WordPress + Automattic: A Company Built on Working From Home

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If you’ve ever visited a “blog” online, there’s a good chance it was either hosted on WordPress.com or powered by the Open Source WordPress software self-hosted by website owners. Weblogs, aka blogs, started out as digital diaries — some of which have helped their authors earn a living online and become a source of amusement, entertainment, information and more for site visitors. However, WordPress can also be used as a “content management system” for building regular non-blog websites.

Automattic, the company that created WordPress software and also offers the hosted WordPress.com site popular with some bloggers, has managed to carve out a large online presence for themselves with a relatively small number of employees. What’s more, they’ve managed to do it while being primarily a “distributed” company, with the majority of employees working out of home offices all around the world.

WordPress/ Automattic: By the Numbers

WordPress/ Automattic Corporate Culture

Here are some facts and figures on Automattic and how they run their distributed company:

  • Founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is the “matt” in Automattic.
  • Automattic is the subject of new book (“The Year Without Pants”) by their employee Scott Berkun, a former Microsoft employee.
  • $1B valuation for Automattic.
  • WordPress had its 10 year anniversary in May 2013.
  • In May 2013, Tiger Global invest $50M in Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, based on a company valuation of $1B.
  • Around the same time, Yahoo! announced they were buying micro-blogging site Tumblr.com — a competitor to Automattic’s WordPress.com offering.
  • No cash was exchanged: they’re generating enough cash and growing.
  • Existing shareholders sold stock to outside investors.
  • The last fundraising for Automattic was 5 years previous.
  • The company is “location agnostic”, as Mullenweg puts it.
  • 190 employees, 141 cities, 28 countries — almost all of whom work from home offices.
  • Approximately 10 employees work out of a San Francisco office.

Each employee gets:

  • $2000 stipend to decorate their homes — including desk, chair, or whatever the employee wants.
  • Latest Apple computers and devices.
  • Other necessary tech equipment.
  • Reimbursement for rent co-location workspaces, if an employee does not want to work from home.

Matt Mullenweg says the company knew from the beginning that they didn’t need an office to run the business. The first 4 “Automatticians” were in different cities around the world. On running the company:

  • Company started as a “meritocracy”.
  • They started with no company email, only using email around 4 years in, in 2009 — communicating through other means (see below).
  • Office space savings translate into a large travel budget.
  • For team-building, any team can meet for “hack weeks” at any location, which have included Tokyo, Athens, Kauai, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Sydney. Athens was the site of their first company meetup.
  • The yearly Grand Meetup is an opportunity for all employees to meet face to face. Locations have included Quebec, Canada; La Paz, Mexico; San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California.
  • Their most popular destinations: Lisbon, Portugal; Kauai; San Francisco; Amsterdam; Tybee Island Georgia.

Mullenweg says that online is the “center of gravity” for communication. For employees to be equal participants and to communicate online, they’ve used various tools:

  • Chat rooms.
  • Skype.
  • AIM.
  • Google Hangout video.
  • Eating their own dog food by using Automattic’s WordPress blogging tools.

In terms of dogfooding, they created the P2 WordPress theme (outgrowth of older Prologue theme), which became a sort of combination of microblog and conversation vehicle.

  • A new version, P2, has enhanced features. O2, a future version, is being developed for use by companies to manage multiple projects with a lesser reliance on email.
  • P2 is used by all of Automattic’s employees in their daily workflow.
  • There are internal “watercooler” P2 blogs for virtual social interaction.
  • Over 80% of Automattic’s internal communication happens over 150 P2-themed sites.
  • 70% of Automattic’s projects are tracked with P2-themed WordPress.com blogs.
  • 25% of projects are tracked through private IRC channels.
  • 5% of projects are tracked via Skype or AIM instant messaging.
  • Deadlines are posted on internal P2 blogs.

In addition to offering Open Source products (WordPress.org), Automattic uses such tools because the Open Source mindset drives the company’s decentralized work culture.

WordPress: Automattic for the People

Automattic’s Online Empire

As with the British empire, the sun probably never sets on Automattic’s online empire . Because of their employees’ collective geographic distribution, the company is essentially active 24-7. Their online reach is also global, with both blog/ website owners and site visitors being from all around the world.

Stats change frequently, but at the time of writing, here’s a snapshot of Automattic’s WordPress.org offering, details of which come from Matt Mullenweg’s “State of the Word” Address in late Jul 2013, at WordCamp in San Francisco.

  • 48% of Technorati’s Top 100 blogs for 2012 ran in WordPress.
  • Of these 48, 81% (~39) run self-hosted. The remaining 19% (~9) run on WordPress.com.
  • Nearly 90M (87.8M) Tumblr-based blogs (hosted on tumblr.com).
  • Over 66M WordPress-based websites worldwide (as of late Dec 2013).
  • Over 3.5B WordPress-based web pages are viewed worldwide on a monthly basis.
  • 18.9% of websites run on WordPress — an increase of 2.2% from the previous year.
  • Over 46M millions downloads of the self-hosted WordPress software in the previous 12 months since the talk was given. At the time of writing, the number of downloads is likely well over 50M.

For Automattic’s WordPress.com hosted-blogs offering:

  • 74.3M blogs and counting, on wordpress.com.
  • Nearly 380M (378M) people monthly, viewing over 12.9B pages.
  • Almost 34M (33.8M) new posts monthly.
  • 48M new comments monthly.
  • Over 100K new wordpress.com blogs added daily as of 2011.
  • 120 languages supported.

