Category Archives: Automattic

What a Week: WordPress, Maeda, .Blog

I’m still overwhelmed from last week, which was full of major announcements. Get your Instapaper / Pocket ready because I have lots of links!

It started with a very smooth WordPress release, version 4.6 “Pepper.” A week later it’s had over 4,200,000 downloads and upgrades are rippling throughout the WP ecosystem with 13% of all known installs already on the latest. WordPress 4.6 was available on release day in 50 languages, which blows my mind.
JMaeda.jpg

The next big move was John Maeda joining Automattic as our Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion. You can check out some of his talks on TED and his Twitter is always interesting. This was covered fairly well by mainstream media, especially with feature articles by Wired on the open source aspect, Fast Company on the inclusion side, and Techcrunch on the business side.

As often, the best stories are often personal ones: Om is a friend of both John and I, long-time Automattic designer Matt Miklic shared his “I will never stop learning” journey and and how he helped hire for this role, and finally John told his own story directly on Design.blog.

In the beginning days of the Web, Open Source was a human right.

You might notice something about that domain… it’s a .blog! We opened up .blog for early registrations and launched the first few founder domains like get.blog, design.blog, dave.blog, and of course matt.blog. More coming this week!

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Design.blog also launched with great essays from Alice RawsthornCassidy Blackwell, and Jessica Helfand. It will be updated every Thursday with a new home page design and new round of great voices, so bookmark it and be sure to visit again in a few days.

Huge thanks to Judy Wert who led the search for the design role. Combined with Chris Taylor starting as Chief Marketing Officer at Automattic a few months ago I think we’re well-positioned to really boost the growth of WordPress in the coming years. You may have even started to see video ads for WP.com. We’ve had 90 people start so far this year at Automattic bringing our total to just under 500 in 50 countries, if you’d like to join the family we’re hiring for over a dozen roles.

As you can tell, things have been moving at a hundred miles per hour, and the momentum is carrying through the all-company Grand Meetup in Whistler next month and WordCamp US in December. I’m going to take a few days to unplug at Burning Man next week (photos from my first year), might even take a Real Camera to capture some of the art.

Dance to Calypso

One of the hardest things to do in technology is disrupt yourself.

But we’re trying our darndest, and have some cool news to introduce today. When I took on the responsibility of CEO of Automattic January of last year, we faced two huge problems: our growth was constrained by lack of capital, and the technological foundations of the past decade weren’t strong enough for the demands of next one.

The first has a relatively straightforward answer. We found some fantastic partners, agreed on a fair price, issued new equity in the company to raise $160M, and started investing in areas we felt were high potential, like this year’s WooCommerce acquisition. This “war chest” gives us a huge array of options, especially given our fairly flat burn rate — we don’t need to raise money again to keep the company going, and any capital we raise in the future will be purely discretionary. (Since last May when the round happened we’ve only spent $3M of the investment on opex.)

The second is much harder to address. The WordPress codebase is actually incredible in many ways — the result of many thousands of people collaborating over 13 years — but some of WordPress’ greatest strengths were also holding it back.

The WordPress codebase contains a sea of institutional knowledge and countless bug fixes. It handles hundreds of edge cases. Integrates constant security improvements. Is coded to scale. Development moves at a fast clip, with six major releases over the past two years and more around the corner. Its power and flexibility is undeniable: WordPress just passed a huge milestone, and now powers 25% of the web. You can run it on a $5-a-month web host, or scale it up to serve billions of pageviews on one of the largest sites on the web, WordPress.com.

The interface, however, has been a struggle. Many of us attempted to give it a reboot with the MP6 project and the version 3.8 release, but what that release made clear to me is that an incremental approach wouldn’t give us the improvements we needed, and that two of the things that helped make WordPress the strong, stable, powerful tool it is — backward compatibility and working without JavaScript — were actually holding it back.

The basic paradigms of wp-admin are largely the same as they were five years ago. Working within them had become limiting. The time seemed ripe for something new, something big… but if you’re going to break back compat, it needs to be for a really good reason. A 20x improvement, not a 2x. Most open source projects fade away rather than make evolutionary jumps.

