THE BLOG

What do RIM, Arab Spring, Riots, Skype and Donkey Carts Have in Common?

02/22/2013 11:02 EST | Updated 04/24/2013 05:12 EDT

On the heels of the successful launch of BlackBerry 10 and the re-boot and re-invention of the company, I can't help but think of the people that endured the consistent barrage of abuse they were subjected to during this reboot.

The road to BlackBerry 10 threads through the lives of many interesting people, in the most unsuspecting places and under the crazy, unforeseen circumstances.

Here's my little story.

Roll the clock back about a year ago, as I travelled to Upper Egypt (el Minia) with my father to re-unite with family. North American cellphone and laptop in hand, I took for granted that I'd have no problems being "always-on" and "always connected". So what if I had to buy my cellular WiFi and internet connectivity from a guy in a shack next to a donkey cart .

That particular day, I had a call scheduled with the Alec Saunders, Vice President of Developer Relations and Ecosystem Development at Research In Motion (now BlackBerry).

The company was dealing with some big issues -- and Alec was the "kingpin" that was brought in to build and lead an army of evangelists to save the day at BlackBerry. This was right after the two CEOs had stepped down.  I sent the family to a restaurant to wait for us, while my cousin and I hung at the apartment.

While I am setting up for my call with Alec, we hear some sort of commotion and calamity developing outside our apartment. My cousin believes there might be a fight of some kind going on outside, so we decide to go see what is going on.  

He opens the door and looks down the stairwell and then in a panic spin around and command me to, "Go inside. Go inside and lock the door!"  l haven't seen what is happening yet, but being Egyptian, people argue all of the time.

Not really concerned at this point, I re-focus in front of my computer, setting up for our Skype call. 

Meanwhile, my cousin is running around me like a whirl-wind and bouncing throughout the apartment - moving from window to window and then in and out of the front door. He turned from a chill dude to a manic...totally freaking out. 

He keeps giving me the crazy eye, as if I was an idiot for not understanding the situation. Next thing I know he is on his cell phone - getting the home phone number for the Chief of Police from his officer friend. I remain undistracted in "Mike's business land" with bigger fish to fry, so I continue my prep.   My cousin now has two phones in his hands, one where he is talking to his police friend and the other the Chief of police. He is simply freaking out -- and can't understand why I am not.

He hangs up both phones and looks at me again, no longer asking but now insisting that we leave immediately.  Once again, I explain to him that I can't leave now - as this is a critically important call I need to make.  His was response was, "Dear cousin please come to the window and look outside".  Reluctantly, I do so - and to my surprise there is an angry mob of about 300 people carrying sticks, knives, rocks  - all at the base of the building trying to get in. Needless to say my reaction changes abruptly, "We got to go, right now!". He sigh's at me in frustration. I then find myself messaging Alec and telling him that I need to postpone the call due to a riot! As, if ....

He must of thought I was a crazy person. It's funny though his response was only to tell me he had another call in about an hour. Unfazed....

My cousin and I run to the door. He picks two stones broken from the stairwell and passes one to me and then takes one himself. I look down the stairwell and 4 floors below us are four men carrying machetes trying to break into the apartment adjacent to them where another family resides. We wanted to distract them so we start yelling and the men in the stairwell shifted their focused on us. The angry mob is now muscling their way into the building in hot pursuit and begins to throw stones at them. The men in the stairwell are screaming "anyone comes up and they die!"  My cousin has a moment of terror when he realizes we don't actually know if the men in the stairwell are protecting us or gunning for us and who knew if the mob were trying to harm us or protect us. It's funny because in my head I was contemplating how the hell am I going to fight four guys who all have machetes, with a single rock?

In this moment of chaos, the Police arrive in full force. The men surrendered under the safety of the police and were in fact thieves. Just like you see in the movies -- this crowd was full on "Marshall Law". To this day I had never experienced anything like that.

So why am I telling this story? It's simple. There are many parallels between my experiences in Egypt a year-ago and the rocky road that BlackBerry travelled to get to their launch. Like for example, dealing with angry mobs of people in dangerous situations while they were simply trying to stay on course. My crazy mob scenario is a metaphor for the entire company's focus to remain on course. Look at what they've been through over this last couple of years. Its crazy.

I have always had a soft spot for the underdog, BlackBerry as a company and Alec Saunders mission rallying developers to deliver more than 70,000 apps at launch. That's impressive anyway you look at it. It proved that in spite of an insurmountable amount of negative press and investors and customers writing off the company -- that a dedicated group of smart people could make things happen.