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.


To Pastures New

In April of last year I embarked on a journey to extend Mozilla’s reach into the wonderful world of startups and entrepreneurship. Together with our intern Didem Ersoz we created WebFWD, Mozilla’s accelerator program.

In the ensuing 18 months we built out the program, created a robust process, hired Diane Bisgeier as our Program Manager, recruited dozens of amazing mentors & subject matter experts and scouts from all around the world, ran more than 20 teams through WebFWD and finally brought Didem back as a full-time Program Manager.

Now it is time for me to move on.

I am extremely excited and stoked to take on a newly created role as Director, Office of the Chair at Mozilla. In this role I will work directly with Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s Chairperson, focusing on expanding the scope of Mozilla into new constituencies and supporting Mitchell with her ongoing work of modernizing Mozilla project governance structures, raising Mozilla’s visibility globally, and generally governing the Mozilla project.

Mozilla Dinosaur Logo



My TEDx Talk on "The Participation Culture"

A few weeks ago I had the honor and pleasure to talk at TEDx Orange Coast about a topic very close to my heart: The shift in our culture towards true participation.

Here’s the video of my talk:

The full text of my speech including the slide deck can be found here.

And now for a participation challenge: TED will promote my video if we get some meaningful viewer numbers. Help me, participate and spread the video! :)


Being Interviewed at The Unreasonable Institute

This summer I had the great fortune and pleasure to stay and mentor at the incredible Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado. During my weeklong stay I met, talked to and mentored some of the most amazing entrepreneurs I have ever encountered - all of them on a mission to quite literally change the world for the better.

During my stay I had the opportunity to sit down with Daniel Epstein, one of the founders of the Institute, and talk in a series of video interviews about my past experience as an entrepreneur, investor and mentor to startups of all colors.

You can find the complete series of videos here.

Here’s a little teaser - the first part of the interview series on “Why do Startups Fail”:

Fun fact: It was so unbelievably hot in the room (Boulder had a heat wave when I was there and the room was full of lights, easily turning up the temperature in the room to 100F/40C) - see if you can see the sweat dripping of my face. ;)