Matt Mullenweg, Founder of WordPressJanuary 22
Matt Mullenweg is the founder of Automattic and co-creator of WordPress, one of the largest open-source projects in the world, and a publishing platform that enables as much as 35 percent of the web. In this conversation, he discusses the beginnings of WordPress, the growing importance of open source in the age of cloud, the lessons he has learned as a founder and more optimistically, he is excited about the distributed workplace -- a core founding principle at Automattic.
coming up on this episode of foundation. I believe that technology is amplifying, but I also believe in the fundamental goodness of human nature. I do think that there it's far more good happening by how much more connected we are. How much more migration of ideas and equality enabled by these online platforms allowed people to connect and relate in a way which is not mediated by the physical location or presents or what they look like or anything like that. And we will look back 100 years from now at at this being a camera, an explosion of creativity, ideas of a true renaissance around the world,
everyone. Kevin Rose here Welcome back to another episode of foundation, a podcast by True Ventures.
is the show reinterview world class entrepreneurs, builders and investors to tease out practical knowledge that you can use to improve your business and professional life. Today I'm really excited to hand over the interview torch to my friend home. Home is a longtime friend and also one of my partners, a true ventures, almost a fantastic tech journalists, having created the technology block Giga home back in 2001 he also writes for The New Yorker and provides commentary on tech trends to broadcast channels that include Bloomberg West, NPR, BBC television and radio. In this episode, Ohm is interviewing Matt Mullen Weg, who is the founder of WordPress, which powers 35% of the Internet, which is just insane. There's a time to learn from Matt in this interview, so I know you're gonna enjoy it. Hello and welcome to my conversation with a very dear friend of mine, Matt Mullen. Greg
very inside of a car
this morning. Yeah, this is the first time I get to interview Matt in almost 15 years of knowing game. Actually, over 15 years of knowing game and I've never interviewed you never talked to you professionally.
And we have done some onstage
stuff, Yes, but not not not like a part cast. I have not interviewed you for an article in my whole life, so this is pretty exciting for me. And it's really difficult for me is right, because I know you so well. And you are one of the earliest true winters investments when I'm a partner and your key member off our true community. And so you know this journey has been long and we've been together for for most of it, mostly as friends, not as an investor, so but I want to learn more about, like, what goes on in the head of Matt Mullen. So let's start at the beginning, Uh, tell us a little bit about how and why would press started?
Matt and an another developer who were contributing to the original open source project got together on an online forum and decided to work on it under the name WordPress.
So worth best started,
not as a commercial venture at all.
fork of existing open source products that have been abandoned so myself and this gentleman named Mike Little in the United Kingdom decided to start working together.
We're actually connected on the comment sections of our respective blocks.
We've both been volunteers contributing to this open source software.
And so when it stopped,
development were like,
maybe we can pick this up and keep it going.
Picked up the code,
as is the custom might try to give it a new name,
because it's a different thing.
And that was WordPress.
So we started collaborating and we actually wouldn't meet for, I think, a year or two. After that, we would just collaborate online.
It was called Be press. If I remember
correctly, the old
one was called that B two B two. And I think I've found you talking about your next rancher in the comments on B two communities.
Matt used to read a lot of blogs, and seeing a lot of spam on those blogs, he would reach out to the owners and proposed to help them switch over to WordPress instead.
Well, yeah, I have actually been using a predecessor that you were using his welcome movable type, But I enjoy the Peachtree Nature of B two and then, you know, big part of however motive would press in the early days. I was I would read a ton of logs just because I That's why I started blogging myself. I loved reading blog's about that authentic voice and s o I would comment on a lot different. Plus, if they ever had trouble. I'm like, Hey, I'm happy to help you switched our WordPress were press will get less spam or just all the sort of different things. And and that's where a lot of the action was a time. How
old were you when you got in war in helping develop WordPress?
You know, wordpress started the first release I was 19. Probably got involved would be, too, when I was 18. So kind of in that period, that little phase where high school has ended. Ecologist started. I stayed in Houston, but I wasn't I was studying political science. It wasn't like to technique or anything. And all my free time is spent either doing music or on the computer.
How are those two related music and cold? What's the connection there?
there's so many parallels.
And in fact,
so many engineers.
I know I love music or playing music or different things.
it was that I got started with music education.
I want all public schools and Houston and a really good what they called magnet programs with you.
Learn an instrument.
My dad had played saxophone,
so I decided to take sex room.
just had a really set of really great teachers,
and Mr Maxie,
going through all of the folks who really inspired me to commit a lot of my time to it. So it's been usually a couple hours a day practicing or Jerry. Music lessons were expensive. They usually like 40 50 bucks an hour. That's kind of sensitive afford. So we basically I learned that was also in computers, so I learned howto build computers with him. Were you, like would buy the parts severally put him together and then just playing around with proto Web page builders like Front Page and Dreamweaver learned to build websites. And so I would trade with local musicians. I would trade out of the building them a computer or a building the website for like, 10 lessons, and that was, Ah, first business. And that's how I got kind of involved one of those one of those websites.
It was a local jazz musician, still friend named David, cause there's a lot of us took lessons from the sax player, and I know why. But for some reason I put a form on his Web site and the form became like a hangout. So all the all his other students and just different people in the Houston jazz community started just like hanging out in this form and talking to each other, thousands and thousands of posts. So it became like a pretty active community just on his music website, which in the hand side is kind of funny and weird, but that customizing the forum software was like my first dynamic programming.
Blogs is a space where the blog owners invite a community for a conversation, and the conversations that happens in the comments is the key to making blog's what they are.
I think a lot of people forget now that you shared the story about the forums is and the early days off blog's. I think the comments created the community. I think people always get, and at least as as a former professional media person, I always felt that mind as we never got the joke about blog's thing. It's about the community and not about the actual content, because the conversations which happened in the comments were the key to making blog's what they were. And I think this forum is another testament that as human beings, we do wanna wrong congregate to a community place, whether it's offline or whether it's online.
