RealNetworks CEO Talks About Company's Turnaround Troubles

Robert Kimball joined RealNetworks 11 years ago, serving mostly as the senior executive responsible for all legal matters and business development.

Now Kimball is CEO, and is responsible for leading the company through a massive turnaround that includes spinning off its Rhapsody division, eventually selling off its game division and figuring out what the company has left of value.

In doing so, the process has taken a lot of candor.

Earlier this year he eliminated 85 jobs, cut 25 percent of the VPs and was frank in telling shareholders during a quarterly conference call that the company had a nearly nonexistent product pipeline. “Because some of our past products failed, we have work to do to rebuild our pipeline,” he had said.

Yesterday, he explained what it was like to open the kimono: “I believe you have to be able to recognize your weaknesses in order to show you have the confidence on how to deal with them.”

These days, Kimball spends a lot of time educating people on what RealNetworks does. For example, RealPlayer only generates 10 percent of the company’s revenues, and the remaining chunk comes from selling ringtones, ring-back tones and full-track music through its 90 carrier partnerships worldwide. It recently launched its storefront services with MetroPCS and a ringtone service for Boost Mobile. It is currently building a storefront for Sprint.

In the first quarter, Kimball’s launching the first big product push under his leadership: Unifi, which let’s you access content stored on your computer on any device, via the cloud. The company hopes to gain traction for the service through its carrier partnerships and by connecting it to RealPlayer, which has 25 million active users on a monthly basis.

Kimball joined us last week onstage at D: Dive Into Mobile, where he provided a demo of Unifi.

Here’s the video from that session:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik