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The Rise of Matt Mullenweg, From CNET to 30% of The Web

Wordpress creator and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg
Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Entrepreneur Matt Mullenweg is known for heading Automattic (notice the 'Matt' wordplay), the parent company behind Wordpress.com and other projects like Gravatar, WooCommerce, Simplenote, PollDaddy, Akismet and BuddyPress. Wordpress was launched in 2003 by Mullenweg and programmer Mike Little, serving as an official successor to b2/cafelog, a blogging tool developed by French programmer Michel Valdrighi. 

It now powers over 30% of global websites according to technology survey firm W3Techs, leading the follow-ups by a wide gap which include Joomla with 3.0%, Drupal with 1.9%, Squarespace with 1.4% and Shopify with the same 1.4%.




Young Matt Mullenweg at South by Southwest 2008
image : Jesús Gorriti on Flickr

For history, Matthew Charles "Matt" Mullenweg (born 1984) in Houston, Texas enrolled at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts located at 4001 Stanford Street in the Montrose district of Houston where he studied jazz saxophone. Matt began using free blogging software b2 in June 2002 to share digital photos having picked up interest in blogging, but its developer Michel Valdrighi got distracted and abandoned the project.

Being open source, Matt decided to continue the project along with other developers who contributed code to the blogging service to keep it alive. That gave birth to Wordpress which powered well over 20,000 users'sites as of 2004 and has grown exponentially since then to become a key backbone of the web.

Matt Mullenweg (right) and Tumblr creator David Karp in 2010

image : Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

One big reason for Wordpress' explosion across the web is a move by competing service Movable Type to begin charging its most active users made long ago, leading to resentment from the weblogging community and a spike in usage of Wordpress, which still comes at no cost on a freemium model (that is, users are charged for additional and advanced services and features).

In October 2004, Mullenweg was recruited to online technology publisher CNET to work on Wordpress for them and help with new blogs and media offerings, He moved to San Francisco from Houston and took up this job before leaving a year later to fully focus on Wordpress and its related activities.

Matt Mullenweg at the 2010 Big Omaha conference

image : Malone & Company Photography

Young Matt Mullenweg wears a Blogger t-shirt

image : Niall Kennedy on Flickr

In 2005, Automattic was formed as a parent company for Wordpress and spam filtering service Akismet, the two services it operated as at that time. Automattic employed contributors to the Wordpress project and struck an Akismet licensing and Wordpress bundling deal with Yahoo! Small Business web hosting about the same time.

Automattic raised about $1.1 million in seed funding and took off with former Oddpost CEO and Yahoo! executive Toni Schneider as its own CEO. The rest can be dubbed history, Automattic employs more than 700 people now, has raised over $300 million in funding (valued at $1.16 billion from its last round/most rounds being secondary), has added services like Gravatar, Ping-O-Matic GlotPress, IntenseDebate, Poster, Longreads, Scroll Kit, VaultPress, VideoPress and WooCommerce to its product lineup.

Toni Schneider (right) was Automattic CEO for 8 years, stepping down in 2014 with Mullenweg as his replacement.

image : Niall Kennedy on Flickr

Toni Schneider led Automattic through intense growth and handed over the CEO position to Mullenweg in 2014, He is still at Automattic but has shifted focus to launching of new products, bearing a special official title - 'Head Tinkerer'.

Automattic last raised equity funding in 2014, $160 million from investors including Insight Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, True Ventures, Tiger Global and ICONIQ Capital. It's a liable IPO candidate in coming years among a list including private tech giants Airbnb, Palantir, Stripe, Pinterest, Instacart, Slack, Robinhood, Houzz, Machine Zone, Oscar and Wish.com. 




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