Yeah, it's that Zach third place, right? You know, not work, not home, a place to connect around your interests. And it's a goal amount in 2020 to bring back the vibrancy of commenting, particularly on blocks. I think that the online discourse needs that because it za hosted space. You know it's different from like a Twitter or Facebook or something is that you're inviting people like into your virtual living room, and so you're curating the space here. You make it nice, and it can take on the tone and the personality of whoever is hosting the conversation
I think it definitely needs a lot of protection, a lot off identity and, you know, a security, because I think, if anything, the last 10 years off the Internet have shown us that we devolve into our base instincts pretty quickly on the Internet, hiding behind the notion off being anonymous
By default, WordPress comments require moderation the first time that someone leaves a new comment; after that, they go right through. This is a good balance that keeps the comments coming, but also ensures civility in conversation.
by defaults. WordPress comedy features require moderation for the first comment. So the first time someone leaves something, it's moderated. But then the second and third time, the default setting is for it to go right through. So I feel like this is a good balance. I
mean, that may have worked in the emission times off, like the pre 2000 ten's of the Internet. I call anything before Facebook, the innocent at a veterinary. But I think since then it's become bitter for free for all, whether it's Facebook or Twitter. It has created a free for all in in our communication and taken a little bit of civility out of the conversation. So I might think you might have to rethink how the Commons are on the blog's in the future.
I think you just have to keep it going.
so it's It's about that relationship between the reader and the author.
Fred Wilson has,
on his block,
I just blow yesterday about this amazing kind of math breakthrough discovery is this?
the field's medal is a math.
it's like the Nobel,
but every four years, that's actually better than Nobel Prize in some ways. So this feels medalist mathematician has been blogging about this persistent math problem, and he got an anonymous comment on actually really old entry from 2011. And he got the common in 2019 suggesting he take a certain path of inquiry. And that led to making a breakthrough in this math problem that's like next mathematicians for ever. And his comment section is really, really vibrant. And I think part of it said he participates any. So this people amateur mathematicians, not fields medalists going there saying things, posting equations and he'll reply, which is kind of amazing. And that's again, that's the best part of Ah, we're online can kind of bring you close together. I think open source is really good at this,
too. I think we were digressing a little bit from your journey. I'm gonna
come find it's a good car journey. Open
source. Yeah, and so let's let's go back to the time and you're building these websites. And how did you end up on on B two and you know, from B to do WordPress like, what made you want to keep doing a version of B two n evolving into WordPress?
At the time, Matt was programming mostly in Pearl, a little bit in Python, but when he came across how PHP worked, he really wanted to dive in more. It was a language that was easy to read and to understand. Matt started looking for a blogging software, written in PHP.
At the time, I was programming mostly in Pearl, a little bit of python. But when I came across how PHP worked, it was just very easy to integrate into the Web and easier to run on short hosting things like that. And so my path probably went through Ph. B. I started looking for PHP software. I was using PHP, PB and other other for himself. Where there was impeached. Be like, Well, that must be bloggers offer written in that, And that was that. Be too. I just love how easy it was to modify code is very simple to understand
for the beautiful you know, those for like, great days because at that time Lennox, you had my sequel, Lee HB and a couple of other open source tools, which basically created this stack for innovation. We've already forgotten about it. But, you know, like post Internet one point. Oh, bust. I think those tools helped create a fertile ground for a lot of creativity. I mean, ah, against WordPress came out of that as well.
The lamp stack. Lennox Apache, My sequel in PHP. It's funny. All of those Lennox and PHP are still pretty central. The Internet, Apache and my sequel have evolved a lot.
I mean, the scale of the Internet has changed for everything, but it just was fantastic. I think you know, every time you have a conversation about open sores and it gets devolve devolved into conversation about business models. And, you know, I saw this article in The New York Times recently where they were. It was about Amazon. Web service is and how the they kind of tend to, you know, you know, subsume all open source projects into Amazon Web service is, and I think there is that way of looking at things. And then you have the other way of looking at things, which is the lamp and the innovation they created and they fostered. I mean, you know, pee HB is still being used on Facebook and on board breasts, right and and lending still being such a crucial part of our our universe
I think that,
with open source,
you can have problem.
Suffering for two is the tragedy of the comments where there's a shared resource,
the software in this case that people can take from and not give anything back to.
And Amazon son,
this kind of famously on a few occasions.
But I think it's most because they got in some fights with the companies.
Other places they do give a lot back.
If that happens,
the essential resource can kind of dry up.
That only happens in the short term,
because logically, if you look at what's happening, you say, Well, if I put a little bit back and even just a few percent into this core project, it could multiply. And in the WordPress ecosystem, we've actually formalized this and something called five from future. What we say if you're a company built on WordPress, if you could take 5% of your time, your money or whatever it is, and put it back into the Commons. That will ensure that word presses around for generations to come. And it's helped us so far Avoid that tragedy of the Commons problem where people just take
Yeah, early days award Prince, Let's go back to I know I was probably a patient zero for the early board press. So I have my own reasons for using what President, since we won't go into that. But tell me too. I mean, I never really asked you What was that like? I was so selfish of me. And never once It's like what for those days, like for you? Like what was You know, this guy, this Kate in Houston feeling at that time
it was and still is just a total blast.
I'm kind of a full stack engineer.
I guess he'll be caught now.
So what was fun about it?
Waas and I made the website worked on the software,
wrote the documentation,
designed the logo.
would answer support forms.
I still have,
five or 10,000 posts on the forums.
I would answer your e mails as an early word phrase user was marketing,
which was at the time was like,
cricket in the five minute install or the taglines Common and blog's just got doing everything and then doing it alongside without people who are volunteering. So we're all doing it for fun in his spare time, nights and weekends for me. Sometimes if I miss class just ah, I see something I think about all the time. And, um, and to me, that's it's really fun to get things when, especially when people use them. So the first few users, or WordPress I went to a performing arts high school, so instead of sports, we would have, like three hours of our art area per day. And so a lot of my friends were in the heart area or dance or vocal or classical music or things like that.
And so those with a very, very, very first for Chris Hughes is like the 1st 5 and I just set it up for them and said, Hey, strong posting. I use this instead of your life journal or yours enka or whatever block spot. Whatever else was out there at the time, and I think that was really helpful, that the first users were kind of non tech users because their feedback and what they found confusing or challenging. Um, now I just fixed, like right then and then that made it more accessible to other people. So we're open Source can sometimes have a correct but bad reputation of being too developer center. Because, you know, all of the original developers of WordPress were people who I think were very pragmatic and humanistic.
You know, it was the software, the means to an end, not sort of end and of itself. We were always thinking about how to make it more user friendly and being users ourselves. Active bloggers helped with that. You kind of realize when things would take too many clicks to do.
