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Mozilla laid off 250 people, and the company overhaul is just beginning

For too many years, it was The Firefox Company, funded by Google. Now Mozilla needs to find a different business, and fast.

Mozilla office

Mozilla's office in San Francisco.

Photo: Courtesy of Mozilla

Mitchell Baker and the team at Mozilla have known for a long time that the company's business needed to change. For a couple of reasons, starting with the fact that most of Mozilla's revenue came from Google as part of a deal to make Google the default search engine in Firefox. As Mozilla started to fight for a privacy-first, less-invasive (and thus frequently less Google-y) future of the internet, that didn't sit right anymore. There's writing on the wall, too: Google and Mozilla haven't renewed that deal, which expires this year, and search-default deals in general are suddenly under serious antitrust scrutiny.

"We are looking for other ways of generating revenue," CEO Mitchell Baker told me last year. "The issue, of course, is that they're hard to find." In a COVID-ravaged world, Mozilla's runway to find those other ways appears to have shortened. Baker announced on Tuesday that Mozilla is laying off about 250 people, closing its operations in Taipei, and moving another 60 or so people between teams. "Our pre-COVID plan is no longer workable," Baker wrote in an email to Mozilla staff. "We have talked about the need for change — including the likelihood of layoffs — since the spring. Today these changes become real."

Baker laid out five changes Mozilla plans to make in order to more successfully move forward. Many are classic Mozilla, focusing on community and pushing change out into the world. But the first and fifth changes are new, somewhat overdue, and require a big shift inside the organization: a new focus on product, and a new focus on economics.

For many years, Mozilla's main — and for all intents and purposes only — product has been Firefox. And as Firefox's popularity has waned, that has become a problem. "We know we also need to go beyond the browser to give people new products and technologies that both excite them and represent their interests," Baker wrote.

In recent months, Mozilla's been on something of a product-launch spree. It built a password manager called Lockwise; a secure way to share files called Send; a data-privacy tool called Monitor, and a VPN. All are connected to users' Firefox accounts, and all are paid products. Sure, Mozilla's also working on tech standards, fighting court battles, and generally trying to make sure the internet is a good place for people to be, but Mozilla is pushing hard toward turning that focus into a consumer product that costs money.

Adam Seligman, Mozilla's new COO, was hired to speed up the process. He joined Mozilla in May, after stints at Google and Salesforce, and said his mission is very clear: "I'd like to diversify our revenue streams." In his first few months at the company, he said he'd been struck by the team's focus on its mission, the sense of a greater good, "but I want to make sure we have products that are really easy for consumers and generate new revenue streams for us."

Mozilla also has a habit of being slightly unfocused: it works on VR, voice, machine learning and countless other projects that tend to look more like R&D than real products. It also invests heavily in other researchers, and into things like developer tools. All that is fine for a company with seemingly infinite Google revenue but problematic for one looking for something more sustainable. "We have to make some hard choices," Seligman said, "we have to get really focused."

What that looks like in practice is finding a way to get people to pay for security products. Enterprises, maybe, someday. But the first job is to find enough people willing to pay for password managers and VPNs. Mozilla's a trusted company, with huge clout in the tech industry, which means it has a better chance than most of building a business out of consumer security. And the early signs are good, Seligman said, especially when it comes to the VPN. But it's still really early.

Mozilla also has big plans for Pocket, its read-later app. Seligman was tight-lipped about exact plans, but said that users love the ability to read offline, and love the curation and recommendations Pocket offers. "There's all this great content out there that's not in the hands of a couple of big companies," Seligman said, "and it'd be nice just to surface that and let users discover all these wonderful corners of the internet."

One slightly surprising place the company's going to invest? Hubs, its virtual-room product that has become a popular choice for VR meetings in a socially distant world. Mozilla has long bet that mixed reality is the next big thing after mobile, and with Hubs growing fast thanks to remote work, it's going to stick around.

The big question for Mozilla will be how to stay mission-focused, to continue to be the kind of company where people casually quote the manifesto and can talk with a straight face about trying to make the internet a better place, while also focusing much harder on the bottom line. And for a company so focused on getting a better internet into everyone's hands, will a paid-for security suite simply feel wrong? Mozilla has always seen itself as different from all the money-grubbing, data-snatching companies in Silicon Valley. Now it has to learn a bit from those companies, but make sure it only learns the right parts.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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