If you didn’t think RIM was in trouble before one of the co-CEO’s had a meltdown on BBC you certainly started to wonder once that happened. For someone at that level to crack on TV in such a way they must be under immense pressure, now we know what it was. The company has hit a bad time. When that interview happened he must have known the Playbook just wasn’t ready and they had sacrificed the timing on the next model of the Blackberry (and how many great devs) to get that thing out fast. The delays are something they couldn’t afford with Apple’s profits soaring and Android making a whole bunch of different hardware decent to use. The media reaction is visceral, the talk of layoffs is the big news but lacks perspective and certainly is going to do some damage to their stock price (down to ~$25 from $45). Look at their basic numbers though, they are still OK with a lot of cash in the bank but they can’t afford business as usual. It is time to wake up.
There is a lot of talk about what they need to do or if they could be sold. I won’t pretend to have any idea on that. What I do know is that the culture there is broken — no I don’t work there but I have enough friends there and hear enough Office Space-esque stories that you know something is wrong. I know they love cubicles. I know they do nothing like what Google or Desire2Learn does locally for their employees. I know the office environment resembles an insurance company in the 1990′s (for most staff). I know they completely ignore Silicon Valley. RIM is competing with Apple, Google, and Microsoft on devices but on the culture side they don’t come close. Could they be “too Canadian?” By that I mean too boring, too risk adverse, too safe in how they behave, and very conservative in what they allow their employees to do or act in the workplace.
Here is how I would fix RIM: make it fun.
How do you do that? I have no idea with 17000 people. A guess? They have to let go of all the rules they have for themselves. They have to let go of their products. They have to let go of their OS. None of that means throw everything out but take away all their staff’s Blackberries and get them iPhone’s and Android powered phones. Use them. Fall in love with them like everyone else. Then find the flaws, the real flaws, not just the spec sheet ones (Do not sell me on “real multitasking” on the playbook, who the heck watches a movie AND plays a game on the same 7 inch screen?) and make the Blackberry better.
By the way you already have iCloud at RIM and I bet it works way better than iCloud will for the next 8 months. It is called BES and BBM but no one there seems to see the oppertunity there.
Disclaimer: I have never owned a Blackberry because I have never been impressed with their products.
After the most awesome two months and a bit I have experienced in my professional career I have yet to sit down and take stock. There simply isn’t time to take a breath but I am going to take a moment and explain what is going on with my part of the universe. By now everyone knows we (at VeloCity) got some funding from, to many, was a very unlikely source. That funding was the missing piece — now we have the funds to give people a chance to try that may not have been able to as we can now clear the financial limitation.
The VeloCity program is going to be a full service incubator for students like none other.
What I mean by full service is that;
- we will (and do) recruit best talent in the world,
- inspire students that can do awesome stuff and have the passion but might have financial reasons blocking them to take a risk that can do awesome stuff,
- provide an environment (build community) where ideas and entrepreneurs find their legs,
- follow that up with a location to start to build a startup in an environment with just a bit more and way more experienced entrepreneurs and support one another,
- then encourage (read: kick them out when they are ready) into the wild startup world (ideal) or into a job working for another startup (not bad for the community) or recommend one of the countless tech jobs in town (not everyone handles risk well).
At the end of it all, the student or alumni has the opportunity to try in an environment that gives them a big long term advantage over those not involved with VeloCity.
The plan for the next 4 months is to lay low and focus on: what we have learned so far, what we can do that is better (or figure out what not to do anymore), try out a couple things, hopefully staff up a little, and recharge. This means, I think, no conferences, very little travel, and fewer meetings. At least until some big outstanding tasks get tackled. I want to blog more as well. Writing helps focus thoughts and share the journey. Twitter is just too short.
It is going to be an exciting Spring term in Waterloo
…life in Waterloo just got a lot more interesting. StartupNorth calls Ted insane in the best sort of way and I agree. He managed to build a great little startup, attracting some top tier VCs and then orchestrates a brilliant deal to not alienate some great investors. Then he does something nuts to pretty much everyone, he empties a big part of his bank account and asks me (and VeloCity) to do something awesome with it. I am blown away.
Talking with people today was really interesting. Students had a hard time getting their heads around the fact that Ted has no influence over that money once that cheque is cashed. He doesn’t get equity, we aren’t naming a room after him or a building, he doesn’t gain in any way that people seemed to think he would. He does, however, hope that what we can do at VeloCity is help fill a big gap in Waterloo (and Canada) for support, education, and risk taking funding to support young people as they really go for it.
Besides the cash part I think the most important thing here is that students get an entrepreneur to look up to that is:
- just ahead of them in age
- thinking really big, $1 million isn’t cool enough
- a really nice guy willing to open up his newly established networks to his fellow Waterloo students
Over the next few weeks some big plans for VeloCity will start to take shape. So very exciting. Thanks Ted.
One of the perks of being located in Waterloo is that sometimes you get to see some cool stuff from RIM before other people do. Usually that is because a co-op student or employee drops a “test” unit in a parking lot or fails to hide it well at the pub but this time folks from RIM brought in two Blackberry Playbook to the VeloCity residence!