Yeah. And so how long did this go on? Like, you know, what was the first year like? What was the first year of wordpress like,
It's kind of hard to remember.
But the first year was what I just described.
And not a ton of traction kind of users.
we worked towards if she releases that year and we're working towards a WordPress one point out myself,
believe some other folks like Alex King and others started joining that point.
Maybe ramble on.
I guess the one the first breaks was that the creator of B two,
kind of came back.
He had disappeared for a while,
came back and said, Oh, this is awesome. Someone picked it up and said he was retiring B two and that work for us to be the official continuation because they were actually like five or six different forks be two of the time. So other people had taken the code and made their own version of it. So I said, We're presses the official one. The thing was, we really start work 1st 1 point. Oh, and to switch people like you over. I've been working on an importer for removal type, which was a dominant self for the time, probably 90%. And to make the importer work, I had to make all the features that movable type of that were arrested.
It's like multiple categories of different archived pages of different things like that that just we don't have the data models support that time. So evolve the database schema, create the importer and release this one point home that could do it basically lossless import. Uh, and just I don't remember the exact timeline, but with them, like weeks or a few months after that movable type made a very controversial change to their software, where they released a new version that had a drastically different pricing model. And moveable type was preparing yourself for as well. It wasn't open source to never free license. And so when they change this, a lot of you weren't happy about it. All the people All right, everybody, we're also blockers, said he blogged about it and there was one gentleman was pretty influential.
The time has a writer named Mark Pilgrim. His website's unfortunately, no longer at nine. But you can find this, uh, Post and, um uh asked the name is escaping me. But the gist of the post was if he had been happy Moviles abuser, um and for him to upgrade would be $535 which was it seemed like a lot of the time. But what the license change showed him was that although this offer had been opened enough movable type, he didn't truly have freedom. He didn't own it, didn't belong to him. His rights with regards that's offered could be taken away at any moment. Ah, the title of the essay was Freedom Zero.
She's name of the first freedom of the GPL. And so he said, You know what? To me, the freedom is more important than money. I'm gonna take the $535 I would have had to pay to upgrade. I'm gonna donate that toward press. I'm switching my side over. It's not about the cost. My mother money, It's about freedom. And this essay went viral went everywhere. Also, for the record, I think the largest donation before for many years after and so that was that was a big deal. And,
um and it started this wave of people starting to switch over. You know, that's so instead of upgrading toe movable type 3.0, they would switch toward press one point out, and and that was definitely for a stepping point.
So you finish your school political size underground, you finish college and a nap it enough. All right. Following in the footsteps of Bill Gates Cliche. Yeah, being genetically shade over. Yeah.
So, like I said, all public school. So I was going to University of Houston, which is a public college in Houston. But I think the draw was pretty strong. The technology and I got an opportunity to visit San Francisco over the summer. It was a summer between Think myself for Inger Andersen. Ah, years I had actually gotten a small book deal to write a book for O'Reilly on PHP and my Seiko and and so came out the same way this girl stayed with, um, with an online friend at the time, named Contact
Jelic. Go from workers off
building Internets Floor,
which at the time was the most insurance board from Mac,
was most Web standards friendly browser.
Here's a big love Sanders Africa and when I came out,
just San Francisco blew me away.
I didn't cross the Golden Gate are right at cable car,
but I was did Yahoo and Google and just phone fell in love.
All up and down 101 visited all the companies and I really loved it.
Good Bob Blogger.
So I visited F who would later go on to found rodeo and Twitter and medium um,
just kind of all over And the,
um when I returned back to Houston after that week,
I started get contacted by these companies.
for people who don't remember, it was kind of premier, one of the premier Internet places at the time they had or about to buy, flicker and delicious. They were a PHP shop. They employed the creator of PHP. They were pretty cool. The blogger team wanted to create how blogging appliance, so that at the time of the Google search appliance I Google on the box was pretty popular for enterprise. And I want to create that for blogging, rightly, for seeing what would later become like slack based campus center, right, like, you know, internal blogging the cos it's gonna be really powerful and,
I believe longer actually started as a project management suffer. So they, um, they were looking using WordPress for that. And so we're like a comes on Google, and that's when my mom want me to do because the free food says, I guess 2000 four's pretty early days of Google and maybe that's bad. But then the most interesting one for me and that being a media company named Sena CNN brand news dot com download dot com and be three like a bunch of the the big Internet properties at the time. Because they were the first really big online publisher. See messes that have been created their lot of weights.
Vineyard Rosalie means the company
then yet was created CNN and later spun out and became its own kind of definite thing. Maybe even still around.
I believe you created company.
cnet also kind of funny in hindsight,
But all these other companies were down and in the Valley and seen it was in the city,
actually over on second Street,
how and so they had their headquarters,
right There was actually pretty controversial and forth thinking of I think it was Shelby Bonnie and Healthy Miner who the founders.
So they brought me in.
I got to meet House E Kind of.
who was in there is dead,
has recruited me.
An interesting thing about that deal was they said,
we'll hire you essentially hired to be like product manager,
But you can work on WordPress what percent of time they said.
But it was meaningful to me and you contain all the intellectual property and copyright for any,
uh, any open source offer you. D'oh! So for no hell of studying jazz and music. And the big thing was owning your masters. So many of the musicians, especially in a Motown era etcetera, had essentially didn't own the right to their own work. We're seeing that today with Taylor Swift. Now, uh, something for early works doesn't on the Masters and said this concept of, like owning your masters is really important, like, Oh, so, um, I pursued the scene an opportunity. You made me a job offer, Helped in the car with my mom and drove out to a
sandwich. Yeah, and took your first step towards your immunization. By the way, I remember taking you for your first Indian meal. That didn't go down too well. Uh, well, spicier than I was to,
uh but actually, the first ever work press meet up was also at an Indian restaurant, which is his chat cafe. Still there? Yeah, I was on third.
It still is on third, I think.
Yeah, you and I will go to Punjab over. And why don't you call it the tandoori Lewiston
doing going? Yeah, and, Ah,
And then Jack Cafe was the first word. Press media, which ended up being Yeah, you were there, Chris Messina, who would later create Hashtags Laughing Squid founder Scott Beale. So there were a lot of contact. Was there, like, a lot of, ah, people would later go on to be create parts of the Internet. Yeah, right. That first
meet up. So how do you go from this guy? Creating open source software to starting a company around WordPress.
