Michael Robertson finally broke his silence about what the 100 Linspire shareholders can expect from the sale to Xandros. No, this didn't happen in a shareholder meeting, but to a reporter. Apparently reporters matter more to Michael than shareholders. He has time to give them a call, but apparently no time for the 100 people who invested money and years of hard work into his ideas.
Michael was quoted this morning in a San Diego Union-Tribune story. The reporter, Mike Freeman, did try to contact me yesterday, but when I called him back a few hours later, it was past the deadline, and his story had already been sent off. I did speak with Mike this morning, however, and discussed with him what I'm sharing below.
I'll comment on a few of the quotes from the story...
Robertson said that in any transaction, preferred shareholders and investors are at the front of the line to get paid.
"Any" transaction? That's certainly not true, but it does show how Michael views minority shareholders.
To further understand Michael's attitude to minority shareholders--when I was at Linspire, Michael said he wanted me to transfer $1,000,000 from Linspire's account to himself because "MP3tunes needs some money." (MP3tunes is another company that Michael owns, unrelated to Linspire, with completely different shareholders.) He also wanted me to transfer $500,000 to his father-in-law. I objected, of course, saying that the cash was a Linspire asset.
Linspire had a very good year, so we had money, and I told him we could certainly make a dividend in these amounts to him and his father-in-law, BUT that we'd also have to give the same per-share dividend to all the other shareholders as well. He said that because he and his father-in-law were "preferred" shareholders, they were "entitled" to this special dividend and that "this is a common practice in companies and happens all the time." I knew, however, that Linspire and Michael's preferred shares were not structured in that way (Linspire had two different law firms confirm that point), so I certainly never made these payments.
I guess Michael still needed the cash, and he didn't want to have any money go to the other shareholders, as he then set about removing everyone that stood between him and the money. Within a matter of days, Michael sanctioned a plan to fire the CFO and Controller. He next, without a shareholder meeting, removed myself and our CFO from the Board of Directors, leaving him as the sole member on the board. It was becoming very clear to me that Michael's plan was to see the Board, CEO, CFO and Controller gone, leaving no one to stop him from turning Linspire's assets into his personal piggy bank.
After I left Linspire, because I was fearful that Michael's intentions were to misappropriate Linspire's funds to himself and his father-in-law, I had my attorney arrange for me to review the Linspire books. Michael refused and his lawyers pushed back my requests. To this day, even though I'm a significant shareholder, I have not been allowed to see the books, nor has Michael held a shareholder meeting.
When Michael realized I was putting up road blocks to prevent him from just reaching in and taking out cash, even after all the officers had been removed from his way (and him going so far as to falsely accuse good people of embezzlement for accepting reasonable severance payments), it appears he set out on a new course of action to get at the cash...liquidation.
Every company has different rights for preferred and common shareholders. At Linspire, the liquidation rights of the preferred shareholders were very weak (see S1), being not much different than those for the common shareholders. The difference in liquidation preferences between common and preferred shareholders at Linspire is very small, and it appears Michael set about structuring everything to navigate all the cash from Linspire to him, through that tiny space of differentiation. (It may apparently take a lawsuit to uncover if he was successful in that operation.)
He said he couldn't get into specifics of the deal or say whether anything will be distributed to minority shareholders.
Not even with the 100 shareholders? By law, he will be forced to "get into specifics" to those of us who have invested and hold shares in Linspire.
“I personally have invested more than $20 million in Linspire,” Robertson said.
An investigation in the public documents filed with the SEC can give anyone insight into what Michael has invested. Michael invested equity into Linspire and, at times, extended it loans. Before I left, Linspire had paid back any and all loans to Michael, and the company still had millions of dollars of retained earnings in the bank. Michael's EQUITY investment into Linspire is nowhere close to $20M! In fact, at no point in time was Michael's equity investment COMBINED WITH HIS LOANS anywhere close to $20M. This would be like me loaning you $10 every day for lunch, you pay me back in full at the end of each week, and then 7 years later I say "I invested $18,200 in you!"
“It's important to know that when there are distributions, the investors always get their money back first, and if there's nothing left over it's not a devious plan to screw shareholders."
So, let's get this straight Michael...the tens of thousands in CASH that employees "invested" into Linspire when they purchased their stock doesn't count, but your cash does? You're an "investor," and they're all just peons to be taken advantage of? Do we not even warrant a shareholder meeting? You said you invested $20M--is that the number you're using to cut first in line? What deal did you structure to navigate your weak liquidation preferences through to the cash? Was this a "liquidation, dissolution and/or winding up of the Corporation," or was it an "acquisition of Linspire" as stated in the press release. Will there be a distribution, or will we be writing off our investment in Linspire? Can you blame shareholders for finding you "devious" when you don't hold annual shareholder meetings, refuse to let us review the books, and then liquidate the assets without sharing any information with us about the deal and how it effects us? WHEN WILL YOU HOLD A SHAREHOLDER MEETING AND ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS???
"It's the way it works.”
No, Michael, it's the way YOU work. Hopefully prospective investors in any Michael Robertson ideas are paying close attention.
If you ever find yourself on a boat with Michael, and it starts to sink, don't be surprised if you spot him pushing women and children out of the way as he scrambles for the only life boat, screaming "I'm first in line!"
PS: On a minor point, Hoovers was wrong in their quote of $3M in revenue and 18 employees. Revenue is 2007, the year I left, was substantially higher than that, and departing employees have said that Linspire has around 8 employees left today.
Also, Xandros claims to be the 3rd largest Linux company and largest privately held one. Well, you'd have to ignore IBM, Intel, Nokia, etc. who probably employ more Linux engineers than Linspire, Xandros, Canonical, Mandriva, etc. combined and limit it just to Linux distro companies. I'm quite sure Canonical (Ubuntu) is larger than Xandros in terms of employees, users, and I'd imagine revenue as well. As for impact on the space, that's not even close.