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It goes without saying that we at WebFWD care deeply about startup entrepreneurs. It’s also important to call out that, as part of Mozilla, we also care deeply about startups that do things the Mozilla way.

By this, we mean (in part) doing things that improve the web and make it more open and accessible for everyone (as opposed to say only skilled technologists or corporate entities). We also mean not only creating things this way, but doing so in a process that allows for maximum participation. You can read more about Mozilla’s values here.

We believe “innovating openly” has tremendous benefits for startups. We had a chance to share a few of our thoughts on this with our friends at the Paris Region Economic Development Agency, charged with sparking innovation both in that region as well as to it.

You can read some of our thoughts here. Enjoy!

It’s not every day that you get to work with rock stars…unless you are Rachel Masters. Our awesome social media mentor started her career in venture capital but went on to work with leading artists at Warner Music Group and Ning before founding her own agency, Red Magnet Media, which handles social media for artists including Duran Duran and Linkin Park.

Our teams had an opportunity to discuss their experiences with and questions about social media with her on our team call today and learned lots of useful things. A few highlights:

  • If there is anything that defines social, it’s giving before expecting something back. Offer up information, advice, help to get conversations started.
  • Assess on how to start by first knowing your audience and where they convene. For example, large social networks like Twitter may be irrelevant if your target market does not use it. Rachel mentioned a CEO who made great efforts to build his Twitter following to over 1 million followers, but ultimately led to very low numbers of conversions as his market was not using Twitter.
  • To understand your impact and increase your audience engagement, try great inexpensively-priced tools such as Hootsuite, Mixpanel, Crowdbooster and Sprinklr.
  • A great way to encourage engagement is through gamefication techniques (think leaderboards and personal metrics). Some services that excel at this include Slideshare and Waze.
  • Build relationships with bloggers - this can be done by using an intern if you provide him / her with guidelines including a guide for the tone of your brand. Information on how to do this is available from Rachel’s firm > sign up here :)

We highly recommend you watch Rachel’s video, which covers range of topics and approaches to make you effective at social with practical steps to get started.

A big reason we started publicly honoring some of the amazing people that help our WebFWD teams is because they do it without fanfare. They add value, and are there for our teams on private calls, emails and meetings, and serve them without any big news event, product lunch or funding announcement.

It’s this kind of behind-the-scenes dedication-with-huge-value that embodies Diane Loviglio. There since our earliest days of a program, Diane has created various videos for our teams, spoken at our early Summits, and of course, is the author behind one of our most important learning modules (well, they are all important - that’s why we have them! - but her baileywick, user research, is one that is all-too-often neglected by many tech founders!).

In fact, Diane has not failed to miss a single week that we cover her assignment for our teams….which says a lot given she is now a startup founder herself. It’s a real delight to have her apply her very own lessons she’s learning each day to our teams’ challenges.

Diane, thank you for all that you do…so often, so consistently…for our teams!

Clay.io, our awesome team hailing from Austin, TX, has just made some nice points about why game developers should take a serious look at HTML5. They also provide some practical tips on getting started. Check out their post on MozHacks and let us know what you build!

…away from that keyboard, and get out. Go talk to your users!

Running a startup is like having a baby: it needs constant care and feeding, whether on the technology or the people (staff, investors, service providers, etc). You have no buffer support from Corporate and you are literally building everything from scratch. It’s easy to see, then, how so many business issues that are in your face prevent you from the doing the thing you need to do most: talking to your users.

Ironically, if you fail to do that, you pose the greatest risk possible to your startup: becoming irrelevant. No amount of investment or PR hype can overcome that.

That’s why we relish the week we have our teams learn about user research. It’s when we introduce Reality to our enterpreneurs, reminding them of - and immersing them in - what matters most: their customers.

We’ve been super fortunate to have Diane Loviglio, a Mozilliian and now entrepreneur herself, walk our teams through some very practical ways to get the most out of user research to ensure what feels like a burden of time becomes an infinite time-saver en route to building useful products that people actually need, want and use. Read on and even better, research on!