I'm gonna blame you a little bit
there. You can't blame me for anything. That's the rule number. One of this part, guys, I'm always right.
Home was a journalist for business two point. Oh, Christ. May from Genny Parts. These stories wrong about you. And you have written a story. A cover story about a chemical outpost, you know, tell us about our post.
Our approach was the first rep tour company,
and back in the day,
we used to call it the HTML dynamic HTML.
And they had created essentially an email client,
which looked like outlook worked like outlook accepting a browser.
And it was one of the earliest proponents of what came to be known as Reptile Point toe,
and I wrote about our post in the context off this idea off open source,
enabling the creation of smaller,
which would essentially looking for,
the white space that the big companies were leaving and creating features which could eventually evolve into big,
It was called insta company,
right of the insta company on and and I think the cover story waas the cover of the magazine was the three founders Off Off Our Post,
which is Tony Schneider's Ah, Partner True and one of my dear Friends, and Ethan and Ian, who eats him now, runs Band camp and camp. Yeah, such a company. Yeah, also a true company and just they were in a vintage polish since since I'm going into the California future. It just was like that was a cliche if there was one, but that that's how I felt that was the future like that. It was very clear to me we will have many more of these startups, which will create more entrepreneurial opportunities for all founders.
It's funny because I think there's a few magazine covers that like really influenced me.
I can name on one hand.
There's Mark Andries and Barefoot.
Is that the cover of Forbes of Simon magazine?
on the on the throne,
like this guy's Barefoot on There was that one with the Outpost founders and that a cool car against a company article.
Business to point now.
Remember early Wired one.
But Blake Cross fire Fox on the cover of Wired.
these were so,
so influential to me.
Especially being in Houston at the computer store would have all the magazines.
And so I like the magazines were like my window into this world.
But you are.
You did this cover story on them on post. It's hard to describe in hindsight. Have revolutionary was because all all Web applications at the time were essentially forms where you have some forms on a page, click a button, the page would reload, you know. And, uh, close was the first time I had ever seen drag and drop in a Web application. And so just to give you an idea for like, it was a true Web application. All other Web APS at the time were essentially static Web pages reloading. Thanks include WordPress when g mail came out. Yeah, who freaked out and bought our post for the time, one of the larger exits any of us had seen. But I want, say, is only about $30 million or something,
right? 30 $40 million.
Something like that, right in there. Which, in hindsight, you're like, Wow, that's a serious They
I mean, same ones with Flicker. I think Flicka is an iconic company. Has created more Internet behaviours than anything else out there. And, you know, it got required for $25 million by young are delicious, which essentially was the predecessor to anything, whether it's read it. Oh, are you are you know, you know, dig or whatever, like
that was another magazine cover. I think it was business to point out as well, but yeah, Kevin Rose on the cover.
That was Business week.
Business week on the cover of BusinessWeek. It got kind of made fun of later, but like, that cover to me was amazing, because I I guys so cool. You know, your partner trip. And I guess in this podcast Yeah. So you had said, You know, I heard he said something to Tony like you're not gonna has a last long at Yahoo. You'll outgrow it really quickly. You should meet this kid from Houston. He would also introduced me to Tony Conrad. What? The time was at another VC firm. It was a process full investor already at that time, It doesn't like danger. Hip top mobile devices if you're the cool cos
he did one of the yogurt companies do Stoney Stoney Field, Stony Brook No call something like Stonyfield Yogurt
and done really well.
So you introduced me to Tony Conrad and Tony Schneider.
That I met Phil Black car at the time,
had a very small boutique fund called Blacksmith and Tony Shiner.
meeting quickly filling Tony,
I was like,
They were saying you should think about this is a company and,
I also was pitching at scene at the time that they should create unopened blogging service where anyone could sign up for WordPress and start blogging,
kind of ah, competitive blogger, a large journal, things. And I was unable to convince them because blog's were perceived at the time to be alike. Political, controversial, kind of assessable
like they're like Twitter right now.
Yeah, and also editorially scene That was at an interesting juncture where they were being disrupted by blocks. So they're big products like news dot com were nipping at their heels were things like, um Gizmodo engadget, which were early tech blocks
that were later broke. Another weird thing. TechCrunch And then came the
other guys Okay? Yeah, definitely get her home in TechCrunch. But you're just a block originally just single off or even And they were being completely run around circles by the big editorial operations with thousands of people. And there's a company with a building, hundreds of people.
It's still a company with a lot of people for
The scene that's now CBS Interactive.
And they're still on Second Street.
So I just couldn't convince him,
but I was pretty convinced the world needed this things.
WordPress You had to be a developer to use.
You had a configure the database in style.
Pete said a PHP Know what The lamp stack waas upload these files modified thick files.
I was like we could make this so much easier.
It just has to exist in the world.
So seeing it was saying no,
the investors were saying,
you should do this But at the time,
if you raised funding as kid,
so you needed adult supervision.
This was more of the era of like Eric Schmidt joining Ghoul.
It was before Zuckerberg and others kind of pop realized and recent pop realized like, No, the founders were from the thing. And so, hey, I was just never gonna marries money. I did leave, seen it, and I started making some money from early partnerships and things like that. But, um, when I met Tony Shiner, that's when I knew that could raise money because I was like, Well, if I can pick the adult supervision, that'd be amazing.
And Tony and Tony shorter. I found my business soul mate at first meeting. Supposed to be 30 minutes or our we end up spending the whole afternoon, probably four or five hours together. I got so cold or saying this guy was shivering at the end because they didn't know to take out jackets. Sarah Sisko was really, really cold, but we just connected so deeply and I was like, Well, yeah, I can learn a ton from this guy will work really well together. You be the CEO. And so that's why I raise the money. But with the knowledge that Tony was gonna go in just a few months later, once he could gracefully exit from Yahoo and become CEO of automatic, that was how I think I had actually started seeing it.
Let me start some of it before I left. So I was 1/3 employee of automatic. The 1st 2 Donica in Ireland was Andy's Kilted Mountain for Mont or something before rejoining the night join. And then Tony think, was fourth or fifth. And that was the merry band.
Yeah, And you were small for a very long time.
