Automattic breathing new life into some decaying products

WP Job Manager, Polldaddy, and Sensei are all getting renewed attention after the Automattic Grand Meetup, which happened this month in Whistler, a town north of Vancouver, Canada.

Focus is hard for all companies. As a company grows, it’s easy to think that gives them more room to expand and do multiple things well. In reality, that’s extremely difficult to pull off. Automattic is no exception. They have many products; some do well, some don’t, and there’s plenty of room for them to let products go by the wayside, even if they don’t want to.

At the Automattic Grand Meetup, at least these three projects were determined to deserve renewed effort.

Polldaddy got its first blog post and (to my knowledge) new feature in over a year, with an introduction of new, cleaner themes. Polldaddy is a long time Automattic product; it was acquired in 2008, when Automattic was just a 30 person team. Polldaddy has a lot of potential, but other players like SurveyMonkey — with it’s more than $1 billion valuation — have certainly made more of the polls and surveys market.

Automattic could be a big player in this space, and certainly could’ve been with more attention toward Polldaddy in earlier years. Perhaps they still see opportunity there. It would certainly be a good fit for their overall network. I could imagine interesting integrations with WooCommerce, for example, for getting customer feedback after purchases.

WP Job Manager and Sensei are both products that came to Automattic as side effects of the Woo acquisition. Sensei — a learning management system, or LMS — was a direct acquisition, as an official WooThemes product. WP Job Manager was acquired from Mike Jolley — WooCommerce’s lead developer and co-creator — in order for him to abide by Automattic’s no paid side projects policy.

Neither WP Job Manager or Sensei have seen much more than compatibility fixes since Automattic acquired them. Both had prior success, but after a year without much attention, they needed decisions to be made on where to go next.

Multiple other companies rely on WP Job Manager, including Astoundify, who makes significant revenue from WPJM-based themes. And The Look And Feel forked WP Job Manager to create Listings, a more generic listings plugin, partly due to the lack of attention to the plugin by Automattic.

Sensei is a pretty large codebase that needs attention, and the LMS space is a big one. Many companies are making investments in course and learning software. Automattic has an opportunity to do well in that market with a quality WordPress and WooCommerce integration, due to the dominant market share if nothing else.

Automattic must’ve determined the potential value for these two products, or at a minimum a few employees want to see them get renewed attention. Both Sensei and WP Job Manager have seen minor releases since the meetup, and promises of more to come. The renewed WP Job Manager effort was a full-out blog announcement, while the attention to Sensei was just someone from Automattic telling me it was getting new attention, though I also learned about Sensei’s development blog in that conversation, where they announced a maintenance release.

Automattic recently surpassed 500 employees — a huge number for the WordPress world, but still relatively small compared to other web-centric companies with their kind of footprint. They have many products that could be invested in to grow and become a revenue “leg” on their product stool, but like I said at the beginning of this post, focus is hard, and only time will tell where and how they use limited resources to work on these products in addition to their primary ones.

It’s hard for me to imagine any of these three reaching the potential that, Jetpack, or WooCommerce have. But if each were given small but dedicated teams, I think they could be quite profitable in their own right.

Profit potential doesn’t make a product a great fit alone. Say, for instance, that each one could hit $2 million in revenue within one or two years. That’s great, for some other company. But what would a couple milli0n in revenue matter for Automattic, who is focusing on scaling at much larger levels, with much bigger products? I know Automattic isn’t a finances-first company, but if I were looking at these products, I’d want to compare profit potential from dedicating teams to these products, compared to dedicating those same teams to the products I think can be worth billions.

In Matt Mullenweg’s latest appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast, he notes that people don’t see all the at-bats, but focus on the home runs. If you have employees that are passionate about a product, you never know when one of those products will become a home run.

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