RIM Should Return to its Startup Roots

What to do about Research in Motion, Canada’s flagship technology company that just can’t seem to find its equilibrium in a market that has become volatile, competitive and unstable despite its growth.

Here’s a radical idea inspired by an exchange on Twitter with the National Post’s Matt Hartley: RIM should embrace its startup roots and the entrepreneurialism that made it a wireless tour de force by creating a new unit focused on teenagers or perhaps people under the age of 25. It may sound like an odd concept but here’s what I’m thinking:

Despite the BlackBerry’s diminished stature, young people are huge fans based on “in-depth research”, which has consisted of looking at their wireless devices.

Anecdotally, the BlackBerry rules the roost. Maybe it’s BBM, which lets them connect with friends and family for free. Perhaps it’s the keyboard, which makes it easy to use BBM and social media services such as Facebook. Whatever the reason, the young’uns are a pocket of strength for the BlackBerry.

A New Business Focused on Young People

To capitalize on it, RIM should carve out a new startup-like unit focused on young people. The new business would be all about creating devices, applications, marketing campaigns, events and social media activity for the under-25 demographic.

Free from the shackles of RIM’s enterprise roots (aka Your father/mother’s BlackBerry), the new business would have the freedom to be hip, cool and connected with an audience that aren’t geeks but looking for devices that meet their lifestyle needs.

This business would use BlackBerry hardware but customize it for younger people. The device, for example, would emphasize chat, video, music and social media, while e-mail and the phone would be standard features but certainly not the main selling points.

The marketing, created by an agency with expertise in younger consumers, would appeal directly to a demographic that knows what they want but are looking for someone who understands their needs and how they live. The lead spokesperson would be someone such as Justin Bieber. a BlackBerry user, who grew up close to RIM’s Waterloo headquarters.

It would be a radical move for RIM to create a new business but it might take some strategic and tactical creativity to jump-start the company’s prospects.

As it now stands, RIM has a split personality. It has a strong foothold in its traditional enterprise market but, at the same time, trying to figure out how to play in the pro-sumer market. This has made it a challenge from a marketing perspective given they’re two different audiences.

The creation of a new business focused on young people would be a way to resolve this problem and, in the process, maybe bring back RIM’s mojo.

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  • Tim Ryan

    Mark – good idea. If you look at history, it’s littered with companies that should have created separate entities to focus on emerging products, customer demographics, and markets (think Kodak and the digital camera). RIM is business through and through and will be hard for them to keep pace with this market if they continue to move like an enterprise.

    I completely agree that RIM seems to have huge market share with this audience, just take a look next time you’re on the train or bus. What remains to be seen is to what extent they should carve-out a team or division for this need and how far their responsibilities should extend. Should they control product? messagging? marketing? distribution? For it to be successful, you would like to think so.

    • Mark Evans

      Tim: I think a new youth-focused division would need a lot of autonomy to succeed, which will be a huge cultural challenge for a company whose co-CEOs play such a hands-on role. Thanks for the comment. Mark

  • jason @ Voip

    Mark: What a good call and something that I have been banging n about for ages. The under 25 market is ripe for picking (I sound a bit manic there but don’t mean to be) and BBM type stylee targeted at them would wipe the floor with all its competitors.

    But it’s a big step to do, and one that is, of course, open to skepticism from the very market that you are aiming at – and they are a lot more sussed than a lot of people realise. They know when they are being aimed at and patronised.

  • Chris

    Hi Mark, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Apple and all others are already doing that: creating smartphones for entertainment (software and hardware).

    Wall Street wants RIM to do that too, but really, the investors just want their money back (since RIM’s stock dropped). They would be happy with any solution that could potentially help RIM make more money.

    I think RIM should focus on what they do best, quality hardware, security, etc… and work on the areas where they are weak… software. And that’s exactly what they are doing.

    They probably won’t beat Apple in the smartphone game, but I’m sure they can be a great company for their market. With the proper software, young people will buy RIM smartphones.

    Thanks for sharing. I really like your blog.


  • maxmz03

    Strange culture in RIM, and self-destroy political environment. Will something change it?
    In RIM if you figure out problem and introduce efficient approach, both manager and his buddy group member will proof their wrong approach works.just like someone point out driving a car is right way, pushing a car is wrong way, then both manager and his buddy group member will hate you, and proof that 3 person can also move the car by pushing it. cheating email will be sent to some vice president, saying like: see, the car moving, pushing a car is a natural part of the process. RIM is not system oriented company, just self-destruct small company buddy culture, with a fat body. it is very strange company culture and strange company political environment, it promote stealing and cheating skill. RIM’s management may be a typical instance in MBA course.CEO may want the management better, but can’t reach the target because of the culture, like I said 3 years ago, RIM is old before really grow up.

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  • ahmad rizal bin mohd redzwan

    Let’s take the Utility Theory to measured the
    satisfaction of consumer when purchased of a unit of Blackberry….the ability of a good to provide satisfaction to
    consumers and to gauge market reaction.