It’s time to hang up the spurs, Alex.

by alec on April 17, 2012

Last Friday, YouMail released their latest visual voice mail client for BlackBerry.  At the same time, they put up a blog post telling the world that this was end of the line for the BlackBerry customers – no new work would be done on BlackBerry.

I thought it a little bizarre.  As publicity stunts go, it was the equivalent of a drive-by-shooting — guaranteed to generate coverage from gawkers and bystanders. And it sure has. It even made CNN!

The basic premise behind the post is wrong, though.  Although BlackBerry has some challenging times ahead during our BlackBerry 10 transition, our developer efforts are booming. Developers are making money on BlackBerry, and last quarter we recruited 14,000 new developers to the platform, and launched 25,000 new apps.

YouMail’s CEO Alex Quilici and I go way back to 2006 when AOL and iotum inked a deal for iotum’s Relevance Engine to connect up with the AIM Phoneline product.  Shortly after AOL canned the AIM Phoneline product, Alex joined YouMail as their CEO.  So, we’re a couple of voice industry veterans, and guys who’ve been in the CEO chair at voice startups.

YouMail’s flagship product, visual voicemail, isn’t a business anymore – it’s a feature that comes on your phone, and it has been that way since Apple first launched the feature in June 2007 on iPhone.  It’s no surprise, either, that YouMail’s business on BlackBerry is declining.  BlackBerry already provides visual voicemail on most of the major US carriers — TMobile, Verizon, and AT&T… and YouMail is a US only business.  Competing with TMo, Verizon and AT&T is tough! And so YouMail, despite some press characterization of the company as a “top app developer”, simply wasn’t a marquee partner for us at RIM.

I know where Alex is coming from, though, and that’s what makes this post especially difficult to write.   Entrepreneurs are passionate about their products, and they believe that they can solve every business issue in front of them.  I know, because I’ve been there.  Sometimes, though, we’re just not super-heroes.

Alex,  one (former) CEO to another, one entrepreneur to another – I think it’s time to hang up the spurs cowboy.   From where I sit, it looks like YouMail needed to pivot five years ago to remain relevant, and you missed the window.

UPDATE:  I just connected with Alex.  We had a good chat, and I sent him a free pass to the the upcoming #bb10jam.  I wish YouMail and Alex the best.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

@JoynalRab April 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

zing ! nicely done Alec.

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pgillam April 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Mark Levison April 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Really Alec – did this post need to be written? Sometimes not commenting is better. It looks like you've dragged a friend down.

Mark

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Guest April 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Alec, "it looks like [RIM] needed to pivot five years ago to remain relevant, and you missed the window. "

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Pedro April 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm

I guess that's why Alec joined RIM. RIM might have missed the window but I believe the man. Actually, RIM's developer support has never been better. I just wish people see that.

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Alex Quilici April 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Hey Alec – you're doing a great job at RIM and we're grateful for RIM's support all of these years. We agree that since we're US-focused, what we're seeing here says nothing about RIM globally.

But our growth on iPhone and Android sadly means RIM is now less than 1% of our new users, despite those phones having a built-in visual voicemail app. It's hard to argue with the data.

–Alex

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guest01 April 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm

@alex

Who needs visual voicemail when email, text or BBM does the job?

Just because YouMail is declining, it doesn't mean you burn bridges and drag another company down with you.

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BB User April 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Doesn't visual voice mail come native on BB OS? Simply not needed as an App.

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Steve April 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Never heard of YouMail….nuf said.

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Yan Xu April 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Pot, Kettle.

RIM more than any other tech company should just die already.

Alec Saunders is doing such a bang-up job, Appworld for Playbook is filled with scams like Public Domain books (Plato's Republic for a dollar, anyone?).

You should be the one to talk.

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@quellerie April 18, 2012 at 12:03 am

This is a well-deserved slapdown. Well written, Alec. You make me proud to be Bold.

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Lionel April 18, 2012 at 5:46 am

Who are your marquee app partners Alec? Cos its not Netflix, Skype, or the other apps people demand. You also ought to be very careful when pointing fingers at other people and talking about how they missed their window to remain relevant given RIMs recent history.
Maybe stop with the childish blog posts and focus on getting the apps we want on the ecosystem, cos so far the only thing you've brought to our beloved BlackBerries is custom shirts and empty promises. And a Playbook app store cluttered with awful apps and still no core important ones, while devaluing our PlayBooks with the worlds stupidest marketing move. Giving people who trusted in RIM a free PlayBook to give to family members would have been a smart move, instead of giving them away to people who load a book as an app.
The PlayBook is now in many peoples hands because of its devaluation because of insane marketing 'strategies', and because the Developer Relations Team have completely failed in bringing the apps people demand to this tablet, people are upset and disappointed by it. Its much easier to get people to try a product from a brand, much harder to get them to come back to the brand if they had a previously negative experience.
So far all you're doing is driving people away from RIM.