So we asked ourselves a big question. What would we build if we were starting from scratch today, knowing all we’ve learned over the past 13 years of building WordPress? At the beginning of last year, we decided to start experimenting and see.

Today we’re announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it. The project, codenamed Calypso, is the culmination of more than 20 months of work by dozens of the most talented engineers and designers I’ve had the pleasure of working with (127 contributors with over 26,000 commits!).

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Calypso is…

  • Incredibly fast. It’ll charm you.
  • Written purely in JavaScript, leveraging libraries like Node and React.
  • 100% API-powered. Those APIs are open, and now available to every developer in the world.
  • A great place to read, allowing you to follow sites across the web (even if they’re not using WordPress).
  • Social, with stats, likes, and notifications baked in.
  • Fully responsive. Make it small and put it in your sidebar, or go full-screen.
  • Really fun to write in, especially the drag-and-drop image uploads.
  • Fully multi-site for advanced users, so you can manage hundreds of WordPresses from one place.
  • Able to manage plugins and themes on Jetpack sites, including auto-upgrading them!
  • 100% open source, with all future development happening in the open.
  • Available for anyone to adapt to make their own, including building custom interfaces, distributions, or working with web services besides WordPress.com.

A lot of people thought we should keep this proprietary, but throughout my life I’ve learned that the more you give away, the more you get back. We still have a ton to figure out around plugins, extensibility, contributions, Windows and Linux releases, API speed, localization, and harmonizing the WordPress.com API and WP-API so it can work with core WordPress. Thousands more PHP developers will need to become fluent with JavaScript to recreate their admin interfaces in this fashion. I’m also really excited to revisit and redesign many more screens now that we have this first version out the door.

This is a beginning, not an ending. (1.0 is the loneliest.) Better things are yet to come, as all of you dig in. Check out these links to read more about Calypso from different perpsectives:

This was a huge bet, incredibly risky, and difficult to execute, but it paid off. Like any disruption it is uncomfortable, and I’m sure will be controversial in some circles. What the team has accomplished in such a short time is amazing, and I’m incredibly proud of everyone who has contributed and will contribute in the future. This is the most exciting project I’ve been involved with in my career.

With core WordPress on the server and Calypso as a client I think we have a good chance to bring another 25% of the web onto open source, making the web a more open place, and people’s lives more free.

If you’re curious more about the before and after, what’s changed, here’s a chart:

Whats-New-WPcom@2x

 

Arthur C. Clarke on Distributed Work

I saw the new Steve Jobs movie a few days ago, which I enjoyed as a movie even though the main elements were fiction and it should have been titled something else.

But they had an awesome video interview with the amazing Arthur C. Clarke in 1974, which I’ve embedded above, where he said the following right around 0:56.

Interviewer: I wonder though, what sort of a life will it be in social terms if our whole life is built around the computer, if we become a computer-dependent society, computer-dependent individuals.

ACC: In some ways, but they’ll also enrich our society because it’ll make it possible for us to live anywhere we like. Any businessman, any executive could live almost anywhere on earth and still do his business through a device like this, and this is a wonderful thing, it means we won’t have to be stuck in cities, we can live out in the country or wherever we please, and still carry on complete interaction with human beings, as well as with other computers.

Wow, extremely prescient. Remember, this was 1974! The dominant technology companies of today still follow the same office-centric model as when computers took up entire rooms, but the dominant companies of tomorrow will be built and grow in a completely distributed fashion. (And of course, we’re hiring.)

See also, from 2012: Automattic, Forbes, and the Future of Work.

Ten Years of Automattic

Ten years ago the first official Automattician was Donncha O Caoimh, and he had no idea what he was in for. Neither did I, honestly. And it’s been amazing.

I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.
— The Automattic Creed

When you think about it, Donncha was incredibly brave. WordPress had far less than 1% market share. I hadn’t joined Automattic yet — I was still working for CNET, paying Donncha with my salary, savings, and credit cards. He was leaving a Real Job for a Barely a Job; I hardly knew how to wire money to an international account to pay him. I’d just made a giant screw-up (probably my biggest ever), taking money to have spam advertising on WordPress.org, so I wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring leader.

