Onward and Upward - The NEW Heretic is here!

The Heretic came to life as an experiment: I wanted to have a way to share thoughts and ideas which felt less polished than a blog post and more meaningful than a tweet.

So I set up a newsletter. Originally I planned on sending an email every once in a while, talking about whatever comes to mind. Turns out – I obsess about entrepreneurship, startups, makers, creators, rebels and misfits. People and ideas which change the world. And so I ended up sending out my little newsletter to a small and growing community of like-minded people on a daily basis.

Four months and 118 posts later we are a tribe.

This weekend I took the wraps off the new Heretic: Over the last couple of weeks I’ve rebuilt the complete website – some highlights:

I am incredibly proud of this; and this is only the beginning. I hope you enjoy the new design – and send me an email if you see something which is broken or doesn’t behave the way you expect it to.

Onward & Upward.

P.S. You think my writing smacks you on the nose from time to time? Go and check out the visuals on TheHeretic.me! ;)


The Art of the Start

Getting started is often the hardest part of any new endeavor. Here are two time-proven techniques which will help you get started.

The first step is always the hardest. Making that leap of faith into the unknown. Humans are hardwired to avoid uncertainty; at one point in our evolution it was crucial for our species’ survival. The little voice in your head will give you hundreds of reasons why you should wait just a little bit longer, gather just a bit more data and evidence, get just a tad bit more certainty, feel just that tiny bit more confident. And so we end up never starting.

Fret not - this is human. We all feel like this when we set out to do something we haven’t done before. Be it embarking on the entrepreneurs journey, taking a new job or starting a project in our community.

Over the years I have come to appreciate two simple principles which, alone and combined, help you tremendously winning that inner battle:

The “Bird in Hand Principle”: Start with your means. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action, based on what you have readily available: what you are, what you know and who you know. There is never an excuse to not start - if the 15 year old Jack Andraka can develop a new method to detect pancreatic cancer, so can you start your endeavor. Start with what you have, the rest will come.

The “Principle of Affordable Loss”: Don’t be guided by thoughts of how wonderful the rewards might be if you were spectacularly successful at any given next step. Instead ask how big the loss would be if you failed. So long as it would be tolerable, that’s all you need to know. Take that next step, and see what happens.

Here’s your challenge: Identify your “bird” and do a thorough analysis of your potential losses. I bet you money that you have everything to get started and nothing which should hold you back.


Quit your Job

This summer I spent a week mentoring entrepreneurs at the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, CO. One of my fellow mentors, Tom Chi (at the time Head of Experience for Google X - essentially the guy who worked on the self-driving car and Google Glasses and god-knows what else they cooked up but haven’t yet released), told the entrepreneurs his acid test for how to know when it’s time to stop and do something different:

When you come home from your job in the evening and pretty much all you want to do is slouch on the sofa, watch a movie and have a beer: Quit your job.

When you come home from your job in the evening and you feel pretty indifferent about what you want to do: Quit your job.

Only when you come home from your job in the evening and you feel more energized than in the evening you know that you have the right job (or are doing the right thing).

Whatever you do - it should add energy to your life, not sift it away.


Change your Language

Human language is at least half a million years old, written communication somewhere in the range of 5,000+ years. And language is powerful: Whole empires were built and fell by the power of words.

And language is not only powerful in an outward facing fashion but probably even more so in your personal use of it.

Let me explain: We are all busy. Too busy. And often we find ourselves saying to our teams, friends, family and partners: “I don’t have time”. Now - turn that sentence around and be honest to yourself: You do have time, you just chose to spent it for something else. So you should really say: “It is not a priority for me”. See what that does?

Now try this: “I don’t exercise because my health is not a priority.” If this phrases don’t sit well, that’s the whole point. Changing your language reminds you that time is a choice. If you don’t like it, you can change it. It’s your choice.


Lucky or Smart?

Over the years I have had (and continue to have) the amazing opportunity to work on some incredible projects, meet and work with awesome individuals and be fortunate enough to change things here and there.

Am I lucky? You bet. But it’s more than just luck.

For starters: Luck is not something random but something you make. Luck stems from opportunities and you create opportunities by putting yourself out there. By meeting and helping people. By being genuine and authentic. Opportunities are serendipity at work.

And then you need to know when you’re lucky. And be smart enough to act upon it.

So - get out there, make rain, be a mensch and let the stream of serendipity lead you. And be smart enough to know when you’re lucky.

P.S. Bo Peabody wrote a wonderful book about this “Lucky or Smart”. Go read it. It’s a wonderful and short read.