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Yan Xu April 18, 2012 at 8:52 am

Exactly.

What has Alec Saunders done? Why is he twitting and blogging everyday instead of doing his JOB? Maybe if he's actually working instead of preening like an antagonistic tool, Netflix, Skype, Kindle and countless other developers might come to the playbook. When are we going to see a usable pdf reader? Or has Adobe abandoned ship as well, without saying so as youmail has done?

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Alec Saunders April 18, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hey Lionel,

Thanks for the critique.

A couple of comments: there are two or three book vendors in AppWorld today, none of whom received seed units. The big issue with the "clutter" caused by these apps is that there is no separate book category in AppWorld. We're going to have to address this.

I'm not sure what you mean by "devaluing our Playbooks with the world's stupidest marketing move". If you're talking about the sideloading issue, I'd refer you to this blog post in which we backed away from the original plan: http://devblog.blackberry.com/2012/04/side-loadin…. I'd also note that it was Twitter that helped us to change that plan. I'm a huge believer in being accessible to customers, and social media is the best mechanism.

And yes, I share your frustration on the marquee partners. We've got a huge team of folks who do nothing but work with these partners, but each one of them is a unique deal and they all take time. By way of reference, one very popular title that shipped at Christmas was actually done in August, but the deal terms this vendor required took months to negotiate.

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@cumiastowski April 18, 2012 at 10:14 am

Alec – I think Lionel is talking about devaluing the PB due to the $199 promo pricing. I don't think he's talking about side loading.

I found the original post a bit strange also. Why post this? But given the criticism I respect you for leaving it up and answering.

Look forward to sharing a beer (or a few) in Orlando.

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Alec Saunders April 18, 2012 at 10:21 am

See you in Orlando for sure.

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Emmanuel April 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

That's correct, I agree that the PB was greatly devalued with the $199 pricing which was also a big blow to we early adopters – those of us that PRE-ORDERED the PB. I, for one, paid $699 for a 64GB PB and another $499 for a 16GB for my wife! Those 2 PB are now the most greatly depreciated assets that I have ever owned.

Lionel April 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I appreciate the reply, and Ill try and stay reasonable during my reply, although I hope you will appreciate its hard when you're passionate about something and Im passionate about my BlackBerry addiction.
- Re the app situation for PlayBook app world, I hope you realise that when you cut past the tape, the bottom line is that since the PlayBook giveaway, there are very very few great apps that made it to the PlayBook. Lets be honest, a free PlayBook isn't going to swing the major developers anyway, is it? Instead the App World is now filled with some truly awful apps. While BlackBerry fans have often derided competing app stores for 'being filled with fart apps', they do have some quality in among them. The PlayBook is now full of said 'fart apps' without the quality ones interspersed. The PDF handling apps, the VOIP and video chat apps, the major cross platform games, they're not there.
- Re the 'worlds stupidest marketing strategy', Im not talking about the side loading issues. Ill be honest, if I buy a device, I don't want to have to root it or side load apps developers never intended to have on said device to gain functionality. If I wanted to illegally port Android apps over, Id rather get an Android tablet and run the apps natively, legally, as the developer desired. Realistically, the whole Android player idea was pretty much a bust from the beginning, the key to a lot of the best Android apps is their tie in to the Google hooks, and without that you're bringing across just bits and pieces. Its why we can't get the Android Skype, the Android apps we really want, they need Google hooks the Android App player doesn't provide, so whats the point? Even the multitasking is thrown out of whack, it just seems like a very strange half idea.

The poor marketing move, in my eyes, was giving away PlayBooks for free for submitting any app at all. It led to clutter in the App store, with almost no quality apps brought over. You would have thought anyone at all could have come up with a better idea to get rid of PlayBooks, put them in peoples hands, and generate goodwill and buzz. For example, what about giving early adopters a free PlayBook to give to a family member, so they could actually use the PlayBook Video chat function with someone? Now that would generate buzz, goodwill, that would be awesome. Why not give away PlayBooks to users not minor developers, to keep customers happy?
Instead all we had was the price of the PlayBook tanking, it was now that free beta tablet given out for just about nothing. Do you ever see any other major manufacturer just giving away their products the way RIM did? Can you imagine Apple doing that with their iPads? Thats why my iPad 1 16GB, bought way before my PlayBook, is now worth more, second hand, than my higher specced 32GB PlayBook.
The bottom line is, unfortunately, and Im just being honest from my own eyes here, prior to your arrival, there were huge deficiencies in the ecosystem around BlackBerry. Post your arrival, there are still huge deficiencies, they haven't been filled. The only change is developers seem to love you, and with the offers that have gone on, I think I can see why. That doesn't translate into consumer love or happiness, and I think thats a huge problem, and its probably worth spending more time on than convincing Youmails CEO that ditching BlackBerry is a bad move. Heck YouMail isn't even global, where most of RIMs business is at the moment. Maybe you should be explaining to Skype, the devs behind Words with Friends, Netflix, and everyone else, why ditching BlackBerry or not supporting it at all, is a bad move. Cos they seem to have missed the memo.

