Finance

334: What This Tech Pioneer Is Betting On Next | Matt Mullenweg Of WordPress

As someone who has pioneered the tech industry with his open-source software, and boasts 38% of the internet using his product, Matt Mullenweg is still one of the most humble and inspiring entrepreneurs we’ve ever met.
In this insightful interview, Mullenweg discusses the biggest challenges faced by companies today, and the importance of looking after your team and people. As a company that has operated remotely since it’s beginnings, Mullenweg stresses the importance of team-building, and why he took his entire company to Disneyland.

Mullenweg touches on some key issues faced by entrepreneurs the worldover – chronic dissatisfaction in progress, and that whatever you do is never enough. He says instead of saying to yourself that it’s not enough, entrepreneurs need to say “it is enough, and there’s more to do!”

From the acquisition of powerhouses such as Tumblr, WooCommerce, and his dedication to supporting others, Mullenweg discusses his life’s plan to create as much open-source software as possible and encourage creativity across the globe.

This interview will leave a smile on your face and give you the motivation and drive to work towards a better future for all.

Nathan: Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Matt: No problem. It’s a pleasure being here.

Nathan: Yeah. So, look, the first question I ask everyone that we interview and speak to is, how did you get your job?

Matt: How did I get my job? Well, I guess I created it. It was I was going to college, building websites for fun. I was a working musician, so I played saxophone. And just wanted a better software for the websites I was building. And I was blogging myself. My friends want a blog. So just started working on modifying and hacking around with blog software.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. When was that? When did you start?

Matt: So that was probably 2001 to 2002. I ended up co-founding WordPress in 2003, and then I founded my company Automattic in 2005.

Nathan: I see. And you’ve been a champion, I’d love to talk to you about remote working because you’ve been a champion of remote working long well before COVID. Why is that? What are the benefits been for your company? You have over 1,000 employees now all around the world in 77 different cities. Yeah.

Matt: Yeah, 77 countries, actually. I think it’s 100 cities. There’s, I’m very… I’m a pragmatist. So, when we were starting out, open source, people collaborate all over the world, just like people who edit the Wikipedia probably never met each other. They’re from all over. And when you start working this way you see just how many brilliant people there are everywhere. That there’s really smart and talented people everywhere. So that was already happening with WordPress. When the company started we thought, “Well, let’s just keep doing this.” A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work. And I wasn’t even sure it would work, but it just kept working. And we were always very open minded saying if it stops working at some point, if we can’t create an internet changing company, if we’re being held back on innovation, if we have a bad culture, maybe we will try to get an office or move to something. But yeah, we’re now over 1,300 people, and I really see no ceiling for it. I could easily imagine this as a 10 or 50,000 person company totally distributed.

Nathan: So when you started back in the early 2000s, you guys were fully remote?

Matt: Yeah, for a long time we’d get a small office in San Francisco just for investor meetings and things like that. But we’ve never really had more than a few people in any physical space we’ve had.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. That’s crazy. And I suppose you still… Do you guys do offsites every quarter and get everyone together, and how many, and how does that work?

Matt: Yeah, pre-pandemic we would try to get the whole company together once a year. Actually, this week is the week we would have all been together. So it’s a little bit of a bummer because that was always a lot of fun. And then for individual teams, we try to get them together two or three times per year. So, you’d see your small team, which is like 10 people a couple times a year, and then the whole company maybe once a year, or your whole division once a year.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. And that must be crazy to coordinate now, right?

Matt: Well, not exactly.

Nathan: Well, pre-pandemic, yeah. But pre-pandemic, that must have been crazy to coordinate.

Matt: We have a really talented events team, so they have gotten pretty good at it. I won’t say it’s not really hard. It seems like an incredible amount of work. But as the experience of an attendee, it was very, very smooth. The last one we did was in Florida, in Orlando, at a Disney hotel, and we took over the entire hotel, which was fun because everyone you’d see there was an Automattician, or what we call people that work at Automattic.

Nathan: Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. Yeah, I’ve been to a conference there. They often have conferences in Disney, in Florida. Yeah, no, that’s cool.

Matt: It was really nice.

Nathan: Yeah, I know. It’s awesome.

