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.

  • user

    AUTHOR spcohn

    Posted on 9:07 am September 16, 2012.

    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.

  • user

    AUTHOR HenningHolthusen

    Posted on 2:16 pm September 16, 2012.

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 Outdated hardware, but then it’s waterproof, so that’s good.

  • user

    AUTHOR Adam Lewis

    Posted on 10:03 am September 24, 2012.

    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…

  • user

    AUTHOR phone services

    Posted on 2:37 am November 30, 2012.

    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.

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