It also seemed like the decks were stacked against us. We were going to try and build an open source business model different from what we had seen before, a hybrid of a downloadable open source project combined with a web service that ran the exact same software. Up to that point companies built on open source projects had usually suffocated the communities that spawned them.

Sign me up, right? But we had one important thing going for us: at our cores, we shared a deep belief that open source could transform any industry it touched and that web publishing needed to be democratized. We’d been hackers-in-arms together coding on WordPress, and knew we could take that and build on it.

I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
– The Automattic Creed

Within that first year we were joined by Andy, Ryan, Toni, and Mark, and together we began building a business which looks remarkably similar to what Automattic does today. (We’re all still at Automattic, by the way.)

We just want to make the web a better place. We’re proud to contribute to what I consider the best open source project in the world, WordPress. We bring it to as wide an audience as possible through hosting it on WordPress.com, and providing services for the ones we don’t host with tools like Jetpack. Through it all, we have fun and experiment with side projects that have become crucial to the ways we work — P2, Cloudup, Simplenote, and dozens more that we tried, failed, learned something from, and tried again.

Our work is far from finished, and I hope there are hundreds of failures we learn from over the next 20 years. One of the things that makes me happiest is that I get to wake up every morning and work on the hard problem of making the web a better and more open place, and I do it alongside close to 400 talented people at Automattic and thousands in the broader community. For me this is a life’s work. The first decade is merely the first chapter of what I hope to be a very long book, which will eventually tell the story of a movement and a company that are at the core of this crazy thing we call “the web.”

I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.
— The Automattic Creed

Some find it strange that someone in this day and age would have the same job for a decade. The truth is, it’s not the same job: it’s always evolving. At times it’s been comfortable, at times it’s been extraordinarily challenging. I’ve needed to change how I work. Automattic has changed. The structure of the company is designed to accommodate growth, and we’re constantly experimenting with how we work and relate to one another.

Half the time I feel like we’re making it up as we go along — I’ve never managed a distributed company of 400 people before. But the important things stay the same: the desire for impact and my love for the people I work with. They embody the Automattic creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

Thank you, Donncha, for believing in me all those years ago and pioneering the way for a company that would come to impact a lot of the world. Thank you Andy, Ryan, Toni, and Mark. Thank you to every Automattician that’s made the same leap. We’re building something that gives people all over the world a voice and that people can trust to be thriving a century from now, and that’s huge.

There’s a lot more to do, and I can’t wait to see what a “20 Years of Automattic” post says. I’m a lucky guy.

Update: Donncha has a post talking about starting at Automattic.

Woo & Automattic

For years, we’ve been working on democratizing publishing, and today more people have independent sites built on open source software than ever before in the history of the web. Now, we want to make it easy for anyone to sell online independently, without being locked into closed, centralized services — to enable freedom of livelihood along with freedom of expression.

It’s not a new idea: at a WordCamp a few years ago, someone stood up and asked me when we were going to make it as easy to create an online store as we’d made it to create a blog. Everyone applauded; there’s long been demand for better ecommerce functionality, but it’s been outside the scope of what Automattic could do well.

That changes today — drum roll — as WooCommerce joins the Automattic team to make it easier for people to sell online. Along with Woo’s announcement, here’s a short video explaining more:

In the past few years, WooCommerce really distinguished itself in its field. Just like WordPress as a whole, it developed a robust community around its software, and its products meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Woo is also a team after Automattic’s own distributed heart: WooCommerce is created and supported by 55 people in 16 countries. Added to Automattic’s 325 people in 37 countries, that’s a combined 380-person company across 42 countries — the sun never sets.* I can’t wait to meet all my new colleagues.

Just like us, the vast majority of WooCommerce’s work is also open source and 100% GPL. And just like WordPress, you’ll find WooCommerce meetups popping up everywhere, from Los Angeles to London, and its global and community-focused work together to make the users’ experiences the best they can be.

ecomm-trends The stats are impressive: the WooCommerce plugin has over 7.5 million downloads and a million+ active installs; BuiltWith’s survey of ecommerce platforms shows Woo passing up Magento in the top million, with about triple the number of total sites. Even a conservative estimate that WooCommerce powers 650,000 storefronts means they’re enabling a huge number of independent sellers. They’ve added a tremendous amount to the WordPress ecosystem (alongside everyone else working in this area).

