Matt Mullenweg and the Cult of WordPress

By Erin Griffith , written on May 24, 2012

From The News Desk

WordPress is one of the most-used blogging software systems in the world. That's a remarkable achievement in itself, but the loyal cult following Mullenweg and WordPress have cultivated (get it? cult-ivated?), is equally as impressive. It is, after all a CMS system. Important and necessary, yes, but worthy of a rock star status?

In Mullenweg's case, the answer is yes. (It helps, perhaps, that he moved to San Francisco with a quest to be the #1 Google search result for "Matt." He's #3. )

In his fireside chat at PandoMonthly's first ever New York event, Sarah Lacy asked Mullenweg about his rock star-like reception among coders around the world. People were basically throwing underwear at him and Om Malik on a stage in India, she noted.

Mullenweg explains it with open source. He's purposefully built the company with a focus on communities. WordPress throws community events around the world, which Mullenweg attends, and they inspire passion among WordPress users and developers.

"Creative people love creating," he said. That obsession WordPress users and developers have for Mullenweg is mutual: His world view is that every person has an interesting and beautiful story to tell. "You just have to figure out what that is," which is something he spends lots of time thinking about, he says.

Open source has made WordPress bigger than just blogging software, he said. Typically, as open source companies become more corporate, they become more at odds with their communities. "I wanted to create something where the open source and the company could grow in tandem and strengthen each other," he said. It hasn't come at the expense of the company's growth, he said. The difference with Wordpress is that decisions are never optimizing for short-sighted near-term growth.

"We know we're part of something larger than ourselves. We want to put as much wood on that fire but create a company that can be around for awhile," he said.

One of Mullenweg's personal goals is to have the majority of the world running on open source software. Even though Wordpress powers 16% of the web, its parent company Automattic only makes around $40 million a year in revenue. "Are we making as much money as we could from it? Absolutely not," he said. But the goal of Wordpress is to grow an ecosystem.

"There's faster ways to make money but I dont think there's better ways to make money," he said.

"I believe that open source is the most powerful invention of our generation," he said. "You see it applied to software, you see it applied to hardware; it blows it up. In every way you can imagine, it destroys everything that came before. It's the most ultimate form of creative destruction."

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]