How doing everything wrong turned Automattic into a multi-million dollar multimedia powerhouse – TechCrunch

Nothing has been automatic on the success of Automatic.

Today, for those who haven’t been paying attention, the company seems like an overnight success story. WordPress, the open source software behind the company, is estimated to power about 42% of all websites on the internet. Automattic eCommerce plugin, WooCommerce, which it bought in 2015, is believed to run more than a quarter of all online storefronts.

The company has 1,700 employees in a distributed, asynchronous, and global workforce, and has raised nearly $ 1 billion, according to Crunchbase. most recently at a valuation of $ 7.5 billion.

Matt Mullenweg, Founder and CEO of Automattic at TechCrunch Disrupt 2014. Image credits: TechCrunch

But getting to this point has taken 16 years, or 18, if you count from the foundation of WordPress. And during those many years, the company did almost everything wrong, if you ask the venture capitalists.

Automattic focused on the media at a time when the internet was demolishing that industry. It avoided the types of walled gardens that turned Facebook, Apple, and Google into monopolistic powers, and built its business on a volunteer-run open source infrastructure that brought many investors to a halt.

Its workforce has always been completely remote and distributed, 16 years before last year’s pandemic spread that model across the corporate world. Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg was barely the legal drinking age in America (21) when he started building, at a time when venture capitalists wanted “adult supervision” at their companies.

But in hindsight, doing everything wrong was exactly the right strategy, a fact that is now becoming apparent.

“With exponential growth, things seem small all the way,” says Mullenweg. According to his calculations, Automattic is not near the end yet, but the curve is starting to become visible.

It all started with a blog post.

The jazz saxophonist who started a revolution in weblogs

Massive changes often start out as fleeting and uncertain ideas. The technology is unstable and experimental; the audience is unclear; and murky or completely unknown commercial applications.

In 2003, that was the context of the so-called weblog, which would shortly be removed from the blog. Blogger had just sold itself to Google – for an undisclosed and presumably small price. The year before, the Instapundit and Talking Points Memo political bloggers had rocked American politics when managed to step up the attention on a story about Trent Lott, forcing him to resign as minority leader in the United States Senate. However, traditional media remained the undisputed king of communication, and the era of professional blogging (including the one you’re reading) was still a distant dream.

An early adopter was Matt Mullenweg, a 19-year-old jazz enthusiast from Texas. In a blog post that is still online, he wrote:

My registration software hasn’t been updated for months, and the lead developer is gone, and I can only hope it’s okay.

To do?

Mullenweg himself didn’t necessarily seem like the person looking for a solution. His interests were eclectic and varied: although he envisioned himself as a future jazz saxophonist, he was also studying political science at the University of Houston and spent much of his time working on his photography (to this day, the Twitter of Mullenweg handle is @photomatt). His technology hobbies, including open source software, were inspired by his father’s work as a professional programmer, but Mullenweg still didn’t seem confident in pursuing his father’s profession.

However, its post caught the attention of a few other developers and the group set out to create open source. WordPress project, focused on blogging. The first version of WordPress was released in May 2003 and became the official version of b2, an older project that had been abandoned.

Mullenweg became the focal point of a growing community. In October 2004 Houston Press profile of him noted that WordPress was running over 29,000 blogs. Mullenweg’s own blog was the third most popular in the world, and all the attention it received resulted in an offer to drop out of college and become a senior product manager at CNET, a San Francisco media company. WordPress, however, was still known as a “hobby”.

The good side of spam

CNET turned out to be the perfect employer. The company job offer allowed Mullenweg to spend 20% of his time working on WordPress and also allowed him to retain ownership of the source code he wrote while with the company. The paper also gave him an inside look at the internal systems of a large media organization.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here