Rob Glaser, founder and former CEO of RealNetworks, today announced that he has become a venture partner with Accel Partners. This is no new relationship, as Accel first backed RealNetworks more than a dozen years ago and Accel’s Jim Breyer remained on the board for years after it went public. But it is Glaser’s first official dip into VC waters, so we’ve got some questions for him:
The term “venture partner” means different things to different people and firms, particularly in terms of time commitment and longevity. How do you view this position with Accel?
The time commitment is half-time. I’m not a lawyer who organizes his life into 15-minute increments, but I’m going to have other things. I’m still chairman of Real, am helping some entrepreneurs start a couple of companies and still have a bunch of charity work like my family foundation. So it will be significant, but not fulltime.
I do, though hope it’s a long-term relationship. We’re both entering this chapter with our eyes open.
In terms of what I’ll actually be doing, my sector focus will be on social media and the social intersection of mobile with physical location and other characteristics. The second element of my focus is that I’m Seattle-based, so I hope to introduce Accel to lots of great local entrepreneurs. There are four major mobile companies here – T-Mobile is headquartered here and AT&T is about half here – and we have a great traditional of mobile entrepreneurship like McCaw and others. Plus Microsoft – of which I’m an alum – Real and Amazon.
Thinking back to your entrepreneurial days, was there a grating VC characteristic that you’re hoping not to display now that you’re one of them:
I’ve seen some companies where the board is sort of an entrepreneur and five VCs, to pick an extreme example. I think those sorts of situation can get complicated and that entrepreneurs can get sort of wish-boned.
In our case, Accel was our primary venture firm. We brought in later-stage guys who were board observers, but we never got to the place where we felt awash with VCs. And the reason I fell for Accel in the first place was that I felt, of the top-tier firms, Accel was the best at being collaborative and savvy about how to work with entrepreneurs. They balanced giving advice with listening super well, and I hope to help continue to tradition.
I first approached our board about stepping away from day-to-day activities in early 2008. It was ten years after the company had gone public, and at the time had twins who were infants. And I had a series of informal conversations with the board about that. Then the Great Recession hit, and I knew I had a responsibility to put my helmet on, keep my head down and do what needed to be gone to get the company through 2009 in a stable way. Having done that, it felt like a good time to follow through on my original plan.
We took a very big internal guy and put him in the spot on an interim basis, and are running a process for a permanent CEO. I think it’s absolutely the right approach. If I had any significant disagreement with the board, it was that I felt honor-bound to stick around until we named a permanent successor – but they told me that it wasn’t necessary.
There had been speculation that you had interest in running for political office? True?
I would say the headline answer is no. That said, I’m very interested in the political process and engaged in the civic process and have a number of thoughts on it. I also have a lot of respect for those who run for office.
Speaking of politics, do you support the proposed change to carried interest taxation?
I haven’t studied it closely enough. I’d say on a broader level that there needs to be a comprehensive policy for how we’re going to reduce these deficits. But I’m not sure I could say what the right strategy is between spending containment and looking for new revenue sources.
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