October 10th, 2009
The Story of Research in Motion and the Little Device That Took the World by Storm
By Alastair Sweeny
(Wiley, 284 pages, $29.95 hardcover)
BlackBerry Planet tells the story of Waterloo-based Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry electronic device. Author Alastair Sweeny lives in Otawa where he specializes in writing corporate histories and about leading-edge technologies.
Below is a short excerpt from the book that describes how, sometime in 1998, the BlackBerry got its name.
In 1996 Research in Motion founder Mike Lazaridis launched the Waterloo firm’s RIM 900 Inter@ctive pager at a San Francisco trade show. Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) began offering service for the device in the U.S. the following year. Back in Waterloo, RIM continued to make improvements and in 1997 produced the RIM Inter@active pager 950, which had vastly improved wireless emailing features. It got good reviews, but the company was frustrated that customers still used it as a pager and didn’t take advantage of its emailing strengths. Perhaps the name was a problem . . .
Excerpt . . .
“As soon as I saw ‘BlackBerry,’ for some unknown reason . . . . It’s like when you first fall in love you know right away.”
— Mike Lazaridis
Mike Lazaridis had a hunch his new baby needed a proper name, instead of calling it the RIM 950, RIM 960, RIM 970 . . . and so on. RIM marketing had come up with the name “PocketLink,” but that didn’t turn too many cranks. Mike decided to talk to some professionals, and in 1998 he contacted Lexicon Branding, the Sausalito, California, marketing firm that had crafted such brands as the Apple PowerBook laptop and Intel Pentium processor.
Lexicon president David Placek remembers being very impressed with the RIM 950, code-named “LeapFrog.” He told Mike the device deserved a name and a personality of its own. “We wanted to give them a great name, which could really help them. At that time, they were going up against the pagers, and everybody had a pager . . . . You need to have a really distinctive name. And let the operating companies, like AT&T, let them have the more conservative and descriptive names. But I had a sense that this was going to be a really good product.”
“We looked at the form,” says Placek, “and, with all the little buttons on there, began to create metaphors. We looked at the world of fruit because it does, from a distance, look like it could be some kind of fruit. Also, BlackBerry is a very friendly, approachable name. And it must have worked for RIM, because I keep seeing these things everywhere.”
Some of the Lexicon team were struck by the little keyboard buttons, which resembled nothing so much as the tiny seeds covering a strawberry. Several suggest “Strawberry.” “No, ‘strawberry is a slowww syllable,” said Stanford university professor Will Leben, director of linguistics at Lexicon. “That’s just the opposite of the zippy connotation Research in Motion wants. But ‘-berry’ is good.”
“Lexicon research had shown that people associated the b sound with reliability,” said David Placek, “while the short e evoked speed. Another syllable with a short vowel would nail it. “Within seconds the Lexicon team had picked its fruit, and it was BlackBerry.”
Lazaridis paid a visit to Lexicon in Sausalito, and he remembers the occasion well. The Lexicon team came in with “boxes of white cardboard sheets, forty of them, each one had a single word. They set them up on an easel.” As Lazaridis remembers, “after about twenty-five of them I thought, Gosh, I’ve made a big mistake . . . they put up name after name . . . there were some strange ones . . .you might have heard of the HipTop.”
“At that point,” he says, “I knew I was being set up because the last one was so much better than all the others . . . What I decided to do was have some fun with them. I leaned back in my chair, crossed my arms, and told them, ‘I don’t like any of them! — You should have seen the look on their faces.” And then he paused for effect . . . “except the last one.’ And we all burst out laughing.”
Back home, the RIM engineers weren’t sure they like their baby being named after a fruit. Gary Mousseau was “just floored” by the choice of the California marketing pros. “But we didn’t have the branding, marketing and sales experience of these guys. We just couldn’t appreciate their skill set.”
Mike liked it. The name stuck.