Matt: I remember one evening we went to Harry Potter World. We had it all to ourselves for an evening. And it was just really fun. So people were riding on the different rides and eating the food. And it was just… I guess, normally, it’s not open at nighttime, and it was just us. So again, really fun.

Nathan: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. So, I guess, for many people watching this, they may be in the early starting stages of starting their company, growing their company. When it comes to hiring and building teams, you will be hiring people that you will have never met in person, right? And you guys have been doing that for a long time. What things do you do within Automattic to make sure the culture spreads?

Matt: I don’t think we have to do anything particular to make sure the culture spreads because the culture happens with every single interaction you have with your customers or what that your colleagues have with each other. The culture is defined by all of those micro interactions far more than any poster on the wall or stated values. It’s really how the values are enacted. So, of course, we have a creed at the company. You can go to automattic.com/creed, which is things we really believe and try to live by. I do town halls once a month where I talk about what’s important to us and all, but all that, honestly, doesn’t matter. What really matters is how each person that works for Automattic treats each other, and our customers every day, and that I’m actually quite proud of. That happens just as easily, virtually as it does in person. In fact, I would argue most companies, how they treat their customers is not an in-person thing anymore, at least these tech companies.

Nathan: Do you think companies should, if they’re in the early days be thinking about values that early or straight away? Because that’s a tricky one. I know, personally, when we started our company, it took me a while to think about values and all those kinds of things. And yeah, they really encourage and live… Encourage our team to live by them and acknowledge them, and endorse them, and yeah.

Matt: Well, you have values, whether they’re explicit or not. So, everything you do as a leader shows what your values are. I don’t think you need to spend a tonne of time early on making your own. You could just pick some from another company, Automattic, Amazon, everyone publishes their values. So just find one that really resonates with you, and use that as a starting point. And then alongside your team evolve it as you grow because every company is different. But a lot of things are pretty consistent. Like almost every company, I imagine every company would say like, they value diversity or they value being inclusive to different types of voices and different people participating. So those types of things, I wouldn’t say spend too much… Don’t spend too much time writing your own version of it. Find what the best version is on the internet that someone shared, and adopt that.

Nathan: Yeah, got you. Yeah, look, I think you’re right. If you look at Amazon values you see bits pieces around commitment, ownership, teamwork, all these things like learning or self development, all these great qualities that make great teams. So, yeah, I agree with that. So, when it comes, I guess, to the future of the office, then, from your perspective, what does that look like? I know you said that you guys every now and then had an office in San Fran for investor meetings. But do you think remote’s going to be the way forward?

Matt: Well, right now… Before, it was nice to have an office for board meetings so we get the team together, investors, and some clients. We have an enterprise business that works with some of the largest companies in the world, Facebook, Salesforce, etc. And so they like to meet in person, and I feel like they trust you a little more if you have an office. So all those things were useful. All those things are kind of gone or happening virtually now. We actually did most of our board meetings on Zoom for probably more than five or six years now. So that’s been the standard. I’m looking forward to getting together in person again for some of these things. But I’m not sure how or when that will be.

Nathan: Yeah. Look, one thing that I find interesting from my own experience when it comes to office, just the collaboration and the creativity that happens when everyone’s in the room. I think there’s something very special about that. And I think I know now, and I think it’s smart that you make sure that your teams catch up in person two to three times a year because that part is special. And I do agree that you can’t go, I don’t think fully remote, or you could, but I just think that you start to lose some of the benefits of it.

Matt: I would disagree.

Nathan: Oh, really?

Matt: I think because we’re seeing that this year. We started doing the meetups online, I do agree that there’s something a little bit better. And if you can’t get together in person, you should do it. But I don’t feel like you’re losing anything by being remote. You can look at what you liked about being in person. Maybe it was the hanging out time. Maybe it was playing games together. Maybe it was shared experiences. It was watching a movie together. You could do those things online now. And so I would challenge you, or anyone listening to this. So if there’s something you miss about being in person, try to recreate it online with your friends or your colleagues. And you’d be surprised by how valuable it can be. And you can really build a tonne of trust, a tonne of closeness, a tonne of amazing communication, on audio, video, etc., online. The tools are so good now. It’s kind of amazing.

Nathan: Yeah. Interesting. So, do you think that going forward, many startups will keep moving away from these crazy offices, campuses, and stuff like that?

