The Biography Of WordPress

Millions of blogs — including — run on WordPress. So I invited the entrepreneur behind this insanely successful software, Matt Mullenweg, to do an interview about how WordPress went from idea to a growing business.

I organized this interview like a biography, so you’ll hear how it all started at an economics summer camp, how Matt figured out the revenue model for the business, how he evangelized his product to bloggers, how he figured out what new features his customers wanted, and more.

Listen to it and tell me what you think.

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg


Matt Mullenweg is the co-founder of WordPress, the open-source blogging platform, and the founder of Automattic, the for-profit business which owns You can read his personal blog at


Video excerpts

Edited excerpts

Matt started blogging after a trip at summer camp

I visited Washington DC as part of an economics summer camp, because I was that cool!

I had just gotten a little Sony Digital Camera and was taking a million photos and wanted to share them with my friends in Houston.

He used the b2 blogging software

It was a very different software world at the time.  There was Blogger. There was MovableType. There was a b2. There were all these different ones, but b2 was the only one that was open source.

But development of b2 essentially stopped

b2 had actually, through a series of circumstances, essentially become abandoned.  So, I blogged about it, which is what we bloggers do. And a fellow left a comment on my blog and said, “Well, if you’re interested in working on this, let’s work together.”

That was Mike Little, who’s the co-founder of WordPress, who I actually got a chance to see a few months ago at Word Camp, UK.

Matt and Mike developed WordPress from the b2 codebase

We wanted to continue the development of b2, because it was a good program. We really liked it, so we started thinking of what it could look like.

I had a number of things I didn’t like about it. It was very hard to set up. It was very hard to configure. To modify the code, you essentially had to copy and paste code into different parts of it. Things like that. So, we started working.

Then CNET hired him

CNET started to use WordPress on some of their properties. There was a guy there named Mike Tatum, who is very prescient; he sees things coming years before anyone else, and he got in touch with me.

I blogged that I was going to go to San Francisco, so he reached out and said, “Hey, while you’re in town, let’s meet up and talk about RSS and blogging and stuff,” and then it was just, it was a weird meeting.  There were some folks from there, and he was there and it was just totally random.  But then, when I got back, he said “Hey, would you like to work at CNET?”

He worked on WordPress “every free moment” he had

20% of my time at CNET was spent on WordPress, because there was a lot of work otherwise. But, especially after work, every free moment I had at that point of my life, was spent on WordPress.

He quit CNET to launch Automattic

The idea behind Automatic was mostly to create an umbrella group that would support lots of open source developers, working on open source things. But, it wouldn’t be a non-profit because I felt like you could have more impact on the world as a for-profit, because you don’t have the same number of restrictions. I wanted it to be a virtuous for-profit, where the way it made money was completely inline with its users and its community.

He wanted to make money by being a commercial Robin Hood

To make money, we decided to do web services. The first one of those that I wrote, after leaving CNET, was actually called “Akismet,” and it was a plugin for WordPress that you’d drop in and it would stop all spam from coming in.

But it would do this using a centralized service that could adapt to new types of spam as fast as the spammers are creating it. So it maintained a high level of effectiveness over a long period of time, which no spam plugins prior to it had done. So that was the first ever service.

And the idea behind it was what’s now called “Freemium.” So it would be free for personal use, and then, for businesses, we’d charge money, sort of like a commercial Robin Hood. And that worked out really well. That was our first service.

The second service was, which is the big one now. Today I think it gets over 200 million visitors per month. That idea was saying “Well, there’s the WordPress software. What would happen if we make it available to a really wide array of people, with the push of a button?” Revenue from that would come from letting them get their own domain, revenue would come from extra bandwidth, extra hard drive space, etc.

He evangelized his business because he believed in it

I’ve never been shy about promoting things that I think are better. So a lot of early WordPress users came though personal evangelism, from me talking to people one by one, getting them to switch over.

I read a ton of blogs, so it wasn’t random people.  It was people who I admired and followed and often had some sort of online relationship with.  I was a commentator on their blogs or vice-versa.

When it got to the point where WordPress actually was better than the competition, I wasn’t shy about reaching out and saying, “here are the reasons you should check it out.”  Or if they ever had trouble with their blogging software, I’d say, “well, this doesn’t have that problem.”

