How Mozilla Pays Me

When I told people I was leaving BlackBerry and going to work for Mozilla, the first question was often “Who?”

(“The Firefox people, ${familyMember}” “Oh, well why didn’t you say so”)

More often the first question (and almost always the second question for ${familyMember}) was “How do they make their money?”

When I was working for BlackBerry, it seemed fairly obvious: BlackBerry made its money selling BlackBerry devices. (Though obvious, this was actually incorrect, as the firm made its money more through services and servers than devices. But that’s another story.)

With Mozilla, there’s no clear thing that people’s minds can latch onto. There’s no doodad being sold for dollarbucks, there’s no subscriber fee, there’s no “professional edition” upsell…

Well, today the Mozilla Foundation released its State of Mozilla report including financials for calendar 2014. This ought to clear things up, right? Well…

The most relevant part of this would be page 6 of the audited financial statement which shows that, roughly speaking, Mozilla makes its money thusly (top three listed):

  • $323M – Royalties
  • $4.2M – Contributions (from fundraising efforts)
  • $1M – Interest and Dividends (from investments)

Where this gets cloudy is that “Royalties” line. The Mozilla Foundation is only allowed to accrue certain kinds of income since it is a non-profit.

Which is why I’m not employed by the Foundation but by Mozilla Corporation, the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation. MoCo is a taxable entity responsible for software development and stuff. As such, it can earn and spend like any other privately-held concern. It sends dollars back up the chain via that “Royalties” line because it needs to pay to license wordmarks, trademarks, and other intellectual property from the Foundation. It isn’t the only contributor to that line, I think, as I expect sales of plushie Firefoxen and tickets to MozFest factor in somehow.

So, in conclusion, rest assured, ${conceredPerson}: Mozilla Foundation has plenty of money coming in to pay my…

Well, yes, I did just say I was employed by Mozilla Corporation. So?

What do you mean where does the Corporation get its money?

Fine, fine, I was just going to gloss over this part and sway you with those big numbers and how MoCo and MoFo sound pretty similar… but I guess you’re too cunning for that.

Mozilla Corporation is not a publicly-traded corporation, so there are no public documents I can point you to for answers to that question. However, there was a semi-public statement back in 2006 that confirmed that the Corporation was earning within an order of magnitude of $76M in search-related partnership revenue.

It’s been nine years since then. The Internet has changed a lot since the year Google bought YouTube and MySpace was the primary social network of note. And our way of experiencing it has changed from sitting at a desk to having it in our pockets. Firefox has been downloaded over 100 million times on Android and topped some of the iTunes App Store charts after being released twelve days ago for iOS. If this sort of partnership is still active, and is somewhat proportional to Firefox’s reach, then it might just be a different number than “within an order of magnitude of $76M.”

So, ${concernedPerson}, I’m afraid there just isn’t any more information I can give you. Mozilla does its business, and seems to be doing it well. As such, it collects revenue which it has to filter through various taxes and regulation authorities at various levels which are completely opaque even when they’re transparent. From that, I collect a paycheque.

At the very least, take heart from the Contributions line. That money comes from people who like that Mozilla does good things for the Internet. So as long as we’re doing good things (and we have no plans to stop), there is a deep and growing level of support that should keep me from asking for money.

Though, now that you mention it