Pattern Recognition, by Ian Sigalow

Blackberry’s Big Problem



Ian Sigalow

Ian is a co-founder and partner at Greycroft Partners in New York City. He has been a venture capitalist since 2001.


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Blackberry’s Big Problem

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I have a confession.  I still use a Blackberry.  And not only do I use a Blackberry, but I recently traded in a Blackberry and… wait for it… got another Blackberry!  The horror!

I went to the Verizon store for a Blackberry replacement, and here is an exact transcript of my conversation with the sales associate:

Me:  “I would like a new phone to replace this Blackberry.”

Sales Rep:  “Do you have any preference?”

Me:  “I was just thinking of getting another Blackberry.”

Sales Rep:  “Are you sure?  Most people upgrade to one of the new Android phones.  Have you seen the Motorola Razr?”

Me:  “Will it work with my email at the office?”

Sales Rep:  “Sure.  It is also a 4G phone, 8 megapixel camera, fast processor.”

Me:  “Don’t people have a hard time typing without a keyboard?”

Sales Rep:  “You get used to it.  It also has ‘swype’, which is a new way of typing, and good speech to text.  If you want a keyboard you can try this other Android phone, but it is thicker.”

(I stew on it for a few minutes and the sales rep returns)

Sales Rep:  “Look – you have one free return within 2 weeks of purchase.  Don’t make a mistake.  Give this Android phone a shot and if you don’t like it bring it back.  The Blackberry will still be here.”

So, I caved and bought a Motorola RAZR 4.  It had a great camera, took HD video, had a big screen, came with Dropbox, and had all my apps on it.  It did not have a keyboard.

I tried the phone for ten days.  I thought it would get better, but I just couldn’t deal with how much slower I was on email without the keyboard.  Like many people I can type without looking on a Blackberry, and I took for advantage how the Blackberry is designed for professionals like me.  In spite of what people say about an iPhone or Android, I think that a Blackberry is a necessity for anyone who spends their day working in email.  After 10 days I went back to the store to switch back.

When I went to return the Android phone I had the following conversation with the sales rep, which I think underlies Blackberry’s main problem in the US market:

Me:  “Hi again.  I don’t think this Android is for me.  I would like to make the switch back to a Blackberry.”

Sales Rep:  “I hear you.  But keep in mind you only get one free return.  I don’t want you to be unhappy and stuck with a phone from a company that is going out of business.  Wouldn’t you rather switch to an iPhone?”

I wonder if every Blackberry user in the US has to go through a gauntlet like this.  Out of curiosity I asked one more question:

Me:  “For every 100 people like me who come in with an old Blackberry and ask for a replacement, how many people get another Blackberry?”

Sales Rep:  “About 5.”

Me:  “So, 95 out of 100 Blackberry users switch to a different phone?!”

Sales Rep: (chuckles) “Yeah.  It is about that.”

Call me old fashioned, but I plan to be a holdout.  I hope this new phone doesn’t die for a long time because it may be the last Blackberry sold in America.


Ian Sigalow

Ian is a co-founder and partner at Greycroft Partners in New York City. He has been a venture capitalist since 2001.

phone services
phone services

You have to accept the fact that Blackberry's glory days are over. It failed to innovate and keep up with the developments in technology.

Adam Lewis
Adam Lewis

I have been carrying both a BlackBerry and iPhone for about 2 years basically for these reasons you mention - BlackBerry for email, and iPhone for everything else... However in the last month or so, I have started to use my iPhone more for email too (typing DOES become easier), so I have only been holding onto my BlackBerry for BBM... whilst BBM is better than WhatsApp, not enough of a reason to continue to carry 2 phones, so this is my last week with both, and obvious which one I'm losing...


There's also Android phones with keyboards, for example the Motorola Defy Pro. Outdated hardware, but then it's waterproof, so that's good.


Distribution partnerships are a double edged sword. Great on the way up and killer on the way down. However, all they do is magnify. Thus the problem isn't the distributor, it is the product.

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