WordPress currently powers about 23% of the web. As we work our way toward 51%, WooCommerce joining Automattic is a big step opening WordPress up to an entirely new audience. I can’t wait to see how much more we can build together.

Automattic turns ten next month: another amazing milestone I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Today’s news is just the first of a number of announcements we have planned for the remainder of the year, so please stay tuned! There’s still so much work to do.

* Want to work with us? We’re hiring. Bonus points if you live in Antarctica, the only continent we don’t have covered.

As I said in the video, please drop any questions you might have in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. Also check out the posts from Mark and Magnus.

Read more: Mashable, Recode, Techcrunch, Venturebeat.

New Funding for Automattic

I’ll start with the big stuff: Automattic is raising $160M, all primary, and it’s the first investment into the company since 2008. This is obviously a lot of money, especially considering everything we’ve done so far has been built on only about $12M of outside capital over the past 8 years. It was also only a year ago I said “Automattic is healthy, generating cash, and already growing as fast as it can so there’s no need for the company to raise money directly — we’re not capital constrained.”

I was wrong, but I didn’t realize it until I took on the CEO role in January. Things were and are going well, but there was an opportunity cost to how we were managing the company toward break-even, and we realized we could invest more into WordPress and our products to grow faster. Also our cash position wasn’t going to be terribly strong especially after a number of infrastructure and product investments this and last year. So part of my 100-day plan as CEO was to figure out what new funding could look like and we found a great set of partners who believe in our vision for how the web should be and how we can scale into the opportunity ahead of us, though it ended up taking 110 days until the first close. (Our other main areas of focus have been improving mobile, a new version of WP.com, and Jetpack.)

This Series C round was led by Deven Parekh of Insight Venture Partners, and included new investors Chris Sacca, Endurance, and a special vehicle True Ventures created to step up their investment, alongside our existing secondary investors from last year, Tiger and Iconiq. (There is a second close soon so this list might change a bit.) There was interest significantly above what we raised, but we focused in on finding the best partners and scaled it back to be the right amount of capital at the right valuation. Deven and Insight share our long term vision and are focused on building an enduring business, one that will thrive for decades to come.

WordPress is in a market as competitive as it has ever been, especially on the proprietary and closed side. I believe WordPress will win, first and foremost, because of its community — the hundreds of core developers and large commercial companies, the tens of thousands of plugin and theme developers, and the millions of people who build beautiful things with WordPress every day. Automattic is here to support that community and invest the full strength of our resources to making WordPress a better product every day, bringing us closer to our shared mission of democratizing publishing. But a majority of the web isn’t on an open platform yet, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. Back to it!

You can read more about the news by Kara and Liz on Recode: WordPress.com Parent Automattic Has Raised $160 Million, Now Valued at $1.16 Billion Post-Money, on Techmeme, and on the Wall Street Journal.

Toni Schneider & Automattic CEO

Eight years and one day ago I blogged about Toni Schneider joining Automattic as CEO, as I said then:

I first met Toni shortly after I moved to San Francisco and I’ve wanted him to be a part of Automattic pretty much since the idea first entered my mind. We’ve spent many long meals over the past year discussing the Automattic idea before it even had a name. I’ve been on cloud nine since (somehow) I convinced him to leave the incredibly cushy corporate job and rough it out in startup world again. I’m very very excited about some of the things coming down the line.

Fast-forward roughly two thousand, nine hundred, and twenty-two days and I’m still on cloud nine and love working together with Toni. 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.

Today we’re announcing publicly that Toni and I are switching jobs — he’s going to focus on some of Automattic’s new products, and I’m going to take on the role of CEO. Internally this isn’t a big change as our roles have always been quite fluid, and I’ve had some recent practice filling in for him for a few months last year when he was on sabbatical. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Toni over the years and I’m looking forward to putting that into practice.

