BlackBerry the movie: what it gets right about the startup experience
BlackBerry is a household name today, but how did it all begin? If you’ve seen the new BlackBerry movie, you might have an idea – but it’s a movie, not a documentary. So you might be wondering, just how much did director Matthew Johnson get right about the early days of business?
We could go on and on about what the movie didn’t quite accurately represent, but we’ll leave that to Jim Balsillie himself. Instead, let’s take a look at what this movie gets right about the startup experience.
If you’re a founder then you know that the early days of any business can make or break your long-term success, and sometimes it can come down to a single decision or action (Blockbuster turning down Netflix comes to mind!). As a startup accelerator, we’re no strangers to working with companies in those pivotal early days. Over the years we’ve worked with hundreds of founders and consider ourselves experts at helping enthusiastic and ambitious entrepreneurs, in fact, we’re going on the 10th cohort of our SaaS Accelerator (yes, applications are open!) and we’re always looking for Canada’s next unicorn!
So since we’re such startup enthusiasts, we set out to get the lowdown on this latest Hollywood adaptation. We’ll break down exactly what we think the movie gets RIGHT when it comes to startup life:
Creativity is often born in chaos
In this movie, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of building the revolutionary product that the world came to know as the BlackBerry. Whether or not there was an actual plunger present in the room, or if they really had underwear waistbands acting as low-budget headsets, is really all beside the point…
It comes down to great ideas being tried and tested in chaotic and free-thinking environments. Sometimes when you put a bunch of engineers in a room together, and let them run wild, you end up with a pretty remarkable product. Who knew?
It takes a village (of dynamic and different people)
While the characters in the movie are definitely exaggerated versions of themselves, some almost not even recognizable in the way they look and act, the film still captures one thing right: you need a dynamic team behind you. Success is not just one person with a crazy idea, it’s a team of people who trust each other, commit themselves to the vision, and support that crazy idea. Also, having a mix of skills makes the opportunity come alive.
Again, while plenty of the facts might not be totally accurate, we can rest assured that if Mike Laziridis had simply looked for someone else just like him to help him lead this company, they wouldn’t have found the success that they did. For every Mike, you need a Jim.
Revolutionary ideas are not always fully supported in the beginning
This shouldn’t come as any surprise, but we know that founders in the middle of pitching revolutionary never-been-seen-before ideas, often feel alone. They might go to sleep at night wondering “maybe I am crazy?”. To the founders out there doubting their crazy ideas, try to remember those who came before you and walked into rooms filled with skeptics and non-believers. If those entrepreneurs forfeited their ideas before they had the chance to succeed, we might never know some of the most incredible companies to ever exist. Follow your idea where it takes you, and at least you’ll never be wondering ‘what if’.
Lastly, be bold and dare to dream.
Walking into a Verizon board meeting, as Jim Basillie did in the movie, was an audacious step, that move followed by Mike Lazaridis’ technical brilliance closed the deal, even when faced with skeptics.
In the end, we found that the BlackBerry movie was a fun watch that told the story of a homegrown Canadian tech company that found early success with a revolutionary idea. There’s no denying that it’s entertaining to watch. Who doesn’t love a Hollywood take on startup success, failure, and everything that happens in between? We’re not afraid to admit that we do. 🤷♀️
So while it might not get all the historical facts 100% right, it does capture the startup spirit of early days in business, and it celebrates unicorns like BlackBerry who, despite all their faults depicted in the movie, did ultimately emerge as one of the greatest Canadian tech companies of our time.