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How a not-for-profit firm took on the planet’s most powerful tech giants

How a not-for-profit firm took on the planet’s

As seen in The Times, our recent article explores how internal collaboration helps deliver better customer outcomes.

Tim Knight

Partner, Customer Advisory

KPMG in the UK


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This article first appeared in The Times.

How can a modestly sized tech minnow go head to head with the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft – some of the largest and biggest-spending businesses on the planet – and win?

That was the challenge that faced Jascha Kaykas-Wolff when he joined Mozilla as CMO in May 2015, and it’s still the number one issue on his mind today. “Our major competitors happen to be three or four of the largest companies in the world, and what keeps me awake at night is that we have to find a path for growth for the business when we can never spend as much as they do.”

Mozilla is the San Francisco-based not-for-profit organisation behind Firefox, the fourth most popular web browser, and it’s a mission-driven advocate of equality of access and transparency on the internet. Firefox’s 300 million monthly users choose it over Chrome, Safari and Edge at least partly because it helps protect their personal data and puts limits on how their activities are tracked online.

Kaykas-Wolff says that mission lies at the heart of the answer to Mozilla’s competitive challenge: “We’re not going to do it simply by being more efficient than they are. Our responsibility is to use our products and influence to make sure the internet remains open and accessible to all. That drives the business decisions we make – not profit or shareholder value.”

So Mozilla has championed open-access legislation in the US courts, and was one of the few companies to withdraw advertising from Facebook as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year.

But high-minded mission statements are only as good as the organisation’s ability to deliver on them. And while the firm’s product and engineering teams were well versed in speedy and productive agile development methodologies, marketing was lagging behind.
“When I showed up, we were struggling a bit to position our work and our technology to help us grow. There is a fundamental problem in business – organisations are very good at creating silos based on functional expertise.

“Marketers are supposed to be the best communicators in a company but they often have a ‘cobbler’s children’ challenge,” he says – they struggle to communicate both among themselves and within the wider business, leading to a lack of understanding, breeding suspicion in other departments that what they do can’t be that important.

Breaking out of those silos called for a new approach based on collaboration, learning how to apply the lean and agile project management processes used in other parts of the business to his marketing teams.

“Agile says, ‘What are the biggest problems we need to solve, and who are the best people we have to solve them?’ You don’t worry about where people sit in the organisation. We started using it and it worked really well.”

By building such cross-functional teams, previously isolated disciplines were brought together, fostering not only greater mutual understanding and insight but also producing better results.

“We started building teams that were cross-functional and looked more like small businesses. They were a real eye-opener. They worked well because they helped solve specific business problems and also created stronger connections into product and engineering.”

But making such a significant shift in the way people work in an organisation where purpose is as important a motivator as financial reward has not been without its challenges. “People were nervous,” he admits. “Everyone here wants to have that mission impact – it isn’t about getting rich and doing an IPO. My biggest challenge was the emotional buy-in – that agile would help Mozilla have a bigger impact.”

The approach has also boosted the pace of productivity in the C-suite, he explains. Kaykas-Wolff and his fellow business leaders now have agile-inspired “stand-up” meetings three times a week – “seven-minute management meetings where we each talk about what’s most important for us that day” – as well as tactical meetings every Tuesday. “That’s where I’ll say, ‘This is what’s most important for me to have an impact on the business in the next five days.’”

It has helped Mozilla’s top team – who he describes as being “do-leaders, not thought-leaders” – become even more effective and collaborative than before. “Your strategy can be at 50,000ft but you have to know how you’re executing that strategy. The only way to do that is to be highly communicative and collaborative – that’s the environment we create as a management team, and we do it by borrowing techniques from lean and agile.”

Marketing now uses the same agile processes as product development, and so it can derive the vital customer insights required to develop new and better products and features – fast. As demonstrated by the announcement that as of 2020, Firefox will move to a new monthly update cycle – twice as fast as before and something that would not have been possible previously. “We’re changing the way we interact with users, to make updates that respond to their needs faster and deliver more value, more quickly.”

It has also inspired a range of new products based on providing better online protection to users – developed collaboratively rather than in the old silos. Products include private network technology to improve security when using “coffee shop” public internet access and free-to-use Firefox Monitor, which will alert users if their data is involved in a hack. “We want people not to have to worry about the bad things that can happen, but so much of the technology we use now just doesn’t love us back. Firefox will make it really easy to be safe online.”

Perhaps most importantly, the focus and clarity provided by Kaykas-Wolff’s fresh approach has given Mozilla the courage and confidence that it really can take the fight to those giant rivals. “It has helped us to be clear minded and strong hearted on both the product and marketing side, and to become a big influence in the way the whole business operates.”

The KPMG view

They may not be able to match the footprints or resources of their giant competitors, but more modestly sized businesses often make potent challengers in even the most competitive of markets, says Tim Knight, partner at KPMG. In the case of Mozilla, he says: “They have a very clear organisational purpose based around equality of internet access, which also leads them to have a very strong view on how every aspect of the organisation needs to work together to delight their customers.”

This focus provides the impetus for strong collaboration across organisational boundaries that larger organisations, often less focused on the customer, can struggle to match. “We no longer live in a world where customers are happy to have separate interactions with your marketing, sales and service teams,” says Knight. “They now expect seamless journeys that transit across those functions. This requires an enterprise that is prepared to fully connect their teams around how the customer wants to do business.”

Technology can provide the tools and environment for that integration, but it’s a means rather than an end in itself, he adds. “There is an enormous role for tech, but it has to be framed in the right way. The mistake most organisations make is to start with the technology – ‘What capability would that platform give us?’ – whereas the best organisations start with a model of what they want to achieve with the customer and their employees, and only then track back to making their technology choices.”

All of which means that senior leadership teams must now add to their agenda driving collaboration and being customer champions. “It’s never been more important for the executive team to be close to real insights on the customer,” says Knight, “but if you are having board and management meetings where the agenda starts with financial performance and moves through operations, risk and legal matters, it’s unlikely you are making space for worthwhile conversations about what the customer really needs.
“As CEO, one of the big challenges is to ensure that your organisation’s internal wiring allows the right customer-centric conversations to happen.”

Doing so will more than repay the effort, he adds: “Such open discussions create a business that is more human, is more likely to have happy, engaged employees and that will deliver better customer outcomes. It’s a virtuous circle that you can benefit from for years.”

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