A few months after she joined Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, Ayesha Rachel became an addict. She just couldn’t get enough of her BlackBerry Curve. “I was a Nokia user but this thing is addictive, and no other phone gives me this value for my buck,” she says while sending messages on the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).
This is a paradox. BlackBerry is a phone for the staid corporate types. So why is a kid filled with idealism, revolution and “har ek friend zaroori hota hai” thoughts, using a square phone such as the BlackBerry? Well, that’s the story.
Research in Motion (RIM), the company that owns BlackBerry, has managed to achieve two things in the last 18 months. It has managed to grab a big chunk of the smartphone market in India. In 2010, its market share stood at 6 percent of the smartphone market in the first quarter. By the end of 2010, they had over 10 percent of the market. By May this year, it was at 13 percent. By the end of 2011, they are expected to have around 20 percent, which would be close to the market share of Samsung, the current smartphone market leader in India.
And BlackBerry has done this by attracting that trendy, but hard to please segment: The young consumer. Frenny Bawa, the 51-year-old managing director of RIM, who has overseen the execution of the company’s plan in India, has done it when RIM’s situation globally has been distinctly downbeat. Over the last six months, RIM’s stock price has lost two-thirds of its value. Analysts in the US think that Apple will wrest the enterprise market from RIM. Certain investors such as Jaguar Financial Corporation have said RIM should spin off its patents to boost investor returns. Such reactions may be extreme, but it highlights the soup that RIM is in globally.
In light of this, what Bawa and her team have achieved in India is creditable. And while it may not solve RIM’s global problems, the success in emerging markets like India will surely buy it time to become competitive again. For that to happen, Bawa will have to make sure that RIM continues to see success in India.
Can Bawa do that? The answer lies in understanding why RIM has succeeded in India. The success of product companies usually stems from one product that captures the people’s imagination. Think of Sony and Playstation, Samsung and Galaxy. Then there is Apple with not one, but three such products: iPod, iPhone and iPad.
For RIM India, that product is Curve.
Around 15 months ago, when BlackBerry was clearly outside the top five, the RIM team in India was asked to find the reasons for being slow to grow in a market where explosive growth has become a norm. In Mumbai, the senior members got together to discuss the results of a survey that was commissioned to see whether RIM could grow faster. As the survey was tabled, it was clear to all sitting there that something needed to change. “We were facing a challenge here — how do we shift the perception of being a phone for push mail users to a brand which stood for fun, and not just for the corporate guys,” says Sunil Lalvani, RIM enterprise sales director (India).
Lalvani had a quandary before him. To appeal to the young, they had to be cool. BlackBerry’s core customers in India were mostly corporate employees – how to retain them, and yet change your image? How to be available everywhere and still be aspirational? Bawa and her team adapted the BlackBerry approach in other emerging markets.
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(This story appears in the 21 October, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
I am quite familiar with mobile tech and have read many articles on BlackBerry and and most of them have been on how its either doing a lousy job in the US or how its doing good in India. The ones on India were sadly short of detail and poorly done. This one is the first such story that I have enjoyed reading, and would rate as the best. It took me a while to find it in the magazine though, and maybe it could have added a little more background on what happened in the US. Otherwise its a job well done. Please bring us more such stories.on Oct 31, 2011
I feel manipulated now that I have a blackberry.on Oct 18, 2011