The CEO of CrackBerry Meets the CEO of BlackBerry
The 2007 Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) is now a part of history. For those who don’t know, WES is an annual event hosted by Research in Motion that brings together more than 3,000 IT professionals and business executives from around the globe and presents the latest information to help organizations define and implement wireless strategies. The majority of the 10 million + BlackBerry devices in use throughout corporations worldwide are represented at WES. Over the three-day event I walked up to countless attendees and posed the question “How many Blackberrys on your BES (BlackBerry Exchange Server)?” to the typical response of either, 800, 8,000, or 18,000+.
I attended the Orlando, Florida, event in my role as CEO (CrackBerry Executive Officer) of CrackBerry.com, which I co-founded less than three months ago and aims to be a one-stop shop for all things BlackBerry. I’m a loyal user (some would argue “abuser”) of the BlackBerry device and thought there just had to be a CrackBerry.com and took the initiative to start it. The site offers something for every BlackBerry user -- from a store that offers the latest in blackberry accessories and software, to BlackBerry news and reviews, community forums, and even a “Rehab” section for those BlackBerry users who need to get their BlackBerry use under control. The term “CrackBerry” was inspired by the addictive nature of the BlackBerry handheld device, and has become so ubiquitous that Webster’s dictionary named “CrackBerry” the 2006 “New Word of the Year”.
I missed the deadline for applying to get a WES press pass, so I went to the event as a “regular attendee”. While I did report back to CrackBerry.com with breaking news from WES, I decided to spend the majority of the time getting to meet and know as many people in the BlackBerry world as possible. I came back to Winnipeg with many new friends and acquaintances in the BlackBerry world (it was well worth the trip!).
Between the conference and parties WES offered 3-days of non-stop action, but the highlight of the event for me had to be the 43 minutes I got to spend with Research in Motion’s Co-CEO Jim Balsillie. RIM’s other Co-CEO is Mike Lazaridis and these two men were the stars of the show. At WES they are the celebrities –Jim and/or Mike could often be seen running between meetings and appointments, always accompanied by a small entourage of dark suits. This is probably to be expected considering they do head a multi-billion dollar company. Unless you have an appointment, trying to get their time and attention would be difficult to say the least.
But I lucked in. On the second night of WES, after the breakout sessions and vendor showcase had wound down for the day, I attended a WES party sponsored by Verizon Wireless. The party had a cool James Bond “BlackBerry Royale” theme, and it was a few hours into the night when I almost bumped right into Jim (I had my head down checking my e-mails on my Berry as I walked - hence how I took note of the time I began talking to Jim).
I of course recognized Mr. Balsillie -- I stuck out my hand and while we shook I said, “Hi, I’m the guy who started CrackBerry.com”. In retrospect it wasn’t the most eloquent thing I could have said, but it probably was fitting considering I was wearing a bright green t-shirt that was stamped with a bright orange CrackBerry.com logo.
Jim wore a big smile, said “Hello” right back at me and seemed open for conversation. After all, it was a party and we were each holding a drink.
Forty three minutes later I walked away from Jim with him getting in the last words, “It was good to meet you!”
While it wasn’t an interview I garnered lots of information and advice from the RIM CEO. I wasn’t taking notes, but what he said is permanently engrained in my memory. Initially, I talked to Jim about our successes in launching CrackBerry.com and gave him my overview of what we had accomplished so far and what we are working towards achieving. I never asked him if he had heard of the site or if he had visited it, but my two days spent at WES so far had indicated to me that most people in the business of BlackBerrys had heard of us (with a domain name like CrackBerry.com word travels fast!).
If he hadn’t heard of CrackBerry.com before, Jim never gave that away and he listened attentively. I could tell he respected the fact I had taken the initiative to do something entrepreneurial with no guarantee of success. He wished me the best of luck and I asked him if he had any advice for me. And he did! It was now my turn to listen attentively, and in the conversation that followed Jim gave me much insight into some of the values one must have and principles one must follow in order to be successful both in business and in life.
His advice made a lot of sense to me, with the general message being that there is long-term value in always taking the “high” road. When it comes to relationships, the media, and business you will be better off in the long run if you always do what is “right” instead of doing what is easy, makes a good story, or is most profitable at the time. Coming from a finance background, I would say you can take the principle that short term gains at the expense of long-term profitability is never a good strategy and apply it to all aspects of life.
I hope one day the business and life-in-general advice Jim gave me makes up a few chapters of the book he should write. I will definitely be the first in line to buy it, and can tell you right now it will quickly become a Best Seller if it ever happens (if you ever read this Jim, take that as a hint to start writing!).
While most of CrackBerry.com’s loyal visitors would have liked me to try and dig up the dirt on what’s coming down the BlackBerry pike, I actually found myself talking with Jim about triathlon training. I knew from his biography that Jim was an accomplished athlete and triathlon competitor and, since I’m in training mode for my first triathlon and his business advice had been so compelling, I thought he would have some value-added advice for me in this subject.
At the word “triathlon,” Jim’s eyes lit up and I immediately could tell this was another subject he was truly passionate about. His first question to me cut right to the core, “Are you a swimmer?” I responded that swimming is my weakest area and he immediately advised me to get a “good swimming coach.” He explained that, from his experiences, success in swimming is based on technique, and that it takes a swimming coach with a trained eye to help you master your swim.
According to Jim, it’s the smallest errors in technique that makes swimming exceedingly difficult, but that once you get your technique straightened out your stroke becomes much more efficient and the swim much easier. He also made clear that it takes consistent practice. Jim has a resistance pool in his home so he can keep his swimming technique consistent (a resistance pool is a small swimming pool that generates a current in the water – you set the current to the speed you wish to swim at, and swim against the current. You don’t actually “move”, but the sensation is the same as swimming over a distance).
Jim went on to offer me numerous tips on triathlon race tactics. He also suggested that I shouldn’t do the sprint distances, or mini-triathlons, and should always do at least the Olympic distance! I have been training for the sprint distance, but now I feel I have to do the longer Olympic distance as I’d hate to have the CEO of my beloved BlackBerry device discover that I whimped out.
At that point during our triathlon talk, another person joined in our discussion and said to Jim “How do you make the time to exercise and run your business? I’ve tried and don’t have the time!” At that remark a lively debate began about setting priorities and Jim was adamant about always making fitness a priority in his life. And he wasn’t kidding – he told me he even had an exercise bike in his hotel room at WES so he could workout first thing in the morning. Jim suggested that his ability to be successful in business is directly correlated to his making exercise a priority – when he exercises his body it translates into better performance in the office – executive decisions (and we are talking big business executive decisions here) are made with ease and his focus is laser like. Jim has operated both ways. He said there have been times over the years where he has gone through phases where health was less of a priority, and he immediately feels less effective in the office environment. Nowadays that just does not happen anymore. Jim’s commitment to his health is just as big as his commitment to his business. Throughout this conversation I found myself nodding in agreement with Jim as everything he said was right (I agreed with him 100%), and I can almost guarantee the individual who posed the question hit the gym first thing Monday morning following WES.
I now realized there were a lot of people standing around us waiting for their chance to get in a “Hello” with Jim. I had been absolutely riveted to the conversation and had no concept of how much time had passed, but a quick look at the pile of people nearby made me realize it had been a while. I felt a bit guilty for hogging his time at a social event. My first experience of Jim was life-changing, and I could tell from his passion that he likely has that affect on most people he talks to. So I thanked the CEO of “BlackBerry” for his time, and as the CEO of “CrackBerry” I made my way back to the bar as my Heineken was long empty. As I drank my Heineken and checked my email, I noticed just how much time had passed! 43 minutes! Come to think of it, the 43 minutes I spent talking to the CEO of RIM was probably the longest amount of waking-time I have ever gone without looking at my BlackBerry! It was definitely a night I will never forget.
After my encounter with Jim I still had two fun-filled days in Orlando, and then it was time to get on a plane back and head back to the CrackBerry.com office in Winnipeg. And for those who read the name Winnipeg and think Why Winnipeg?!, you might be interested to learn another factoid I picked up from Jim Balsillie – his dad was from Winnipeg! It looks like our roots for CrackBerry.com are planted firmly after all…