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.


Yesterday the Seesmic team blindsided RIM with news that they would no longer develop Seesmic for Blackberry.  They were very public about it, and the only explanation offered was they would “discontinue support for Blackberry in order to focus development efforts on our most popular mobile platforms: Android, iOS, and Windows 7.”  The press seized on this statement as evidence that developers are abandoning the Blackberry platform.

Frankly, it’s lazy reporting.  Here’s why:

  1. RIM devices ship with a Twitter client built in already.  And it’s actually a pretty good client.  Personally, I wasn’t even aware that Seesmic was available for Blackberry, as I have never even bothered to search for another Twitter client for my Torch.
  2. On the basis of reviews written in Blackberry App World, Seesmic is a distant third in the universe of Blackberry Twitter clients.  RIM’s own client has over 14,000 reviews.  UberSocial, which is a feature rich location aware Twitter client, has over 4,000 reviews.  And Seesmic?  A whopping 518 reviews.

In other words, perhaps 3% of Blackberry Twitter users preferred Seesmic over other Twitter solutions for Blackberry.

It’s pretty clear that Seesmic is having their ass handed to them by their competitors. As Blackberry Cool points out, there are millions of Blackberry’s in use around the world.  The fact that Seesmic cannot build a business on this platform is a reflection on Seesmic’s business model, and Seesmic’s application, not the viability of Blackberry as a development platform.

Seesmic CEO Loic le Meur owes the RIM team an apology, in my opinion.  Seesmic is a failure on Blackberry, but he has chosen to let RIM take the blame.  That’s just cowardly.

And my friends in the press?  You put your own spin on Seesmic’s statements, and became a virtual lynch mob.  You were either stupid, or willing dupes – neither is pretty.  Shame on you.

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Three ways to improve the App Store model

May 17, 2011
Thumbnail image for Three ways to improve the App Store model

App stores are all the rage, and it’s no secret that Apple is the current king of the software developers fruits and vegetables stand.  But as PC World points out, Apple didn’t invent the store, and there are many possible variations from Apple’s blueprint that would advantage developers and customers. Here are three ways that […]

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Microsoft-Skype: emerging themes

May 12, 2011
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Now that the dust has settled on the Microsoft acquisition of Skype story, two themes have emerged which I think are worth commenting on. Will Microsoft allow Skype to thrive as it has until now?  Or will the company deal it a bear hug, perhaps even unintentionally, loving Skype to death.  Amber MacArthur, in yesterday’s […]

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Can 3.3.1 Kryptonite Kill Apple’s Super Powers?

May 4, 2010

On Monday, The New York Post published rumours that the US Government is close to launching an inquiry into Apple’s developer licensing terms, specifically the 3.3.1 clause in the developers agreement that bars developers from using any but Apple mandated development tools to create applications.  In today’s Wall Street Journal, one source said “Apple could […]

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EComm: Time to change the station

October 29, 2009

I’ve spent a little over a day at eComm meeting people, listening to the conversations and presentations happening and reflecting on what I’ve heard. During the panel yesterday afternoon, I noted that I spend less on voice, data, and text messaging each month than I ever have, but more money on communications over all. What […]

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BlackBerry Doomed?

October 29, 2009

Toktumi’s Peter Sisson asks Is the BlackBerry Doomed? and goes on to compare his recent experience of developing for BlackBerry with his experience as an iPhone developer.  Many of his complaints – non-standard hardware and OS versions in particular – are the same issues we ran into two years ago when we developed and delivered […]

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Verizon courts developers too late?

July 14, 2009

GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham interviewed Verizon’s Ryan Hughes yesterday about the mobile application store that Verizon is building.  Developers will be able to build applications for whatever platform they want from Windows Mobile, Palm, Android and BlackBerry and receive a revenue share for whatever is delivered on the Verizon network.  The carrot? Developers can also tap […]

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AIM Phoneline Rings Up

September 28, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Volk, Andy Abramson, and I spent the day at AOL with the AIM Phoneline team.  During that day, we, and the AIM Phoneline team, recorded a series of podcasts hosted by Andy.  For your listening pleasure, here they are: Ragui Kamel, Senior Vice President, AOL Voice Services Alex Quilici, Vice […]

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