  • Use your tools wisely. Distinguish between screeners, surveys and interviews. Know when the best time is to use each (if you don’t know what these are and still don’t after a little investigating, reach out to us ;)
  • Dr. Phil? If people tell you they have “no time” to answer your questions, what they are really saying is they just don’t see why what you are doing matters. it’s a sign that you need to reframe your product or approach, or rethink what you are doing altogether.
  • Actions, not opinions. Your goal in talking to users is to elicit facts and behaviors, not opinions. Because what will matter more for your business is how people behave (e.g. whether they buy your product) more than what they say they think about it.
  • No boilerplates. Alas, as much as we want to have templates and boilerplates to help us, you do yourself a disservice when you want to start from someone else’s survey/screener/interview template. Everything you need to discover is highly dependent on your specific market, business and solution. If that is easily replicable in a boilerplate, you have bigger issues to consider.
  • Prioritize. Along these lines, you need to distill exactly what things you need to discover at the phase you are in. Depending your product, you may care about someone’s age, or gender…or not. Similarly, while your product may apply to lots of segments, you need to focus on one at the start.
  • Diverse feedback is precious. Get lots of input on your tools, even if the reviewer is not in your ‘target market.’ Because You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know. If you originally thought someone was your target audience and they turn out not to be, keep interviewing to understand why they aren’t. Understanding who your users aren’t are just as good as knowing who and why they are.
  • Be creative on reaching your target audience. Some segments are hard to reach. For example, one of our teams wants to reach kids; in this case, Diane encouraged them to see how the adults in their lives play a role in the product and reach them…especially if they have a role in deciding whether the kids use the product! Decisionmakers can be just as important as your target audience.

The fun part is, as an entrepreneur herself, Diane is practicing these herself on a regular basis. Be sure to check out her progress (and maybe get some bling in the process!) and Share Some Style. Thanks Diane!

In addition to all of the fabulous coaching our teams get on marketing, strategy, licensing, sales and more, there’s one “meta” thread that runs throughout our whole program: telling your story. Because the best products in the world go nowhere unless people understand them, and why they should use them.

There’s no better way than practicing so we have our teams tell their stories each week (often called ‘pitching’ in the startup world), But we also give them lots of help. We have amazing coaches like Jennifer Selby Long and Mozilla’s own Dia Bondi who share how the basic, classic story arc elements factor in to the listener’s ability to not only grasp, but care about, what is being shared. And we have people like Pascal Finette who has been on both sides of the table as both investor and entrepreneur, to share some basic etiquette around pitching.

For a closer-up look into how this played out during our recent Orientation - including tons of practical tips and suggestions for pitching effectively from Pascal, check out this great post from Hyperaudio's own Dan Schultz. And start telling your story!

WebFWD IV: Stories In Progress

Last week our new teams gathered in San Francisco & Silicon Valley for our 3-day Orientation. This is a super important aspect of our program which, besides this and Graduation, is conducted completely remotely via videoconferencing. Because at heart we - and the web - are global.

To make a distributed program like ours work, having this initial ‘bonding’ time is key. So we allowed plenty of time for the teams to get to know one another, both personally and on the project level. We had them pitch to one another, get their pitches critiqued (more on that in our next post), and even made them pitch what their teammates’ are doing (remember, if you need to tell someone else’s story, you have to really listen!).

Always be pitching.

We also exposed our French, British and East Coast teams to Silicon Valley culture at Box Inc, meeting with one of the earliest Mozillians, Jay Patel, who shared about Box’s growth and how it’s prioritizing as it expands to new products and services.

Jay and a coworker share what is next at Box.

And of course, a huge bonus of our teams being here is exposing them to the amazing Mozillians that make the web better every day through innovative services such as Persona, SocialAPI, FirefoxOS and our Apps Marketplace. We also had some of our awesome alumni join them on a video call and impart serious pearls of wisdom not only in navigating WebFWD & Mozilla, but startup life in general.

Now the teams are gone and Week 1 is in full throttle. School’s in!

School and this do seem to go together.

When we started to recognize our Menschen of the Month last year, we did it because we were blown away by the generosity of many people to go the distance and help our teams and our program. Today we honor a person who not only embodies this, but is the entire reason why we are here: Pascal Finette!

First, Pascal of course is the person responsible for all of WebFWD; he conceived of the idea, rallied Mozillians around it and proceeded to build it from scratch. Sure he hired most of us in the process but that’s the thing: he hired us. Without Pascal, there would be no WebFWD.