Actually, one of the things that actually helped out a ton was spam. Spam was a huge, huge problem on blogs and it would take sites down, which is really bad.  And so WordPress having a really strong spam solution helped a ton.

He took risks because he had safety nets

I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve had safety nets.

In the beginning, it was probably my parents. No matter what happened I could always go back home. That would suck, but I knew it was always sort of there and my parents have always been very supportive. So moving back home would suck but wouldn’t be terrible.

Later, it was the job at CNET which provided another safety net and job security.

Also, as an engineer you kind of always know that, worst case scenario, you can get a pretty good job working somewhere, which is good to know and isn’t true for all industries.

And now, my net is Automatic. Automattic has been very successful as a business. And, it’s profitable and we now have over 50 people. So that’s a huge net as well.

Taking venture funding was a net. One of the main reasons for that had to do with the first couple employees. I could go back and live with my parents if I had to. The other folks I was working with, couldn’t. And some of them were leaving jobs where they made 2 or 3 times as much to work for Automattic.

Lack of money in the early days led to innovation

WordPress had forums and I was really unhappy with them. I wanted to make them better, and so that was sort of the genesis of BB Press. The other thing was, I had stupidly decided that I couldn’t pay for a ticket to go home, but I didn’t want to tell my parents because then they’d worry.

I told them I really wanted to spend Christmas in San Francisco. I don’t know if you know San Francisco, but it’s a horrible place to spend the winter. It was cold and rainy and depressing and horrible! It was also the only Christmas, in my lifetime, that it snowed in Houston and I missed it.

While I was in San Francisco, I started working on BB Press. There was not much else to do. I think the first version I wrote in something like three or four days, from the database schema to the first version.

BB Press doesn’t have the same widespread usage that WordPress does, but it’s really, really flexible and useful. It’s a core part of our infrastructure. For example, our entire plugins directory, and the plugin update system and everything, was built on BB Press. Most of the work on was built on BB Press, not WordPress.

He learns what to build next from doing tech support

Another thing I believe strongly in is when you’re the developer of the project, you should do support for your it. So I was doing all the support on the WordPress forums at the time.

I still have ten thousand posts or something on the WordPress forum. Doing that helped me see very immediately what people were having trouble with. It keeps you close to your users. It gives you empathy and also helps you prioritize development.

The problem has never been ideas. Everything around WordPress and everything I’ve done, I’ve always had a million ideas a minute. There are a thousand directions you can go. It’s really, just choosing which one is the next best thing to do. And that’s hard, if you’re just sort of thinking about it in the abstract. But if you’re in there, everyday, talking to users and listening to them and watching them and helping them, it actually is often very obvious.

Full program includes

– Hear how was almost called “,” and owned by CNET.

– See how he got scammed (my opinion) in the early days because his business was running out of money — and how that experience led to Akismet, his first revenue-generating product.

– Learn how having a non-profit side to his business helped him promote his business.


95 thoughts on “The Biography Of WordPress – With Matt Mullenweg

  1. Dave Doolin says:

    Doing tech support for your own product is something a lot more engineers ought to be doing! I saw Matt at WordCamp in San Francisco, he covered a lot of the same material. Listening now to see what else he has to say…

    Sound quality is pretty good. I like it louder so I can wash the dishes or wander around the house while listening… but that's just me probably.

    He really nails it about engineers having a passion, coming home from work and continuing on!

  2. grantaustin says:

    I really like the full transcripts. It's helpful since I can't watch the video at work and I don't feel like I'm missing anything by just reading the excerpts.

  3. Yet another great one. I'm a wordpress freak. WordPress ROCKS! It's great to know a little more about the history. There's a lot I didn't know about where WP came from. All I knew is that it's awesome.

    The text is definitely good to have. For me personally, I scanned the excerpts above, but would never really take the time to read the full transcript. I love listening to the audio. That way, I can put it on my iphone while I'm doing stuff around the house and get all the content. It allows me to multi-task :)

    In terms of the sound, it turned out well. You can't fully tell that your voice was reduced, so the mixing was done very smoothly. If you didn't mention it, I would not have noticed.

    Keep em coming!