Yes, we kept it pretty small, deliberately one, because we're running pretty much a break. Even we weren't really burning very much canIs. We had a good amount of revenue and, um two. I think that, you know, we enjoyed I didn't really To me, I equated big with bureaucracy or slow because my experiences prior to Cnet have been like subcontracting for, like, oil companies and Houston doing like Sarbanes Oxley software and stuff like that. Like I typically seem like the bigger something was, the worse it was. So I was also one like 37 signals and others were talking about the power of small and staying small. So it probably kept our automatic artificially too small from at least the 1st 3 or four years.
No, compare that to, you know, I don't know. You dated a couple of $1,000,000 at that time, right? Raise one
1,000,000 in 2006.
You know, it is $250,000 for getting on with the right suit investment. Those days look and sound. So queens
right now. And that one million was 1/4 of the company.
And you Here you are 22,019. Probably one of the biggest years in the history of automatic $350 million investment from sales force for 100. Year 300 acquired Tumbler,
one of our former competitors. Yeah, which, actually, to tie it was actually bought by Yahoo
for a $1,000,000. 2030. Yeah, And here you are, like, you know, almost 15 years later, like from where you started at a as a 22 volunteers on like this big company, which I guess what, 29% of the Internet is using some some form off the press or the other. And so tell me what what it's being like that, you know, from the $1 million check to this $300 million investment that I would just say, Let's get 300 ex growth in everything. You know, the number of people the size of the operation, probably the lines of code in the software. And you know, the number of people working for the company.
I think first it goes to the users in the community.
So forward price.
It turned out the Internet really wanted and needed an open source operating system for the web.
So we're working.
I started with blogging.
expanded toe have I had written sort of a separate CMS,
but an emerging that code in a WordPress so weird press could manage pages so you could run your whole Web site on it.
And then we created the plug in,
and theme systems of people could build other applications on top of it.
And so that became It became like application platform,
which is still has used today.
There's over 50,000 plug into the So with a few clicks,
you can customize your work press to be really anything.
not unlike caps on your phone.
If your phone only did one thing,
it would be that interesting. But the fact that you can load different hops onto it makes it that you have a very personal device there, and people run WordPress the same way. So that was really needed on the company side. I think what changed for us was actually in 2008. So 20 showers CEO. We've been doing the company about two years. It would raise $1 million and I want they were about 18 people pretty small. There was an offer to buy the company for Let's call around $200 million and that definitely focus off, You know, 20 people, $200 million. You know, I think I owned over half the company of that point. Like would have been a big outcome for everyone involved. And so we all thought about it quite a bit.
It is one of those things where you have to consider it was It was an interesting opportunity. Kind of came to the point where Tony, I had lots of soul searching conversations. Really? Hey, if we had millions ours I had $100 million like Well, what I want to do. Well, how do what I imagine doing after that? Well, I don't work on word fests and go around the world and go to work camps. And I greet the community like like I wanted to kind of exactly what I'm doing right now. And if we sold would probably have a lot less autonomy. An agency over the future of how that evolves. And in facts, you know, there were sort of early crop of companies that who sold, and we're getting messed up by their corporate parents.
You mean yo and messing things up?
I think they were starting the be some.
Some things were like the founders were leaving the company and like,
there was some of that where,
on the day that something cells,
it's all jolly and good.
But then sometimes over the coming years,
it could drift a bit.
S so we're starting to see some of that and so police I'd say no to it and it might have been.
I have been John Callahan.
Someone from true,
I think said to me like I if you're saying no to this,
what are you saying?
Yes to what are you saying you're gonna build?
We were not worth two in the morning at the time.
Charitably a revenue was I remember a couple 1,000,000.
Maybe at that point.
So I said, Well, what you're saying yes to and as I will, let's say yes to try to really build this into something that can realize the opportunity of creating something truly Web scale. There was the first that we ever got on. The number of websites were running and it was 0.8%. So I was like, Well, that was amazing us. We're like we're already pointing present websites like how? How far can it go? Days about 35 on that same stat was like, Well, let's just try toe really build this into a thing. And so I became really serious about learning, not just a the code side in the engineering side,
but the people side the business. How the community's form with the best governance models for how open source collaborates. How do we make the company more effective? Like because we want, you know, the way we're doing meetings and running code and doing code of years. All that, like, wasn't super tight. So we just began working on that and, you know, with the mentorship 20 shorter and other people around the table just began burn as much as we could
tell me a little bit about you go from this tiny company to becoming this big company, you embrace the very Ito's. I think in many ways you guys have been rented. The idea for distributed company, what has Bean the biggest challenge off off that process, you know, being distributed, you know the good stuff. Everyone knows you can find the best developer, and you do apart cast of art it and everyone. But we're just being the biggest challenge. Like what other things you had to do because you decided to go down the path of being are distributed company.
I think where the ship he got tricky is when we moved from,
hiring people who hadn't worked in that way before,
And not just being pure engineering sound.
You know the engineers were hiring or big contributors to open source and open source of the original distributor.
you got people all over the world far before WordPress like Lennox canoe.
Like all these sort of things contributors from all over the world,
working together on BBS is another thing.
So we were just an extension of that.
And when people have been working on that for years like that was essentially original trial project.
Like if you were a contributor,
I worked alongside you,
reviewed your code,
we we would hash things out on IRC together.
So that was pretty easy when it got hard is like,
Okay, what are our first business people? How we're gonna sell things, how we're gonna market. How are we gonna do support and organize ourselves and do partnerships and all those things that that go around scaling a company for being more than just code And, ah, a lot of folks One open source doesn't usually have this rolls. So you, by definition, bringing people hadn't done it for all these projects. Um, but we were in very uncharted territory where outside of Mozilla and maybe Wikipedia. They're warrants really any open source projects aimed. It and users. They were all really developer century. And so it's like,
Well, how do you make stuff that regular people want to use because we wanted we wanted democratize publishing. We still do wanted so everyone in the world can use this not just, ah, the the tech mandarins. You know, that was the ambition, and we were lucky things that were lucky with one to get the right people around the table. You know, the right bore the right investors. Tony joining CEO early, hires so, so, so fortunate there and to to pick an area which is still a big market decades later. You know, the essentially like operating system of the Web,
you know, even at our scale. Now, you know, we're 1200 people who just raise this round. We don't publicly just goes revenue or anything like that yet, but it's getting pretty big. There's still so much opportunity ahead of it. There's a very clear path that 10 X where we're currently at you, and that's what we're working on
it. But, you know, let's talk about the challenges of a distributor company, right? Like you mentioned that non non engineering people as they started to come into what happens when that happened in a company,
you know, probably a bad person asked about this because I don't think a distributed companies that hard.