Web Apps – A bit of history

Yesterday Mozilla officially announced Firefox OS together with numerous partners at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Central to Firefox OS are web apps - apps built using open web technologies such as HTML, CSS and Javascript. It makes me tremendously proud to see what the fantastic team at Mozilla, under the leadership of our VP Marketplace Rick Fant, has achieved in a incredibly short amount of time.

Mozilla’s work on web apps was started by a small team as part of Mozilla Labs – Mike Hanson, Lloyd Hilaiel, Dan Walkowski and I started working on the initial concepts and prototypes in early 2010. It’s fun to revisit our early thinking - check out the video in the announcement of our prototype on the Mozilla Blog. Or go back in time and check out the archive on this blog to see some of our thinking and work unfold.

To celebrate the occasion and show how far we have come I dug out two neat, little artifacts:

(1) An early scribble from me: Web App Scribble

(2) A schematic for the “Firefox Environment”: Firefox Environment



True Bliss

Let me set the stage first: On day 86 of a 3-month trek to and from the South Pole, adventurer Aleksander Gamme discovered something he’d stashed under the ice at the start of his trip.

He wasn’t expecting such a rush of happiness in that cold, hungry instant, but he hit the bliss jackpot.

It’s a moment of pure bliss. Try to watch this without a massive grin on your face:

These are the moments worth chasing.


Startup Focus (a recommended read)

Years ago, when Jane and I launched our consulting business elektronauten, we came across an Australia based business which was essentially taking a similar approach to building companies as we did: Pollenizer. I have no idea how we found them or how I ended up having coffee with one of their founders, Phil Morle, in one of London’s (at the time) hidden coffee shop gems.

But - and to make a long story short - we became friends. We had Phil’s co-founder Mick Liubinskas teach Mozilla Labs how to apply razor sharp focus and I even ended up writing a guest post for the Pollenizer blog.

Now the wonderful folks at Pollenizer have packaged their combined startup wisdom and highly optimized approach of building companies into a book: Startup Focus.

Startup Focus Cover

It’s a wonderful book and highly recommended not only for entrepreneurs and startup folks but anyone who wants to flex her or his “focus muscle”. A quick read it’s high on substance and low on fluff - even the book is focussed.

And as a bonus it is beautifully designed and printed on gorgeous paper - making the whole experience so much richer. It definitely earned its place in every startups library - and not only to show off, but to read, learn and apply.

Startup Focus Inside


The Essence of Leadership

Recently I’ve been discussing the question of “What is the Essence of Leadership” with friends. For me it boils down to:

  1. Develop the vision and long-term goals (this might be done just by you or preferably with your team).
  2. Put the outcome into concise poetry.
  3. Explain and then repeat the poetry. Repeat again and again, always using the same words as not to create any confusion.
  4. Get out of the way and let your people do their job.

To make this work you need to spend time thinking. Find the right words. Make it short, concise and inspiring.

Be a leader. Because your team needs you to be one.


Aim High

Have you ever tried to run a mile (for us non-imperial distance runners that’s 1,609 meters) as fast as you can? How fast were you? Seven Minutes? Six? Probably five if you are trained and worked hard.

Roger Banister broke the magic four-minute-mile in 1954. That is - he became the first human being to run a mile in less than four minutes.

When Roger set out to break the four-minute-mile, people believed that the human body will never be able to run that fast. Doctors were of the opinion that the heart will explode if you run that fast. And despite all this, Roger knew that it was possible - he aimed his goal that high. Then he went on to work. Bannister approached the task scientifically, setting a fierce training schedule for himself with workouts conducted each day for one-half hour during his lunch break. On a gray , cloudy day in 1954 he set out with his team colleagues Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher to write history.

Only weeks after he broke the four-minute mark, other runners broke the same barrier. That same year Bannister and the Australian runner John Landy faced off in what became known as “The Mile of the Century” - a race in which both raced the mile in under four minutes.

The magic barrier was was only in their heads.

You can’t change the world if you don’t set out to do so. Barriers are as much physiological as they are psychological. Be bold. Dream big. Who would have thought that we can put a man on the moon? Or that a little social network for Stanford students can become the largest website on the planet?

You have all the ingredients for doing amazing work in you. You just need to believe and persevere. That is the only way you can and will change the world.

“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” ~ Roger Bannister


I like Eich

You might have heard the news yesterday - Brendan Eich, inventor of JavaScript, founding member of Mozilla and Mozilla’s CTO took on a larger role managing the product and platform engineering teams.

Personally I am super-excited about this move. I have the deepest respect for Brendan and believe we will see magic happen at Mozilla under his expanded leadership.