  4. apinstein says:

    I like the excerpted transcript + the full thing. Summary for a quick read and can dive in for more if I want, just like your videos. Great job.

  5. jordanbrown says:

    Loved this interview! Thanks Andrew

  6. Chance_Stevens says:

    Yes, your posts continue to motivate me. Something Matt said really stuck in my head.

    There are lots of pain points we all deal with and while many of them aren't scaleable, many of them are and those are worthwhile businesses which would be great to pursue. I see a lot of the pain happening with small companies trying to get on the web. I don't know how I'm going to impact that but I know there's a lot of room and a lot of need.

    If I could make a meaningful suggestion, I would say that it would be great if these were classified in some way. Maybe it's just me but I love how on Ted you can listen to specific content on certain topics. If the interviews were organized by topic it would increase your SEO for those specific categories (eg. Entrepreneurialism, Boot Strapping, .etc). Sorry my words aren't more exacting but my mind is in work mode.

  7. J Kuria says:

    Great interview Andrew. I like how you ask probing questions and keep them honest–He was trying to act lackadaisical and pretend like success just happens and he has no idea how it happened. Those of us who live it know it take hard work, some luck and definitely some planning!

  8. trevelyan says:

    These fuller transcripts are a lot more helpful than video. Reading is much faster.

  9. daneash says:

    Thanks for the interview. I have been using wordpress for a while and it was really interesting to get some insight into one of the developers and hear his humble words.

  10. John Wright says:

    Andrew, another incredible interview! Often times it takes me some time to really gather my thoughts together to make the kind of meaningful comment that I want to make. I'll have to come back and make another comment about this interview but I wanted to comment on Mixergy as a whole.
    You're building an incredible collection of interviews. This is like lifestyles of the rich and famous, but these guys aren't you're stereo-typical rich people, but growing icons in geekdom if you will.
    To be more specific, the stories of Jimmy Wales, Matt Mullenweg and many more on here are stories of pioneers of the web frontier. I think the web is still young and there is still much untapped potential in it. It may not always be the case that the average Joe can have such an impact on the world via the web as these people have, but I believe massive opportunities still exist in this young web.
    These interviews are telling some of most inspiring stories of what an impact one person, or group of people, can have on the world via the web and new technology. Thanks for doing them!
    The only critique and feedback I can give so far is that it's coming a little fast (like everything else these days). Maybe if you could post them on a regular weekly schedule. I'm sure there is good reason for your current posting schedule but I just thought I'd mention it.

  11. Santosh says:

    Great interview. Matt Mullenweg is a simple guy. But that must be an understatement. I admire his achievements and impact on blogging community. At 25 years in Alexander, the Great of Blogging.

    I was a blogger fan earlier since it is a easy to use blogging platform. I found uninteresting since it was very restricted feature, till I switched to and now I enjoy publishing on it.

    I got what I waanted and what I was looking for in Blogging.

  12. AndrewWarner says:

    I'm hearing this a lot from my interviews. 99designs does that too.

  13. AndrewWarner says:

    Even with all the typos in the raw transcript?
    Maybe I can find a wiki plugin that would allow people to quickly edit any
    typos they see.

  14. AndrewWarner says:

    I appreciate it Leslie!
    WordPress really does rock.

    If I were coming to Mixergy as a viewer/listener, I think I'd do what you
    do. I would scan the edited text. I'm always curious about how many people
    want the full transcript.

    Glad to hear about the audio mix. I was worried about that.

  15. AndrewWarner says:

    I'm having a hard time doing that because 80% of my interviews are just
    entrepreneurs telling their stories. I don't know how to categorize beyond
    “entrepreneur.” But I know I need to do that since so many people ask me for

  16. AndrewWarner says:

    I'm having a hard time doing that because 80% of my interviews are just
    entrepreneurs telling their stories. I don't know how to categorize beyond
    “entrepreneur.” But I know I need to do that since so many people ask me for

  17. AndrewWarner says:

    I don't think he was doing it intentionally. Most people's first response is
    that their success just happens. My job is to keep asking them to evaluate
    how it happened.

  18. AndrewWarner says:

    Wow. I never would have known.

  19. AndrewWarner says:

    Me too. I'm always curious about the people behind the software I use.

