Research In Motion( RIMM) has been one of the fastest-growing companies in recent years, a fact that hasn't been lost on shareholders. Last year, for instance, RIM's stock appreciated more than 145%, as the BlackBerry maker's subscribers, revenue and earnings skyrocketed. Investors expect more good things to come; the company trades at a multiple of more than 10 times its expected sales this year. But the stock has fallen more than 10% this year amid a host of market concerns. First the company lost an appeal in a long-running patent dispute. Even though it recently settled the suit, some analysts have raised questions in the interim about growing competition from the likes of Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report, Nokia (NOK) - Get Report and other industry giants. The company may have added some fuel to these doubts on Tuesday when it missed quarterly revenue expectations and gave a forecast for revenue that was lower than analysts had predicted. Like many highflying technology companies, the chief concern with RIM is growth. Bulls think the company has plenty of room to grow. Bears think the growth will be much less robust than bulls are expecting. In an interview with
Troy Wolverton on Tuesday, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie addressed some of the revenue concerns from the past quarter and talked about the company's growth prospects.
Q: RIM's revenue for its fourth quarter came in short of the Street's expectations. Was this due to the hardware issue? On your conference call, you mentioned that hardware sales were lower than expectations.
Our revenues were at the high end of our guidance. Software revenues were higher than expected. On the hardware side there was a bit of shrinking of inventory
by the carriers. We think that will reverse pretty quick. We think
carrier inventory is too light. They're re-stocking less than they're
selling. But they're just being real conservative. They had some issues with other smart phones. It's just become their generic strategy. It's a bit more of North American phenomenon. A couple of these guys got stuck with PDAs that didn't sell. So they said, "We have to be more conservative." They're selling the lights out on our stuff. It's not a big deal. And other than that, our
subscriptions were off the chart. We're well in excess of a 100% growth rate.
Q: You've been growing pretty fast for a while now. When does that level off?
Our average internal compounded growth rate has been more than 100% for 13 years. We're used to growing organically. We're used to living in chronic chaos. It's our nature. You do all the things you can do to facilitate the success of our partners. We're fundamentally an enabler. We upped our guidance a lot for (subscriptions). All we can do is control the inputs.
Q: You've done well at selling your own pagers and phones. Via your BlackBerry Connect service, you allow other hardware makers to tap into your email software. But that hasn't been a significant part of your revenue to date. When does BlackBerry Connect kick in as a meaningful portion of your business?
I think it's happening now. BlackBerry Connect bumped up nicely in February. And it sparked nicely in March. It's absolutely happening, and we're delighted. We launched the Siemens 65 phone
that will use BlackBerry Connect. There's the Windows Mobile phones. There's a whole bunch of stories like that. It has to move really hard to move the needle on a big
revenue base. But it's all fundamentally right in line.
Q: What are your best growth opportunities going forward?
A: That's like your options for the best Led Zeppelin song!
Among them: Going deeper into our install base, applications extension in MDS
Mobile Data Service, the Wi-Fi phenomenon, Europe. Then you have all the BlackBerry Connect and retail
products stuff. It's nuts.
Q: But what are your top priorities?
Clearly deeper penetration of our existing base of carriers and customers. We want to drive deeper into corporations. We have 100 carriers to launch. The application platform -- MDS is huge. We're really pushing Wi-Fi. It's all very core.
Q: You just settled the dispute with patent holding company NTP. What opportunities are now open to you that weren't before because of the lawsuit?
Quite frankly, nothing.
Even with the NTP suit ongoing our sales and profits and opportunities have soared. It's been a U.S. thing, that's all. We were focused on our business. It was something that the lawyers had to handle. It just was a money thing that somebody wanted. Our business is run the same.