Team Tinker

At the start of this year, I announced that I was stepping down as Automattic’s CEO. I also mentioned that I would be staying on at Automattic to work on new ideas and build new products. A number of people have since mentioned to me that it’s unusual for a CEO to stay around in a non-CEO role and asked what it’s been like. So here is an update.

My new job started with the idea of creating a team inside Automattic that would be the beginnings of a skunkworks or internal R&D type function. A function that overtime ensures that we don’t focus 100% of our energy on our big hit product, WordPress, but also look into new products and technologies that we might be in a unique position to bring to market. So step one was to assemble a team. I’m a huge fan of the small, product focused teams we have at Automattic, so this new team looks very similar to all the others in the company – 6 people so far, 1 designer, 4 developers, and 1 business person/team lead. We named the new team “Tinker” (because we’re tinkering on new ideas, and because of the Tinkers in Vernor Vinge’s Peace War, and because everyone likes Tinkerbell) and started gathering ideas for what to work on. We asked everyone in the company to write up their favorite ideas for side projects, ideas that sit outside their daily WordPress work and have been occupying their minds. We got several dozen ideas, and several themes that emerged among them. We then picked a few smaller projects to work on first as warm up projects for the new team. We built Postbot, a tool for photo bloggers who want to schedule lots of blog posts in advance, and we added new geo-location features to WordPress.com to let people tag their posts with locations from their phones or desktops. We also started diving into a mobile app for Gravatar, which got us to do a bunch of clean up work first to make Gravatar responsive and mobile friendly. Then the Gravatar app morphed into a larger, stand-alone project that got the whole team to learn Android development and launch an official new app called Selfies. We learned a lot from doing the Selfies app, including the discovery of what we think is an interesting new way of collaborative story telling. We’re now working on a more ambitious project that pulls together many of the pieces from the last 6 months into a new service that will be ready later in the year.

To answer the question of what the new role has been like: Fun, invigorating, and the switch from CEO to team lead has been smooth (our organizational structure at Automattic is designed to let people move around, including in and out of management roles). I enjoy being back on a small team, focused on product development. Our team is making progress towards the goal of branching from WordPress into new directions, and I hope and believe we’ll be doing more of this as a company in the future.

Team Tinker in action, taking selfies at our company retreat last month:

tinker

From left to right: Beau, John, Joen, Toni, Mo, Marcus.

#30daychallenge

Published by

Toni Schneider

Partner at True Ventures. Team lead at Automattic. Advisor at Atipica, Bandcamp, Handshake, Hatch Baby, Madefire, Renovo Motors, and Tend.ai.

10 thoughts on “Team Tinker”

  1. “We asked everyone in the company to write up their favorite ideas for side projects, ideas that sit outside their daily WordPress work and have been occupying their minds. We got several dozen ideas, and several themes that emerged among them.”

    Why ask only *inside* Automattic? Isn’t this some kind of bias that you explicitly wanted to avoid?

    I’d love to tell you a number of areas where Automattic could make a difference 🙂

  2. This sounds like the most fun team within the Automattic walls. Rapid iteration, learning new skills, etc…

    We’re now working on a more ambitious project…

    What’s the motivation behind working on something more ambitious (likely longer) timeline? Any concern that it contradicts the Tinker team’s primary agenda of being nimble and inventive?

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