  20. Not a problem Andrew. Anything I can do to help. Not only does WordPress Rock, but MIXERGY ROCKS TOO. I'm glad I found your blog on Yaro's recommendation. You are doing some Great things here. I download all your interviews on my iPhone and use it as my inspiration during the day, lol. And I'm not kidding man. Keep em coming!

  21. AndrewWarner says:

    I'm surprised to hear that you think I'm doing too many. I keep feeling bad about not posting enough. I would be happy if I could do an interview every single day. The trouble is that it's painful to edit and write the text for each interview. If I could find a faster way to turn these around, I would be in heaven.

    And thanks for the comment. It was very helpful. Let's me know that I'm not moving too slowly.

  22. AndrewWarner says:

    I used to use It's such an antique compared to WordPress.

  23. Ok I'm going to be the one to throw the wet towel on the fire here.

    Andrew you do a great job of doing your best to draw out your interviewees, but Matt is very low-energy here and I really had to work hard to not hit other tabs in my browser and check out other sites while I was listening. I always assume that entrepreneurs are high-energy, enthusiastic people who are so passionate about their business that they can't help but attract people to their products. I can't see that being the case here.

    Maybe Matt was having a bad day, maybe he's become so arrogant he doesn't care – whatever the case, I don't sense it was Matt that was the reason WordPress took off. The bloggers who used WordPress and became evangelists on his behalf are probably 99% of the reason WorldPress is as ubiquitous as it is today.

    WordPress is a tremendous product – no question about that – I use it on all my sites and would never launch a site without WP as the foundation. But I think it succeeded in spite of Matt rather than because of Matt.

    I should say I've never met him and this opinion is based entirely on this interview. But I was just surprised at his demeanor – it didn't impress me as entrepreneurial.

  24. scottedwardwalker says:

    Hey Andrew – Excellent interview and “outro.” My takeaways in no particular order: (i) follow your bliss; (ii) to thine own self be true; (iii) actions speak louder than words; (iv) choose your partners carefully; and (v) charisma is overrated. In short, Matt Mullenweg is an impressive guy — and what he has created with WordPress is extraordinary. Indeed, I just launched a WordPress blog to help entrepreneurs from the legal side ( – and it’s amazing how user-friendly the program is. Let’s get together in a few weeks – and keep up the great work. Thanks, Scott

  25. caseyallen says:

    I know, right? It's like interviewing is about exciting to him as putting on shoes.

    I suspect he's different than the typical interviewee because he's not an extreme extrovert. He somehow got to where he is by being a philosophical capitalist with a shot of geek rather than a charismatic sales guy.

    Obviously an achievable formula, just not a recommended one.

    Great insights, Matt, keep planning the long term. Appreciate your being opensource about your journey.

  26. Chuck says:

    Good stuff, Andrew. I haven't really had time to watch any of your interviews for awhile, but I got stuck putting together a PC from scratch tonight, so watching the whole interview was very convenient. I knew a bit about Matt by reputation, of course. But it was excellent to see the way his mind works. Thanks!

  27. John Wright says:

    Matt was trying to “pretend like success just happens”? I didn't get that from the interview. I don't think Matt was trying to pretend about anything.

  28. JakeNieuwland says:

    Thanks so much for this interview Andrew, your questions are excellent, the information you got out of Matt is eerily relevant to me right now. How did you get on with wishlist? Any way I can help, just let me know.

  29. JakeNieuwland says:

    Perhaps a tagging system would be apt.

  30. reignman says:

    Andrew, you just keep bringin it with your interviews. Great job on asking Matt some of those tough questions. Also, what makes your interviews different (and better) than most others I watch is that you get them to go into detail about how they got from point A to point B…lot so f other interviewers let the subject just gloss over these hugely important leaps. This detail has helped me a ton in building my start up.

    Keep up the good work!


  31. grantaustin says:

    The typos don't bother me. My brain paves over most of them without much difficulty. Nonetheless, a wiki would be cool.

  32. jeremyperson says:

    Andrew, can you consider enabling the embed feature for your videos please?

  33. Zemalf says:

    I found Mixergy only recently and have watched / listened to a bunch of interviews during the last week. All the interviews are very educational, informative and entertaining — I like your style Andrew. I appreciate the extensive “show notes” you post on each video too.

