Michael Robertson Is Calling, But Will Anybody Answer?

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 »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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