How Jim Balsillie's Initial $125,000 RIM Investment Disappeared

Feb.27.10 | About: BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY)

It has been almost 20 years since Jim Balsillie arrived at BlackBerry by Rod McQueen: Book CoverResearch in Motion (RIMM). Mike Lazaridis knew that he needed some help on the business side, and Jim was the answer. One of the first things Jim did was invest $125,000 for a one third stake in the company. The second thing he did was hire an accountant, who quickly produced a balance sheet that showed Jimmy what had become of his $125k. This excerpt is from Rod McQueen’s new book BlackBerry: The Inside Story of Research in Motion. My Dad got exclusive access to Mike and Jim over a multi-year period, and this story is just one of the dozens that we can all expect to read when it launches next week:

Among the many crucial moments in the history of Research In Motion was the arrival of Jim Balsillie in 1992. At the time, when he was hired by Mike Lazaridis, there were only fourteen employees. As RIM’s new vice-president of finance and business development, Balsillie invested $125,000 for a one-third interest in the business.

“The arrival of Jim Balsillie was a turning point for the company in several respects,” said Dale Brubacher-Cressman, employee number five at RIM. “There was only so much Mike could do. He recognized the need to get business support into the company to get the company to grow. Prior to Jim’s arrival was the only time in the history of my working for the company that there was one month I thought I might not get a paycheque. Jim’s arrival brought some business expertise and some ability to focus on that side of the organization.”

Balsillie’s investment was quickly put to use. Two days after he joined, Balsillie asked accountant Mike Vasilliou to produce a balance sheet so he could see how much RIM’s corporate health had been improved by his $125,000.

“Well, it’s gone,” said Vasilliou.

“What do you mean, ‘it’s gone’?”

“We had all these pent-up payables. It’s all gone.”

“At that moment, I thought this was certainly by definition a one-way door,” recalled Balsillie.“I didn’t realize how much financial duress the company was in.”

Goes to show you that the pressure every start-up entrepreneur feels, that fear, even happened to Jim and Mike.

Disclosure: I own RIM