Matt: Even before the pandemic most of the startups that I was hearing pitches from or investing in were already doing it. Just because you want your money, even if you raise money, or if you bootstrap, you want it to go towards creating an amazing product, not towards your landlords. We don’t need landlords. And that’s so much of it both directly and indirectly. So if you were going to build an office based startup in San Francisco, you’re both paying a tonne to a landlord for the office itself, and then way overpaying. But then you also have to pay more to each person for them to pay their landlords to live within distance of the office. So it’s a huge waste. It’s kind of a hidden tax. And it’s kind of shocking to think probably 20, or 30% of all the money raised by San Francisco companies was just going directly to landlords. It had nothing to do with creating great user experience or product.

Nathan: Yeah. No, it’s a great way to look at things. So I’d love to switch gears and talk about angel investment. Because I know that you are an active angel investor. And I’m curious, as a founder, what do you look for in terms of qualities or traits when it comes to investing in businesses or the founder? Because I think there’s a lot of things happening right now. A lot of companies being started, and yeah, I’d love to hear what your take is there.

Matt: I’m a tech enthusiast. I have an engineering background, and I’m always playing around and tinkering with technology and apps and websites. So a lot of my investments are just things I enjoy using. Like Calm maybe being a good example. I’ve used Calm hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times,…, hundreds of days for many years. And that’s a really big part of my life. So it feels great to be able to and very early on to have put some money into that when no one really thought that my meditation habit could be a business.

So, a lot of the investments are just things I think are cool or want to use myself. Or sometimes I use the filter of if I weren’t doing WordPress, would I want to work on this? Is that cool of an idea? And yeah, that’s often part of it. I also try to support people. My friends who I might be friends with some of the entrepreneurs just outside of whatever they’re doing. So the few folks that I’ll probably invest whatever they do, even if I think it’s cool, just to support my friend Hayden or someone like that. I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, they’re just good, solid people. And I want to be there for whatever the journey they’re on.” That’s a much smaller number. I only have a few friends that close, but it’s definitely some of that.

Nathan: Yeah. And when it comes to investing in companies, it sounds like are you more pro-product, problem, and market, and scratching own each versus the founder, and yeah?

Matt: If it’s a founder who I’m close to, otherwise, then it’s probably the founder first. Other than that, I say I really do look at the product and the technology, and the user experience, and probably some personal bias towards areas I like. I really like smart home automation. I really love open source. I really love companies that are distributed, which I guess is every company now. But before you had to be. So those types of things were just my personal interest. And so that would always… I get a million emails about companies, and those would help rise to the top of the stack.

Nathan: Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. And I’m curious as well, when it comes to web development, you’re one of the pioneers of blogging? What do you think is next? Where do you see things going?

Matt: I think the biggest thing is this new thing we created called Gutenberg for WordPress. So you might have seen it since WordPress 5.0 is the block editor. So, basically, we’ve redone what used to be a document model for the web, and transformed it to be a block based model. And these blocks are… I think they’re like little Lego blocks that you develop a library of them, and you can use them to build anything you imagine. And when you get good at this block editor in WordPress, you can look at literally any website on the web, squint a little, and figure out how they built it. And you can recreate the same thing, just clicking around and making blocks.

And so, much like original WYSIWYG editors, or visual editors would allow people to, who never would have published or learned HTML to create really cool things. We’re seeing that happen now with the WordPress block editor that it… That’s why we call it Gutenberg because we think it’s going to bring a revolution to what people are creating online, which I think we need because the social networks where a lot of people publish are so cookie cutter. Everyone looks the same. You read an article on Medium, you don’t remember who the author was because they all look the same. There’s no personality to it. So, I’m very, very excited that more and more people are starting or restarting their websites that allow a lot more customization and just a lot more fun.

Nathan: Yeah, that’s interesting. So really, because look, we’re on WordPress. On Alexa, we’re ranked in, I think, top 10, 15,000 in the world.

Matt: Cool. That’s awesome.

Nathan: Powered by you guys, and yeah, look, I’m well beyond now the maintenance of the site and stuff. But I remember back in the day when we started our WordPress site. Yeah, you couldn’t do that modular, so it’s more drag and drop, and it’s just easier to build.

