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Livingston: So in open source projects, you have to listen to the opinions of
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Ross: Sure, they re the ones building the product. We just have to be wary of
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our inner geek voices and make sure we re considering the needs of the world at large. I don t think Mozilla did that, and the project stagnated at a few million users.
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Livingston: Do you think Firefox has reached the mainstream because it is
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Ross: There are a million different reasons. Many people think it s easier. Others were just sort of weaned onto it when their children put it on their computers. Of course, we ve also done plenty of legwork to reach the mainstream. It s all word-of-mouth marketing. We have a site called Spread Firefox that Asa Dotzler and I started in 2004 when we launched Firefox. It s basically a way to leverage the talents of people who are not coders. We said, Instead of just being developer-only, like most open source projects, how do we leverage college students and Toastmasters and people who knit just every kind of talent you have and every organization you re a part of. How do we match you up with other people in your region and give you tools to spread Firefox That was a huge success. We ve had over 250,000 people sign up. We also did an ad in the New York Times. Ten thousand people donated between $10 and $30 each to buy two full-page facing ads in the New York Times when Firefox launched. Of course, that s a couple hundred thousand dollars, but we didn t have a marketing budget. That was all communityfunded, which is pretty unusual for any software project, let alone an open source project. Livingston: So Firefox spread because the browser is better and through word
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Ross: Yes. We don t have people shaping a message or working the press. It s all
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been grassroots, word of mouth, done through Spread Firefox. It s been interesting because we ve seen about a dozen companies adopt the same model since then. There s GoTrillian.com, SpreadOpenOffice.org there are all these different copycat sites.
Livingston: Was there ever a point when you were really worried Ross: Not really. But I m making it seem like startups are so stress-free, and of
course that s just not true. It s just really freeing not to be . . . We weren t trying to strike it rich with Firefox. It s open source and it s free. We weren t trying to take over the world; we had kind of modest goals, and it was OK if it failed. We were a lot freer to make risky decisions. If you can afford to do things that way, it s just so much better. You re not thinking about venture capitalists or marketing or sales. Just product and users, all day every day.
Blake Ross 401
Livingston: You were pretty young when you worked on Firefox. Was there anything you found you were better at than you thought Ross: I thought marketing was something that required a degree and formal
experience. It turns out that marketing is just making the product good enough that people spread it on their own, and giving them ways to do that. It s a lot easier and more natural than I thought it would be. Now I can t stand meeting with professional marketers who try to craft the message and all that junk.
Livingston: What surprised you most Ross: How easy it was to get Firefox to take off, at least in light of the death
knell people had been sounding for years. We d been hearing forever that nobody downloads a client anymore, and browsers are dead, and Mozilla can t make it. It s never going to go anywhere; the market has been monopolized. We just ignored all that and did it anyway, and it worked. It s a bit harder to take analysts and other industry insiders seriously now, because Firefox proved them wrong. There are a lot of people in the industry who aren t actually the ones writing the code or contributing to the project, but they want to feel like they are relevant somehow, so they make sweeping predictions that draw attention. I think you have to be in the project and be the one moving it forward to truly understand whether you have a shot at success. One analyst has already announced he s skeptical about Parakey and he barely even knows what it is, let alone tried it out. Smells like Firefox all over again. Those kinds of comments are so motivating. I love the challenge. We talked to plenty of people at the very beginning of Firefox. It was obvious that people were not happy with their browser, and it was very clear that, if we could do something better, we might be able to get them to use it.
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