Besides, it’s obvious that no one in their twenties should run a company. They think they know everything, a fact I can now say with complete confidence now that I’m 30 and two days old.

See also: Toni Scheider’s post, Om Malik, Tony Conrad.

On the new Simplenote

Last week we relaunched Simplenote, an app Automattic acquired along with Simperium earlier this year. The coverage so far has been really overwhelming with great articles:

But, even after my foray into Simplenote alternatives and doing research and trying out other note-taking apps, I’ve stuck with Simplenote as my iOS note-taking app of choice. […] However, I could consolidate them all into just one app if I had to. And that app would be Simplenote. The reason I’d choose Simplenote is because it’s a quick, easy-to-use app with great search and it has fast, reliable sync.

Shawn Blanc: The New Simplenote Apps

Go check it out. For me it was easy – even though I dropped Simplenote, I had kept NVAlt syncing with it in anticipation of an update as good as this one. I launched it, logged in and a few moments later I was back up and running. Best of all, Simplenote is back on my first home screen.

Charlie Sorrel: Like Rocky, Simplenote Is Back In Front After Years Of Neglect

Simplenote has always kept the focus on content — your content. With a bare minimum chrome in its apps, Simplenote has stayed away from flashy gradients, big UI elements and detailed icons and instead, has offered a minimal, mostly white user interface to its users. I liked everything about Simplenote, so paying for its Premium subscription and supporting the service was a no brainer for me.

Preshit Deorukhkar: Simplenote — The Perfect Notes App Suite

Also the Simplenote for Mac app rising in the app store listing. I am excited about all of this above and beyond what any rational measure would support.

Probably the most comprehensive was by Ellis Hamburger in the Verge, Simplenote reborn: the first great notes app is back. I’d recommend reading the entire thing. Ellis asked me a number of questions via email and I’d like to share the entirety with you here:

What is so compelling about Simplenote, and why exactly was it worth “reviving?”

From the day I first used Simplenote it felt like a breath of fresh air in a crowded sea of cluttered apps. I use and rely on the service every day. We do many things at Automattic, but our core passion is creating great products. When we see something we feel isn’t our best work it bugs us until we’re able to loop back and iterate on it — it’s a blessing and a curse. This latest iteration of Simplenote on Android, OS X, and iOS is something we’re all very excited about sharing with the world.

How big a role did Simplenote play in Automattic acquiring Simperium?

It depends on how you look at it: I probably would have never heard of Simperium if it wasn’t for Simplenote, and the app really demonstrates the power of the Simperium API and the tastefulness of the people who created it. But the bigger interest was in what we could build alongside Fred and Mike on top of Simperium across all our products.

Where do Simplenote and Simperium fit with Automattic? Will any of each service’s features make their way into your other products, like WordPress, or do you intend to operate them separately?

Simplenote and WordPress share one key characteristic: they’re about writing. They both aspire to become invisible and be a canvas for your creativity. WordPress has succeeded above its competitors year after year because we’re ruthlessly focused on the experience of the author, and I saw the same spirit in Simplenote. It fits in Automattic like a glove.

One of the keys of Simplenote is, well, its simplicity. I think as we integrate it more with the broader Automattic ecosystem it’ll look more like Simplenote inside of WordPress rather than vice versa. It’s all backed by an easy-to-integrate API so if people want something more complex someone will build a client for that.

Simperium is at the core of several new things we’re either building or hope to build in the near future. We’re investing quite a bit to make the service robust and flexible for our needs as a top-ten internet site, and that development will benefit everyone who uses the service much the same way our investment in anti-spam benefits the internet at large through Akismet. You will start to see the Simperium engine make its way into almost everything we do.

Will Simplenote someday be a fruitful business? If so, how?

The beauty of Simplenote being under Automattic’s wing is that we are already blessed with incredibly fruitful businesses in WordPress.com, Akismet, and VaultPress. The biggest thing I didn’t like about the old app was the ads, and as you’ve noticed those are gone in this new version. Our main goal is to pour our heart into something and make it great, then it with the world. I find Simplenote indispensable, delightful, and use it every day, and I hope you will too.