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barter April 18, 2012 at 6:26 am

Dev's making money on apps?, sure a few devs make some (the ones that are active in the forums) but best
of type apps that are not even making the cost of the PB (at the low price) back.

Please don't paint a rosy Dev picture,

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Greg April 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

I'm sorry but a higher percentage of BlackBerry developers make over $100,000 on apps than any other platform. The good BlackBerry developers are doing VERY well.

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manOFice April 18, 2012 at 8:03 am

Great post Alec

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Jane April 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

Nice Alec. I particularly like how you try to position YouMail's business as being at issue, despite the fact that the article says "YouMail was the seventh most popular application in the productivity category of BlackBerry App World as of Tuesday afternoon" and also "Blackberry usage has steadily declined while downloads for YouMail’s Android and iPhone apps soar".

Sounds like someone's business is in trouble and it's not YouMail's…

If YouMail is such a terrible product, why was it #7 in App World? Why is it doing so well on iOS and Android? And why is a product that is in spot #7 on App World generating less users than compared to WP7, where they don't even have an app!?? App World must be really terrible.

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Alec Saunders April 18, 2012 at 11:45 am

Most devs tell us they make more money on BlackBerry than on other platforms. Frankly, it's because there's less competition, and more willingness to pay. There have been countless studies to that effect — Evans Data last fall being one of the more prominent ones, citing 13% of developers earning more than 100K from the store.

I can't speak to YouMail's experience on other platforms. I've been in the platform business, though, since the early 90's — first at Microsoft, and ultimately here. When the platform has a built in version of what your product provides, you need to absolutely spank the ball out of the park with your product. Think Symantec and Microsoft — Symantec built a great business out of providing better anti-virus, disk defrag and so on than Microsoft provided. If you're not head and shoulders above the competition, then you've got a very tough selling proposition.

That's not disingenuous, or a smear, that's just fact.

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br14 April 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

"why is a product that is in spot #7 on App World generating less users"

Probably because the data is historic.

RIM's is evidently not growing in the US. But that's more about carrier profit margins than anything to do with BlackBerry devices.

Perhaps the Oracle vs Google case will solve RIM's US problem.

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@Yanicmb April 18, 2012 at 11:45 am

HI alec thanks for being accessible to bb fans, im a graphic artist and a bit tech savy but no programming skills, i am trying to wrap my brain around why popular app developers like skype, paper, kindle etc havent made apps for the playbook? it is because of the nature of the os? i doubt it could be that they cant see themselves making money off the platform because playbook users spend alot of money in the app store once a decent app is released, angry birds, cut the rope are examples of this. I see some talk of cascades are developers just waiting on this os upgrade to make apps for the playbook since it will bring cross platform usage with the BB10 phones as well? i know you prob are going to say wait until Orlando but any shared insight would be welcomed :)

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Alec Saunders April 18, 2012 at 11:47 am

Yanic, in most cases it's just prioritization. I can't speak to specific cases, but I can tell you that there's a huge amount of competition for developer mindshare these days. When I started at RIM 8 months ago, I took the job because I believed in the technology, and I knew that the company needed to find a way to recruit developers. And you know, it's not going to be an overnight thing.

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Randy Carson April 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

The Playbook is dead… It's as simple as that! Why would anyone develop for a product that had to be sold at 60% off at below the actual component cost. Even then they barely moved 1M units…

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Sam April 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Alec, I think you have every right to defend Blackberry and totally understand the motivation behind your post. However, do you not think that you should have approached it differently? While I sympathize with you because Alex and his company were out of line and unprofessional. However, maybe if you had been more of an adviser than a defendant your blog post would have come across far better. BTW love the Bold!