I like Eich

Fun personal story: Brendan is the reason why I am at Mozilla (together with the incredible Chris Beard). When we lived in London my wife Jane used to head up European Marketing for Mozilla. A couple of years ago Brendan emailed her and mentioned that he will be in town and asked if she wanted to have dinner & drinks with him. Jane, not a techie at all, was terrified: A whole night with Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, talking about technology. ;)

So she asked me to join the dinner. And guess what my reaction was? “The inventor of JavaScript? The CTO of Mozilla? Hell yeah!”

We had an amazing evening together - and didn’t speak about technology for a minute. We ended up speaking about Mozilla, venture capital (my role at the time) and entrepreneurship. And out of that discussion came an introduction to Chris Beard - who later asked me to consult for Mozilla and eventually hired me to help him run Mozilla Labs.

Which proves two points: Life is a series of serendipitous events. And it’s good.

Godspeed Brendan!

Addendum: Jane wants it to be known she was not terrified of Brendan, but rather JavaScript! And even after more than 5 years of working at Mozilla, she is still terrified! ;)


A Guided Tour of Macintosh

In October 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh in Germany at the “office & computer” trade show Orgatec in Cologne. At the time Orgatec was considered the biggest and most influential computer trade show in Germany (CeBIT was still part of the Hannover Messe and hasn’t yet become the palooza it is today).

My dad ordered one of the first Macs which became available in Germany at that show. 128 kilobytes of RAM, single 400 kilobyte floppy drive, no hard disk. Hard to imagine these days. And yet - it was the most incredible piece of technology.

This original Mac came with a set of software - all on 3.5” floppy disks: The system itself, MacWrite and MacPaint as well as a set of “Guided Tours”. One for the Macintosh, the other for MacWrite and MacPaint. These tours were semi-automatically running applications which came with an audio cassette to provide the narration and instructions.

A Guided Tour - Tapes

Recently I came across the old tapes my dad still had in storage and digitized them. For a true “blast from the past” - here are the tapes (for some added fun - they are in German):

A Guided Tour to Macintosh (Note: The tape is identical on both sides)

A Guided Tour to MacWrite • MacPaint - Side A

A Guided Tour to MacWrite • MacPaint - Side B

BONUS: While going through a box of old stuff I also found the original manual, two brochures for the Macintosh and the very first edition of MACup, the first German Macintosh computer magazine. Here’s a photoset of these items.


I also came across the fabulous Guidebook Gallery site which has recordings of the English language version of the Guided Tour to Macintosh complete with a transcript and screenshots.

And as a special bonus - and just in case you haven’t seen this before: Richard Milewski, a colleague of mine, brought an original 1970’s Steven Jobs (yes, it’s Steven - not Steve yet) business card into the office a while ago. Here it is.



Seven Lessons

In 2009 John Lilly, Mozilla’s former CEO and now a partner at Uber-VC firm Greylock, gave a talk about the “7 Lessons from Mozilla” at the Wordpress “WordCamp” conference.

It is one of my favorite talks and one which has deeply influenced my thinking. I went on to have lots and lots of discussions with John, took his ideas and refined them over the years - now you can find them in pretty much every single talk I give.

You should watch it - it makes for great, inspirational and insightful weekend watching:

Here’s the source: http://wordpress.tv/2009/07/08/john-lilly-mozilla/


Start with Why

By now I guess (hope?) most of you are intimately familiar with Simon Sinek’s work “Start with Why”. No? Well - time to watch this TED Talk. You might want to read his book as well.

I fundamentally believe that his model is right. It’s a bit of an oversimplification - but it’s right. The reason why I am at Mozilla is because we start with the why…


Mozilla promotes openness, innovation and opportunity on the web.

That’s all?

Yes! Because it’s important.


By creating great software and building movements that give people the tools to take control of their online lives.


Oh - we build this awesome web browser. Do you want to use it?

See what I mean? Start with why.


Ask. Just ask.

Here’s a lesson in the power of asking.

I’m a big fan Seth Godin’s work. With my new role at Mozilla I thought it would be really interesting get some advice from Seth. So I emailed him.

Long shot, right?

I mean - come on. Seth is super-busy. Surely he gets a gazillion emails a day. And guaranteed: He has better things to do than to consider my completely unreasonable suggestion of having dinner together when he’s next in the Bay area.

Guess what?

Seth replied within 10 minutes (no kidding) and we’re having dinner when he’s here next.

Just ask. Simply ask.

The worst thing which can happen is you get rejected. Big deal. Ask again.