Good news for Berlin and its mobile-friendly startups – Mozilla, the non-profit behind the Firefox browser and other open-source goodies, has opened up shop in the German capital.
The organization set up a temporary Berlin office a few weeks ago, and on Monday it announced it is to establish a permanent base next year in the Factory, a recently-opened tech office space that houses SoundCloud and several other up-and-coming Berlin startups. What’s more, Mozilla says it’s now hiring in the city.
“We are looking forward to playing a more active role in the vibrant Berlin internet community, building for the open web right where new web trends are created,” Mozilla CFO Jim Cook said in a statement.
Now, this isn’t a coup for Berlin in the same sense as London’s recent announcements of new Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft offices. The Berlin office will be one of what the organization calls ‘Mozilla Spaces’ – an office with some paid staff, but also where Mozilla’s many volunteer contributors can come to hack or just hang out. In Europe, there are two similar ‘spaces’ already being set up in London and Paris.
It’s also hard to nail down exactly what kind of product will come out of the Berlin establishment. Barbara Hueppe, who’s in charge of setting up the new team, told me it “will not have a special focus”, and that Mozilla hoped to “attract talent that will help us drive our diverse initiatives”.
But it is a very intriguing move, particularly given the strengths of the local startup community, and the current stage in Mozilla’s own development.
A good place to go mobile
The organization is in quite a transitional phase right now. Desktop Firefox is obviously still its marquee product, but Mozilla has pulled back from developing other legacy products such as Thunderbird and is instead working on a major mobile push. Firefox OS and Firefox for Android are the two main products to look out for there.
While it’s easy to see the mobile OS space as a two-horse, iOS vs Android race, there are a couple of notable up-and-coming alternatives. Jolla is one, with its deal with China’s largest mobile retail chain, the D.Phone Group, but carriers such as Telefonica have also expressed interest in the Firefox OS. Operators want an alternative to Android at the low end, and Mozilla has a lot to play for there.
Now look at the Berlin scene — it’s crawling with mobile-focused startups such as Amen, Readmill, EyeEm and Tweek.tv. To be fair, mobile is the big thing right now, so most hubs have an excess of such firms, but the long-established presence of Nokia’s geolocation squad in Berlin has led to a particular concentration of smartphone and tablet talent in the city.
Mozilla may not have concrete plans for working with Berlin’s startup scene just yet, but Hueppe assured me that “pure proximity will lead to many good ways of cross-pollination”.
If all goes well, that cross-pollination could mean new ideas for Mozilla and new opportunities for the local scene.