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.


My Talk at the Joomla! World Conference

A little while ago I had the honor and pleasure to keynote the Joomla! World Conference, talking about the Mozilla project and the lessons we learned along the way.

It was a great experience as the audience was wonderful and played along beautifully. In case you have an hour to waste - here’s the video:


Too good not to share

While going through a stack of old backup CDs I came across this gem - truly a blast from the past.

eBay Company Tour

For a higher res version: PDF Download

I was featured on eBay Germany’s Company Tour on our Hiring site. Funny how some habits don’t die (coffee?!).

And what’s with that Backstreet Boys-look on the picture? ;)


Leave your Legacy

I am sure a bunch of you have already seen this. It is good. So good that I watch it every time I waver. Every time I feel the niggling feeling of self-doubt coming up. And every time I feel down and lost.

Stanford’s “#leaveyourlegacy” video:

Be pissed off for Greatness my friends!


Make this your motto for 2013

Do you have a job title which reads anything else but founder or CEO? If so - make this your motto for 2013:

“Our job titles are designed to empower us, not to limit us! Put your business card on the desk in front of you… This card does not define you. You are a Co-President. You are bigger than your defined role, and you are much more than your job title. Play your part—transcend your job title, be a hero.”

(from an article in the December edition of Inc. magazine)


Mozilla's Mission, Strategy & Programs

For a while now I have been thinking about how to visualize Mozilla’s mission, our strategy and all the things we do in a succinct way. Recently I came across an article by Tim O’Reilly where he describes a model which Jen Pahlka from Code for America uses to tie these things together and more importantly to define what’s inside and outside of scope for CfA.

Intrigued by the model I’ve created a short video describing the model and its application for Mozilla:

It helps me a great deal in tying mission to strategy, programs and activities/actions – and getting to a clear picture of what’s inside and outside of scope for us.

What do you think?


I've Been Everywhere Man (or why I love the web)

At this year’s London Music Hack Iain Mullan created a totally hilarious and awesome hack of Johnny Cash’s song “I’ve Been Everywhere Man”.

Go and watch it. Watch the whole thing. I’ll wait.

(Note: this works only in Chrome and Safari as far as I know… longer story)



Funny, isn’t it?

Now here’s the thing. When I saw this today I first laughed. It was witty, cool, fun. And then it dawned on me - THIS is precisely the reason why I love the web and why it matters. Iain was able to create this fun thing on a weekend at a hackathon, upload it to his personal website and by now probably millions of people have seen it, shared it on Facebook, Twitter, through email or even wrote a newsletter about it.

Imagine a world where we only have iOS, Android and all the other closed platforms.

This whole thing would just not be possible. Iain would have needed to write this for every platform he wants to support - Objective C for iOS, Java for Android, etc. Then he would need to submit his app to the app stores. Oh - and before he can do this, he needs a developer account which, in the case of Apple for example, costs him $100/year. The app stores would very most likely not allow him to post his app - as it looks like he violated the copyright on the Johnny Cash song. And even if he would get the app into the store, then people can’t just share this - they need to download his app. They can’t even easily share a link to the app but need to tell their friends to go to the app store and find and download the “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” app.

And this is precisely why the web matters.

Johnny Cash has been everywhere!


What to learn from Failure

Failure. The fabled word. For some it’s the apocalypse. For others it has become a badge of honor.

Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Lean Startup movement (wow - is that really a movement? Or more a fashion or even a fad?) teaches us to “fail fast”. There is now a successful conference which focusses on nothing else but failure (FailCon).

And yet - I ask myself: In the grand scheme of things – what do you learn from failure (especially the failure of others)?

One can argue that, as Thomas J. Watson stated, “if you want to succeed, [you need to] double your failure rate”. This might be true for your own experimentation - as with every failure you eliminate one way of doing things wrongly. On the flip side of that argument - assuming that there are a thousand ways to skin a cat (as they say), every failure only eliminates one of those 1,000 options. Which still leaves you with an incredibly small chance of success.

This might be worth doing if you learn from your own failures (as Thomas J. Watson did) but I would argue that it does little for you when you try to learn from the failures of others. All you learn is - what not to do. Wouldn’t it be much more helpful to learn what works?

So - next time you talk to a successful entrepreneur (or inventor or someone you want to learn something from) ask what made him successful and learn from that. Otherwise you only learn one way of 1,000 ways of “what not to do”.


The Heretic

hereticˈherətiknoun: a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.

For quite some time now I am somewhat dissatisfied with my communication modalities. I either blog or tweet. Blogging feels somewhat heavy-weight, as I tend to want to get it right. I research what I want to talk about, I spend time writing a draft, re-read it many times and eventually hit the publish button. Twitter on the other hand is often limiting - I can’t express what I want to say as I have to squeeze everything into 140 short characters and the sheer fleeting nature of a tweet also often doesn’t feel right.

So I will try something new (well, for me at least) - I’ve set up a small email newsletter: TheHeretic.me

The idea is that I will publish once a day (or less - as I am lazy) something which caught my eye, made me think, something interesting, funny, insightful (we’ll see about that). You can reply to the newsletter and we can have a dialog. It’s a bit like a raw brain dump. Not quite a blog post but more than a tweet.

Join me for the ride and subscribe. Let’s see what comes out of it.

Oh - and before I forget: The stuff you will read on the newsletter are strictly my own opinions. Don’t construct any relationship to my employer or any other projects I work on. I don’t call it The Heretic for nothing. :)

screenshot TheHeretic.me


The False Economy of Apps

Apps are the new black. WIRED (in)famously concluded in September 2009 that the web is dead - all hail the new king: Smartphone apps. Apple’s iOS claims 1,000,000 apps in their iTunes app store. Google recently announced their own Play store reached similar numbers. And even Microsoft, lagging third in the mobile OS wars proudly touts 100,000 apps for their Windows 8 platform.

But is this all good business? Or to be more precise: Is this good business for developers and software companies?

On the surface it looks like it - Apple announced that they paid out more than $5BN to their developers. Sounds like big business. But once you dissect the numbers a bit a different image appears.

The problem has multiple facets: Apps are a strongly hit-driven business; the numbers of users (and thus revenue) drop dramatically when you go beyond the top 100 apps. There are a few winners and lots and lots of losers. Then you have to deal with a market where the average selling price is less than the price of a cup of coffee. It might be okay to sell only 1,000 copies of your app if you make $100 on each copy sold. In the app stores you make somewhere in the $1.50 range. And then you mostly don’t ‘own’ the customer. Usually you have no way to engage with your customer beyond your app. Which means you have little leverage in cross selling other products or services.

This makes for a pretty dire picture all in all. Ben Horowitz from the Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz recently told a group of entrepreneurs that he doesn’t invest into app businesses - as they don’t make enough money and are at the mercy of the respective app store operator.

If you want to dig deeper into the topic I highly recommend reading Loic Le Meur’s blog post on “How much can you really make developing mobile apps?” (and note that this post is now two years old!) and the Vision Mobile report “Developer Economics 2012” (free download). Quote from the report: “One in three developers lives below the app poverty line.”

So now - is this all bad? Well. It depends. Personally I don’t believe that the current app store model is sustainable over the long term. Having said that - more and more time is spent on mobile devices of all shapes and forms. Which means that there are clearly opportunities for monetization and exciting new business models. Which is what I believe we will see over the next 1-3 years: People trying things out, experimenting with new models, many of them failing - and eventually we will find ways to build sustainable business on the mobile infrastructure.

Time to get going and experiment!

Edit: The New York Times recently ran an article “As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living” which comes to similar conclusions.