After eight years, I’ve decided to hang up my CEO hat and ask Matt to take over the job.
What an amazing ride it’s been! I met Matt, Automattic’s eventual founder, almost ten years ago, in the summer of 2004. We were introduced by Om Malik and immediately hit it off. I forget when the idea of creating a company behind the WordPress open source project first came up, but I think it was early on. When Matt started that company – Automattic – and asked me to be its CEO, it sounded like a great challenge and opportunity. My first day on the job was in January 2006. Automattic was four people strong and a few months old. We were small, but we had big dreams. We wanted to make WordPress huge – #1 in its market and used by millions of people. We wanted to build a thriving software business that could be around for decades while strengthening the WordPress open source project at the same time. We wanted to build a company led by engineering values and open source principles. And for good measure, we wanted to be a distributed organization, able to hire and work with great people working from anywhere in the world. Eight years on, we’ve realized many of those early dreams. WordPress is the #1 publishing platform in the world and powers 21% of all web sites on the internet. Automattic’s services reach close to a billion people every month, an audience rivaling that of Google and Facebook. Our flagship product, WordPress.com, is currently the 8th largest site on the internet. At the same time, the WordPress open source project has grown from a handful to thousands of contributors, is available in close to 100 languages, and downloaded well over a hundred thousand times a day. Automattic has grown to a team of 231 people, a group that is as talented as it is diverse, working together in a 100% distributed fashion from 171 cities across the globe. And we are profitable, backed by great investors, in charge of our own destiny, and in strong shape to continue on our mission to democratize publishing for a long time to come. Needless to say, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
A few months ago, I started to feel a sense of completion about our early goals, coupled with a growing itch to work on some new product ideas. So I turned to Matt and suggested that now felt like a good time for us to “swap jobs” and have him become Automattic’s next CEO. Matt and I have been working side-by-side, building and running Automattic over the years, and he is without a doubt one of the most talented people in tech today, so I have full confidence that Automattic will continue to thrive after we make this change. And yes, Matt did just turn 30, which makes it a fun moment in time to say that he’s finally old enough to be a CEO! As for me, I will stay at Automattic (and at True), excited to switch my focus to working on new ideas and building new products.
PS: I’d like to take this moment to thank some people who – in addition to Matt and Om – have been close supporters and collaborators on my Automattic journey to date: Phil and Tony for being great friends, partners, and board members from the start, Scott for his sage and level headed advice over the years, the entire team at Automattic for being amazingly talented, passionate, and committed, and most importantly Diane, who has been with me at every step, including a crucial moment in 2001 when I had to shut down a startup (Uplister), the entire economy was in the tank, our third child had just been born, and I seriously considered taking a “real” job with a big, safe company. Without hesitation, Diane encouraged me to join another startup (Oddpost) instead. Oddpost ended up being a fantastic experience that led to a successful sale to Yahoo, which led to an article in Business 2.0 by Om, which led to WordPress.
A mom recently asked my opinion about tech internships for her college aged daughter who is interested in Silicon Valley.
I can think of three great options:
1. Go for an internship with a VC firm like True’s TEC program. You’ll work solo with an up and running startup and as a group of interns with True, getting exposed to tech experts and companies from across the Valley. It’s the best of both worlds – hands-on at a startup and learning about the Valley – and perfect for people thinking about making a career somewhere in tech. I’ve seen True’s program hands-on and it’s great, going strong and into its 6th year. Similar programs have started up, for example Kleiner’s Fellows. I’ve no experience with those, but given the caliber of firm behind them I’d definitely check them out. Best for aspiring technologists.
2. Start a company with one of the incubators like Y Combinator. There’s nothing like learning about being an entrepreneur than actually doing it. This is perfect for groups of students who know that they want to focus on being startup founders. Y Combinator originated this idea and is a great program. Others like 500 Startups and Tech Stars have created great reputations as well. There are lots and lots of incubators nowadays (not all of them take student teams). Do your research before applying to one of the lesser known ones. Best for aspiring founders.
3. Join Google’s Summer of Code to get paid for contributing to an open source project. It’s been around for years and continues to attract strong students and mentors. It’s a great hands-on experience in developing real software with the help of someone guiding you through. We’ve participated through WordPress. You can also skip the Google part and just jump directly into an open source project, helping out for a summer and making a name for yourself by contributing real bug fixes and code into a shipping product. Best for aspiring coders.
Please add other suggestions in the comments.
I was at dinner at Patrick Mueller’s, a Swiss friend, when he asked me if I wanted to see his new electric car. “Sure!”, I said, walking to his garage expecting a Tesla or a Prius. Instead he showed me a close to 100 year old Detroit Electric. He’s upgraded it with a new battery, the rest is pretty much all original, including the motor. He gets over 100km on a charge and drives it to work and back every day (well, it being Switzerland, I’m guessing every sunny day). We took a test drive and the car feels much more modern than something from that era. One unusual and somewhat disconcerting detail is the car’s steering wheel – it doesn’t have one, you drive it using a lever instead. Patrick thinks there are fewer than 100 of these left in the world (of about 13,000 built).
Tomorrow marks both the start of another hopefully amazing Automattic company meetup and my return to work after a three month sabbatical. I’ve spent this summer away from work, enjoying lots of free time with my family, reading about twenty books, hovering around inbox zero for weeks at a time, traveling home to Switzerland, and generally enjoying a slower, less connected and less scheduled pace. Now I’m ready to dive back in!