That’s that, I hope that you check out Simplenote and give it a try. It’s now available for Android, iOS 7, and Mac.

More Tiger Secondary

It’s only been a few months since May when Tiger Global led a round purchasing about $50M of Automattic stock from existing shareholders, but they are back and have led a $75M purchase of Automattic stock, this time entirely from our early investor Polaris. (There were a few individuals in the first round, and ICONIQ joined investing in this round.)

Read also: Evelyn Rusli in the Wall Street Journal “Tiger Global Ups Investment in Creator of WordPress.com”.

Until now Polaris had been Automattic’s largest investor, and second largest shareholder. Mike Hirshland wrote the biggest checks in our 2006 and 2008 rounds (the only primary capital Automattic has raised) and served on our board until 2011 when he left the firm and we were lucky to be joined by Dave Barrett. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of spending time and getting great feedback from a number of people associated with the firm including Ryan Spoon, Bob Metcalfe, Steve Arnold, and Alan Spoon. Although they’ll no longer be on the board Polaris will continue to be a major shareholder, retaining about a third of their stake. Now that Automattic has been locked in as a win for their portfolio I hope they’ll continue to be involved for many years to come.

I’m glad to be even more fully aligned with Tiger. I think it says a lot to their excitement in the company that just a few months after joining the family and learning more about the company they significantly increased their stake, and at a significant bump in valuation. Their deep resources, market experience, and long-term outlook make them an ideal partner for the next phase of Automattic and the continued growth of the WordPress ecosystem. What we’re building will take time and it won’t be easy, but things worth doing seldom are.

This news comes in a fun week generally: Scott Berkun’s book about Automattic is out today and getting rave reviews, WordPress.com just passed Yahoo in the US Quantcast rankings (and that doesn’t include custom mapped domains), we’re relaunching Simplenote for iOS 7 and Mac after the Android update last week, WordPress is on the cusp of cracking 20% of websites, we just announced a partnership with Eventbrite, and this Wednesday I’ll be on stage at GigaOM’s Structure Europe conference.

Hopefully I’ll see some of you there, and if you’d like to join in on the mission of democratizing publishing Automattic is hiring.

Business Insider has a fun article on Automattic’s Awesome Remote Work Culture. Includes some quotes from me about how we work, including “Rather than being anti-office, we’re more location agnostic” and the top five meetup locations so far (Lisbon, Portugal; Kauai; San Francisco; Amsterdam; Tybee Island, Georgia).

Automattic After-Market, Lee Fixel, and Tiger

One of the most striking shifts in entrepreneurship when I started Automattic seven years ago was the rise of the Founder Friendly VCs. The standard operating procedure at the time for VC-backed companies consisted of bringing in “adult supervision,” founders often taking largely-ceremonial roles like “chief architect” after the business had scaled to a certain point, aggressive financial terms around liquidation preferences, and a control structure that more often than not left founders with a minority say in the future of the company, especially if it went through rough patches. Folks like True Ventures (who Automattic has always been intertwined with) appeared as iconoclasts because they came out saying that founders were the best ones to grow a company long-term and structuring their entire practice and way of investing around that idea. It seems non-controversial now, but it was like Dylan going electric. Still in spite of their philosophical innovations, many of these funds were structured in similar ways to the ones of old, with 7-10 year fund lifetimes, for example.

Fast-forward to 2013 and there’s an even more founder-friendly class of investors rising, at least for companies that have made it past a certain exit velocity of growth and revenue. Most visibly pioneered by Yuri Milner and Facebook in 2009 there’s a breed of later-stage investors from largely financial backgrounds that come in with the ability to write checks larger than the entire size of most VC funds and a desire to align with founders so strong that they embrace things that even VCs from the founder-friendly cohort would balk at: forgoing board seats, assigning voting proxies to founders, taking very long term approaches to growth, and investing in (and seeking out!) companies outside of the California/New York bubble, from South Africa to Russia to Brazil. The most interesting thing to me about this new generation is how behind the scenes they are: forget about a blog or Twitter, most of these guys don’t even have websites for their firms. These are some of the smartest and most successful people you’ll ever meet and you’ll never hear about them… they like it that way. Asymmetric information is their core competitive advantage.

