China Poaches Top Talent from Mozilla Taiwan for IoT Projects

13 Jun

In 2012, Mozilla opened a subsidiary in Taiwan called Mozilla Taiwan and recruited many local engineers to work on developing the Firefox OS. Compared to local companies, Mozilla Taiwan offered a better working environment and career development opportunities. For instance, staff members in the Taiwan office have the opportunity to work in one of Mozilla’s other offices overseas. The benefits Mozilla offers are also good. Yet it seems that when a better opportunity emerges, Mozilla’s employees are willing to take it – at least that’s what Tech News has heard. Market insiders tell us Mozilla Taiwan has lost many of their top performers recently: The company’s former Taiwan CEO poached them.

Indeed, Mozilla Taiwan chief executive officer Li Gong left the company to launch a startup called Gone Fishing. According to CNET, Gone Fishing aims to provide the “computing brains for the Internet of Things” – “a broad idea that involves providing everything from traffic signals to door locks with connections to the Internet.” Additionally, Gone Fishing is building a mobile operating system relying on the same Web-based approach as Firefox OS.

When Mozilla set up in Taiwan, and changed the Boot to Gecko smartphone OS to Firefox OS, they chose Taiwan as an R&D center for three reasons: its inexpensive labor, high-quality talent pool and key position in the global technology hardware supply chain.

There are two posts on the “Kaobei Engineer” fans page that give us some possible clues about the changes afoot at Mozilla Taiwan. According to the posts, after leaving Mozilla Taiwan, Li then brought over Mozilla Taiwan’s then R&D director, James Ho to Gone Fishing. If the posts are accurate, then just one day after leaving Mozilla Taiwan, James Ho began recruiting mid and senior-level employees from the company to work at Gone Fishing. But it is unclear if recruiting so many former Mozilla employees will contribute significantly to Gone Fishing’s success, one of the posts says.

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(These two posts on Kaobei Engineer are related to Mozilla Taiwan)

On June 5th, CNET reported some personnel changes at Mozilla. The report mentioned Mozilla chief technology officer Andreas Gal had left the company to join a new IoT venture. It also said Li Gong had left Mozilla Taiwan in April and had founded a new venture targeting the same market as his former employer. Additionally, according to the CNET report, James Ho also left Mozilla Taiwan. But his LinkedIn profile currently does not reflect those changes.

Recently, Mozilla has been experiencing some trouble. Many of the company’s founders have left; the future of the Firefox OS is in doubt and their new R&D center in Taiwan is losing talent, lured away by better compensation packages.

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Li Gong introduces the Firefox OS smartphone Source: TechNews photos

According to another market insider, Gone Fishing has recruited more than 30 employees from Mozilla Taiwan. Technology workers from Silicon Valley and China are more expensive than those from Taiwan, the person pointed out, further noting that it makes sense to recruit talented Taiwanese for cost reasons.

However, none of this bodes well for Mozilla Taiwan, and it also brings into question some uncomfortable realities about Taiwan’s future. If top talent can be easily poached away from Mozilla Taiwan, couldn’t it happen to many other firms in Taiwan as well?

The market is competitive: Can Mozilla compete?

The insider familiar with Mozilla said that he does not believe Li Gong can accomplish anything significant going it alone. The Firefox OS doesn’t have much competitive strength. For one thing, it has limited market share and cannot tap the high-end market. But nor can it make much headway in the lower and mid-tier markets, which are dominated by Chinese brands which are willing to settle for razor-thin margins – or even to operate at a loss – just to boost market share. It is very difficult to succeed in the smartphone market. For further evidence, just look at Microsoft. Despite the company’s tremendous resources, it has failed to gain a significant share of the global handset market.

According to the research firm IDC, of the 334 million phones shipped during the first quarter of 2015, Google’s Android OS comprised 78 percent and Apple’s iOS 18.3 percent, leaving just 3.7 percent of the market for competitors.

Gone Fishing offers a chance to reboot the Firefox OS concept, analysts say. Mozilla’s philosophical commitment to openness, choice and privacy was not successful in the end. Now Gone Fishing is trying a different approach in the same smart phone market that Mozilla still struggle to fight.

Trouble between Mozilla Taiwan and Taiwan’s social media users

Led by Li Gong, Mozilla Taiwan did not have any easy time with Taiwan Mozilla community, the group who help localized user interface to local language,  and promote the use of Mozilla product like Firefox browser. When Mozilla Taiwan was first founded, they looked for a social media manager, but did not hire anyone active in the local community. One insider who is familiar with Mozilla’s community efforts said that Li Gong was used to the tough style used in China’s market, such as Qihoo 360, and unsuccessfully tried to replicate it in Taiwan. That caused Taiwan’s Mozilla community to criticize Mozilla’s lack of openness and caused many conflicts between Mozilla and social media users.

From the recent changes at Mozilla Taiwan, we can see that a key employee left the company to found his own firm Gone Fishing that will compete with Mozilla. And if recent reports are true, Gone Fishing is having no trouble poaching additional talent from Mozilla. It is true in many markets that offering better compensation and career development opportunities can persuade workers to switch jobs.

But it is worrying for Taiwan. The technology industry forms a key foundation of the Taiwanese economy. Yet its salary levels are not competitive with other nearby markets, such as Hong Kong or mainland China, even if workers in Taiwan’s technology sector earn more than their counterparts in other industries. As a result, it is likely that an increasing number of talented workers from Taiwan’s technology sector will choose to work overseas in the future.

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