Intrigue! Mystery! Really shitty phones from 2008! We have a strange situation on our hands: The former co-CEO of BlackBerry recently broke his years-long silence on the company to reminisce about one of its worst failures, the BlackBerry Storm, but he told a weird lie that made the Storm sound like an even bigger trashcan nightmare than it actually was.
In his first public remarks since stepping down as co-chief executive from BlackBerry in 2012, ex-co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that the Storm, BlackBerry’s rushed attempt at an iPhone competitor, was so awful that it had a “100% return rate.”
Now, BlackBerry Storm was a hunk of mistakes wrapped in glass that tanked the company’s fortunes, but this “100% return rate” stat does not check out. There is a host of evidence that the Storm was not returned by every single person who bought it.
- In 2008, tech blogs reported rumors that Storm return rates were as high as 50%, but Verizon went on record in 2009 saying that the return rate was under 10%.
- BlackBerry continued making Storm devices after its initial run, releasing a Storm 2 and Storm 3. Why would they do that if literally ever single person who bought the first one returned it?
- The book Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry details how Verizon’s chief marketing officer John Stratton informed Balsillie that “virtually” every Storm phone shipped in 2008 needed to be replaced. “Many of the replacements were being returned as well,” the book says. That’s bad! But Losing the Signal is a deep dive into the Storm’s failure and there is no mention of literally every single person who bought one returning it.
- People are selling BlackBerry Storms on eBay. Now, they may have received the phone as a gift or bought it second-hand in a daze while online shopping on Ambien or found it in a dumpster, but the fact that these phones are being resold means that some of them were not returned.
Perhaps, for Balsillie, the Storm’s poor performance was such a radical break from BlackBerry’s pre-2008 reputation for reliability that it seemed like a 100% return rate. Before 2008, the thorough quality testing led to extremely low return rates—as low as 3%.
Balsillie isn’t known for being a polished public speaker, so this may be a simple case of exaggerating or mixing up the replacement stat with the return stat. I don’t know! It’s weird though.
I’d say this was a classic case of bitterness inspired by getting pushed out of the company you founded, but this is a lie that makes Balsillie look even worse than he already does, since the Storm happened on his watch.
“The great thing is, when I talk, nobody knows what I’m going to say, including me,” he once told a group of university students, as Losing the Signal describes.