5 Strategic Business Lessons from BlackBerry Messenger

January 26, 2016 · 4 min read
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Once upon a time, BBM was the king of instant messaging. With the global push of WhatsApp and WeChat, the market size of BBM has reduced considerably leaving Nigeria and South Africa as the biggest market for the app. In Nigeria, for example, BBM is still managed to be one the top grossing apps both on Android and iOS (see this chart).

Here are strategic lessons we can all learn from BBM.

Have More Than One Source

BBM came preloaded with the BlackBerry device and it was nearly gone when the QWERTY hardware lost its market leadership to the sleek designs of iPhones and the dominance of the Android OS.

Even at the height of BBM’s dominance, it was exclusive to BlackBerry OS while WhatsApp that was an underdog back then was launched on multiple OSes. The network effect made it easy for WhatsApp to trounce BBM especially when the BB devices also lost market share.

Lesson for you: In business, it is important to have multiple partners and sources of income and traffic. When one of them goes off, you can switch on the remaining ones. BlackBerry’s decision not to explore other mobile OSes limited its distribution and the adoption of the app. In business, you need to go where the fishes are; which in this case was Google Play store (Android) and iOS. BlackBerry’s decision to adopt Android much later is now paying off as it is driving the largest installs of BBM and there is news that future BlackBerry devices will be built on Android OS.

Let PR drive your prelaunch strategy

After learning from its mistake above and hopping on the Android and iOS “bandwagon”, BBM’s adoption skyrocketed thanks to a well-planned release and prelaunch strategy and marketing stunts. During this release, I was personally anxious to get in on it and it was not only me.

See what I mean below (source: GSMArena)


There were so many unanswered questions leading to massive PR just like the recent Netflix global rollout where the company earned cheap publicity.

Lesson for you: BBM’s launch plans worked out so much that there was a waiting line. You can also use a roadmap to launch to an expectant crowd – and not crickets.

Have a Solid monetization strategy

One of the questions people raised was: “How will blackberry make money from BBM?”

Initially, when you owned a Blackberry phone, you needed to be subscribed to data plans from your mobile carriers. But as a free app (and thanks to WiFi) how will BBM monetize its consumer usage? Monetization for most apps is dicey. In fact, here is a tribute to so many failed fremium apps.

So far, reports showed that BBM is adopting a monetization model driven by mobile commerce. This includes:

  1. An international rollout plans of person-to-person money transfer service, with local partners like InterSwitch among others.
  2. BBM as an ad platform connecting businesses and brands. This is driven primary through the BBM channels which is just like Business pages on Facebook.
  3. There is also a bigger push in the BBM virtual store with 175 million visits to the BBM Shop already and 300 million stickers shared. Already, the Stickamania contest was launched in Nigeria it second largest market in Africa.
  4. According to MobileSyrup, “Perhaps most interesting is that BlackBerry has introduced a subscription bundle that will offer a vanity BBM PIN and no ads for a fee.”

Lessons for You:

Lesson 1: The freemium model for apps and SaaS requires smart monetization strategy. While freemium model has helped apps like Evernote to gain traction, the load of non-paying users might eat into the resources of the business. At the end of the day, it is good to understand that a tiny section of your users will eventually pay for your services. Your resources to drive free or trial users to paid users must be well executed as advised by Harvard Business Review

Lesson 2: With the growth of mobile, instant messaging apps are no longer engagement channels but are becoming sales channels. This presentation slide by Etop Ikpe puts it aptly:

Apply The Big Leverage Equation

The big leverage equation is this: Enterprise product + Consumer Market= Consumerize Enterprise.

Enterprise and security are BBM’s money maker. Blackberry has a suite of enterprise business solutions (Think BBM Protected – their Enterprise grade encryption for BBM messages between iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and PRIV – the Android Blackberry phone that runs on a proprietary technology called DTEK].

I think the time has come to bring this B2B service to its B2C audience. Take for example; BBM can “consumerize” its security service, DTEK to power the security needs of third-party apps on iOS, Android and any operating system. A recent example was the enterprise cross-platform security solution for AskMD’s mobile app across multiple devices and OSes.

In the long run, a “DTEK inside” for apps will be a good idea like The “Intel Inside” strategy for PC will

Lesson for You:

Lesson 1: There are several products/services that started as internal assets or side projects that the parent companies eventually turn to revenue opportunities. A good example is Amazon that turned its web infrastructure to AWS and it is now worth a $70billion business. Instagram, Slack and Twitter were side projects that grew to become multi-billion dollar apps.

Lesson 2: You can adapt ideas from multiple sources and launch it as a new service. A good example of this is Jana that works by helping apps compress the amount of data that users consume and OngAir that turns chat apps to customer service tools

Build an Utility App

The next frontiers for BBM should be in the turning the BBM experience to a utility app; this is because the future of instant messaging is chat as a portal.

This is an area where WeChat excels by allowing you to connect with other apps inside it. Take for example; you can hail a taxi right from WeChat and Facebook Messenger. Telegram is also gaining traction on the heels of its bot programme that is bringing developers to build third-party apps for the platform. One of such developers is @celestocalculus. BBM needs a similar platform to drive adoption back to the app.

Lesson for You: Smart businesses are building a community around their customer segment. This can be as simple as creating a LinkedIn Group or writing blog posts that meet the needs of potential users of your services.


Oluwole Ogunlade

Oluwole Ogunlade


Wole Ogunlade is a business growth strategist for early-stage startups and consultants in Nigeria. As co-founder of, he is passionate about agTech platforms in Nigeria. You can download his free ebook + email course, “11 Secrets of Startup Growth” for free on his personal blog,

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