Matt: We’re really working on making it even easier. There’s a lot of really great page builders for WordPress, but each one would do something different. Like a Divi or Beaver Builder, and now we’re trying to standardise that, so that you could still have one of these plugins to customise it extra. But there’s a standard way that everything and integrate with all the themes can support e-commerce, like WooCommerce can support, and that’s really exciting. I guess that’s another big trend we’re seeing is with WooCommerce. So, it’s a plugin for WordPress that transforms it into a store, and any kind of store. So you could do like bookings for seats in a restaurant. You could sell digital goods. You could sell physical goods. You could have meetings. You could be like a coach and sell things or be a photographer and book weddings through there. And just the growth of that, particularly post pandemic has been like nothing I’ve ever seen in my career.

It is, if you look at the numbers for like a Shopify or others, some of the things are happening with WooCommerce, and it’s exciting because it’s all open source. It’s all built on WordPress. So I would say anyone listening that is thinking about selling something online, try WooCommerce, and particularly if you’ve hit the ceiling of Shopify, lots of sites are switching over. And that’s also pretty cool to see because that means there’s more open source in the world.

Nathan: Yeah. So, look, we’re users of WooCommerce, and I’d love to hear kind of… You guys acquired WooCommerce. That was a smart move. Why? I’d love to talk to you about some of these acquisitions. So, yeah, why did you acquire WooCommerce?

Matt: Yeah. We’ve done two really big acquisitions, which were WooCommerce in 2015, and then Tumblr, which was just about a year ago now. And with both, we saw an opportunity where a team had created something pretty special that had a lot of traction in the real world. But we felt that we could bring something to bear on it that would accelerate it even more. So the past five years of WooCommerce, we’ve been basically doing what we did the first five years of WordPress. I tried to make it easier to use, super secure, super scalable, well integrated with SaaS services to make things like taxes, analytics, shipping, easier, payments.

So, we’re just doing the same playbook we did with WordPress, and similar for Tumblr. We’re saying, “Hey, this is a really popular site with a great community that has a really novel interaction mechanism. But struggling making money, and with stability and things like that.” So we’re taking everything we’ve learned building WordPress, and applying to Tumblr. And also giving that team. That team have been a little star for resources. So we’re trying to get them the support they need as well just with the existing people to scale and really flourish.

Nathan: Yeah. Look, few things I’d like to unpack there. First one, I guess is, yeah, look, I as a user, and especially like I said, I’m not so much on the tools anymore, but I do know when it comes to looking at, I guess, when people are looking to set up this site, and they’re looking to launch their business. If you do have an e-commerce business, you could go to Shopify. While it is easy, I reckon one of the biggest problems and the challenges they would have is the blogging. And that aspect of the business because it’s just harder to rank, right?

And then, or you could use the alternative where it’s WordPress. You could use WooCommerce. You have way more power in terms of customization and playing with things. With Gutenberg now you can really build and customise your site, and it’s obviously a lot more user friendly, and a bit less intimidating. I’m curious kind of, I guess, with everything you guys have done with WooCommerce, and then there’s Tumblr, how do you plan to have a really strong monetization for that?

Matt: Sure. So for WooCommerce how we make money is you can buy extensions. So kind of like add ons to customise your store, and that’s my business model, actually. So, lots of people… It’s I think easier to make money with WooCommerce than WordPress because everyone who uses WooCommerce is also making money. So paying a couple hundred dollars to build the site or host a site isn’t too bad versus they might have a different decision for the blog. For Tumblr, the primary, the first way we’re making money is through advertising. It’s a social network. So just advertising is kind of the standard.

But what I’m actually excited doing after that is using WooCommerce to allow Tumblr users to monetize as well. So there’s a tonne of creators on there. And we want to make it for them to be able to have really easy membership sites. So content behind a tier. And then you can still read all that into Tumblr app, so it’s easy to follow everything or sell things, whether that’s digital goods or physical goods. We’ve gotten really good at e-commerce so we can open that up. Tumblr has so many creatives on it. It’s kind of incredible the art that you see generated there, and the music, and everything. So I think much like the mission of a Spotify or a Patreon or something like that. We want to enable creatives to do the thing they love. And that’s really a big part of my life’s work is building the tools that lets people express themselves.

