The Truth about Mozilla

An analysis of the Baker-Lilly CEO switch

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 18, 2008

And so, the great Mitchell Baker fell.

Before we delve deep into the hidden meaning in the announcement of Ms Baker’s fall, the Lizard would like to note that at Mozilla’s weekly meeting on the day of the announcement, both the old, tired CEO and the new, asinine CEO apologized profusely to Corporation employees for informing them of this news on such a short schedule (for most, quite literally four hours prior to the late afternoon announcement). Mere hours earlier, a meeting had taken place with John Markoff of the NYTimes to prepare the press for this announcement. The biggest reason for the shorter-than-usual announcement period as well as the preemptive spin strike? This blog.

Ms Baker as well as Mr Lilly were concerned that the Lizard would discover this news and report it before they had applied appropriate spin to it. They are 100% right. Had the Lizard not been drinking Mai Tais with a beach full of gorgeous girls and studly men, this blog would’ve been the first to report. However, Ms Baker, Mr Lilly: rest assured, not a soul on this earth believed the CEO was doing anything; everyone expected a change.

Let’s analyze Ms Baker’s post together to get a better grasp of this “change.”

2007 has been another year of extremely high growth for Mozilla and thus for the Mozilla Corporation. The number of Firefox users has grown to approximately 125 million. Mozilla’s mindshare in the industry continues to grow. We’ve launched both a number of significant new initiatives: a mobile effort, an innovation focus in Mozilla Labs, an integrated, ambitious support effort (support.mozilla.org) and a range of new outreach and evangelism programs. We’ve launched a serious effort in China and are vigorously supporting the new mail related Mozilla organization. We continue to build and ship great software, as the recent Firefox 3 betas demonstrate. Our contributors are increasing around the globe. Employees are increasing around the globe. We’re doing this in a Mozilla way, with a tiny number of employees for the work, distributed authority and tens of thousands of people contributing to create a more open and participatory Internet.

Translation: I’m an idiot. 2007 was fucking amazing because of the work I did. See all these great things I did as CEO? I deserve a break. But even as fucking amazing as I am, I’m completely unable pay attention to what has happened at my company.

The mobile effort we launched? Totally fucked up. (Editor’s note: with apologies to Doug Turner and Minimo contributors; the post on this is still forthcoming.)

Our “innovation focus in Mozilla Labs?” Stealing employees and killing a company is not how you innovate. (By the way, TechCrunch, Andrew Wilson is the one who will not be joining Mozilla. And no, it wasn’t his choice.)

The Tenser-led “support.mozilla.org?” Whoops. Did I say .org? I meant .com. Mozilla Corp doesn’t fucking care about anything remotely related to “.org.” Why should they? I certainly don’t; the.org only gets me down.

And the rest of that bullshit is just that, bullshit. Now, where was I?

Our accomplishments are remarkable; the opportunity in front of us is enormous. To meet this opportunity we need to execute really, really well. And we need to make the best use of our resources, most notably people.

Translation: I don’t really do shit. My best use of time has always been sitting in meetings scratching my ass, mumbling to myself, and rocking back and forth while others do the real work.

Today both John Lilly and I are spending a lot of time in classic “CEO” activities– organizational structure, employee well-being, budget and resource allocation, representing Mozilla products (especially Firefox) in discussions with other industry executives and the press, monitoring the progress of our product efforts, and overall execution of MoCo (our shorhand for the Mozilla Corporation). In addition to this work, I spend another chunk of time on overall organizational issues, in particular the relationship of the Mozilla Corporation to other Mozilla entities– The Mozilla Foundation, Mozilla Europe, “MailCo”, and the Mozilla community. I’m starting to spend time thinking about Firefox as a springboard in the Internet industry for bringing participation to areas not directly touched through using a browser– for data, for understanding what’s actually happening with the Internet. I spend time on Mozilla Foundation activities and project wide policies, including recruiting an Executive Director and filling in somewhat until we find someone. Each of these areas needs more time than it gets, and each will need even more time in the future.

Translation: A) I’m completely unable to write grammatically correct sentences or spell simple words. If Firefox had a spell-checker, this wouldn’t be a problem. Someone please help me upgrade from Firefox 1.0.8? How do I use this computer?

B) That list of CEO activities? I haven’t done a single one of them for two years. When my ass was getting sore from doing nothing, I gave myself a raise and padded my seat with $100 bills.

C) All those easy-earned $100 bills that I wipe my ass with are really for “Mozilla Foundation activities and project wide policies.” You’ve seen the great work I’ve done, haven’t you? Declaring the entire year a party for Mozilla was the first step in my new role. This very important measure will… Party! Party, party!

Um, where was I? Oh, yes.

So I’ve asked myself repeatedly: what is the best use of my talents? Not the use that is known, or that fits a standard model or is most glamourous. Those are all fine criteria, but not for Mozilla and not for me. More recently I started framing the question a little more precisely, asking myself: what am I doing that someone else could do as least as well? Are there unmet aspects of the opportunity in front of us that I could do a particularly good job of moving forward if I focused more on them?

Translation: After reading insight from the Lizard, I realized getting called out publicly sucks more than Paris Hilton on a first date. The real question I had was “How the fuck can I offload more work to someone else?” Guess what? I found the answer! But first, let me bore you…

I have some unique attributes within the Mozilla world. I’ve had a leadership role since the early days and along with Brendan Eich I’ve been involved in– and often instrumental in– almost every major strategic and organizational decision following the launch of Mozilla. My focus ranges across the Mozilla world, and no one title captures the scope of what I think about and where I try to lead. I have a vision of the Internet and online life and a positive user experience– and of Mozilla’s role in creating these– that is far broader than browsers, email clients and even technology in general. Mozilla has shaped me during this first decade of my involvement; constantly astounding me with the ingenuity, commitment and excellence of our contributors. And I’ve undoubtedly had a hand in shaping Mozilla.