Anyway, wanted to get in front of the news that will inevitably come out in the next week or two: there has been a large secondary transaction in Automattic stock, about $50M worth. “Secondary” means that it’s existing stockholders, like the earliest investors or employees, selling stock to another investor versus money going into the company (“primary”). It was led by Lee Fixel at Tiger Global, one of the behind-the-scenes quiet geniuses that has previously invested in SurveyMonkey, Facebook, LinkedIn, Palantir, Square, Warby Parker… Automattic is healthy, generating cash, and already growing as fast as it can so there’s no need for the company to raise money directly — we’re not capital constrained. The minority of stockholders that elected to participate are holding on to the vast majority of their shares. We’re building an independent company that’s going to be a growing part of the fabric of the web for many years to come, so allowing early investors to lock in some returns releases any short-term pressure there might be on the company for a liquidity event and allows us to focus fully on the long road ahead.

As sometimes happens in with regulated financial things, I can’t answer every question about this, but will leave comments open. I hope to see some of you on Monday the 27th when I’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of WordPress alongside community members in over 500 cities. Also check out Toni’s post about all of the above. If you’re interested in living anywhere and working hard alongside people passionate about the same, Automattic is always hiring.

One of the cornerstones of Automattic’s web-scale infrastructure is a project out of Russia we started using in 2008 called Nginx. Don’t let the sparse website fool you, Nginx (pronounced engine-ex) has been taking high-end websites by storm, and is used on 24% of the top thousand websites (a good chunk of them WordPress). I was very proud of our team helping sponsor and debug SPDY support in the latest release. Hopefully this accelerates the adoption of technology like SPDY that improves the user experience of the web.

A New Home for the WordPress Trademark

As I write this, I’m on my way to Seaside, Florida to see 60+ Automatticians at our yearly meetup. More than sixty… that number astounds me! Automattic has grown so far beyond what I originally imagined and every day I’m amazed by my colleagues and the things they create. Today we’re growing in another way: Automattic has transferred the WordPress trademark to the WordPress Foundation, the non-profit dedicated to promoting and ensuring access to WordPress and related open source projects in perpetuity. This means that the most central piece of WordPress’s identity, its name, is now fully independent from any company.

This is a really big deal.

I want to recognize and applaud the courage and foresight of Automattic’s board, investors, and legal counsel who made this possible: Mike Hirshland, Phil Black, Tony Conrad, Toni Schneider, Gunderson Dettmer. I’d also like to thank Matt Bartus of Dorsey & Whitney for their counsel on the Foundation side. The WordPress brand has grown immeasurably in the past 5 years and it’s not often you see a for-profit company donate one of their most valuable core assets and give up control. However, I know in my heart that this is the right thing for the entire WordPress community, and they followed me on that. It wasn’t easy, but things worth doing seldom are.

When Automattic registered the WordPress trademark back in 2006, we were a small startup of a few people: a business founded largely to enable us to work on WordPress full-time instead of hacking around our day jobs. A lot has changed since then — somehow along the way we ended up with an audience of a quarter billion people — but a lot has stayed the same. We’re still a group of people in love with WordPress and free/open source software and we’re lucky to have figured out a way to contribute to the world and flourish as a business while doing it.

Automattic might not always be under my influence, so from the beginning I envisioned a structure where for-profit, non-profit, and not-just-for-profit could coexist and balance each other out. It’s important for me to know that WordPress will be protected and that the brand will continue to be a beacon of open source freedom regardless of whether any company is as benevolent as Automattic has been thus far. It’s important to me to know that we’ve done the right thing. Hopefully, it’s important to you, too, and you’ll continue your support of WordPress, the WordPress Foundation, and Automattic’s products and services. We couldn’t do it without you!

How P2 Changed Automattic

If you haven’t heard of P2 yet, check out this quick video:

Almost everyone at Automattic is a blogger, but for the first couple of years of the company we didn’t blog much internally. Everything happened over IRC, Skype, and email. (In that order.) Eventually we started a blog that worked like a traditional blog did with long posts and comments, but everyone forgot to visit it until I wrote a quick script on cron job that would email everybody summaries of new posts and comments.