Nathan: Yeah. No, that’s fascinating. Because the creative movement is massive now and you see these tribes forming. And it doesn’t have to be even these massive tribes forming if you’re a creator to have a… You don’t need hundreds of thousands of people in your community. I really like Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans. That ideology of you only need 1,000 people that would be prepared to pay you $100 a year to make a full-time income. And if you can just focus on your 1,000 true fans, and I think that’s something definitely that we are seeing post-pandemic that… Well, not post but during this pandemic is that more than ever there’s these creative communities forming and more creators more than ever, and people looking to… I don’t know if monetize is the best word, but further support their community or provide value to their community through the form of digital or physical products. Whether that’s ebooks, whether that’s online courses. Online courses has absolutely exploded now, or whether it’s physical products, even merch.

Matt: Sure. We sold WordPress merge for a long time. We’re about to actually start selling Tumblr merch again. And all those things you just said, you can do with WooCommerce. There’s a plugin called Sensei, which is great for online courses. You can do tonnes of digital stuff, membership sites, and that’s just… I don’t think that’s going to change.

Nathan: Yeah, I’m definitely seeing a rise in membership sites as well at the moment. A lot of lower ticket, $100 a year, $50 a year type membership. Yeah.

Matt: We have this new thing called WooCommerce payments that just makes payments so smooth both setting it up and then accepting them. And so, I think when you can lower that friction, all of a sudden doesn’t… Maybe if I’m a big fan of your writing, it’s not a big deal to me to give 50 bucks a year or something to support that. And maybe I get access to some special things, maybe I don’t. I’m a big user of Patreon, actually. I support a lot of people on there-

Nathan: Oh, really?

Matt: different sites like that. I just want to see more of the stuff I like in the world. Whether that’s a comic book artist, or sci-fi. I love Kickstarters. I love GoFundMes. These things are always fun to be able to, even if it’s a little bit, just a few dollars to be able to support a creator that you really admire or look up to a lot. If enough people do that it can really unlock a lot of potential in the world.

Nathan: Yeah, I agree. I agree. Creative community is awesome, and the movement. I’m big fan of it too. And yeah, we want to try and enable as many people as we can at Foundr on the education side. But I’m curious, right now with Automattic what are your biggest challenges? With a company of your size, what are you guys struggling with, or what are the challenges that you’re working through right now?

Matt: People is the most important thing. So we’re hiring quite a bit. I hired I think 37 people last month. So getting lots of… If you’re listening to this, and Automattic sounds like a place you might do your best work or your career apply. We’re hiring quite a bit for almost every role. Then I think a lot about how do we make our existing people better? How do we get them access to training, to coaching, to online learning, to different tools for collaboration, et cetera, to help them be able to do the best work of their career because that’s really what we aspire to, and I think what people feel good doing as well.

I guess the final thing that’s on my mind a lot is just all the things around the product. I’m probably the unhappiest WordPress user in the world. I only see the flaws. And we’ve got some exciting stuff coming around the bend, but it’s hard for me to remain patient, especially when I know what’s coming. I get very, very excited to ship things faster. And I guess that brings us probably the biggest challenge, which is the entire world is facing is the pandemic. It’s hit us pretty hard as well. I have lots of colleagues from they’ve caught it, or they have friends or loved ones or their kids are home from school. And so, their home situation is all different. And I think that everyone’s operating a little below their normal sort of maximum, and maybe feeling a little more on edge, a little more stressed just because the world is so out of control.

I hope that as we exit this year and enter next year that 2021 is just going to be the greatest year of humanity. It kind of shows our resilience, the ingenuity when you get the whole world working together what we can accomplish. And my hope is that as we overcome this obstacle, which is just so crucial to do just for the saving human lives, if nothing else, and so many other reasons. It’ll inspire us to think of other big problems like climate change, division and politics, places where we still have no access to basic human dignity and services that we can start to tackle some of those as well because we’ll see what we can do when we work together.

Nathan: Yeah. Look, I love your take there, and I think really the only way forward is unity, right?

