BlackBerry is having a hard time. Since the iPhone hit the market just over four years ago--happy late birthday iPhone!--the original email phone and its parent company, Research In Motion, have been bleeding users and slipping in market share. The first week of June, they slipped to number three in the mobile phone market, behind Android and Apple, and now they face a mutiny.
Thursday morning, the tech blog Boy Genius Report posted an open letter from an unnamed senior RIM executive to the rest of the senior management team. "I have lost confidence," It begins. "While I hide it at work, my passion has been sapped. I know I am not alone--the sentiment is widespread and it includes people within your own teams."
First of all, you know that things aren't going well at a company when senior executives start communicating with each other via anonymous letters to tech blogs. The open letter includes all kinds of frustrated phrases about "lazy marketing" for "incomplete products" is ruining the company. Oh yeah, and "Canadians are too nice." What the letter lacks in profanity, it makes up for in references to how RIM is getting their asses kicked by Apple and Google.
RIM, of course, responded with their own unsigned letter. It doesn't engage with any of the points in the original letter, but it does agree with us about the anonymous executive problem: "It is obviously difficult to address anonymous commentary and it is particularly difficult to believe that a 'high level employee' in good standing with the company would choose to anonymously publish a letter on the web rather than engage their fellow executives in a constructive manner, but regardless of whether the letter is real, fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations, it is fair to say that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company's challenges and its opportunities." Then they list some numbers. RIM, by the way, wants everyone to know that they have "nearly $3 billion in cash and no debt."
BlackBerry might have made the problem worse. In BGR's original posting of the anonymous letter, they asked for more harrowing accounts of what happens inside of BlackBerry headquarters, and Friday they published the first batch. First, we wanted to laugh at insidious management practices, secretive anti-recycling campaign and silly name-calling. Then we realized how it must be tough to work at a once-booming, now-failing company. Disgruntled employee letters from former employees are a dime a dozen--though these from fired journalists are particularly terrific--but they never get old.
One former RIM employee wrote about some paranoia:
The insanely high turnover rate meant the department head wouldn’t let anyone go, in addition to refusing to promote from within (pets excepted). People were pitted against each other and an incredibly tense and hostile work environment was fostered. People around the office started referring to the office politics as “Survivor: RIM edition.” And we all remember the great movement to make recycling physically impossible across the entire company because one person let some confidential information slip.
And the time the human resources stole from his scholarship fund:
Then, as I was saving up to return to school and make a better life for myself, I received a series of nasty emails from HR letting me know that since my boss had failed to log my vacation time a year earlier on SAP (despite my insistence on her doing it at three different times), I would have two full paycheques deducted to “pay back” the company for what was being portrayed as my mistake. I never received an apology and almost had to drop out of school due to the loss of a full month’s pay. On my last day my boss deliberately avoided me at all cost. The best part is that I recently heard that my boss just got promoted to the VP of the business affairs department.
A different employee offered up a itemized list of everything that was going wrong. It seems like the secrecy thing isn't working as well for RIM as it is for Apple:
6) Products: If you walk around and talk to RIM employees (in operations, I’m sure the development teams are better) about the products we make, you’ll find most of us a) don’t know anything about our new products, b) don’t like our current products and c) pine for the old products. There is so much secrecy in the company, no one knows anything about new things until we see it on the news. That means we’re not able to tell our friends and family anything about new things, and that reflects badly on RIM. The current products are slow and underpowered. It’s generally acknowledged that our devices are inferior to other devices, and indeed, many people have personal devices from our competitors.
Finally, a word about the lazy marketing. The mom metaphors always work when trying to describe technology things:
8) Marketing: My friends love to poke me and make fun of our ads. Sure, BlackBerry seems to be sponsoring a lot of concerts and baseball games, but looking at my circle of friends and family, no one cares about that. Our marketing is boring, our ads are plain, and completely uninteresting. The whole campaign around the Playbook seems to be “IT DOES FLASH! LOOK!” … but honestly, my mother doesn’t know or care about that. She wants to know ‘can I play Angry Birds?”.
Speaking of which, you can now play Angry Birds on the Windows 7 phone. It's coming to BlackBerry's tablet too, someday.