How WordPress operates without a physical office
WordPress, the blogging platform, which is nearly a decade old, powers an incredible one-sixth of the Internet including this blog at WSJ.com.
The secret of WordPress’s domination, said its youthful founder, Matt Mullenweg, is being open source. “It is not about openness, it is about responsiveness,” he told the audience at the Founders Festival in Vienna. “Users, customers and for us, our developers are all the same thing. They tell you what they want–if you listen.”
Mr. Mullenweg, on stage in the impressive surroundings of the Hofsburg Palace, explained one incredible thing about the 130-strong company: It has no office. WordPress is an entirely distributed company. It is a curious thing how few Internet companies actually look like the Internet.
“We are 30-40 years into the digital revolution, but we still think of management like running a factory. That is not how anyone works anymore. No one works really hard because their boss is in the office next door, you do it because you care about what you are doing.”
Would he recommend the open source philosophy to other start-ups?
“It is the most powerful philosophy I have ever been exposed to in my life,” he told the audience. “The more I give away, the more I get back. It is more work, it is much harder… But it [being successful] comes down to your competitive advantage. Less and less that is about your software, and more about user experience, the service, quality, the brand, marketing.”
He also said having distributed teams is a numbers game. “You don’t discriminate on race or gender. We don’t discriminate on geography.” He said that if you only recruit in San Francisco then you are not looking at the 99.9999% of people in the world who don’t live in San Francisco.”
But how does the company manage? How does he engender a shared culture if people are scattered across the globe?
He said that the sort of people that work for his company, called Automattic, are the kind of people who already believe in open-source software, and are used to working inside the distributed and collaborative structures that most open-source projects embrace.
Impressively, he said, there is almost no internal email. Communication is done using their own P2 software (a sort of internal Twitter), using Google hangouts and instant messenger. “About 1% of communication is via email.”
The company removed the cap on vacations, so people could take as much as they wanted. But, and perhaps indicative of the kind of people the company employs, “we found not that people were taking too much, but that they took too little. We had to start monitoring it again.”