Rob Glaser’s Real Legacy: A New Mass Medium, New Markets, and Constant Reinvention

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know when to choose the right fights. You’re not going to get it right 100 percent of the time. If you see things very differently and you have a big vision, and you’re going to risk upsetting established traditions and paradigms, then you have to be willing to take on a few very big fights. He’s been capable of that, and the company has survived. They have a very strong base of assets.

“And they’ve reinvented themselves. One thing Rob has done very well, I don’t know if he gets enough credit for it, he has constantly reinvented the company. He has learned not only from mistakes that Real made, but also from the lessons that are happening around us. He can turn a corner very, very quickly. For example, after introducing streaming media, Real was the first company to really introduce viable, commercial streaming video in a way that dramatically changed the opportunities for streaming video and allowed other people to go and build a business.

“In the early days, when Rob would talk about wanting to build an entirely new mass medium, he would say several times a day, this will [bring about] changes in society that are so much bigger than we can see, and we will likely only be able to participate in a very small amount of those, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go empower as many other industries to take advantage of this. Because the long-term, cumulative effects on the world will be much greater and more important.”

From Sujal Patel, founder and CEO of Isilon Systems:

“Rob’s leadership, and the culture he built at Real, attracted a group of incredibly talented and highly motivated individuals. His drive and passion inspired many of us to reach beyond what we thought was possible. At Real, many of us honed our ability to think creatively and challenge conventional thinking. The result has been the creation of a number of companies, Isilon and Second Life among them, that leveraged that ability to create entirely new market categories. Rob should be credited not only for his leadership, but for the entrepreneurial spirit that he inspired in so many of us.”

From Dan Shapiro, co-founder and former CEO of Ontela (now chief technology officer at Photobucket):

“Rob was a bold leader who was not afraid to define company strategy, in real time, as information came in. This can be a tremendous asset and a terrible liability, occasionally at the same time. I expect that without Rob, RealNetworks will be a lot more risk averse. I’m not surprised this went over well with Wall Street in the short term, but it was that willingness to go out on a limb that kept Real whole through two economic meltdowns. I expect things to be less exciting with him gone.”

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