Leaving Mozilla, Starting Massive Health
Firefox is a project you never want to leave, and Mozilla is a company of which dreams are made. No matter where I travel in the world—from Rome to Tokyo—there are engaged Mozillian communities that immediately whirlwind me to a local pub to talk shop. I’ve been extremely lucky to participate in the world’s flagship open-source movement.
After helping to shape and ship the world’s leading browser to nearly half a billion people, there’s little one can do which seems meaningful. Where does one go? It’s been an action-packed time: I’ve started projects from Ubiquity to Jetpack; designed the Firefox Mobile concept and the original W3C geolocation specification; led projects like Firefox Panorama and given a TED talk; helped scale the open source design community; and even invented new forms of phishing. The scale of impact and ability to work in the open for a public-benefit company has been a life-defining experience. The last two and a half years I’ve been inspired by, and lucky enough to also inspire, the best and brightest in protecting and enhancing the open Web—arguably the most precious resources of our time.
Come January 1st, however, I’m leaving to found a new company. Massive Health.
Each of us has a unique ability. I want to use mine—the knowledge to make products which are disruptively easier and more enjoyable to use—to change people’s lives. Life-changing not in the sense of a new social website or better email, but in making people’s lives materially better by helping them get and stay healthy. Anyone that’s been sick, overweight, or had to deal with a doctor knows that health is a field in dire need of humane design.
Health is personal. My entire family – save me – is overweight. My mother is a well-known nurse practitioner and runs a hospice in San Francisco. She’s decisively smart and deals first-hand with the ramifications of the catastrophic affects of obesity on patient’s quality of life. Why then does she struggle with her own weight? It’s because people did not evolve to cope with the calorie-glut we live in now. Worse, the human brain famously doesn’t deal well with delayed gratification. The reason why weight is hard is because the feedback loop is too loose: The cake I eat today doesn’t materially change my body for the rest of today or tomorrow. It’s the incremental amount of cake I eat or don’t over weeks and months that makes me fit or fat. Our brain’s pleasure circuits lead us to optimize short-term happiness (cake!) over long-term healthiness (obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes).
Think about it like driving a car. While you know it is bad for the environment to drive, that knowledge doesn’t really change your behavior. When the Prius introduced a large screen with instant and average MPG with a pretty graph, Toyota created a small breed of hypermilers and a much larger populace that changed routes and driving behavior to optimize that number. Toyota had tightened the feedback loop and pushed people to drive more green on a daily basis. In fact, people changed their behavior so much that when BMW did an experiment in making the instantaneous MPG readout even more prominent, BMW had to stop the study midway as the rate of accidents dramatically increased due to drivers trying to maximize their MPG instead of driving safely.
And it is not just weight. A couple years ago I was dating an entrepreneur who had type one diabetes. Through that relationship I got to know the condition and the deleterious state-of-the-art. She was silicon-valley technically savvy and despite leading her company to a successful exit, the best technology she had was still just writing down her blood glucose levels and squinting at a column of numbers in an attempt to gain insight into her condition. Even when she painstakingly put her information into a spreadsheet, there just wasn’t enough tool there to give her data actionable meaning. It was clear that a little bit of design could go a long way to giving people back control of their bodies and lives.
With health-care costs rising faster than inflation, a crisis is on the horizon. We need to apply cognitive psychology, the principles of design, and tighter feedback loops to our own health. Health care needs to have its design Renaissance, where products and services are redesigned to be responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.
Massive Health, we think, can help make that happen.