There’s a great article in Forbes today that covers some of the early days of WordPress through Automattic as a business today. I recommend everyone check it out! I wanted to respond to one bit about Automattic’s global nature though, which is actually timely because next week the entirety of Automattic is going to San Diego:
As a legacy of its open-source roots its 120 employees are spread across 26 countries and six continents. Although most work alone at home, each team–usually made up of five or six people–has a generous budget to travel. “All of the money we save on office space, we blow on travel costs,” Mullenweg laughs. Groups have gathered in Hawaii, Mexico and New Zealand. Once a year everyone meets for a week at an accessible destination with a solid Internet connection. A distributed workforce means Automattic can hire talent from around the world–without having to offer the perks and pay of Google, Facebook and Apple.
I’d like to counter the last sentence, which implies this is something we do as a cost saving scheme: being distributed is not a legacy, it’s a conscious choice. The people at Automattic are truly world-class — I invest in and advise a number of startups, and spending time in New York and the San Francisco Bay area I would put the caliber of people inside of Automattic on par or higher than anyone I’ve met from Google, Facebook, Apple, or any of the traditional tech giants.
How do we do it? Automattic offers a benefit above and beyond what they ever could: We give people the perk and the luxury of being part of an internet-changing company from anywhere in the world. This mirrors the meritocracy that makes Open Source great and treats people on the quality of their ideas and their work whether they’re in San Francisco or Argentina. (Or if they started in San Francisco and moved to Argentina.)
Even when big companies try to adopt this (sometimes under the lovely moniker “telecommute,” which reminds me of “horseless carriage”) people still face cultural resistance from their managers and teams, or find themselves as a second-tier citizen versus those in headquarters. The same often happens in “remote offices.” For it to really work it has to be part of the DNA of the company from day one. You have to be really committed to keep the creative center and soul of the organization on the internet, and not in an office.
I really believe this is the future of work, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.