The key to Mozilla's survival is to be different from its big competitors, which starts with its nonprofit status.
It's a good thing that Mozilla is profitable, because the open-source foundation would likely struggle to get venture funding.
For any Sand Hill venture capitalist, Mozilla fails to tick any of the correct boxes. While it does have a world-class development organization, Mozilla also relies on an external, unpaid workforce to contribute up to 40 percent of its code. Also, 88 percent of its revenues come from one source, Google, which also happens to be a competitor.
Speaking of competitors, it has three big ones--gargantuan ones. Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Tell a VC that you want to go up against one of these and you're likely to be turned away. Tell them you want to take on all three and, well, they might just make a full-on sprint for the safety of their Aston Martins.
And yet, Mozilla may be superbly positioned to compete with these big competitors precisely because it isn't anything like them: at its core, Mozilla is a nonprofit foundation that wants to save the world more than it wants to make a buck.
The New York Times highlights Mozilla's challenges in a searching review, but it falls just short of highlighting the fact that Mozilla's success derives from its unique mission, which encourages broad development and adoption, and is a direct byproduct of its nonprofit structure.
Because it is a nonprofit, Mozilla can lobby governments differently, and it has. Because it is a nonprofit, Mozilla can focus on delivering an unparalleled user experience, not on figuring out how to monetize the Web, hardware, etc.
Because it is a nonprofit, Mozilla can be truly disruptive in a way that its competitors cannot.
I'm sure there's not a day that goes by that John Lilly, Mitchell Baker, and the other Mozilla executives and employees don't wish that they had the resources their biggest competitors do. I'm equally sure there's not a day that goes by that they don't benefit from the decisions their resource constraints force upon them.
Firefox is as good as it is because of all that Mozilla has...and has not.
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