Michael Robertson Is Calling, But Will Anybody Answer?

12/19/08Follow @bvbigelow

If nothing else, Michael Robertson gets credit for stickin’ it to the establishment. Maybe it’s because he was born in 1967, amid America’s flaring protests. Maybe it’s just a result of his penchant for libertarian views.

When I saw an announcement earlier this week from Robertson about GizmoCall, his new browser-based calling service, my first thought was, “This looks like another one of Michael Robertson’s guerilla campaigns.”

When I bounced that off Robertson in a call Wednesday while he was finishing lunch, he replied, “Right. That’s where the money is. Whether it’s telephone companies, or music companies, [or Microsoft---let's not forget Microsoft], it’s where disruptive technologies can add value.”

Michael RobertsonThat’s the way many entrepreneurs think. But where other entrepreneurs approach technology disruption as a delicate matter, akin to tickling a dragon’s tail, Robertson seems to relish a more direct provocation.

As the founder of MP3.com, Robertson was at the center of a legal firestorm that pitted his dot-com startup against major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America. Of course, he had become an overnight sensation as San Diego’s most-prominent dot-com millionaire in 1999, when MP3.com raised more than $370 million in its IPO.

As MP3.com’s largest shareholder, Robertson pocketed an estimated $103 million when he sold his company to French media conglomerate Vivendi in 2001 for $372 million. Since then, he has self-funded most of his new ventures.

Later in 2001, Robertson started a new business around technology for a Linux-based operating system intended to compete against Microsoft Windows. He provocatively called his startup Lindows, unleashing a predictable flurry of trademark lawsuits from Microsoft. The software giant, which apparently feared losing its Windows trademark, later paid $20 million … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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