An Open Letter to Stephen Elop and Steve Ballmer

By  |  Friday, February 11, 2011 at 10:28 am

Dear Steves,

Normally, I try to avoid writing open letters to anyone–they’re a pretty stale journalistic convention. But the two of you used an open letter to confirm that Nokia and Microsoft have agreed to a strategic partnership that will make Windows Phone the software foundation of Nokia’s smartphone strategy. So another open letter feels like an appropriate way to respond.

So here’s my initial advice, which, as with all open letters, I’m sure you’ve been eagerly awaiting…

Don’t apologize. Lots of people–such as this guy–think your partnership is destined to fail. Some compare it to famous lackluster partnerships of the past, such as commenter here who brings up Sears and Kmart. I’m not predicting success…but I also think it’s hasty to dismiss your game plan.¬†Windows Phone isn’t a stinker–it’s a promising and distinctive mobile operating system, albeit one that needs more work. And Nokia still makes some of the nicest phone hardware in the business. I haven’t seen anyone propose an alternative strategy that sounds more logical. You’re making an intelligent gamble given the situation at hand.

Finish Windows Phone 7. I like it, but it’s like the first versions of the iPhone OS and Android–it’s at least two major upgrades away from being done. And unlike its competitors which showed up earlier, it faces daunting competition from extremely well-established, high-quality players. It needs a lot more than cut and paste: For instance, its browser is still uncompetitive. And it has to get a lot better really quickly.

Build something that feels like it came from one company. Nearly all of the best phones ever made–from early BlackBerrys and Treos to the iPhone–were produced by a company that designed its own hardware and wrote its own software. You won’t have that advantage, but you can do your darndest to compensate by working fanatically to create something so seamless that it feels like it’s the work of one team. These shouldn’t be more Windows Phone handsets that happen to come from Nokia, or Nokia phones that happen to run Windows Phone–they need to be unique.

Re-enter the US. Nokia has an extraordinarily low profile in this country–quite a change from the good old days of a decade or more again when it was nearly synonymous with “good cell phone.” It’s possible to be a very large phone company without competing stateside, but it’s harder–and it’s particularly hard to grab mindshare. The moment you’ve built a really great handset, bring it here and promote the heck out of it.

Be humble. Very, very humble. Hubris is in the DNA of both of your companies–some of it seeped into your letter. (“There are other mobile ecosystems. We will disrupt them.”) That’s okay, but if I were you guys, I’d try to reduce expectations, not raise them. I haven’t seen any commentator say that your deal is a game-changer of historic proportions–Robert Scoble is excited but guardedly so–so it doesn’t need to be change the world overnight to be judged as a success. Unless you promise everyone that it will be disruptive.

That’s it for now. Good luck, and I promise–this is the last open letter I’ll write to you.




Read more: , ,

7 Comments For This Post

  1. jairajp Says:

    One more advice – Don't Bang on Bing – That's a failed story.

  2. Mike Cerm Says:

    I think there were two key factors keeping Nokia out of the US market, and this we ease both of them. In the US, carriers handle all the support calls, and having to train their employees on Symbian (in addition to the more popular OSes) was just too much, will too little upside. The other problem was cost.

    Carriers don't care about quality, they care about delivering cheap phone and charging a lot of money for them. LG and Samsung made huge in-roads not by making decent products – all of their dumbphones and feature phones were/are garbage – but they sold them to AT&T and Verizon for next to nothing. Nokia's huge R&D produced better phones, at substantially higher prices. The carriers stopped carrying them.

    Now that Nokia won't be supporting 5 different OSes, there will be huge cost-savings. Nokia can focus on making great hardware, and leave the software to Microsoft.

  3. ymala1 Says:

    An excellent open letter, balanced and well thought out.

  4. snp Says:

    The author may like WP7 and so may Microsoft funded reviews of WP7, however one thing is blatently clear – mobile phone customers don't. Nokia sales and profitability is going to crash from first to last because of this deal.

    It may well be as many analysts have suggested that Elop plan is that Microsoft will buy out Nokia for a song when this has happened. This certainly is the only way that the deal would make any kind of business sense – however even this only makes sense for Microsoft, and not for Nokia or Nokia share holders, as it is an extremely bad deal for them. The 14% slump in Nokia share price when the deal was announced, is a clear indication that shareholders understand that it is a bad deal for Nokia.

  5. prabhneet singh Says:

    Hai mr. owner of company nokia. please you have operate a new function in cell phones like wireless chargfer. mean the charger have wire and the range of this charger is 20 mts. a function in mobile to on or off this chager. this is a new technology know one can use this techology.

  6. Shreya Brenna Says:

    The open letter is very straightforward but very deep and meaty. I must say that humility is very important and I salute you for writing such an open letter.

  7. Melisa Peveto Says:

    I appreciate this open letter. I learned so much from your post. Hope to read more of your post.