There was a disconnect we couldn’t reconcile: even though our internal blogs didn’t work out most of the company was active on Twitter every day. (WordPress users are some of the most passionate adopters of micro-blogging.)

We found a solution in Prologue which added a posting box to the home page and gave it a Twitter-like feel. Now Automattic had a pulse, a place where the incredible amount of activity was chronicled and captured. It was low-friction and hassle-free, we all started using it more.

But there was still a problem, Prologue was great for status updates but terribly awkward for conversation. P2 solves all this by moving the conversation inline on the homepage. Conversations can be fully threaded using 2.7’s new comment features. Finally the blog started to get so busy we made it real time so you can just leave the page open and new stuff will come in. (It’s hard to describe, so watch the video above.) Seemingly simple changes have increased engagement many-fold: our main P2 now has over 4,700 posts in it with 1,100 of those in the past 60 days.

It completely transformed how Automattic works internally and I think is one of the most valuable things we’ve adopted in the past year. I’m on the road a lot, and sometimes my only connection is checking the mobile-optimized P2 on my iPhone.

I’m excited about P2 partly because blogs provide an incredibly robust infrastructure on which to build more advanced apps and this is a good example of that. I’d love to see more themes that transform what WordPress can do top-to-bottom.

You can get P2 for your WordPress.org blog here, and it’s available for all of WordPress.com too.

Blo.gs Lives On

Do you guys remember Blo.gs? In addition to being a cool domain, it’s a ping-update service like Ping-O-Matic that was started by Jim Winstead and acquired by Yahoo in June of 2005.

Some exciting news today: Yahoo! is transferring blo.gs to Automattic for safekeeping and further development. I’ve been a long-time fan of the service, and it even inspired the early WordPress feature which reordered your blogroll based on update times.

We’re looking forward to beefing up the service and giving it a refresh, while continuing its reputation for reliability. It makes me nostalgic to hear the name “blo.gs” again, I even still have the t-shirt they made for a Feedmesh meetup years ago. (For a big blast from the past, check out the discussion around feedmesh and real-time, distributed updates. Everything old is new again.) Major kudos to Yahoo! for giving us the chance to do so — I think most companies would have just shuttered it.

Toni has a few more thoughts.

Tune in to WordPress.tv

Today we’ve switched on WordPress.tv, a new space to geek out and learn about all things WordPress.

WordPress.tv is home to tutorials for both WordPress self-installs and WordPress.com to help you get blogging fast and hassle-free.

We’ve also aggregated and organized all that awesome WordCamp footage from around the web, on WordCampTV. There you’ll find videos and slideshows of presentations made by Automattic employees and other WordPress gurus, plus interviews I’ve done with the media and fellow bloggers.

Tune in regularly for fresh content and updates to the WordPress.tv blog.

As always, community comes first. You have a say in shaping the future of WordPress.tv. Just drop us a line and let us know what you’d like to see added next.

Intensely Automattic Change.gov

Everyone is honored and excited today that Change.gov, the website of President Elect Barack Obama, has turned on IntenseDebate comments to discuss things like health care.

Micah Sifry has an excellent write up of the topic.

Imagine what happens if those numbers–on not just any “centralized site” but the one that symbolically and perhaps literally has the attention of the President-elect–start climbing into the five- and six-digits. Before our eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a rebooting of the American political system. [emphasis added]

[…]

By using IntenseDebate (and the OpenID framework), the Obama transition is actually enabling a lot of interesting community development to start happening beneath the surface of a threaded discussion. Users get their own “commenter profile” on IntenseDebate, along with reputation points, and they can carry those profiles onto other sites that use the same system. Users can also choose to follow other IntenseDebate users, so if someone is really diligent they could start to gather a group or a crowd around them.

It has even started to make the cable news, as evidenced in this clip.

Pretty exciting! And it’s also a reaffirmation of Automattic’s platform-agnostic approach to Akismet, Gravatar, PollDaddy, and IntenseDebate that although Change.gov uses Expression Engine for their CMS they’ve chosen IntenseDebate for their comments.