First off, full disclosure; I was an executive at RealNetworks for 7.5 years. I’m biased when it comes to discussions of Real. But I’ve been gone long enough (effectively 14 months, although I did some work part time through last April) that I hope I can write about it with a little more distance, if not with total objectivity.
Today’s announcement with Microsoft was big news for Real on so many fronts. Others, with better and more in-depth information than I, will dissect the deal with Microsoft. I would like to address one interpretation I’ve seen that I suspect could gain currency: that Rob Glaser "suppressed his ego" to make this deal happen.
I assume Rafat (and others he has spoken with) are using "ego" in the common, more-or-less pejorative meaning and not the precise psycho-analytic term of art; to wit, by ego he means a sense of self-importance. If so, I think Rob’s ego is probably pretty much intact, and probably hasn’t changed or been suppressed — ever.
Let me explain. What drives his sense of self-importance may be a little different than others. There is an important dimension of time — the denominator, if you will. His sense of ego, his sense of self-importance is intertwined with the long-term viability and durability and success of Real, not it’s position or performance at any given point in time. Otherwise he surely would have flipped the company in 1999 or 2000.
Maybe it’s a nuanced difference. But, I think it’s an important one, and perhaps helps to explain behaviors we see in other founder-executives (Gates, Jobs, Ellison, even Brin-Page). All of these folks are in it for the long-haul. And given how hard and difficult the path has been for Real the past 5 years, I for one think it’s admirable Rob has stuck at it — even if it’s a product of his ego.
I find it an interesting comment on our times that we tend to celebrate the burger-flippers more than those who at least try to create real, durable companies and institutions. Good on ya, Rob and Real, for today’s settlement and for staying in the game.