No, but you must have experienced some challenges, right? Like as you grow.
I think our challenges were normal company challenges. Yeah, it was like performance reviews, collaboration, communication, written things, you know, what do you know when people don't work out? Like those challenges I hear pretty common across all start ups that I work with. We were just mediated by this technology and the technology's gotten so much better. I've used the IRC, and now we have zoomed slack and matrix on these sort of things you can you can really work together on.
Did you develop some of your own internal
tools as well that to holy created someone l p too that were product izing. We're gonna be privatizing a lot of our Oh, it's for running the company are distributed company OS under the brand happy tools.
You know, the thing which I've always struggled with on the distributed companies is not as much as the idea of, you know, I've been talking about future work since, like 2006.
Yeah, what was the website?
You had a worker daily, and I believed in this whole idea of digital nomads working from anywhere like not being tethered to a location. And when I look at the biggest challenge with the distributor company, I don't see it as a company challenge. It's more like the dogma that the world is trapped in, including the investors. Like a lot of we season Silicon Valley. Want to see an office with people working there and with the logo on the You know, on the front of the more rent you pay, the better they feel that you're having be successful like you, can't I? Sometimes I, you know, think about this is like my new industry. Peers are probably the most conservative people. I mean, I know
it shifted. And Mark Andrews and Jeff Clary, a Fred Wilson. My eyes. Folks who previously publicly skeptical about distributed work have all come around publicly, said, like we think this is the future. We're seeing companies do this
thing this But if you're a VC and you're investing in the future, you got to see the future earlier, not offering conventional wisdom so forever.
I think I think that allow the challenge. So fundraising was a challenge. But I also felt a challenge because I was 21 years old. Like to me, Like the youth was as big a challenge as the distributed nature. And all these things are more in the review mirror. Yeah, I feel like it's the default now to be able to hire people. Where will the world journalist totally get it? Right? Because journalism is by nature distributed sure out in the field doing a story and on the office. But you could be just as productive.
I think the worst day of my life was when I was, like, get home. I had to have an office. I was so happy when we were working out of Houston. Starbucks?
Well, well, why? I'm surprised you say that cause we shared an office. I
mean, then you know, we had
an office. We so it kind of protocol working. So we didn't really know lost base. We just had a table. True. Got an office? We had a table. You had a table. True. Had a few people there. To me, that was really fun, because one, none of us were big enough to want to pay for on space. By the way, upstairs waas wherein which came into the ground like all these sorts of in this building on the pier. It was really fun that you learned a lot from that community. So actually, I'm very pro co working for all sorts of reasons. Like it's great that that social connection and cross pollination
if you were to grade yourself over last 15 years, what grade would you give
yourself? Uh, we have a D minus. It's fascinating. Minus Yeah, but it could be so much better.
And so why do you call Give yourself for the miners things which you think are the reason you give yourself for the miners.
So it was really helpful to study political science instead of computer science for two reasons.
One is what word presses is bigger than just a company.
It's a movement.
And so how political movements form and coalesce.
And things like that is really key to why we've been successful on the company side.
I would get myself a T minus waas.
We stayed artificially small for many years.
there's lots of things that even things were doing right now,
like starting to build like a sales force that we put off for so long that were somewhat a representation of,
like my by seas or weaknesses or when your founder,
one of the most eye opening things,
is when you see something wrong in their company and you realize that it is a reflection and amplification of something wrong in yourself or something that,
is, ah, a weak spot or that you have a bias towards or against, and your company reflects and amplifies those. And for better or worse, it'll reflect amplify your strengths, and I reflect an amplifier Weaknesses. You know, one that I still work on today is communicating primarily through text. Often, you know, talking dozens 50 100 people a day. It could be very ah, probably over index towards brevity, which on text can come across this Kurt. What's for people who know me maybe isn't a huge deal,
but I interact with a lot of people who might not have that familiar. You might not have that relationship built that trust for where they can re things. And I see my colleagues, is it for the same behavior? And I tell them like, Hey, this message was kind of like rude. And then I look at my own messages. I'm like, Wow, I really could have put extra smiley on that or for a little fluff around that make it a bit nicer. And so that is one of these things that I'm still working on today.
I hope your mom's listening because that's the first grown up thing you've ever said I knew knew for so long. And that's like the tactical mission that we have. Flaws is the first time that you're grown up, and,
but I think you really have to.
You have to study,
there's amazing books.
There's amazing podcast is YouTube interviews Is everything out there from essentially every person and technology like the technology revolution happened in a connected age when it's basically all been recorded,
for me and we were supposed to be a platform.
So I started reading all the books about previous platforms.
So all the books about Marcus on from the eighties in the nineties.
And like all these things,
like whatever your area is,
study up on the present and the history of it,
um and that's the thing that today,
like what the challenges were facing, As you know, a multi 1000 person company, you know, aspiring to get to the billions in revenue. Things like that are different from what we faced when we were, in order of magnitude, smaller. And so I'm trying to really study companies not just that are at the size but who went through this phase and what their challenges were.
Let's go back to the to the future in A VE.
Since we started the early two thousands,
the Web to point a revolution is starting.
The blogging in evolution,
which is essentially a communication revolution,
In these we have We were filled of hope and,
And the youth was like on our on our side,
fast forward to end off that this decade and 2020 years like her in and knocking on the door now,
and we have,
like a huge backlash against technology,
the same technology which has improved the world a lot.
And the same technology which is class problems for many.
How do you see that?
Do you see that as a challenge? And if it is a challenge, how do you were come down as a founder? Just negativity like, kind of maybe, you know, like we have a new Wall Street. In a way,
there's a few components of that s 01 I think that all industries go through a pendulum swing of the press,
treats him like they can do no wrong.
And then at some point,
the press treats him like they can do no right,
And it naturally swings back and forth.
No tech has had unprecedented,
almost like being treated as a messiah for all things.
And the truth is,
in the middle doesn't sell a little problems but also doesn't cause all problems.
So I would say that were at probably the,
the front of the pendulum swing where process is trying to find every negative aspect of companies,
that's just gonna happen.
It's gonna pass, S so don't worry too much about that. If you're found of this need to this two is this idea that maybe tech is amplifying the bat I disagree with. So I believe that technologies amplifier. But I also believe in the fundamental goodness of human nature. You know, I would be the opposite of like a, uh, you know, short, brutish, the kind of conception of human nature. I do think it is. Ah, is that the Leviathan? I think I do think that there is former good happening by how much more connected we are.