    And to a WordPress blogger, this interview with Matt was the icing on the cake. Passion and hard work, that's how you change the world. And Matt being so down-to-earth after all that has happend, made me respect him even more. Kudos to both of you, loads of it.

  34. Matt is an inspiration to all of us who work with WordPress every day. Thanks for interviewing him. Keep up the awesomeness Andrew!

  35. Steve says:

    You should extract the topical parts of the interview, either as short video or text transcripts, and put them into categories, like a blog posting, and then let people comment on them.

    For example, in this interview, extract the portion about taking a risk, and put that into a solutions category named “Scared Frozen”. So when a visitor has the problem that they are stuck and they are afraid to move forward with their idea, they can come to your website, find the category about risk taking “Scared Frozen”, read the clip, read the comments, and get inspired to move forward.

    If you consider that most of the time people are using the web to find solutions to problems, this concept fills the void by providing the solution in a direct way, instead of having to listen for an hour to find inspiration. The interviews are the raw material, the data, and the snippets are the value added product, the knowledge.

  36. AndrewWarner says:

    Ideally, that's exactly what I'd like to do. Might be more work than I handle right now, but that's dead-on perfect.

  37. AndrewWarner says:

    I don't think he was pretending that either. I was trying to say that I need to keep digging in.

  38. AndrewWarner says:

    There was a recent security issue with WordPress. I looked at different social networks and blogs where people complained about it. When I read the comments, I often saw Matt's comments. He kept interacting with people.

    It's not the kind of energy that Donald Trump or Gary Vaynerchuk might pump out, but Matt seems to spend a lot of time evangelizing and engaging in his own way.

  39. AndrewWarner says:

    I'm seeing his approach used a lot more these days.

    Roy Rubin is building Magento in a similar way.

  40. AndrewWarner says:

    These interviews are great for times like that.

  41. AndrewWarner says:

    Love to hear how if you want to email me.

    Wishlist has been a pain. Issues again.

  42. AndrewWarner says:

    I need to keep striving for more details here.

  43. AndrewWarner says:

    Like he said, there are lots of people making a living by using his software.

  44. AndrewWarner says:

    Thanks Matt. Glad this interview helped me get to know you better.

  45. Chris says:

    Outstanding. Thanks

  46. ShearMe says:

    Hey, get an interview with Bill Gates!

  47. AndrewWarner says:


    Andrew Warner
    (sent from my mobile)

  48. ShearMe says:

    Well fine then…

  49. SheaMe says:

    Quick! Sign this NDA!

  50. dianebourque says:

    This is just a nice post. I'm a big fan of Matt, his work and his vision. Thanks for sharing this.

  51. Great interview! Interesting to find out the history of WordPress. Thanks!

  52. Pingback: Page not found
  53. Wireless headphones are the way to go Dave. I won't mention where I was during the middle part of the interview…

  54. Great interview Andrew. It has made me think really hard about open source as a business model for other forms of intellectual property.

  55. 1malaysia says:

    thanks god.. I was finding site about matt and find yours.
    The info is truly useful..

  56. seesaynote says:

    Great job Andrew…I discovered your platform by pure serendipity. Your interview with Seth Gordin which was posted on techcrunch brought me here. I haven't left ever since. I am listening to the all the interviews back to back—very inspiring. I live in Atlanta—access to local tech events are virtually hard to find, but your platform brings a lot of valuable info.

  57. seesaynote says:

    just discovered this forum–serendipity in its finest. GREAT JOB…i live in Atlanta, tech start up info and access doesn't come easy around here….since I discovered the site, i have tried to listen to every single interview

  58. elramirez says:

    I share Matt's passion on open source. Wish that you could get some entrepreneurs that not just are creating open source software but building their brands with it. I think that there are a great array of possibilities with tools for almost any task these days that we should focus more in collaboration and make some of the projects available better instead of everyone taking the challenge of building things from scratch.

  59. elramirez says:

    I share Matt's passion on open source. Wish that you could get some entrepreneurs that not just are creating open source software but building their brands with it. I think that there are a great array of possibilities with tools for almost any task these days that we should focus more in collaboration and make some of the projects available better instead of everyone taking the challenge of building things from scratch.

  60. Pingback: Wordpress

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