Crib Sheet: Mozilla’s Mitch Kapor, Lotus-Leafer or Berkeley Agitator?

Just how do you go about introducing Mitch Kapor? Designer of Lotus 1-2-3, founder of the Open Source Applications Foundation, first chair of the Mozilla Foundation, current chair of OneWebDay.. oh, blah, let’s leave it up to his Twitter bio.

Mitchell Kapor

Just how do you go about introducing Mitch Kapor? Designer of Lotus 1-2-3, founder of the Open Source Applications Foundation, first chair of the Mozilla Foundation, current chair of OneWebDay.. oh, blah, let’s leave it up to his Twitter bio. “Tech entrepreneur, startup investor, activist philanthropist.”


Mitch Kapor, Born in Brooklyn and now residing in San Francisco, is a mogul of many colors–although mostly green. The Lotus Development Corporation, Mozilla Foundation and Open Source Applications Foundation are all doing good work for the world thanks to him–and he took over the chair of OneWebDay after its founder, Susan P. Crawford, went to work for President Obama. If you could draw a simple venn diagram to show the overlap between technology and doing good, Mitch would be at its heart.

Or would he? Head on out to Berkeley, California, to a plot of land that Mitch and his wife Freada Kapor Klein have earmarked for their green palace. Trouble is, neighbors are saying that a 10,000-square foot house with a 10-car garage just can’t be that ecologically friendly (and the town has a 60-point green scale it uses as a measuring stick). The spat–between residents, and Kapor’s architect–is getting out of hand. So, in the emerald corner, team Kapor. And in the eau de nil corner, the Berkeley-ites.

Eau de Nil: “That the staff, the owners and the architects indulge in this kind of greenwashing only serves to make a joke out of Berkeley’s environmental aspirations.”

Emerald: According to an email from Kapor’s architect, Donn Logan, both he and his client were too busy to respond to questions.

Eau de Nil: “…absurd.”

Emerald: “…”


Anyway, enough about that, let’s shine the spotlight back on Kapor.

Forget about software, we want to know about the first piece of hardware you made at Junior High: “It was a gated adder with a rotary telephone dial as the primary input device.”

What Mitch most identifies with: Long Island in the 60s and the Pastrami sandwich.

Getting off his Lotus leaf and becoming a VC: “I’d been a great angel investor, but professional venture capital was clearly not the right thing for me.”

Crossing continents “I’d always wanted to live in San Francisco and my circumstances never permitted it. I’m so happy I made the move. I’d been married (it ended in 1996) and I found myself thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

So, you made a whole lotta money, why carry on working? “Even more compelling than the idea of working for a living–at least to me–is to make a difference, to give something back, to do some good in the world, to create something.”


Seriously? “I just consider it incredible good fortune that I’m in a position to be able to do that with as much of my time as I want. So I’m more motivated about working now than I’ve ever been. It’s great to find yourself, to find a passion.”

You’re so money, baby: “None of us who made huge fortunes in the early days really deserved it. The insanity that saw Amazon achieve a higher capital value than General Motors has largely been leached out of the system, and so if that’s what you’re after, do something different.”

Mitch’s golden rules about start up culture: “Have an impact. Be prepared for bullying and public humiliation. Diverse teams are better. inaction is an action too. Hold people accountable. Be serious about keeping a tight leash. Beware angel investors, they can be disruptive.

Mitchell Kapor

The Secret life of Mitchell Kapor (he appeared in a conference in the VR world in 2007) “People are hungry for community. They’re hungry for meaning in a society that is oriented around the production and consumption of consumer goods. Buy more stuff. I mean, it doesn’t make people happy. But when there is an alternative to be able to reach out and to find kindred spirits who have come in interest or share a common perspective on life to feel fulfilled by that, people will do that even if it is a somewhat low-resolution version of reality.”

If Mozilla had been smaller, would he have called it Mozuki? “I think it was like the Harry Potter of open source. you know how all the movies open with him living with his aunt and uncle, who give him no respect and lock him up? People had written off Mozilla on multiple occasions.”

Just check out Number Two, in the Apple Dating Game of 1983. He looks like a bad boy, doesn’t he?


About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.