The top 10 languages on WordPress.com, as of this writing:

  1. English 66%
  2. Spanish 8.7%
  3. Portuguese 6.5%
  4. Indonesian 3.5%
  5. Italian 2%
  6. German 1.8%
  7. French 1.4%
  8. Russian 1.1%
  9. Vietnamese 1.1%
  10. Swedish 1.0%

The WordPress Economy

Automattic isn’t not only a now-thriving, virtually-run company — it’s products give other businesses a lot of the necessary tools to do the same. They’ve also created a virtual economy of digital products and web services.

  • 336 new WordPress site themes were added to the official repository in 2012 — More than double the number added in 2011.
  • Over 26K WordPress plugins in the official repository.
  • Over 6.7K (6,758) new plugins were approved, of the 9,334 requests.
  • Over 258M downloads/ installs of plugins.
  • WordPress is a highly-requested web site design/ development skill and can pay as much as $60/hour.
  • WordPress themes and plugins are sometimes offered free as loss leaders, or to drive sales of premium products, design and development services, affiliate sales revenue of web hosting, domain registration and more.
  • Other companies are thriving from Automattic’s success. For example, WP Engine, a hosting company, recently raised $15M.

Managing Distributed Companies

Having remote employees has benefits both for a company and said employees, with cost of perks recouped in results.

  • Geographic spread allows for a wider range of choice for skilled employees — primarily because suitable people are not always able to move their lives for an in-person job.
  • Home office workers — those that thrive on such an environment — have a tendency to work longer hours — at least when it’s needed, since zero-commute time typically translates to greater daily productivity.
  • Perks: With no IT person to fix things, Automattic employees get the best equipment: latest Apple devices, large monitor.
  • Distractions such as office politics disappear, potential productivity time increases.
  • While working from home can still have distractions for some people, Automattic’s WordPress.com team (shared hosting version) pushes new computer code or changes over 100 times per day.

Other Distributed Companies

Obviously, Automattic is not the only “virtual” company. Author Scott Berkun (formerly a Microsoft employee, currently an Automattic employee for WordPress.com product) wrote a book, “The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work” — a book about “distributed” companies. He identified a list of about 22 companies that are primarily distributed (over half of employees working remotely). Here are the top 5 from Berkun’s list, in terms of employee count. (Numbers are total employees, but tend to be in flux and may not be accurately represented.)

  1. 221 – Automattic (around ~95% remote workers)
  2. 135+ – MySQL (# of employees not specified but the company states 70% remote workers and that employees work in 135 major locations in 35 countries and 18 timezones)
  3. 115 – Basho (50% remote)
  4. 100 – GitHub
  5. 75 – StackExchange (50% remote)

Of this list, Automattic had the most employees (a constantly changing number) and the highest rate of remote workers amongst these mostly smaller online-based companies. For larger traditional companies, here are some facts from Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals and author of the book “Remote: Office Not Required.”

  • 2% of American women work from home. For men, it’s 4%.
  • 19% of men and 13% of women are allowed to partially telecommute their work week
  • Having predominantly distributed employees does not suit every business, not even in the tech sector. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer famously demanded that the company’s roughly 300-500 remote workers work in the California office — even if they have to move across the country — else quit. But it’s not company size that’s an issue here.
  • 50% of 35,000 employees of Aetna (an American health care company) works from home.
  • 86% of Deloitte (financial services; roughly 35K employees) employees work remotely 20% of the time.
  • 82% of Intel (microchips) employees work remotely “regularly”.

Surviving the Home Office: The Funny and Not So Funny Stuff

Remote work does not suit every person, but for those who enjoy it, there’s a bonus in not having to endure certain workplace situations — as The Oatmeal online comic so humorously puts it [NSFW: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home].

  • No more waking up unnaturally early
  • Less time spent in the car
  • Fewer interruptions
  • Less obligation to eat lunch out
  • A flexible schedule

There’s also the not so funny stuff about working at home, which The Oatmeal’s has also managed to make funny:

  • Degradation of social skills
  • Distractions
  • Stress on relationships
  • Loss of regimen
  • Lack of employee banter

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References

Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites:

  1. http://www.ananova.com/10-interesting-wordpress-facts/
  2. http://automattic.com/work-with-us/
  3. http://www.businessinsider.com/another-blog-platform-automattic-joins-tumblr-in-the-1-billion-valuation-club-2013-5
  4. http://www.businessinsider.com/automattic-no-email-no-office-workers-2013-11
  5. http://www.businessinsider.com/automattics-awesome-remote-work-culture-2013-8
  6. http://ma.tt/2009/05/how-p2-changed-automattic/
  7. http://www.poststat.us/2013-state-of-the-word-from-matt-mullenweg/
  8. http://qz.com/59434/remote-jason-frieds-next-book-is-a-refutation-of-everything-marissa-mayer-has-said-about-remote-workers/
  9. http://royal.pingdom.com/2013/01/16/internet-2012-in-numbers/
  10. http://www.slideshare.net/beaulebens/o2-wcsf2013
  11. http://scottberkun.com/2013/how-many-companies-are-100-distributed/
  12. http://torquemag.io/state-of-the-word-address-2013/
  13. http://en.wordpress.com/stats/
  14. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390443571904577631750172652114