Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Automattic Grows Up: The Company Behind Shares Revenue Numbers and Hires Execs

Automattic, the company behind, is a quiet Web powerhouse.

WordPress now powers 70 million sites, up from 35 million sites a year ago. Almost half of the biggest blogs in the world are hosted by or run on their own versions of the open-source WordPress platform.

Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schneider

The company is profitable, and expects to bring in $45 million in revenue this year, according to CEO Toni Schneider and founder Matt Mullenweg.

The majority of Automattic revenue comes from premium subscription services, and that’s supplemented by a “VIP” enterprise publisher business — in total, there are half a million paying customers — as well as a recently launched advertising revenue-sharing network.

(Disclosure: AllThingsD is an Automattic customer. I wrote this post using WordPress.)

Now Automattic, which has long been a distributed, flat company run by the two-man team of Schneider and Mullenweg, is bringing some outside executives into the ranks.

New CFO Stuart West, who was most recently an executive-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, had also been at Wikimedia, Kno, Tivo and InfoSpace.

West will be in charge of all things financial and operational. “When you see this much usage, you know there’s an extraordinary revenue opportunity,” he told me.

Meanwhile, Paul Sieminski, previously of Gunderson Dettmer, will become Automattic’s first general counsel.

Automattic is not your normal Silicon Valley Web start-up, between its commitment to and grounding in open source, its workforce distributed around the world (the company currently has no office, though it’s planning to open a new San Francisco headquarters soon), and its relative lack of interest in tech trends.

For instance, way after the rise of Tumblr and the rest of the social Web, last year added its first social features, to tie its blogs, bloggers and readers together into a network.

The company was slow to get social because it was more focused on expanding its blogging tools into a more general publishing platform, and also because of its general commitment to openness over walled gardens, Mullenweg said.

Meanwhile, Schneider said mobile usage has grown dramatically in the past year (is there any site or app for which that’s not true?), with a 500 percent increase in the number of mobile views and amount of content created from mobile devices.

What’s next for Automattic is tighter integration into social networks and a more seamless set of tools across different devices, the two said.

“We march a little to our own beat, and sometimes it’s out of sync with Silicon Valley — and that’s been to our advantage and disadvantage,” Schneider said. “We don’t get sucked into the latest thing, while some of our competitors are distracted by the latest shiny object. The disadvantage is sometimes we’re against the grain of what everyone else is excited about, and people ask ‘Why don’t you have x yet?’ — but we go at our own pace.”

One other way Automattic is unusual is its incredibly low rate of staff attrition. Mullenweg said that the company currently has 106 employees — and it has only ever hired 118 people.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik