Revisiting BlackBerry’s extraordinary rise and spectacular fall

BlackBerry movie
Losing the Signal co-author Sean Silcoff and BlackBerry co-writer Matthew Miller step into the Wayback Machine.

So Sean Silcoff finally got me to read his book.

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, which he co-wrote with Jacquie McNish. After years of heckling me about it, we finally have him on the podcast to talk about this Canadian tech heritage moment: a story about a small Kitchener-Waterloo company mastering the limitations of technology at the time to create something new.

Something compelling. Something different than what we have today, but we can trace today right back to BlackBerry.

“Once Apple showed up, BlackBerry had to do everything right and get on it on the double. And they did everything wrong.”
– Sean Silcoff

But what happens when those limitations go away? What happens when you’ve been racing and racing for years to win the game and then suddenly the rules change? Given our current moment, with generative AI, a big tech downturn, and about a thousand other things going on, looking to historical examples can be instructive.

But listen, this isn’t just a history lesson; for me it’s personal. I was there, first covering the story and then living it as a RIM employee.

On this podcast, you’re not going to hear as much from me as you normally would, because I didn’t write the book. But also, as we know, even a well-told story isn’t the whole story. For those who experienced the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall firsthand, the stories we share and the stories we keep to ourselves is a very personal decision. Sumit Bhatia aside (#NeverForget).

You might be aware that there is a BlackBerry movie soon to be released (May 12, in theatres everywhere, check your local listings), which I have seen and found to be very enjoyable… and almost wholly untrue.

But that doesn’t really matter, because stories change over time, and history often means something different to those who come after.

So also joining us this week is Matthew Miller, producer and co-writer of the BlackBerry film, to talk about what he and co-writer Matt Johnson found inherently funny about this brief moment in time when the Canadian underdogs won. And to remind us that so many people around the world who loved their BlackBerry (or can remember that it was once a thing) don’t even know it’s a Canadian tech story.

But hey, that’s why we’re here. Let’s dig in.

The BetaKit Podcast is sponsored by Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP.
Osler, the leading law firm for startups, high-growth companies and investors in Canada, has released its second annual study of 353 anonymized Canadian venture capital and growth equity financings. Read the Deal Points Report: Venture Capital Financings.

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The BetaKit Podcast is hosted by Douglas Soltys & Rob Kenedi. Edited by Kattie Laur. Feature image courtesy Elevation Pictures. Sponsored by Osler.

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.

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