Go Big or Go Home: 5 Commands from Mozilla’s West Wing

By September 25, 2013No Comments

Attention startups! Here’s your game plan

  1. Shoot for the moon
  2. Cooperate with big brands
  3. Phones and tablets now, but Ubiquitous Computing is next
  4. If Europe doesn‘t work, go Valley
  5. Stand by your national identity

Earlier this year we met up with Pascal Finette of Mozilla. Pascal is a technology fanatic, founder of a number of Internet startups and happens to be working with Mozilla’s Chairperson Mitchell Baker as Director Office of the Chair.

Our interview with him ended up being a long and insightful talk about technology and entrepreneurship.
Here are Pascal’s big five for technology startups, particularly those based in Europe.

1. Go for moonshots

“Startups think short-term – that is one of the biggest problems we face in entrepreneurship today,” Pascal says. Entrepreneurs suffer with a misconception of goals. Instead of thinking both big and long- term, they have agendas that stop with the next financing.

Pascal admits it may be “the systems fault” – he didn‘t act any differently when he worked on his startups a decade ago. “You‘re forced to do that when your financing lasts for 18 months,” he says. Then it’s lights out.

There are people who do think long-term, though. “Elon Musk is an entrepreneurial idol. He searched for the four hardest industries in the world and subsequently disrupted them,” Pascal says. “Tesla, for instance: you can‘t do this for five years. It takes 20. If you want to disrupt, you have to do work long haul."

Pascal ends up praising 16-year-old Jack Andraka, an inventor from Maryland . The youngster didn‘t try to build the next Angry Birds, but instead took on cancer. “I think the risk-payback ratio is really good when you take on an entrepreneurial challenge in a field like this,” Pascal says. He adds, “Fields that are important to society [such as cancer research] need more support, too.”

2. Cross the Chasm – Cooperate with big brands

Pascal takes a recent event in new technology to clarify himself: the Nike Fuel Band vs. Jawbone Up. “Why does the Nike Fuel Band sell 10 times better than the Up?“ he asks us.

“Because of the Nike brand,” he answers. “When a startup leaves the stage where early adopters have fun with its product, there‘s mass market.” And mass market is nothing to mess with, given the example of Nike’s brand effect.

The brand also helps in retail. “Go into any Apple store and you will find the Nike Fuel Band being [displayed] at eye level – right in your face. The Jawbone Up is off somewhere else.” Pascal says.

The big fish possess unbeatable know-how when it comes to mass production. “The Jawbone Up had production flaws. They didn’t get their waterproof-ness right. Given Nike’s long enterprise experience, with the Fuel Band this would never happen.”

"Corporations are glad to team up with startups,” Pascal says. “They can’t otherwise reach the work speed of a tech startup.

3. Phones and tablets now, but Ubiquitous Computing is next

For Pascal, Ubiquitous Computing has taken the place of phones and tablets. The latter two are the present customized, everyday technology. Ubiqitous Computing comes next.

“With the Fuel Band or the Up, I have more computing power on my left wrist than the devices had on which I learned to code.”

4. If Europe doesn’t work, go valley

"If you can’t find capital in Europe, go to the United States,” despite being German-born Pascal puts it plainly. “What‘s missing in Europe is the capital loop as is happening in Silicon Valley. The money that comes out of an exit runs back into the community.” Founders are becoming funders.

He wants the market to be “global” “If there is no capital in Europe, go to the U.S., who cares? You can still look for talent and know-how in Europe.” Surrounding Berlin, for example, there is a knowledge cluster for solar panels. “There is no law that you can‘t still say ‘I‘m hiring only Germans.’”

As for Mozilla, Europe plays a major role. “Our London office is new, Berlin is getting a new office in the ‘Factory’ [with Soundcloud, 6Wunderkinder] and Paris gets a new office, too,” he says. “Paris was in some way the origin of the community – it was a coworking space and the kind of office without a shiny interior."

Pascal, who spoke to us in German, says he still thinks a great deal of Berlin. “It‘s got decent prices, a lot of space, a creative and crazy atmosphere, great talent, good schools and it’s really international. On the hand side there‘s still little capital – although it’s gotten better now."

He thinks startups should also cooperate more with large European companies. “Go, say, to the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer. What’s €100 million for them? There you may find the capital that, in the U.S., comes from Greylock, a16z, Sequoia.”

5. Stand by your national identity

“Everyone wants to be like Silicon Valley.” Himself a Valley expat, he tells us he still can’t understand why. “Why do these guys from Berlin run a conference in broken English?

“Do it in German and don’t try to hide that in Berlin most people speak German.”

As for Vienna, Pascal likes its new role as a startup hub perfectly placed between CEE and Western Europe. “It‘s been a hub for centuries,” he says, “yet the communication between the hubs and startup centers in Europe is not satisfying.” What does this mean? Don’t try to copy everything the Valley does, but do become more connected. And then? Move fast and go large.