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Dean April 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Hi Alec.
I just wanted to say that I found this post refreshing. It seems most of the American media will publish anything that is anti-RIM, from events unrelated to RIM at Blackberry parties, all the way to consistently posting insignificant applications being dropped. The WSJ today published an article quoting Alex's response and they deliberately left out a critical piece of his comment, "We agree that since we're US-focused, what we're seeing here says nothing about RIM globally. " It seems you have a lot of work cut out for you, but kudos on speaking your mind.

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@fidowebhosting April 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

these days RIM is being used as a news tag for publicity. whether its tech analysts or small apps companies, they use rim to bring out their news out easily because everyone are watching RIM's news more closely. I am Canadian and my bb addiction started with bb 8330. I ve worked for apple's contractor from 1998-2001 and I know very well about iphone. based on my experience with blackberry and iphone, blackberry has everything iphone has (except apps in 100s thousands which most of don't bother abt) but rim failed in their marketing side. I hope they spend more money on marketting. if you look at apples budget, they spend more money on marketing that on R&D but rim spends more money on R&D. u know the funny, bloggers now starts any news abt rim like this…."RIM, troubled blackberry maker"……..this is really frustrating read because rim off course facing issues because of their transition to new platform but they are know what they are doing.

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@fidowebhosting April 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

PALM had do to similar issues when the transisioned from PALM to web OS but they failed so bad but RIM has almost completed their transition very well, and we will see their working product in early may. also in my opinion RIM will come back if licensing rumors come true. but if they get sold out to different companies, they will be the next palm. because HP is the one who dumped PALM and they paid 2.5 billion for it. so I think rim will come back strong if they continue to do what they are doing now

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John April 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi

I don't know who your marquee app developers are but I sincerely hope you are working with media, NYT, WSJ, and FT because those apps are really needed on PB and BB10. It's fine to surf the web but if you really want to sit down and have a quality read of the news you need a "paper" and viewing a web-page through a small browser just don't make for a pleasent experience.

People make a big deal about skype but the truth is using skype from a laptop is prefereable to a tablet, not so with reading the news. Please work with media partners. How hard can it be, the app just reads the website a repackages it, and yes I pay for the content.

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hurds April 18, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Great post Alec. Nice to hear a voice of reason and a counter opinion. It’s sad these non-events are blown so out of proportion but Youmail gets their publicity and the media gets to disparage RIM again.

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Fellow CEO April 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Alec,

To make such statements when the BB Platform is burning is ridiculous.

I just shake my head at people like you. If you still have a job tomorrow then we know RIM is keeping the twits around.

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Platano Verde April 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm

“Alec Saunders is the Vice President of Developer Relations for BlackBerry make (sic) Research in Motion.”

-Please fix the typo.

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Alec Saunders April 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Done, and thank you.

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playbookfan April 19, 2012 at 4:24 am

Hey Alec, You're kind of a dick. not cool.

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Sean McManus April 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Exactly. I had never heard of YouMail, so to hear that it was a "premier app developer"…for whom?

Thanks Alec!

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ra April 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I love YouMail…it is a great app and has helped me a lot of different ways

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wcars0hq April 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

At'ta boy Alec…go get'em

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@robertlendvai April 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

Wow. Would you like a little cheese with the whine in your post? RIM needed to pivot five years ago not the developers that struggle to support your platform.

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NPOV April 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Hmm – total outsider here, but the original blog post says:

"But it’s a bittersweet release for us. That’s because we are suspending doing any further work on our BlackBerry app, at least for now."

The response in this post turns that white flag into a flaming bridge. It's bizarre and reeks of defensiveness, and given the blogger's current day job it's actually pretty appalling. I'm afraid I agree with other-CEO above – the problems in this blog post start at the last letter of the title.

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JFF7 April 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Good to see the fight in you. Nice job.

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edwin April 23, 2012 at 7:42 pm

My God, what a pompous ass.

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Steve April 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Sent from my iPhone

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John April 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Is RIM still in business?

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Daryn Moerike May 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Shouldn't you be faking another flashmob, Saunders? Or are you too busy using your stock options for toilet paper? See you (rim) in bankruptcy court!

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Al3 May 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Good article…

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Just Say Meh June 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Doesn't RIM have something like a billion dollars in unsold inventory? I don't know any serious developers who are investing in BB development, unless they are already making so much money off iOS and Android versions that they can office to "check the box".

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James April 18, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Consumer goods depreciate in value, its a concept you should get used to. At the time you felt it was worth that amount of money to purchase it; did you never expect the price to drop? Early adopters always pay a premium to have it first, if this is your first time dealing with it perhaps you should take it as a life lesson. If it was worth it to you then and you are not unhappy with the product and are keeping it, then it is still worth that amount to you now.

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