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The true story behind the BlackBerry film

Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton star in the comedy-drama

Glenn Howerton and Jay Baruchel in Blackberry
Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton in Blackberry. (Republic Pictures)

BlackBerry, a tech biopic starring Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton, is streaming now on Sky and NOW.

Directed by Matt Johnson and co-written with producer Matthew Miller, the comedy-drama delves into the journey of BlackBerry, a Canadian tech startup that transformed into a multibillion dollar industry giant and its spectacular downfall.

Read more: What to watch on Sky and NOW in April 2024

Here's what you need to know about the true story behind BlackBerry.

The true story of BlackBerry's founders

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie with the BlackBerry smartphone in 2009
Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie with the BlackBerry smartphone in 2009. (PA)

Founded in 1984 by Canadian university students, Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, Research in Motion (RIM) is the company behind the iconic BlackBerry, the parent company that would be renamed BlackBerry Limited in 2013.

Initially, the company focused on electronics and computer science consulting and was joined by friend and fellow student Michael Barnstijn. In 1986, RIM was awarded a $600,000 contract by General Motors for creating Research in Motion.

Emigrating to Canada with his Greek parents at the age of five, settling in Windsor, Lazaridis loved science as a child and by the age of 12 he had won an award for reading every science book in the Windsor Public Library.

The cast of Blackberry
The tech biopic is streaming now on Sky and NOW. (Republic Pictures)

In the film, Lazaridis is portrayed as socially awkward but highly tech-savvy, while Fregin embodies a more eccentric style, often seen sporting a headband and quirky graphic t-shirts.

In 1992, a pivotal moment in tech history occurs when they meet the assertive businessman Jim Balsillie, who joined the company as joint CEO with Lazaridis, with the primary goal to restructure RIM.

At the time company had been operating from above a bagel shop but Balsillie believed in its potential.

Four years later, in 1996, RIM unveiled the groundbreaking Inter@ctive Pager 900, a two-way pager capable of sending faxes and emails. The following year with the pager's introduction, RIM became a publicly traded company.

In a significant move they managed to raise a substantial $105 million from eager investors who recognised the company's potential.

Glenn Howerton and Jay Baruchel in Blackberry
Lazaridis and Balsillie became a formidable team. (Republic Pictures)

What truly set RIM apart was the dynamic partnership between Lazaridis and Balsillie. Lazaridis, with his technical vision, and Balsillie, with his savvy business acumen, became a formidable team.

Together, they transformed RIM from a small firm with just around 10 employees in 1992 into a global corporation valued at over $68 billion by the end of 2007.

"I'm aggressive. I'm competitive. I'm ambitious. I own that," said Balsillie of Jay Baruchel's portrayal of him as a ruthless businessman, reported Cp24.

Baruchel told Complex Canada: "For every kind of outburst born of greed, I knew I had to care more about quality. For every time he was yelling, I had to go internal and smaller."

Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis in BlackBerry
The BlackBerry was launched in 1999, with sales peaking in 2007. (Republic Pictures)

The launch of the BlackBerry in 1999, attributed to RIM's meteoric rise which would eventually redefine the smartphone category.

A key driver behind BlackBerry's early success was Jim Balsillie's marketing prowess. He left no stone unturned in highlighting the device's utility. At tech conferences, he famously distributed BlackBerries to early adopters, igniting a buzz.

Balsillie's strategy extended to Wall Street and Washington, where BlackBerries found their way into the hands of investment bankers and U.S. politicians, further amplifying their popularity.

Meanwhile, RIM secured pivotal supply agreements with major players, including BellSouth Wireless, IBM, American Mobile, and Rogers Cantel.

BlackBerry's promise was to free users from the office, but it essentially made work follow them everywhere. Singer Beyonce slept with her BlackBerry, and even dreamt of answering emails.

The BlackBerry, with its tactile keyboard and tracking ball, was so addictive that it earned the nickname 'CrackBerry' and became Webster's Dictionary New Word of the Year in 2006.

Its sales peaked in the August 2007 when it boasted a share price of $236.

Mike Lazaridis delivers a keynote address at the BlackBerry Devcon Americas in 2011
Lazaridis pictured in 2011 before the downfall of BlackBerry. (Getty)

BlackBerry's founders initially didn't view the iPhone's 2007 launch as a threat. With a substantial market share and a multi-billion-dollar valuation, they underestimated its impact.

Ultimately, Apple's introduction of the onscreen keyboard with the iPhone proved to be a game-changer that blindsided BlackBerry, leading to its downfall.

By 2014, BlackBerry had a net loss of over 5.8 billion U.S. dollars.

Balsillie's controversial move to backdate stock options to attract talent triggered an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, led Lazaridis to distance himself from Balsillie, resulting in Balsillie's departure from the board. The company faced penalties but escaped jail time.

Glenn Howerton in Blackberry
Howerton plays Balsillie, who has an estimated net worth of $800 million. (Republic Pictures)

As of January 2022, BlackBerry's pioneering smartphone is officially obsolete. Its operating system, software, and services were discontinued, marking the end of an era. BlackBerry Limited now focuses on cybersecurity software and services.

In 2007, Fregin parted ways with BlackBerry before its decline, selling his shares, estimated at $2 billion.

Lazaridis and Balsillie remained with the company until 2012. Despite BlackBerry's decline, they left with substantial wealth.

Lazaridis joined forces with Fregin and is now the Founder and Managing Partner at Quantum Valley Investments, as well as the Founder at the Institute for Quantum Computing, with an estimated net worth of $600 million.

Balsillie founded the School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo and established the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) think tank. He also chairs the Canadian Council of Innovators, with an estimated net worth of $800 million according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Lazaridis' famous last words at the the 2007 iPhone launch were "we'll be fine". Seventeen years later the three people behind BlackBerry are fine.

BlackBerry is streaming now on Sky and NOW