My Blog-O-rama interview with WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg came out last Monday; it was cut due to space considerations, full transcript is here. The bad news is that I wasn’t able to attend the historic first WordCamp in St. Benilde 🙁 The good news is that I was able to chase him down just the same. It was over a buffet breakfast, and we were both sleepless: him from drinking the night before, me from working the graveyard shift. Hehe. Also in company were two of the WordCamp organizers, Mr. Batang Yagit, Winston Almendras and Blogie Robillo. Anyway, we all agreed he was such a cool guy, that Matt 🙂
He’s only 24 years old but made history by creating and founding the platform that changed the blogging world – WordPress. Visiting Asia, and the Philippines for the first time during the most recent WordCamp 2008 here, Matt Mullenweg (named by PC World as one of the Top 50 Most Important People on the Web in 2007, most recently one of Inc.com’s Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 ) sat down with us for a not-so-geeky interview on playing in casinos,eating pansit and why he thinks bloggers should dissociate themselves from all the PR hoopla, in order to remain “authentic.”
Q. How were you as a student?
A. I was taking up political science and philosophy in college,and only finished two years. Back then, I hated computers, or computer classes. I’ve always loved technology but to me computer classes were never interesting; one, because they were working in non-open source technology. To me, technology was always a means to an end, and I wasn’t interested in technology the way they were teaching it in school. I was pretty bad as a student ’cause I was always focusing on other things, like music. I scored high in my SATs, but I never passed my papers, showed up late, things like that.
Q. It’s your first visit to the Philippines and spent some time at the maiden Philippine edition of the WordCamp. First impressions?
A. People love taking pictures here and I prolly had more than a hundred of that in the WordCamp. It just blew my mind. It’s a little bit common in other parts but not the same here. During the event, I saw that Plurk was really big. Everyone was plurking!
Filipinos are very warm, very outgoing. I think it’s cultural. In places like Germany, they’re a little more reserved. Filipinos like talking and communicating. You have big families, it seems. I was hanging out and this person has, like, five cousins in the room. I love that all the warmth and openness creates a very vibrant blogging community.
Q. Please tell us more about your company, Automattic.
A. We’re 27 in the company. Out of 27, eight is support, 10 or 11 are developers. We don’t have an office, we’re a virtual company, everyone works at home and we’re all in different time zones.
I didn’t think we’d be that big, really, even though the nearest competitor has 200 people. This is technology, you don’t need lots of people. Craigslist, one of the largest websites in the world, only has 25 people.
Q. So Matt, I guess you’ve reached that stature where you just sit in your desk, signing papers?
A. Not really. There’s no bureaucracy. My most important job is really setting the culture and hiring the best people and, I guess, more broad strategic things. But I still code, most days.
My official title is Chief Barbecue Taste Tester or CBTT. We all have funny titles like that . One colleague is the Happiness Engineer, another is the Anti-Chaos Engineer, one calls himself the Band Manager.
Q. What do you think accounts for the huge success of WordPress to bloggers and publishers alike?
A. From very early on, we were bloggers. Everyone in the company blogged, everyone was attuned to the needs of the people, everyone was listening closely. We were responsive and that was at the time when other companies were stagnant, they weren’t updating their features, and Blogger had downtime all the time.
Also, we have a vibrant plug-in and theme community. There isn’t just one WordPress, there’s a thousand WordPresses because every combination of plug-ins and themes creates community. You can get something that fits your needs perfectly.
Q. Can you say that you’ve edged out Blogger at this point?
A. The difference between us is that Blogspot has more bloggers in terms of quantity and they have more of people, but we have smarter bloggers. They’ve been doing some of these features lately, they didn’t for years. A lot of people start with Blogger and may graduate to WordPress when they become smarter or more savvy. I mean, a lot of the podcasters and video bloggers now use our platform. If you want customized control of your site, you’d probably end up with WordPress eventually.The more technical you are and the more complicated it is you’re doing, the more likely you’ll end up with WordPress.
Q. If some giant company attempts to buy you out, how would you respond?
A. We’ve had acquisition offers before, but I would say am not interested in short- term financial gains but in our long term impact on the web. By staying independent, I think we can have a bigger role.
If I had $10 million, I would still be doing what am doing now. I wouldn’t change anything, so why cash out?
Q. Any role models from your industry where you find inspiration from?
A. Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster of Craiglist, because their site is community-oriented.
Om Malik of GigaOm – he’s a journalist with a good sense of ethics, a friend who keeps me on the right path.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.I find him hugely inspiring.
I admire Microsoft a lot because of how they built the platform that survived several generational changes. The value of Windows is not Windows, but the software. They also did a good job with Office. Bill Gates? He’s got a good image now but there was a time when I hated him. I thought he was the devil Anti Christ. But then as WordPress got bigger, I began to realize what Microsoft has done.
Q. What advice can you give to young people who want to be like you?
A. You have to really keep trying. I put up little businesses and written software before but none of that you have heard of any of it, but I just kept trying. Don’t be afraid of failure. You should be able to move on quickly if something’s not working. Keep trying.
When I was much younger, I didn’t focus on school that much, I focused on WordPress to the exclusion of other things. I always joked that WordPress was my girlfriend and the girl I was dating was my mistress.
Q. Now that blogging is a big thing and publicists are discovering the bloggers, what can you say about it?
A. There’s a danger if you get started being invited to more events and start to be treated like traditional media. Bloggers, then, become more like traditional media. They’re afraid to publish something because they might offend someone who gives them money or advertises on their blog. And that is dangerous because then, you’re no different from traditional folks.
It’s great that people are making money from their blogs but, just like journalists, you should try to balance the editorial and the business side. Focus on the long term, not short term.
Q. Can you tell us what your gadgets are?
A. I have an Iphone 3G.I like photography so I have a Nikon D3 and a set of lenses for that. I have a couple of laptops – a Macbook Air which I really like. I brought a Sony to Manila, it’s really thin and I have a double battery on it,more functional than a Mac actually. Most of the time am on a peecee but I have Macs at home.
I have a Zoom H-4 portable recording unit with surround sound and four channel recording.It creates great great sound, I go to live jazz shows and just record the whole show.
My favorite gadget is the Amazon Kindle. I love it. You just log on to amazon.com and buy and download books on it. I have forty books on my Kindle right now and it has reinvogorated my book reading.
Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done?
A. Hmmm, wake up at 9am for this interview. Just kidding. (laughs) It was gliding over Lake Tahoe. They hook you up with a rope to a plane and the plane tows you and they take you up to 800 feet then unhook. It’s really cool coz there’s no motor and you just glide all around.