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.


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”.