An Extended Interview With WordPress Creator Matt Mullenweg

I sat down with Matt Mullenweg, the founder and CEO of WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, for an extended interview in March, just ahead of the company’s $160 million financing round a month later, which valued the company at $1.16 billion. (Apologies for posting this so long after the fact.)

For a company that powers 22% of the Web, including, the Series C round was appropriately hefty. But for Automattic, which has long defied the conventional tech trajectory, the raise was unusual; it’s the first, and by far the largest, injection of dilutive capital since 2008.

Given the newfound aggressiveness Mullenweg expressed in our interview in March, this makes some sense. After eight years as chairman, he became CEO of Automattic in January, replacing Toni Schneider who had guided the company since 2006. (Schneider is stepping into a more product-oriented role.) The company grew swiftly in the interim, but hardly at the breakneck pace expected of promising tech companies.

Now, after years of reluctance, Mullenweg is taking the brakes off.

For the average reader, the following transcript of our conversation, edited from about 13,500 words down to 2,800, is likely too long. But WordPress inspires a fervent-enough following that I suspect this will be too short for many.

In it we cover the CEO transition, the future of Automattic, the company’s business model, its distributed workforce, mobile, and the nature of press leaks, among other topics.

Happy reading.

Matt Mullenwegg

“We’ve been proving them wrong since 2005.” Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg became CEO in January after Toni Schneider, right, moved to a product-focused role.

FORBES: How are you liking the CEO role?

Matt Mullenweg: I’m loving it actually. It’s good to be in a role when you can learn something new. It’s very challenging, more so than I thought it would be.

When there’s no one you can point to or when something goes wrong, it’s your fault—that level of responsibility and accountability is pretty interesting. I didn’t anticipate there being a change and it’s actually been a big one.

FORBES: How has the texture of your day-to-day changed?

Mullenweg: I still spend about a third of my time on hiring. I wanted to maintain that. I spend less of my time on day-to-day programming. Like last year I lead a WordPress release, WordPress 3.8, when we did the big redesign. That was definitely down to the pixel. I was committing code and things. I don’t anticipate doing that this year. I hope to lead a WordPress release again maybe in a year or two. But right now I can’t even imagine.

FORBES: I’m kind of amazed that you were doing it just a year ago.

Mullenweg: Yeah, it came out December 12th. Last year was an exciting year. It was able to do that. Also the Tiger funding happened. They’ve been a great partner. It was nice to get some external validation for the company. Tiger is one of the most sophisticated investors in the world right now, literally.

Our last price was set in like 2008. It’s nice to know that between then and now, we’ve actually created some value.

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