Back on May 12th, right at the start of WES 2008 (RIM's annual get together), a Press Release crossed the wire announcing the launch of the $150 Million BlackBerry Partners Fund. Yesterday I had a chance to speak on the phone with Rick Segal, a member of the fund's investment management team, who gave me the skinny on some of the exciting things going on with the BPF and clarified a few things. Read on for the details!
I don't want to re-publish the general overview of what the BlackBerry Partners Fund is all about (this has been covered), so if you're not up to speed with the BPF and are interested in learning more, I suggest reading the original release, visiting the BPF website and checking out this email Rick wrote up that Ronen published a few weeks back. Now for what I took away from this meeting:
#1 - Clarifying the "RIM" Misconception: A lot of people who look at the BPF assume that because it is called the "BlackBerry" Partners Fund that RIM is involved in its administration and operation. This is not the case. RIM is a limited partner in the fund. Other anchor partners in the fund are Thomson Reuter, RBC Venture Partners and JLA Ventures, with RBC/JLA being the parties who are actually co-managing the fund. Think of it this way... RIM basically said, "we're not in the business of administering this kind of operation, we build smartphones, but we like the premise and want to see killer stuff get developed so here's some money and we'll license you our name to use on the fund". The only real day-to-day involvement RIM has in the fund is in providing the managing partners with data (market research type stuff) or as a source in due dilligence checkups... you can bet if somebody says to Rick "I know so and so over at RIM and they think this is a great idea!" that Rick is going to follow through with RIM!
#2 - Clarifying the "BlackBerry-only" Misconception: Again, it might be called the "BlackBerry" Partners Fund, but that doesn't mean BlackBerry-only ideas will get funded. BlackBerry dev needs to be on the roadmap, but it's not a requirement from day one.
#3 - Sweet Spot: I asked Rick what their sweet spot in terms of investment size is. His response was that they are stage agnostic... they'll fund everything from napkins to IPOs (though IPOs are a pain in the butt!). The sweet spot is in that $2 Million to $5 Million range, but that doesn't mean they won't look at smaller investments. As Rick put it, 3 guys with $100,000 to $150,000 in funding can do some serious damage, so those smaller investments are still something they would fund if they believe an opportunity is there.
#4 - Idea Horizon: Rick made it clear that their investment strategy is not just geared on where the opportunities lie today, but where the opportunities will exist in the years ahead. His example - think back three years. Not a lot of smartphones had cameras. If three years ago you simply made the assumption that three years down the road every mobile phone would have a camera and geared your development around that notion, you'd now have a winning company and a nice big ROI. Time to cose your eyes and start dreaming about where things are going in the crazy smartphone world!!
#5 - BlackBerry Developers Challenge: The BPF has issued a BlackBerry Developers Challenge. You can click here for all the details. Developers have until September 30th to get their entries in. Finalists will receive free registration and hotel to the 1st Annual BlackBerry Developer Conference being held on October 21st to 22nd, with the winners announced there.
BIG NEWS... Being Announced for the FIRST TIME RIGHT HERE... the BPF is going to give away a couple of prizes to the Best of Show winners coming out of the Challenge. The prizes? $150,000 investment awards in the form of convertible debentures. More details to follow on the Developer Challenge website.
Rick will be on location at the BlackBerry Developer Conference, so I look forward to meeting him there in person. It's also going to be interesting to see where the BPF puts their money... it sounds like they will be announcing their first investments soon!