But his contributions are not limited to this. Not content to simply launch and ‘run’ a program, Pascal is always there to make us better - whether as an official part of the team or not - as a steadfast teacher (he produced 2 of our core curriculum modules - strategy and financials & metrics) and has loyally served as a strategy mentor for each of our cohorts, meeting with our teams regularly to help them sort through the murky issues around target markets, revenue streams, business models and fundraising. He also walked our newest batch of teams through some important pitching lessons last week.

Why does Pascal keep giving even though he’s technically ‘moved on’ to a new role at Mozilla? Because he genuinely cares about helping entrepreneurs. It’s why he started WebFWD in the first place, and why he mentors for other startup programs such as Techstars and Unreasonable Institute (and if you are wondering how he has the ability to do all of this, read this).

So please take a minute to thank Pascal for all he’s done for so many entrepreneurs - you can do it on Twitter, and even join him in heresy by signing up for his provocative almost-daily startup newsletter. No wonder he’s so energizing to our teams :)

The final installment in our close-up features of WebFWD IV teams: ViziCities!

Peter Smart is a design-thinker who recently traveled 2517 miles to try and solve 50 Problems in 50 Days. He writes, speaks and consults on user experience and innovation.

Rob Hawkes thrives on solving problems through code. He’s a Digital Tinkerer, former Technical Evangelist at Mozilla, author of Foundation HTML5 Canvas, and a Brit.

We believe in the power of the open web. By building on open technologies and open data, we’re looking to create a tool that will fundamentally change how people are able to understand, explore and solve problems for cities worldwide.

Mozilla is at the heart of driving innovation on the open web, and by working with Mozilla we’re looking to push ViziCities even further, capitalise on the amazing press the project has received and develop a tool which will shape the way people understand cities for years to come.”

Our next-to-last entry in the “deep dive” looks at our WebFWD IV teams: Webshell.io!

"We met each other during a previous project using more than 20 open web APIs and it was so hard to integrate, script and maintain them. So, we’ve decided to develop a cloud framework to ease our lives with API integration and maintenance, as Open APIs are the building bricks of the app economy.

We think that the web is living a revolution thanks to these open web APIs, that will make a programmable web happen. However, developers still need to glue these bricks on their own to make web and mobile apps.

Because the web goes client-side and because of the success of Node.js, we believe that JavaScript is the glue of APIs. Our mission at Webshell.io is to enhance this defacto standard to help APIs grow.

We also believe that the most important thing to make the programmable web happen is to provide trust to the developer ecosystem using APIs via a reliable and consistent interface for API integration, maintenance and sharing that lasts in time.

We joined Mozilla WebFWD because we are working everyday to leverage defacto standards to make this programmable web happen, and who else than Mozilla is the best to help and mentor us to fulfill our mission to make the web go forward?”

The latest installment in a series of closer-ups of our newest cohort, WebFWD IV from Prediction.io!

"We see Mozilla as a champion of open source and WebFWD as a one-of-a-kind program for open source companies. Not only do we believe in the power of open source but we think of our technology as an enabler allowing other developers to build smarter software through machine learning.

We want to show PredictionIO to the world! We have a lot to learn from Mozilla’s experience in building successful open source products. We know it is a long road ahead and it is always nice to share the journey.”

The latest highlight from our WebFWD IV cohort: PLOM.IO (aka the Public Library of Models ;)!

"As three recovering academics, we created PLOM.IO out of a need in our own work and a frustration with the current system for sharing science and interacting with policy makers on time-sensitive questions.

We all work on problems of infectious disease spread and control - Joseph and Sebastien on influenza spread and transmission dynamicsm and Tiffany on the nature of transmission of Enterovirus 71, an emerging pathogen causing severe Hand Foot and Mouth Disease and death in young children in Southeast Asia.

Our work involves communication with ministries of health, physicians and community members, in addition to our academic colleagues, and we found that despite the tremendous scientific advances, the adoption of the latest web technology for communication and collaborating lagged far behind.

The Library organizes model-based science in a meaningful, interactive way by leveraging the flexibility of NoSQL databases that allow for connections to be made at any level of the hierarchy (e.g. geographies, models, parameters, and results) and the power of JavaScript and canvas that allows the user to explore the underlying data, models, and results. At the same, we provide a curated library of methods supported by an academic community of statisticians with optimized C code to run in parallel on the cloud or your computing cluster of choice.

