Mozilla Ventures: Investing in Responsible Tech
Many people complain about today’s tech industry. Some say the internet has lost its soul. And some even say it’s impossible to make it better.
My response: we won’t know unless we try, together.
Personally, I think it is possible to build successful companies — and great internet products — that put people before profits. Mozilla proves this. But so do Wordpress, Hugging Face, ProtonMail, Kickstarter, and a good number of others. All are creating products and technology that respect users — and that are making the internet a healthier place.
I believe that, if we have A LOT more founders creating companies like these, we have a real chance to push the tech industry — and the internet — in a better direction.
The thing is, the system is stacked against founders like this. It is really, really hard. This struck us when Mozilla briefly piloted a startup support program a couple of years ago. Hundreds of young founders and teams showed up with ideas for products and tech that were ‘very Mozilla’. Yet, we’ve also heard it's hard to find mission-aligned investors, or mentors and incubators who shared their vision for products that put people first.
Through this pilot, Mozilla found the kinds of mentors these founders were looking for. And, we offered pre-seed investments to dozens of companies. But we also saw the huge need to do more and to do it systematically over time. Mozilla Ventures will be our first step in filling this need.
Launching officially in early 2023, Mozilla Ventures will start with an initial $35M, and grow through partnerships with other investors.
The fund will focus on early-stage startups whose products are designed to delight users or empower developers — but with the sort of values outlined in the Mozilla Manifesto baked in from day one. Imagine a social network that feels like a truly safe place to connect with your closest family and friends. Or an AI tooling company that makes it easier for developers to detect and mitigate bias when developing digital products and services. Or a company offering a personal digital assistant that is both a joy to use and hyper-focused on protecting your privacy. We know there are founders out there who want to build products and companies like these, and that want to do so in a way that looks and feels different than the tech industry of today.
Process-wise, Mozilla Ventures will look for founders with a compelling product vision and alignment with Mozilla’s values. From there, it will look at their team, their product and their business, just as other investors do. And, where all these things add up, we’ll invest.
The fund will be led by Managing Partner Mohamed Nanabhay. Mohamed brings a decade of experience investing in digital media businesses designed to advance democracy and free speech where those things are hard to come by. This perfectly sets him up for the job ahead — finding and funding founders who have the odds stacked against them and then helping them succeed.
Over the past few months, Mohamed and I have spent a good amount of time thinking about the basic thesis behind the fund (find great startups that align with the Mozilla Manifesto) — and testing this thesis out through conversations with founders.
Even before we publicly announced Mozilla Ventures in November 2022, we’d already found three companies that validate our belief that companies like this are out there — Secure AI Labs, Block Party, and HeyLogin. They are all companies driven by the idea that the digital world can be private, secure, and respectful, and that there are businesses to be built to create this world. We’re honored that these companies saw the same alignment we did. They all opened up space on their cap table for Mozilla. And we invested.
Our first few months of conversations with founders (and other investors) have also underlined this: we have more questions than answers. Almost everyone we’ve talked to is excited by the idea of pushing the tech industry in a different direction, especially younger founders. On the flip side, everyone sees huge challenges — existing tech monopolies, venture funding growth at all costs, and public cynicism. It’s important for us to be honest — we don't have all the answers. We will (collectively) need to work through these challenges as we go.
So, that’s what we will do. Our plan is to continue talking to founders — and making select investments — in the months leading up to the launch of the fund. We will also keep talking to fellow travelers like Lucid Capitalism, Startups and Society, and Responsible Innovation Labs, who have already started asking some of the tough questions. And, we will continue speaking with a select group of potential co-investors (LPs) who share our values. We believe that, together, we have a chance of putting the tech industry on a truly different course in the years ahead.