Matt: I don’t know if it’s unity, but just rowing in the same direction. We want different approaches. We want debate. We want all of that. But if you think about it, why open source is so successful is essentially a hack that gets competitors working together. Instead of… Think of all the people who can sell your WordPress hosting, Bluehost, SiteGround, GoDaddy, Web.com, Yahoo, there’s a million places you can get WordPress. Now, if they were all building their own content management systems, there’d be instead of one WordPress, there’d be 100 smaller ones, none of them that were very good. But because we all agreed. We said, “Okay, let’s work together on this one thing.” And we’ve been able to make it far better than any of us would have been able to create on our own. And that’s really the power of open source. And it’s what I plan to dedicate the rest of my life to is creating as much open source software as possible.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow, that’s amazing. One thing that you said to me before, which I’d love to just tap on to was this idea how you said that you’re the most frustrated WordPress user. Because WordPress powers… How much of the internet? How many websites? What percentage?

Matt: About 38% now.

Nathan: Incredible. So, obviously, you’ve got an extremely scalable product that many people are happy with, and I think it’s a common thing that happens in the founder’s mind is I can’t wait until this happens, and you frustrated or you’re ashamed that this thing is out there, and you’ve got to fix it. And it just keeps happening. Do you think that will ever go away?

Matt: I mean, it hasn’t yet. It’s funny, I am obsessed not by the 38%, but by the 62 that’s not using WordPress yet. Yeah, the 62%. And so, it’s amazing to me how far WordPress has come when there’s so much still to improve in the product and user experience. So, I see that as a responsibility. Everyone who’s chosen WordPress thus far, it’s our responsibility to make it the best possible software they could ever do. I want to honour that choice. I want to do right by it. So, thank you for choosing WordPress and WooCommerce. I want you to be so happy about that choice, not just now, but five years, 15 years, maybe 30 years in the future. I’ll be like, “Wow, how great it was that in 2015 I hitched my horse to the WordPress waggon,” or whenever it was you started using it.

And to make you still as happy in 2040 as you were in 2015, we need to work really hard because the world’s moving quickly. It’s changing. When WordPress started, there was no iPhone. JavaScript, there was barely any JavaScript on web pages. We’ve adapted to so many different technological trends. And instead, we remain relevant, and I plan for us to. It’s that we’re going to adapt to the future ones as well.

Nathan: Yeah, no, I really appreciate your passion for product development, and caring about your customers and caring about your users, and people that use your product. But from the sounds of it, what I’m hearing and you’ve been doing this for a while, Matt, is that it’s never enough.

Matt: I think you can always improve things. You can always learn. And humanity is advancing, technology is advancing every day, maybe faster than it ever has. So the sort of… What’s it called? The adjacent possible. So, what has all the things that’s happened so far in the world? What does that make possible next? It’s always evolving. To me, I find that very exciting. It’s not that it’s never enough. It’s that it is enough, and there’s more. And so, there’s an amazing reason to get out of the bed in the morning.

And it’s also not just me. So I think what I find super motivating isn’t just a product, it’s really the people. Yeah, I get to go to work every day with some of the smartest, kindest, most empathetic, most creative people I’ve ever met in my whole life. And I’ve met hundreds of thousands of people at this point at conferences and things. So that to me is also really motivating. So, to make stuff you like, that other people like too, with people who you enjoy being in the trenches with and working really hard alongside is my idea of a great time. So, I’ll keep doing this as long as they let me.

Nathan: Yeah, love it. Yeah, because look, I think that is a common thing that if someone’s… It’s an obsession. It’s got to be an obsession, right? But it’s got to be a healthy obsession. But you’re always telling yourself like, “Oh, as soon as we get this happening, things will be better.” Or if you can’t wait, and then you launch it, and then it gets better. But then it’s that you’re on to the next thing, and it’s always humbling. It is humbling to hear that someone that’s been at this game for a long time, you still have that itch.

Matt: Yeah, I think the key to making it sustainable is not always thinking that at some point you’ll be done or it’ll be better. It’ll always hopefully get better. Sometimes it’ll get way worse, actually. So, it’s progress doesn’t happen in a straight line. But whatever is happening is okay, and just be at peace with it, just be still, just be present. And if you can do that, it removes that worrying about the past, or anxiety about the future. And that is the state at which you’ll be able to create the future the best.

Nathan: So, yeah, just look, we have to work towards wrapping up. But one thing I’d love to touch on with you, just before we wrap is the challenge that you said around your people, making them better, helping them continue to do the best work of their career at Automattic and finding great people. What are the things that you’ve seen over your career that you have done to find great people and continue to attract great talent because that is inherently one of the biggest competitive advantages you can have in any industry?