How much more migration of ideas. Inequality enabled by these online platforms that love people to connect and relate in a way which is not mediated by the physical location or presents or what they look like or anything like that, that is. And we will look back 100 years from now at at this being a camera and explosion of creativity, ideas, a true renaissance around the world. So I do believe that that is part of it. And then the third thing, though, is which is really important or related to a story about early days of blocking and actually automatics. First product blogging was all about the comments, which we talked about quite a bit. It turned out that using because blogging software's kind of becoming standardized, that if you want to span these comments and attack these comments, it was easy to write a script opposed to a lot of them. So spam became a huge problem and comment sections automatics First product was actually not wordpress dot com.
It was called a Kid's Mitt, and it was an anti spam what we now call like a deep learning a I system to combat spam that I wrote the weekend after I left, The net's gone The first thing we did. It turned out that the quality of what made of these conversations belonging could also be exploited by bad actors. I think what we're seeing right now is the openness which is actually making humanity much more connected and better is currently being exploited by bad actors. You know, the Russian box that whatever it is that you want to call it, um, it's being weaponized a little bit, and we haven't yet built the technological or societal antibodies. Thio solve this.
I think that you know, I wrote about this in 2016 basically calling the spam problem Facebook spam problem. Twitter spam problem and tactically, those two companies to fail to actually tackle the intrusions on their platform as as protectors of the platform. I think they get an F minus for me in that because they willfully ignore the problems. You
I think it's because the spammers generate a lot of activity.
So if you're being judged by the public or your internal incentives around sign ups posting etcetera,
these bots do journey a lot of activity.
And the smart bots don't look like spam,
They will create the accounts.
They'll kind of seed it for years with a few post,
and then I'll only activate later.
And we've always fought this because of the A kismet heritage.
We fought this really Ah,
our numbers have often and smaller than our competitors.
But they're real numbers,
and I think Facebook even enough. Save them. Let it billions of fat cats like that. There's some crazy number. I think the problem is larger still. So when we truly eliminate bought activity, all of these things will be, I think, 50 to 70% smaller, but will be much better.
You know, one of the things as a founder. I feel it doesn't get talked about as much is that you've got to start the company with humanistic values with the idea that there has to be morality building to software. People think that's such such a crazy idea. But morality is is basically every decision you make when you write us after, whether it's a I. R. Even a basic script. You're basically thinking about how this thing can be misused by bad actors and, you know, taking a little time and thinking about how can we make sure that we're able to fix all the problems, which again, this is not thinking about it from an engineering standard, but from a more human standpoint. Because you know, whether it is the spammed on blog's or spam an email spam on Facebook, there is proof that systems will get compromised because there is a big portion off humanity which thrives on like supporting the system.
Well, I think what happens is that a very I actually think there's a very small portion of humanity that for us in that, but they have an outside outsized impact. If left unchecked, I would say it's easily under 1% or less of people who are harassing people online, things like that. But it really sucks when this happens to you and these people do a lot of it. They have an outsized impact, so you need to build in. If you're building social system, you need to build tools for blocking and filtering. And like all these sorts of things that sometimes come much later. And if you can bring into the design process, um, someone for whom they've been attacked online or stalked online or had a battle on on experience, if you could build the tools for them, I think that those tools actually benefit everyone.
Yeah, in your journey so far, I know you're coming towards the end, so don't worry. I won't drill you more well, enjoy this conversation going on for a couple of more hours. But it's
funny because we do talk for countless hours,
usually so I had to live with myself. Let's talk about people who have helpyou, evolve from software writer to CEO off substantial Internet platform, and what have they done for you? The mentors, the guides, the coaches who whose help you
it is the people that we talked about here,
and they weren't all true at the time.
But now it's like,
we're very good friends.
Tony Conrad for Black,
John Callahan More intermittently in those early days,
all these folks,
I think we're very,
very lucky to have around the table.
We were also very lucky and fortunate are later investors and folks who joined later like Leaf,
tiger and am addition uh, Devon Perec, who let her see around, Um, today Marc Benioff, Dr Taylor come in and supporting the company. The Salesforce ventures like these sort of things. How powerful. But I think that, you know, when I moved to San Francisco, I was so intimidated because I was a kid from Houston and I felt like everyone already knew each other, and it's kind of quaint, but this was 2004 and how it was much, much smaller. But I'd hear people talk about how they know each other,
how they worked together for years. You were a journalist, you know everyone. So I found that super intimidating. So I do want to really strongly emphasize for Founder's Listen to this that probably my closest mentors were people I never met as well as lucky. You know, you're the average of the five people who spend the most time with. So make sure those five boobs for the most time with people who are good people and additive to your life and you add to their life. But you know, you don't need to meet your mentors migrating. I have met Paul Graham maybe once in my life, but his writings were very influential to me. Same thing with Mark in Jason's writing, his old P marker archives block you're writing on Gigolo Home like before we had ever imagined became friends like you're blogging about these things. So from the take advantage of written word from bloggers and other books and things, and now,
I would say podcast and YouTube to really connect with mentors who might not even be alive anymore and how that can inform you on influence. You and I say, even sometimes it's even better because he was Aaron perfect. I have met people who was writing, I really admired, and in person we didn't jealous much. So sometimes, actually, they say, Don't meet your idols like this is even better to really take what you like from their their body of work
that you were close, even 20 Schneider. You know, there is always the tension between ah, founder and the CEO. Like, you know, like a founder and CEO is not a founder. Um, harder to your I think when I've seen the two of you perv worked pretty closely, right? So I unenviable ce ringside view of harvesting work. But in your mind, what made that relationship take? And if you are a founder who has to find a business partner or someone to run the company, what other things you need to do and look for in that person?
I probably realize that more.
at the time,
I would say it was more lucky.
I appreciated Antony's just a good person all around.
In addition to being a great CEO,
he's a great husband,
So I think that those those skills around communication around alignment came about our relationship as well.
So two things I do remember talking about a lot early on,
and I'm glad we did were one.