Mozilla is pushing asm.js and fighting so that the web remains an open platform and a platform that enriches the lives of individual human beings. We believe that modeling, and the ability to make decisions based on model results are a key component of modern democratic societies. Such decisions should be as transparent as possible and the web provides the ideal platform for that if we can solve the technical issues currently preventing users from executing models using their browsers. JavaScript is faster than python now and by leveraging asm.js we could convert our generic C inference library into highly optimized JS code. Having such a tool available in the browser, would help us to reach our goals of lowering the barrier of entry to modeling.

When not behind a computer screen, you’ll find Sebastien kite surfing and living out his bike messaging dreams on a fixie in NYC, and Tiffany scaling boulders and playing ultimate whenever possible!”

Here’s a deeper dive on WebFWD IV team Navvid:

"As an animator (Mike) and video game developer (Jacob) we’ve looked to solve a problem we’re seeing all over the web: video isn’t living up to its potential. Many new platforms target a broad audience, but don’t focus on specific industries. Perhaps that’s a fancy way of saying that we’re all playing around with video, but we’re not making it behave like the rest of the web. At least we know for sure that we’re not doing it in ways that are valuable to creators and companies that could make huge strides in engaging their audiences.

There’s no authoring tool assisting filmmakers, educators and others in building practical resources using web standards. Simple things like more intuitive menus, searchable/seekable annotations - see our teammate, Hyperaud.io :) - and other ways of connecting to-and-through video are a good start, but there’s a lot more than that to do!

We’ve begun by experimenting with clients who haven’t been afraid to try something new (including Mozilla) and thanks to them, we’re ready to build a management system for instructional content. We see a whole new frontier for video that is more navigable and linkable, while taking advantage of new standards like WebRTC and a great many under-appreciated features of HTML5.

Mozilla is a big reason we’ve gotten this far; the Foundation playfully took a risk on our first iteration of an interface (now featured as the Mozilla Ignite Learning Lab).

Long before that, we animated videos for some of Mozilla’s cool partnerships and learned a great deal in the process. We deeply believe in Mozilla’s mission, and we’re looking forward to expanding and contributing to popcorn.js, Webmaker and many other great initiatives that work to keep the web open.

Most importantly, we’re sure there’s no better way to do this than doing it open source! We believe this so strongly that we are incorporating our company as a benefit corporation and devoting ourselves to the mission of democratizing new media.

But first, of course, we’ve just gotta keep building!”

More on our newest batch of teams from MultiPlay.io!

"MultiPlay.io is a collaborative, youth-focused tool that can generate high-quality 3D multiplayer games using basic drag-and-drop mechanics across mobile and desktop platforms. Our games can be instantly shared with friends for review as well as tweaked in real time, allowing for art, UI, design and code changes to be synchronized even during the actual gameplay.

Content creators can resell their .ai, design and code assets as templates for non-specialists to re-use for their own games. For example, an artist can use a coders car racing game template for their own game.

Our previous experience ranges from the games industry (working on titles such as 50 Cent Blood on the Sand and the BAFTA award-winning F1 2010), telecoms industry (working on mobile and web R&D), and the education sector (working with UK-based universities such as Imperial and UCL).

As a creative-based startup we need all the help we can get to validate our ideas for sustainability, and expand our network reach. Mozilla is providing great tools to do so and we are really looking forward to working with them :)”

The latest in our series of up-close looks at WebFWD IV. :)

Hyperaudio Inc is a nonprofit dedicated to better weaving audio and video into the fabric of the web. We aim to encourage remix culture and promote media literacy.

Our approach is to use word-aligned timed transcripts as a base. Media-coupled transcripts allow people to easily and intuitively discover, share, navigate and remix that media.

At the heart of the Hyperaudio ecosystem sits the Hyperaudio Pad, a text-driven tool to remix transcribed media. Resembling more a word processor than a video editing suite, the Hyperaudio Pad allows you to assemble and remix media by copy-pasting the associated text and specifying transitions between clips using typed, natural language.

Other parts of the Hyperaudio ecosystem includes a transcript creator, converter and cleaner. We will also expose third party content and a public API.”