Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of Research In Motion (RIM), will take the stage next Wednesday as a Day One keynote speaker at the CTIA Wireless 2009 convention in Las Vegas. Wireless Week Associate Editor Andrew Berg recently caught up with Lazaridis, who shared his take on the omnipresent competition, changes since the first BlackBerry was introduced in 1999 and what’s in store for the next 10 years.
Wireless Week: What’s top of your mind as you prepare to address the industry at CTIA?
Mike Lazaridis: RIM has studied and invested in this industry for over 20 years and we have spent the last 10 years intensely focused on evolving the BlackBerry platform, so I am particularly enthused this year with the positive momentum occurring in the smartphone sector and the opportunities I see for RIM and its partners to leverage our strong technological and business foundations.
We recently shipped our 50 millionth BlackBerry and what strikes me most, as we prepare for this year’s CTIA, is the fact that we have now established a platform with broad enough market appeal and a big enough customer base to support a much larger ecosystem of developers and other industry partners. When I think of the array of opportunities for our partners to build on the BlackBerry platform and to add value in both the enterprise and consumer sectors, I realize that the next 10 years will be even more exciting and rewarding. Notwithstanding the current macroeconomic challenges, I think our industry is brimming with opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship and we’re only just seeing the beginning.
WW: What impact has the economy had on your business or the way you do business?
Lazaridis: We are fortunate to have established a leadership position within a market segment that has positive momentum and lots of room to grow. No business is immune from macroeconomic factors, but we have been able to push through the headwinds and grow our business with products and services that appeal to both professionals and consumers and that offer businesses a truly compelling and proven return on investment.
When we launched BlackBerry in 1999, we sold a competitive advantage to our customers that deployed BlackBerry in their company. It allowed them to collaborate and make decisions at the speed of thought. BlackBerry turned e-mail into instant messaging and freed the organization. And it did all this without compromising security or IT’s ability to deploy and manage. As more and more organizations around the world adopted BlackBerry, they valued its incredible return on investment, especially when they installed some of the enterprise applications available to connect BlackBerry to back-end systems like SAP and corporate databases.
Today, BlackBerry has evolved into a platform that offers companies many ways to save money with the ability to view, edit and create documents, interface with back-end systems, browse the Internet and intranet, and even replace the office desk phone by providing authenticated PBX access from your BlackBerry through MVS. Imagine the cost savings from the lessened need of laptops, VPNs and desk phones alone, not to mention BlackBerry’s proven ROI from other cost savings, workflow enhancements, personal productivity increases and communications enhancements.
WW: RIM has fared well despite the so-called BlackBerry killers, but other companies are getting more aggressive about offering mobile e-mail services, including Microsoft and Nokia. How will RIM keep its edge going forward?
Lazaridis: RIM continued to grow significantly last year. We achieved record sales results and grew our market share. And although that success was clearly achieved within a competitive marketplace, competition is hardly new to RIM. We have always had competition, but we have also continued to scale and adapt our business to the scope of the opportunity and we have always executed our business plans with a firm commitment to customers and partnerships and a focus on long-term growth.
Today, we have over 425 carrier partners and national distribution partners and we have 12,000 employees who are all focused on a single mission. In fact, as a company, RIM was purpose-built for this market opportunity and we have continuously re-invested in our success. That type of focus and long-term commitment and investment have traditionally provided us with an edge, but we do not take our success for granted. We re-invest every day. We continue to hire many of the brightest people in the industry. We continue to invest in successful partnerships around the world. We are making the necessary commitments in every aspect of our business to enable further growth. And we continue to invest in the fundamentals – innovation, operational excellence and customer satisfaction. No one knows for certain what the future holds, but we are more prepared than ever to pursue the opportunity.
WW: How has the iPhone influenced your strategy or vision for RIM?
Lazaridis: There are many competitors in our industry with varying business plans and varying degrees of overlap. We don’t disregard any of them, but I think it is fair to say that we are much more focused on our customers and the road ahead. Perhaps that sounds like a cliché, but sometimes the age-old answer is still the right one.
WW: It seems like device makers are under a lot of pressure to release new devices, and sometimes glitches arise after commercial introduction. Are there a few key principles that you now insist on before approving a handset for market?
Lazaridis: We test for a pretty broad range of criteria and it’s typically a collaborative effort with our individual carrier partners since networks can vary considerably. We take it very seriously and as our devices have become increasingly powerful with more features, we haven’t lost sight of the fundamentals.
People want more and more “smart” features in their phones today, but they also want it to be a really good phone with really good battery life and they particularly want their primary applications to work as effortlessly as possible. And of course, the IT department wants to know that the security features are intact and they can manage their deployments effectively. Like many other technology products, smartphones need to interoperate with other technologies and we do our best upfront to optimize the reliability and abstract the complexities from the user experience. In addition, as we work with our carrier partners to make subsequent software updates available for a particular handset, we are now making it increasingly easier for those updates to be installed over-the-air.
WW: What role will the touch screen play in devices going forward? i.e., what percentage of devices in your overall mix would you expect to have a touch screen?
Lazaridis: I think touch screens are here to stay, but I also think that market fragmentation is here to stay as well. Our job is to give customers choice and to be innovative in our designs in a way that adds real value. We did that with the SurePress touch screen on the BlackBerry Storm and we were able to attract a whole lot of customers that were new to the BlackBerry platform, which is exactly what we wanted to accomplish. But regardless of its success, one product design simply won’t appeal to everyone and there are obviously a lot of people who prefer to use a smartphone with a physical keyboard. So, we plan to continue offering choice to our customers. I won’t broadcast my predictions about the mix, but I’m definitely enthused by the success of our first touch screen product.
WW: What’s the current status of the RIM applications storefront?
Lazaridis: Our new applications storefront is called “BlackBerry App World” and it is opening very soon – you can check out the status at www.blackberryappworld.com.
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