management

In September of 2011, I sat down with the BlackBerry Developer Relations team, after being introduced as their new leader. I vividly remember telling the group that opportunities like BlackBerry 10 only come along rarely in a person’s career; that we were all going to work harder than we had ever worked before; that we were going to learn from each other; that it would be a roller coaster to get there; and that once BlackBerry 10 had launched, we would all look back on that experience as a “career defining moment”. They gave me their support and loyalty and we accomplished truly remarkable things in the two and half years until launch.

As you know, times and business circumstances change. Sometime between now and November 3 will be my last day at BlackBerry and QNX.

A number of folks have expressed regrets, or said they were sorry. No need. During my time at BlackBerry and QNX, we’ve achieved significant business results, built lasting friendships, created hundreds of fantastic memories, and learned lessons that we couldn’t have learned anywhere else. These are far more important to me than a pay check, and I look back on what the company and our teams accomplished over the last three years with pride.

How about growing from just 16,000 applications in BlackBerry World to 265,000 in two and half years? That’s a 1,650% improvement. To get there, we had to grow our developer base from 7,600 to over 70,000. We orchestrated programs in 44 countries, built three generations of dev-alpha handsets, and seeded over 40,000 devices in 18 months.

Or how about going from zero to launch with Project Ion, including recruiting a team of 8 people, in just 90 days? Nearly 1,000 companies signed up for early access to information on Project Ion as a result.

Numbers aside, my favorite part of the last three years has been the people I worked with.

  • During the BlackBerry 10 launch, my team of 200, the Global Alliances team, the BlackBerry App World team, the amazing engineering and sales teams, and our unflappable PR teams.
  • Of course, the tiny Project Ion team, plus all of the fantastic folks at QNX who welcomed me back for a third stint at the company and pitched in to help with the Project Ion launch and marketing afterward.
  • And how about the legions of BlackBerry fans and developers I’ve met? You know who you are… BlackBerry Hank, Morten, CrackBerry Kevin, Jerome… to name just a few. I met thousands of you over the last three years. It’s impossible to name all of you, but know that you made my work rewarding and memorable.

We worked hard, but we also played hard too. Whether it was recording goofy music videos, the “Leap of Faith” at the Stratosphere hotel, or eating roasted bugs to encourage developer teams to fix software bugs, there was always time for a few laughs on the way to achieving our goals.

So I leave with a light heart, and best wishes for today’s BlackBerry team. I know that turning BlackBerry’s business around will take heart, gumption, and hard work. I have faith that you will succeed, and I wish that you may look back on this period as one of your own “career defining moments”.

And just as I promised my team in September of 2011, you have individually and together — every one of you BlackBerry employees, BlackBerry developers, BlackBerry customers, and BlackBerry fans — given me the gift of three years of “career defining moments”.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

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Start-up advice, from the wine industry

by alec on July 25, 2011

Sunday morning Janice and I took a quick trip to Picton, Ontario. One of Janice’s photographs has been juried into CLIC, the Eastern Ontario Photo Show, and so we made the trip to Picton to drop her entry off before the exhibition begins next week.

It happens that Picton is in the centre of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s eastern wine growing region.  So we made the rounds to some of our favourite tasting rooms – Norman Hardie, Huff Estates, and Long Dog – as well as a couple of new wineries.

Prince Edward County has seen an explosion of wineries in the last few years.  When we first visited the county in 2006, there were 21 wineries.  Five years later, there are 34 or 35.  It’s a bit of a gold rush as start-up wineries are springing up all over.  Like many start-ups, they sometimes make mistakes as well.   One winery served us a chardonnay tasting from a bottle that had been open for two days – it was clearly oxidized.  Another opened a new bottle of cabernet franc, and served a “corked” taster.  Another had just varnished the walls in the tasting room, which made it impossible to smell the wine – all you could smell was varnish.  And another had cranked the price of their new white up to $49 per bottle after winning first place in the recent Ontario Wine Awards.

