The Mozilla Corporation, maker of the popular Firefox web browser, has had better days. According to a TechCrunch report, in an internal memo, long-time Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker announced the company would lay off approximately 70 employees. This story was rapidly confirmed as laid-off Mozilla staffers announced their departures
Some of those laid off were quite senior. Liz Henry, Mozilla's senior release manager, tweeted, "Big layoffs at @Mozilla today. Anyone want a badass senior release manager, experienced in F/LOSS? Bay Area/Remote. I'm so proud of my work at Mozilla, shipping Firefox to hundreds of millions of people around the world. https://linkedin.com/in/lizhenry/ <3." Henry had been with Mozilla for just over seven years.
Why the layoffs? In a blog post, Baker wrote: "Mozilla has a strong line of sight on future revenue generation from our core business. In some ways, this makes this action harder, and we are deeply distressed about the effect on our colleagues. However, to responsibly make additional investments in innovation to improve the internet, we can and must work within the limits of our core finances."
In the past, Mozilla had made money from Google and other companies by embedding their services onto the Firefox browser. For example, in 2011, Mozilla inked a deal that made the company just under $300 million a year for making Google its default search engine.
Today, according to Mozilla's latest annual report, the majority of its revenue is still generated from global browser search partnerships. This includes the deal negotiated with Google in 2017.
But those sources, and their revenue, have been drying up. According to the most reliable web browser market share numbers, the US government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP) statistics, Firefox's browser market share is now down to a mere 4%. Three years ago, Firefox had 11% of users, and two years ago it had 9%.
To make up for the declining interest in Firefox, and thus reduced earnings, Baker wrote in her memo that Mozilla was looking for more revenue from "sources outside of search" but "this did not happen".
"Our 2019 plan underestimated how long it would take to build and ship new, revenue-generating products. Given that, and all we learned in 2019 about the pace of innovation, we decided to take a more conservative approach to projecting our revenue for 2020."
These "revenue-generating products" include a Firefox-specific virtual private network (VPN), called Firefox Private Network, and a device-level VPN service. In addition, Mozilla has a Firefox password manager called Lockwise, which is currently being offered for free. It has also started offering Firefox Monitor, a currently free service, which enables people to check whether their email addresses have been a part of a recent security breach. Eventually, these offerings would be part of subscription services. Mozilla also recently started offering a Firefox paid support option.
In addition, according to former Mozilla CEO Chris Beard in June of 2019, "We are working on three sources of income, and we want to rebalance them. We have Search, but we also make content. We have a company called Pocket that discovers and curates content. There is also sponsored content. This is the content business."
Try as it might to find alternative income sources, Mozilla is not doing as well as it has needed to. Whether these layoffs will help Mozilla achieve goals remains an open question.