We're really like philosophically,
Even though he hadn't had an open source background,
He understated completely and believed in it deeply. And open source has been very core to the history of automatic and everything we've done. So the fact that we really agreed on those principles was really, really important to have spent a lot of time together, you know, we were both in San Francisco. The rest of the company could be other places. But it is important that we spent a lot of time together. And finally, this is something he told me he was like, Yeah, you know, parents, you try not to fight in front of kids And what he was saying was like, Hey, like,
let's disagree or hash things out a ton when it's just us. But as we're leading the company, yeah, we don't wanna fight in front of everyone in the company because people in accompanied kind of a unified front, or like an idea. There's a direction and so you still try to practice this to the day with other executives and automatic and I asked them to try to do it for me like, Hey, we're gonna disagree all the time It's not about not disagree, but let's not do get out in publicly. Let's ah, you know, this idea you praise in public, you know, criticizing private like let's apply that to providing a shared vision for what we're doing and then, you know, disagree and commit.
They did that. Sometimes we're gonna fundamentally not come to terms on it. Have a consensus. But let's commit to whatever we decide we're gonna d'oh and try to make it successful without, like, re trading it later or passive aggressively resisting
it. So if you had to do a do over what will be one or two things you would do differently in your in your Johnny
if I were to do things over,
I think that I would really I try to impress upon myself.
That scale was not bad.
You know that more people around the table can actually increase the breath and death of what you do and make the company more fun.
And I think that for far too long I was kind of scared.
The more people there would be that the less fun it would be in the the less kind of things I loved about working automatic,
there would be there,
that took me a little while to learn,
and him probably set us back.
We're probably a few years behind where we would be otherwise.
that if we'd done that earlier.
and I think is probably the importance of when we haven't talked about time,
but just shopping in the tools,
investing your own health. I guess it was one thing I tell myself to start meditating earlier. I didn't discover that the last few years and been a huge impact. But in general, like health wellness, like all this other stuff both for yourself and your loved ones, you know, it's hard for the company to matter if someone you love or care about it's sick or ill or yourself struggling with something like that. So really prioritizing health and well being of, you know, that close circle of people you truly love is a really worthwhile time investment. And, um, you'll never regret doing it. And if you don't do it, you'll really regret if something ever happens. So that's worth investing Time
it. So what are you excited about? Now? That's your last question.
really sad about the things are working out.
I'm excited about the next versions of WordPress.
Gutenberg Will Commerce Tumbler,
like our core software,
So once a year every one of the company does a rotation doing customer sport,
and I'm actually cheating a little bit taking this hour with you,
so I'm I'm doing live shot right now.
So if you come and ask a question on wordpress dot com,
there's a chance you'll start chatting with me.
And the beauty and tragedy of this is that so many of the problems are users are struggling with are things that are are pretty basic.
And it's still like the fundamentals of starting to block and publish with WordPress and a one hand that frustrates me,
because I'm like how we still not fixed this thing even as far as we've got,
like 34 still struggling with this, you know, aligning images or whatever it is, but two and so it gives me so much hope because I'm like we can fix this. And, gosh, have we got in this so so far was still having some problems once we really cracked that. What will be on the other side of that door. And so it still feels like it's day one in terms of the opportunities in front of us, and that really hasn't changed. I mean, there's definitely we don't we don't talk much about tough times, like as a founder. There's times when you want to quit when it seems terrible, when you're like How on earth are we going to do this team falling apart like all those things happen? But if you get to that opportunity, idea the opportunity on this side, I'm in that mood right now where it's like I'm charged up and ready to go.
All right, Do you wanna talk about the challenges when things were difficult for you? I mean, I'm in no rush.
There's some good podcasts are starting to cover this little bit. I think this one called below the line from James Bashar. I'm sure you're gonna talk about this in future episodes.
Let's talk about you and your personal stuff. I don't care about other people. Yes,
I think that for every success story for every overnight success or whatever you perceive,
there were times there's a very thin line between that success and failure,
and there were times when it could have easily gone to zero multiple points May points in company history.
So and when we were debating with a cell or not,
there's not an agreement not to sell,
that was really had challenging.
There were other personnel issues we were going through at the time that where is so challenging for me because we were all really close friends at the time that part of the reason I found myself,
Linus Cell was just did not deal with personal stuff anymore.
And it took a while for me to realize that wasn't a good reason.
That was not good.
to exit the company.
I think people issues are hard at any scale.
It never gets any easier when you have to let someone go or someone's not working out as if you hire someone like you have nothing but hope for how it's gonna go.
But no one bats 1000.
No one makes every higher perfectly, and it is still challenging, even at 1200 people, when someone he really believed in is not working out, and it's not always because of that maybe it's because of the structure of the company in the environment that you've created might not be a good fit for their skill set. Or maybe you're just wrong. All these things that are still super, super, super hard. So I just think it's important that founders know that if you're going through a tough time, that's not unusual. In fact, it's probably the norm.
How would you describe your current situation? I, you are You will call yourself happy are Why do you wake up happy and like what? Sure, what should happen? Esque ocean. Right
now, I don't really aspire to be happy, but I do try to be content. Um, and I am lucky and that I do tend to wake up these days with, like a and day starts fresh, so unified a challenging day before, like when the day starts again. Like I I it feels like a new day. Yes, I'm able to go through it. The things that are probably most important to me there are it's pouring various forms of meditation, brother. That's metta loving kindness, mindfulness class. Now that all the different forms of meditation and, um trying to stay healthy now. Terms of diet and exercise and third is just being close to people who I love. And I love me. So if you could get those three things that will create an environment for yourself that can allow you to perform your best one needed to.
That's very good.
I will tell you little match story before we sign off.
So when I met you the first time in person not on line,
I took you to a Pakistani place to have 10 degree chicken.
And you had some stomach issues afterwards.
fast forward to today.
I have given you an honorary Indian name called Bartender.
A T i N D E r s o n a kind of as a way to give you a little place in my heart in my Indian heart little bit.
seeing your success makes me very happy seeing you go from who you were.
Where you are,
makes me They're happy.
And so I would give you a B.
This isn't it.
I mean, I am Indian after all. I can't give you an A plus. Uh, but I think you've done well to stay true to who you are. And you know, in a way, I'm a little jealous because you figured out what you love doing that for rest of your life and turning it into a business which pays you and I was so close to it, and I kind of let it slip away to from me. And I think that's why I'm a little jealous. But I'm really happy that either you're part of true. You're part of my life more than anything else. And I get to No, the fool you not just the founder. So a lot of the questions I have not asked is intentional. Thank you, man.