I was chatting with Long Dog co-owner Steven Rapkin at the end of the day about some of what I’d seen, both yesterday and other trips.  He made the following comments:

  1. Winemaking is a retail business.  It’s true that everyone has a different perception of wine, which more than ever drives home the old maxim that “the customer is always right”.  Address the perceived flaws in your product and services immediately, because it’s always easier to retain an existing customer than to recruit a new customer.
  2. Winemaking is a word-of-mouth business.  Very few winemakers can afford the huge marketing budgets of the large wineries.  They rely on satisfied customers who tell friends in order to bring new business.  See point 1!
  3. Don’t sweat the loonies (that’s a Canadian 1$ coin).  Today it’s common to charge a nominal fee for a tasting at a winery, largely to combat the busloads of wine tourists who sometimes show up intending only to drink sample without buying.  Most wineries waive the sample fee for buyers, but some don’t.  In Rapkin’s own words “you’re not going to get rich on the loonies”.  You have to price your product fairly, and reward customers by treating them fairly.

Starting a winery sounds a lot like starting a technology business, doesn’t it?

We left with Prince Edward County with three cases of wine, including a half case of Long Dog’s wonderful 2007 “Bella” Riserva Chardonnay, which will soon be sold out.  On the way back to Ottawa, we also stopped at Fifth Town Cheese, and bought a half dozen of their excellent artisanal cheeses to enjoy with our wine.

What a way to spend a Sunday!

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Skype for Asterisk termination is just business

May 25, 2011
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A lot of die-hard Skype fans worry that Microsoft’s acquisition of the company is going to change it, and not for the better.  Yesterday’s news that Skype For Asterisk will be discontinued didn’t help, generating speculation that this action is a result of their impending acquisition. Before we rush to declare the “Micro-Skype ApocalypseTM”, let’s consider […]

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Can Mobile Operators Survive the Coming Telepocalypse?

May 19, 2011
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Two seemingly contradictory pieces have crossed my desk in recent days.  Derek Thomson, writing in the Atlantic, reports that analyst firm IBISWorld is predicting that the fastest growth industry in the United States, for the next five years, will be digital voice – Vonage, the cable companies, and Skype. Now, these are two very distinct […]

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Who’s making money in mobile handsets?

May 17, 2011

Asymco has published one of the better pieces of analytical work on the mobile handset industry seen on blogs in a long time.  Author Horace Dediu has tracked operating profits for 8 handset vendors over the last three years, and plotted them on various charts.  He shows the rise of Apple, the complete collapse of […]

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How do you sell advertising on a light bulb?

May 16, 2011

Kevin Krause asks “Is Google spreading itself too thin with Android and Chrome?”  The answer is absolutely yes and not just on the Android vs Chrome question.  Google’s celebration of the engineer is taking the company in all kinds of directions.  Light bulbs controlled by mobile phones? Self driving automobiles? Solar energy plants? How do […]

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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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Death to comment spammers! The move to Facebook comments.

May 12, 2011

Having re-launched Saunderslog, I’m now making a few tweaks.  First and foremost is a move to the Facebook comment system.  Facebook launched the commenting system, which requires commentors to be logged into Facebook or a partner site, in March of this year. For a webmaster, it has two key benefits: It increases the social reach […]

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Don’t be afraid to kill old business lines.

December 13, 2010
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Successfully transitioning from a current product to a next generation, without damaging the business today, is one of the toughest balancing acts in business.  That’s the challenge that the darling of the Canadian mobile market, RIM, faces today. Friday afternoon a customer casually asked me what I thought of RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis’ session at […]

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3 lessons for start-up founders from Wikileaks

December 8, 2010
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The world is caught up in the Wikileaks story right now.  Whether it be the salacious details of the sex crimes founder Julian Assange is charged with, the all-out cyberwar being waged by Wikileaks supporters against targets like Mastercard, or the actual content of the leaks themselves, every day is another day that Wikileaks is […]

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