Translation: Blah, blah, blah. I’m awesome. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m amazing. Etc., etc., etc. Everything I do is fucking incredible.

Framed like this, a couple of things jumped out at me. One, I want Mozilla’s influence on the industry to go beyond the bits we ship as software. More particularly, I want to use the impact Firefox gives us in the market to get openness, collaboration and user control embedded in other products, services and aspects of online life. I’ve listed a few examples of what I mean below. You’ll see they are not yet precise and detailed. That’s why I want to dive into them– I can sense the enormity of the opportunity and a general sense of how to approach it, but I don’t have detailed project plans, and I’m not aware of anyone else who does. Some examples are:

Translation: Even though the company which I ran for years is completely incapable of focusing its efforts on two products at once (Editor’s note: another Thunderbird post forthcoming), I‘m going to branch out and find new things to distract our focus and become more failed efforts blotting Mozilla’s history. By providing you with the following five utterly general and unspecific ideas that no one could possibly accomplish due to the lack of focus and thought… Look over there! Quick, look! You’re going to miss it! Huge elephant! lolz.

  • Making the standards process more effective.
  • Encouraging more hybrid organizations like the Mozilla Corporation– organizations which serve the public benefit but support themselves through revenue rather than fund-raising.
  • Making “security” understandable enough that people can help protect themselves.
  • Providing individuals with the means to control their data and the content they create.
  • Making the public benefit, distributed and collaborative nature of Mozilla and Firefox more generally understood.

Translation: The elephant is back! Keep looking the wrong way while I wipe my ass with these $100 bills.

The second thing that jumped out at me is that John Lilly is the right person to guide the product and organizational maturity of MoCo. John has been doing more and more of this since he took on the COO role in August of 2006. John understands Mozilla, is astonishingly good at operations and has an innate facility for our products and technologies and the directions in which they should develop. John has been instrumental in developing an organizational structure for MoCo that is both embedded in Mozilla and open-source DNA and which can function at the extremely high degree of effectiveness that our setting requires.

Translation: I’m lazy. John’s lazy too. Appearances would have you believe otherwise, but don’t be fooled. We would never, ever fill my oh-so-special CEO position with someone competent and capable. We would, however, fill it with another minority like John. That just looks damn good.

Once I allowed myself to think about this I realized that John will be a better CEO for the MoCo going forward than I would be. I’m sure that I was the right person for this role during the first years of MoCo; I’m equally sure that John is the best person for this role in the future.

Translation: I’m done pretending publicly. It’s John’s turn to deal with the shit that is the Mozilla community.

As a result I’ve asked John to take on the role of CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, and John has agreed. In reality John and I have been unconsciously moving towards this change for some time, as John has been providing more and more organizational leadership. It is very Mozilla-like to acknowledge the scope of someone’s role after he or she has been doing it for a while, and this is a good part of what is happening here. I expect this transition to continue to be very smooth.

Translation: John’s the Chief now. He’s earned it. Just as Mozilla always promotes openness and transparency, I’ve been very careful to give community members and employees the chance to weigh in on this change and give their opinion on if this is the right decision. Oh wait, did I just write more bullshit in the translation? How the fuck did that happen?

I will remain an active and integral part of MoCo. I’ve been involved in shipping Mozilla products since the dawn of time, and have no intention of distancing myself from our products or MoCo. I’ll remain both as the Chairman of the Board and as an employee. My focus will shift towards the kinds of activities described above, but I’ll remain deeply engaged in MoCo activities. I don’t currently plan to create a new title. I have plenty of Mozilla titles already: Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, Chairman of the Mozilla Corporation, Chief Lizard Wrangler of the project. More importantly, I hope to provide leadership in new initiatives because they are worthwhile, separate from any particular title. We will probably create an Office of the Chairman with a small set of people to work on these initiatives. I intend to remain deeply involved with MoCo precisely because I remain focused on our products and what we can accomplish within the industry.

Translation: I will continue to do what I’ve been doing: Nothing.

There will be some differences with this change of roles. Most notably:

  • John’s role in products and organization will become more visible to the world as he becomes more of a public voice for MoCo activities.
  • Today– in theory at least– John provides advice to me for a range of decisions for which I am responsible. In the future I’ll provide input to John and he’ll be responsible for making MoCo an effective organization. I expect to provide advice on a subset of topics and thus reduce the duplication of work. On the other hand, I also expect to be quite vocal on the topics I care about most. John and I agree on most things these days, but that doesn’t stop me from being vocal🙂

Translation: Neither of us know how to listen to others. Don’t fucking expect improvements.

I’m thrilled with this development, both with John’s new role and with mine. If you’ve got thoughts on the kinds of projects I want to set in motion, I’m eager to hear them. And don’t be surprised if you see the Mozilla Corporation doing more faster– that’s a part of the goal. We’re all committed to doing things in a Mozilla style and you should expect to see that continue to shine through all that we do, whether it’s shipping product or developing a new initiative.

Translation: My door’s always open because I’m never doing anything else.

It’s important to reiterate how fast this announcement hit the bulk of Mozilla. Both the community and the employees at the Corporation (with some exceptions) experienced a quicker-than-normal announcement cycle. Corporation employees are traditionally given days to ask questions and generate feedback about upcoming public announcements.

Our new overlord will tell you this news had to be held back from the majority of Mozilla because the story needed his and Baker’s spin. He won’t even deny it. When a company now needs to put proper spin on a news story, there’s a serious problem. When it’s clear your public statements need to be controlled perfectly, supported by an army of employees, your company condition moves from “serious” to “critical.” It’s in this light that Mozilla must be viewed going forward.

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