that RIM is yet to launch an offering that can reverse its loss of market share. Its current situation will increasingly become acute, particularly among its corporate customers, many of which have indicated plans to move away from the BlackBerry within the next year (Source: InfoWorld) .
Takeaway: Deliver when and what you promise. Tech markets are too dynamic and with the level of competition that typically exists, you may not have the luxury of unduly delaying product/service updates or launches.
4. Consider sharing
Relative to the iPhone and Android platform, there are few mobile applications (apps) designed for the Blackberry, although for now, it still has the largest customer base among the three. Furthermore, the BlackBerry platform has been notoriously difficult to develop apps for, and RIM gave developers little encouragement. However, in recent months that has been changing. RIM has been actively trying to coax developers to create apps for the BlackBerry, and in October the company announced that Android apps could run on the BlackBerry PlayBook and its latest smartphones only. However, is this too little too late?
Takeaway: Emerging business models recognise the input and support of customers and other interests to enhance their own user experiences. Although it is vital to figure out what parts of the business you, as the owner, must control, there is huge gains to be made by sharing and facilitating win-win situations.
5. Know when to call it a day
Although this point might seem a tad premature in the case of RIM, it is still a lesson that we should all heed. For the last several months, industry experts have been warning about the BlackBerry’s imminent demise – even we, here at ICT Pulse, have highlighted our concerns. The clamour has become so bad that analysts are now discussing RIM’s options to salvage the business and making predictions for 2012. Other companies, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Nokia, have also reportedly given thought to purchasing the beleaguered company. However, RIM is holding firm and trying to weather the storm…
Takeaway: While it might be interesting to see how the BlackBerry/RIM saga plays out, for start-ups, it always prudent to continually gauge how viable your business is and will continue to be. When the going gets tough, it is crucial to recognise when you might not have the resources or support to ride out the challenges, so that you are in a better position to manage the fallout.
Image courtesy of technokitten, Flickr.