They went through the development options and the deal with getting apps into appworld, etc. All stuff that is blogged about everywhere. What everyone wanted to do was get their hands on it. My first impression? Fast, light, easy to hold with one hand, but the multitasking is probably the most impressive thing that I noticed right away and the one thing I like way more than my iPad. The best part of the presentation though, the icon on the bottom left of the pic above shows an app called Book Keeper, well here is the guy that created that in Flash.
He just happens to live in VeloCity this term.
So what didn’t I like?
- The UI is a bit odd. I know Apple is rumoured to be dropping the home button but I went looking for it. To get a menu you have to swipe the bottom third up or pull the top third down. Once I got use to it I still didn’t find it a good way to do it as it didn’t work on first go and if I want out of app I want out now. The other thing I wonder if it will interfere with reading and other things that might like to use that action in the app.
- Screen is too small. I love my iPad, I love my iPhone, there is a clear difference in screen size and utility. This size of tablet is just bigger than a phone but way smaller than a laptop. I think the same thing that kills the small netbooks is the same thing that will hurt this size of screen. It will be really good for a lot of uses though… but I think it won’t be as fun as an iPad for games and reading.
- It just looks like hardware, nothing remarkable. Perfect for the business market but not for those that see the tablet as an accessary as well as a tool. That likely won’t hurt the Playbook adoption I don’t think.
- Trying to get it to work with legacy Blackberry OS apps (we were told just OS 6)… forget your old OS RIM, you will cripple the Playbook with too much software options.
- The guys demo’ing don’t have an iPad — nothing bugs me more about folks from RIM than their total lack of knowledge of the really hot products out there.
What I really liked?
- It’s fast, really fast, and the battery is good. This newer build of the Playbook has no battery problem I can see. We had a ton of apps going, pulling a lot of data, a lot of video, and lots of just hard usage for close to 2 hrs and the batteries went down but used maybe a 1/3. It got hot too which says to me the battery should be dead… but it was fine.
- The screen is nice. Really clear, really bright.
- Overall user experience is good. I might not like the swipe but overall it is a good experience. Hopefully as they work on it (rotation doesn’t work yet), it will get a bit smoother with the swipe. How easily it just plugged into the 60inch TV in the residence was pretty cool though… can’t do that with an iPad.
- It is the right size for a tool in that I can one hand it and not be worried it might drop. With the iPad I am always worried about swinging it around and knocking it.
- The dev environment — Adobe AIR is a smart move.
Overall I think it is good device and if it is priced right I am sure it will do ok. Will it be the market leader? No way. The iPad 2 will certainly keep the hot and sexy category and people will pay a premium for that. However, if you were looking for an affordable (hopefully) tool that is more than you can use to replace a lot of portable devices out there from pay point stuff to inventory apps to restaurant order taking software.
Really excited to see if students at VeloCity try their hand at making some apps for it, maybe some day we will see Kik on it
…and yes, all pics taken on an iPhone 4.
Yesterday on the VeloCity blog I announced the VeloCity workspace at the Communitech Hub. It is, to me, a piece that has missing at VeloCity as we have tried to do an awful lot in what is a residential building but what you can’t do is work as part of the startup community locally. The University of Waterloo campus is just too isolated with the way parking is and its size to try and have a space that is open to the community for various events and collaboration. When you add the cost of living in residence and housing rules that require you to be a current full time student (all understandable and reasonable) there was a clear need to have a ‘next step’ space for students that have other living arrangements and recent grads of the University.
Currently there is no better place to be than in the new Communitech Hub in Kitchener. With bigger companies like Desire2Learn (founded by a uwaterloo grad) and Google as well as smaller companies like DossierView in Tannery space along with the partner organizations within the Hub itself, it is a good opportunity to be in the middle of the best that the Waterloo Region has to offer. Plus I get to work with the Accelerator Centre and Communitech, something I love doing as they are both organizations that have climbed a big learning curve and are now really influencing the services offered to companies across Canada.
This is a fluid experiment and I am assuming certain details of how we run the space will change but it is really exciting to try. What I do know is that a similar space at Ryerson (the Digital Media Zone) is a success with a load of startups working away in a gorgeous space in downtown Toronto. VeloCity and the DMZ are working closely together to develop this new model for an incubator type service inside higher education which is also something I am excited about. My hope is that we can get more Universities and Colleges working with us but time will tell.
What I see as our big challenges going into this are:
- Cost of the space and covering the costs of the services — current guestimates place this kind of service for very early stage startups at around $1000 a month per startup. Our costs aren’t that but I will need to keep an eye on it. Certainly we do not have anywhere close to the same staffing level as Ryerson and I am not sure we need to but we do need more help to keep things moving. That will increase our cost.
- What does success look like? With the residence I am still not sure what success is. I know it isn’t having a startup launch out of the residence into the real world and it is more important to build a strong bond between future co-founders but I will need to work on that. With the workspace it could very well be measured by the number of startups that find some revenue.
- What are we missing? I try not to let this drive me nuts but I am constantly trying to find the gaps in what we are doing and ensure we stay focused on what are core mission is. That means saying no sometimes but a lot of the time the ‘no’ is because we just don’t have the staff to work with certain groups. Need to tackle point one above.
In a few months I will find new challenges and see if what I think are important problems really are. This is pretty exciting! Any questions, just ask. I aim to be as open as I possibly can about this whole thing