Episode 67

Ryan Sipes and Building Community at Thunderbird


February 12th, 2021

36 mins 17 secs

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode


Richard Littauer


Ryan Sipes

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! On the episode today, our special guest is Ryan Sipes, the Community and Business Development Manager for Thunderbird, as well as the Treasurer on Thunderbird’s governing body. We learn all about what Thunderbird is and an interesting story of how Ryan ended up there. We also find out when Thunderbird was spun out of Mozilla, the aftermath Ryan had to deal with assuring people it was not dead, and that there were people still working on it. Even though COVID hit this year, Thunderbird has been super successful in obtaining donations, and Ryan shares how they did this. Also, we learn how Ryan gives back for open source projects that Thunderbird uses and find out what Ryan is most excited about in the future for Thunderbird. Download this episode now to find out much more!

[00:00:46] Ryan tells us an interesting story how he ended up at Thunderbird, how he applied for the position, and mentions Foss Jobs as a great resource.

[00:03:58] Richard asks Ryan how large the contribution base is, how many people he has as active contributors, and if they are contributing on GitHub.

[00:05:56] Ryan explains the governance model, where the council fits in, and how they’ve managed to grow during COVID.

[00:08:26] We find out how many people use Thunderbird.

[00:09:47] Ryan tells us about getting spun out from Mozilla, which happened before him, and living with the aftermath of that when he was there.

[00:12:28] Richard asks Ryan how he would have done things differently if he was Mozilla’s leadership board.

[00:13:46] We find out when Ryan was brought on as a Bus Dev, what did he initially start doing and what else did he did to help make sure the project had more money in time.

[00:17:27] Richard asks if Ryan sees any differences in the kind of users who use Thunderbird and if he’s trying to cater to them in particular, as opposed to people who just use Gmail for their day to day purposes.

[00:22:43] Richard wonders how Ryan asks for money so effectively and if he has any tips on how to get donations since he does it so well.

[00:29:03] Ryan tells us how he gives back for his open source projects that Thunderbird uses.

[00:31:06] Ryan talks about what he’s most excited about in the future for Thunderbird.

[00:32:41] Find out where you can follow and find out more about Ryan and Thunderbird.


  • [00:33:42] Richard’s spotlight is mailing list by Martin Edwardes called the EAORC (Evolutionary Anthropology Online Research Cluster).
  • [00:34:37] Ryan’s spotlights are two projects called EteSync and Etebase.


[00:07:10] “When I was looking at the coronavirus, I was very worried because 99.9% of our funding comes from in-kind gifts, from donations.”

[00:16:02] “One thing that really, I guess made us successful at the level we are, like this year we’re going to do $2.3 million in donations, and so, that’s reasonably good. But so much of that came from explicitly letting users, letting donors know that we need the support in order to produce a really high-quality piece of software.”

[00:25:46] “I thought, well, maybe the thing is we just have to ask, and be very upfront about it, and it seemed like such a small thing but I told my team we have got to ask people as soon as they download, and it says your download has started, and then the ask, and we did that, and immediately donations went up substantially.”



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