The Rise and Fall of Blackberry and RIM

clamshell wireless handheld device blackberry

BlackBerry Limited is not a Velocity Start up. However, it was one of the original companies that was started in Waterloo, Ontario, helping the area to become known for startups, as it is today. The company was originally known as Research in Motion (RIM).


The company was founded in 1984 by Mike Lazaridis, who was an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and Douglas Fregin, who was an engineering student at the University of Windsor. The company is mainly recognized for their BlackBerry products such as the smartphones and tablets.

At a point in time, BlackBerry was Canada’s most valuable company. 

History of Blackberry

The two founders found most of their time pre-occupied with an LED sign business. They were contracted by General Motors to create messages for workers on the assembly line. The idea wasn’t pursued due to it’s performance poorly in terms of sales.

Their next venture was DigiSync film reader which cut time is took to turn film into content ready to use in post-production. They actually received an Emmy and a technical achievement award from the Academy Awards. They didn’t continue to pursue this however.

digisynch film keycode reader

Lazaridis had a strong interest in security and thus the two founders worked in that realm instead. So they started working on technology that eventually was being used in pagers and wireless payment processing systems. Around 1990, they were already on track to creating the smartphones that popularized BlackBerry.

Their technology gave them the attention they needed. More importantly, Jim Balsillie, a 33-year-old Harvard graduate, invested $250,000 of his money, which he obtained by re-mortgaging his own house.

clamshell wireless handheld device blackberry

They made the first sale of their clamshell wireless handheld device in 1996. It was called the Rim 900 Interactive Pager. The email feature on this device was the one of most importance to Lazaridis. The device also had a keyboard which gave it a lot of attention, as it was different from any pager. Around this the name BlackBerry was actually selected for the start-up.

Stock Exchange

The company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange for the first time in 1997. They raised more than $115 million dollars and went on to release the first BlackBerry model in the next year

The stock exchange release basically allowed their company to become extremely popular; their devices were everywhere. This was done to the clever marketing strategies of Balsillie who handed out BlackBerry’s for free at a point.

blackberry limited logo

The demand for BlackBerry was growing at a great magnitude. By 1999, they were also listed on Nasdaq, where they raised $250 million.

In the media they were further popularized and received praise as during the September 11 attacks their wireless phone system stayed intact, whereas those of competitors had fallen apart.

Mobile Phones

Their reputation was given another boost when cellphone service was introduced in 2002. The device that initially started off as a text only device now was able to make calls making it more convenient and marketable than it already was.

blackberry by-9900 cell phone

Securing a distribution deal in China, caused their stocks to go up which actually make the most valuable Canadian Company back in 2007.


Despite the awareness of potential competitors, RIM was confident with their device. The iPhone’s potential was underestimated by almost everyone. Apple decided to launch strategically taking into account potential consumers. Instead of launching in Canada and being consumed by BlackBerry in terms of sales, they decided to launch in six different countries first. However, it was hugely problematic that executives at BlackBerry were not worried about Apple.

apple iphone 2008

Apple differentiated themselves by not have a keyboard. People realized a better user experience was being provided without a keyboard and Apple is generally notorious for being ahead of competitors. Then, by the time the iPhone launched in Canada, investors were already convinced that companies such as Apple and Google would take over.

BlackBerry was even given recognition by presidential candidate Barack Obama. However, due to the early success they were reluctant to change their device to match competitors. What made it worst was they also began to have technical problems around this time, at their headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario.

rim research in motion

Network Problems

Two network outages within a single year left BlackBerry users without service during that time frame. They assured people that this was not a repetitive problem and their consumers actually increased. Yet the founders were confused at to what the next step for the company should be. This escalated and eventually around 2010, they missed their own revenue and earnings targets.

By this time Apple had already begun to pick up market shares. Today, we see a market dominated by Apple and Samsung, with the BlackBerry being irrelevant. Though RIM itself has set out on different ventures.

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