Matt: Blogging.

Nathan: Really?

Matt: And using WordPress, of course, but we share our story, and we try to share as much as possible. I’ve blogged myself since before Automattic started. And so, by sharing what I learned, by me now talking about our world, talking about why we do things, that attracts the people who like the same things, or care about the same things. I mean, Automattic is not right for everyone in the world of work. A lot of people probably wouldn’t enjoy it. But there’s probably 100,000 or a million people who would be amazing at the company. And so, we just need to somehow find our way to them, and let them know that this is a place that they can apply to and get a job and stay, maybe even for decades as we’ve had a number of people at the company now for well over 10 years. I think blogging is the best way to do that.

I also do interviews like this. I do a little bit of press every now and then. I try not to spend too much time on it because it can be a distraction from your customers. But I was actually doing customer support right before this on live chat, and I had a pass over the chats because this was starting. So, I was able to transfer to some colleagues, but it is helpful. Hopefully, maybe you have 10,000 people or 100,000 people who hear this. Maybe one of them says, “Oh, I want to build the open web and the future of work and all that,” and check out the website, learns about what we’re about, and then maybe someday applies.

Nathan: Yeah, love it. And when it comes to making your people better, besides coaching, investing in their learning and development, what can people do?

Matt: I don’t think you can make people better, they have to want to make themselves better. And if so, there’s no limit. So, we think a lot about the Daniel Pink framework of creating a workplace that provides mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Now, mastery being you’re challenged. Autonomy being that you’re able to do the work. You don’t have someone micromanaging you or you have all the tools you need. And then purpose, working for something bigger than yourself is so important. And for us, that’s democratising publishing. So, if you get those three things there, people could do amazing things.

We also try to share the stories. When someone maybe learns a new skill, we encourage them to share how they did it. We try to provide… We allow anyone to expense attending conferences, or any books they want, anything that makes them better at their job, they can basically expense. And that’s just showing that we value this. And I guess finally, also, coaching can be really, really valuable. So, we reimburse people getting professional coaching sessions. Someone totally outside of Automattic that’s only working for them. And that can be helpful as well. If you think of every high performer in the world, every athlete, every musician, they had teachers, and coaches. Some of them like a LeBron James may have 10 coaches. He might have a coach just for doing this really fast or something like that, or coach just for shooting or things I can’t even think of. And so, think about for yourself both if you can afford it, getting someone who can push you in a positive way on a personal basis.

But I think also what’s so cool about this day and age is you can learn so much from YouTube. You can learn so much from books and Wikipedia and everything else. So, I have a tonne of people I will consider mentors that I’ve never spoken to, but I’ve read every single one of their books. I know their work backwards and forwards. Could be someone that’s not even alive anymore like a Peter Drucker. I’m a student of his even though I’ve never and will never meet him. I’ve read all his books and… Well, not all his books, but I’ve read thousands of things he’s written. So, I’ve really internalised that, and I consider him a mentor. So think about that as well.

Nathan: Yeah, I love it. Awesome. Well, look, we’ll work towards wrapping up. Mindful of your time. Last question is, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?

Matt: Sure. My main blog is at M-A.T-T, no .com, no www, just type in Ma.tt, and that’s the best place. That links to my other social media, which is Photomatt, P-H-O-T-O-M-A-T-T, and that’s on Tumblr, that’s on Instagram, and that’s on Twitter. So, same username across all three. And please follow me at all. Finally, I have a podcast too at distributed.blog. And that’s basically, it started before the pandemic I was interviewing other really successful distributed companies like GitLab or Envision, and seeing how they work. And now all companies are doing this. But it’s still pretty interesting. I try to get interesting guests like Adam Gazzaley, who’s the head of neuroscience and writes about distraction. So, really good stuff on there. I try to… That’s another way we try to make people better is I try to interview folks that either are going to make me better, or I feel like would be really valuable to my colleagues, or maybe and be really valuable to my colleagues. So, check it out.

Nathan: Amazing. Look, Matt, thank you so much for your time. This was a fantastic interview. And yeah, congratulations on all your success. We are big fans of everything you’re building, end users. And yeah, thank you so much.

Matt: Thank you. Best of luck in your endeavours.

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