Matt Mullenweg is now Automattic’s CEO
Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider are switching jobs at Automattic. After joining Automattic eight years ago, Toni Schneider is moving into a product-focused role within Automattic, and Matt Mullenweg is the new CEO.
Both Matt and Toni blogged about the change. Toni notes his confidence in Matt:
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.
Similarly, Matt praised the work Toni has done in the years they’ve worked together:
We have been through some incredible ups and downs in people, valuation, been on both sides of the table for acquisitions, and seen dozens of competitors come, go, and come again as the hyperactive tech news cycle loops back around.
[…] I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Toni over the years and I’m looking forward to putting that into practice.
Both articles quip that Matt is quite prepared for the role, now that he’s no longer in his twenties (his 30th birthday was just two days ago).
What swap means for Automattic
What the change means for Automattic long term is unclear. Both of them will still be with Automattic, and Matt also noted the fluidity between their roles all along, and that he filled in for Toni some last year when he was on sabbatical.
But inevitably their styles as CEO will be different to some degree, and it will be fascinating to see how both Matt and Toni move the company forward with this switch.
Toni has long been part of True Ventures, the VC that is most tied to Automattic, so his move to the product side of the business also makes sense. I’m excited to see how he stretches his legs without the daily running of the business as a part of his job. Similarly Matt understands how to maintain consistent evolution – having been the BDFL of WordPress itself for ten years now.
Automattic has grown up
Automattic has really grown up over the years. In the tech world, it is quite an underrated company in my opinion; few companies can tout the influence (with over 74 million sites running WordPress in the world) they have on the internet itself. They’ve proven that building applications on open source software can be profitable and scalable. They’ve helped pioneer the coming onslaught of companies enabling remote workers. They’ve acquired other startups (mostly) without killing them. They’re successfully bridging the gap between WordPress.com and WordPress.org with long term investments like Jetpack. They’ve grown to a staff of well over 200, which is both large for a startup and tiny considering WordPress.com is now the 8th largest website in the world.
Automattic is a huge player in tech. Even if it’s been a relatively quiet one compared to other companies that run websites of similar size (Amazon, Yahoo, etc). While Matt has noted before the company is not up for purchase, if they were it would no doubt fetch billions of dollars (hello no-revenue-generating Tumblr) and be extremely attractive to some of the biggest companies in the world.
WordPress, the software off of which Automattic largely builds its business, has entered its second decade. And Matt Mullenweg takes the reins as the new CEO of Automattic after eight years – quite mature for a startup – in addition to his role as leader of the open source project. I look forward to watching how both WordPress and Automattic continue to evolve under his guidance.
Except that since their primary products are entirely built around a brand that isn’t actually owned by the company, no-one would be interested in buying it. Without the security of knowing you own the trademark your company is mostly dependent on, what is it worth if you’re forced to re-brand your company’s biggest products?
Matt would be required to either include the WordPress Foundation in the deal, or include the trademark from the foundation if he ever actually wanted to sell Automattic for a respectable price. The latter option would effectively dissolve the foundation (whose primary purpose is to protect that trademark), tarnish his name for doing something he vowed to never do years ago, and be a huge blow to the open source project that would likely be forced to fork itself under a new name, and still make the Automattic purchase worth significantly less even with the trademark attached (since the trademark itself would be worth significantly less without the community behind it). Selling the foundation with it instead would imply that the community would need to be supportive of the deal for fear of new WordCamp rules, organizational changes, and a new BDFL making decisions on the open source project (who may not be as benevolent as you hope). If you watched what happened when Oracle aquired the OpenOffice.org trademarks, you know the risks involved there.
Basically, I don’t believe Matt could actually cash out on Automattic even if he wanted to in it’s current state (or it would at least be incredibly difficult to). That’s just my assessment of the situation though.
I think Automattic/WordPress Dot Com is worth quite a bit even without the core “WordPress” trademark.
That said, Automattic is heavily tied to the open source project and any acquisition would have to think about how to maintain the connection, as WP+Automattic is worth more together than either one by itself… although both are still valuable on their own.
p.s. I enjoyed your writing in this one Brian.
There’s absolutely no reason why the Foundation would need be included in any acquisition, that would defeat the purpose of creating it in the first place. That sort of faulty reasoning leads later to faulty conclusions.
> takes the reigns
Horses have reins, kings have reigns.
Apologies… Got that fixed up.
Glad I read this. Aside from keeping up on things, I have a HuffPo piece tomorrow with “take the reigns” erroneously in there.
Doing some long term investments in the field of information technology is really worth it because its the digital age and it will grow strongly.
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