WordPress founder finds inspiration in his hometown of Houston

  • Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg in his new office building in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, where this coming weekend will be the annual WordCamp conference. Photo: Liz Hafalia, Staff / ONLINE_YES



Matt Mullenweg, 24, who just landed $29.5 million in funding for his program WordPress, works on his laptop in his home on Wednesday, June 25, 2008, San Francisco, Calif.

Matt Mullenweg, who just landed $29.5 million in funding for a software development, pictured in his home on Wednesday, June 25, 2008, San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Christina Izzo / The San Francisco Chronicle less

Photo: Christina Izzo, Chronicle Staff Photographer

Like many tech businesses, Automattic, the company that operates WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging software, is headquartered in San Francisco. But the company’s founder and creator, 32-year-old Matt Mullenweg, calls Houston home.

Mullenweg spent about eight years in California, where he turned WordPress, which he co-created at the age of 19, into a content management system now used by more than 60 million websites. Then he returned to the city where he was born and raised. Houston is now home base, though he often makes trips to San Francisco and New York City – he estimates that he traveled roughly 400,000 miles last year alone.

“I found I could get a lot of the benefits of San Francisco being there a few times a year, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be there every day,” Mullenweg said. “I missed my family and my friends and everything in Houston.”

Mullenweg graduated from the Houston Independent School District’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in 2002. There, he studied music and jazz saxophone. In his teen years, he also began building websites. He decided to combine his love of music and tech skills.

“Some of the first money I made was building websites for musicians around town,” he said. Mullenweg said local jazz musicians such as David Caceres, Warren Sneed, Woody Witt and Kelly Dean were a few of his first clients.

More Information



Matt Mullenweg creates WordPress with Mike Little.


Mullenweg is offered a job with CNet and leaves school to take the job in San Francisco.


Mullenweg leaves CNet and founds Automattic, the company behind WordPress.


PC World lists Mullenweg as 16th of the 50 most important people on the web.


Business Insider names Mullenweg one of the top 10 most influential people online for changing the face of the internet.

Caceres also was one of Mullenweg’s music teachers. He describes him as a “wunderkind” who always knew about the latest technology and always wore a smile on his face.

When Caceres said his computer started getting older, Mullenweg suggested that instead of purchasing a new one, he could help him build one.

Now, millions of musicians all over the world use WordPress to publish their own websites.

“And that’s really cool, especially when it’s folks who also went to (HS)PVA, like Robert Glasper, who’s now won a couple of Grammys,” Mullenweg said.

After graduating high school, Mullenweg attended the University of Houston, but his stint there was short. During his freshman year, he co-created WordPress with Mike Little. The two met online as they sought to improve upon an older blogging tool they both used. By the following year, Mullenweg was offered a job at CNet in San Francisco. He accepted and left school.

His father, a computer scientist, and mother, a stay-at-home mom, were a bit skeptical of the decision, wanting him to finish his education, but they were supportive, he said.

“I think that support is actually part of what has allowed me to take more risks in my life because I can sort of know I have that backstop,” he said.

In 2005, a year after moving to San Francisco, Mullenweg left CNet to concentrate on WordPress full time. The same year, he founded Automattic, the development company behind WordPress and other web software.

“We have an office that’s technically the headquarters in San Francisco, and there’s about five to 10 people in the office on any given week, and the other 490 employees are all over the world and typically work from home,” he said.

Since creating WordPress more than a decade ago, Mullenweg has been recognized often as an innovator. By 2007, PC World listed him 16th out of the 50 most important people on the web, and in 2011, Business Insider named him one of the top 10 most influential people online for changing the face of the internet.

To Mullenweg, innovation is the combination of two things that existed previously, but perhaps not together.

“The vast majority of what impacts our whole life is taking something and making it better or taking two things that didn’t work together before and putting them together, like peanut butter and chocolate,” he said. It’s this view that helped him create WordPress. “I was taking many things that were out there before like open-source, publishing, blogging, everything, and putting them together.”

The key to innovation is “relentless improvement,” he said.

“It requires incredible dedication and perseverance and hard work and elbow grease to making innovations actually matter in the world,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s just an idea, and ideas are a dime a dozen.”

When Mullenweg left Houston, he wasn’t even old enough to get into a bar. Living here again, Mullenweg said he’s enjoying experiencing the city as an adult, whether it’s getting a cocktail at Julep or a meal at MF Sushi.

He said he’d like to be a benefactor to the arts and the culinary scene but has no ambitions or desires to open a restaurant.

“But if I could support someone who was, that would be great,” he laughed.

Mullenweg, now a multimillionaire, credits his hometown with influencing his technological and creative endeavors.

“When you think of what open source is, it’s a community coming together to create something and then giving it away to the rest of the community,” he said. “Growing up, I saw so much of that in Houston.”

Mullenweg is now giving back, making several contributions to nonprofit organizations, from the Alaska Wilderness League to The Innocence Project, according to his blog.

Another influence he drew from Houston was its diversity, a quality Mullenweg said he missed when he lived in San Francisco.

“I think that power and creativity comes from diversity,” he said. “So having friends from all different walks of life who were at HSPVA, being surrounded by people who were passionate about things, all of that combined. The melting pot or the gumbo of Houston, I couldn’t imagine growing up in a better place, and that’s one of the things I love returning to.”

Mullenweg noted that growing up in Houston, he attended all public schools, an experience for which he is grateful. He expressed his appreciation, too, for the city’s police, firefighters – his best friend is a Houston firefighter – and teachers.

Caceres, who still sees Mullenweg, said that he’s the same positive and humble guy he’s always been.

“All the success hasn’t seemed to have affected him at all,” Caceres said. “You might just see him driving a fancier car.”

Article source: http://www.chron.com/local/history/innovators-inventions/article/Wordpress-founder-finds-inspiration-in-his-9403035.php

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