WordPress, One Billion Dollars, and You

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The tech news blogs were hot today with stories of Automattic seeking an additional round of investor funding which would place the company valuation at a cool one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000). Let’s look back quickly at a couple reasons why WordPress has proven to be so successful and then how you can apply it to your business.

Automattic is best known as the company behind the popular open source content management system WordPress. Matt Mullenwig, the founder of WordPress and now CTO at Automattic has displayed a very clear vision for how the organization should be run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. In fact, I have had several strong disagreements with WordPress decisions through the years, but I can’t argue with their success.

I have enjoyed the opportunity of chatting about WordPress with Matt and picking his brain for his reasons behind some of the decisions they’ve made and I can’t deny it certainly makes sense. I absolutely respect their focused determination to provide an unchanging, stable platform for their users. Matt made the comment once how WordPress “sought to sustain the technical debt so the user would not have to.” I think that’s a valuable insight into some of the core principles WordPress maintains.

Let’s look quickly at some other parts of that philosophy:

Design for the Majority: WordPress has clearly identified their target market. They focus heavily on the “non-technically minded” This is the user base they build software for. Clearly defined, easy to identify, and focused. And it’s important to note they recognize this majority is not represented by the 1% vocal minority. They seek out their target audience by listening to them at events around the globe. One-on-one, in-person, listening; to more than just those loud individuals online.

If you run a business, be sure you know your specific target market. And no, everyone in the world over the age of 12 is not a target market. And listen. Listen to what your majority says, and be cautious to not fall into the trap of listening to only the vocal minority.

Striving for Simplicity: WordPress has several points of their philosophy which deal directly with this notion of simplicity. They don’t add option on top of option, they don’t add everything requested into the core, and they seek to improve each release by becoming easier to user. Does this sound like any other familiar and wildly successful company? If you thought of Apple, you’re right. In their very first marketing brochure ever the headline was:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Sounds similar right? Steve Jobs was obsessed with the idea of simplicity in design and he built Apple around that same core value. It was successful for them. WordPress has wisely positioned themselves to take advantage of the same important rule. 

Remember this when organizing and deciding on your business goals. Don’t add in everything you’re asked for by your customers. Be thoughtful and pay attention to your overall product. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and be ridiculously driven by accomplishing them.

Bill of Rights: The last aspect of the WordPress philosophy focuses on the license and distribution of their software. They believe in Open Source. They’ve determined the values of offering a free product which can be easily shared, changed, distributed, and copied. They believe in the value of community and the importance of sharing with all.

Other open source projects have led the way in this area and proven how successful this can be. Linux, the world’s most widely used server operating system, was built on this same principle. The four freedoms, as they are frequently called, have shown time and again the value of open source and how the world has been improved as a result.

Consider open source when building your business. You may not open source your core technology because you feel you have an advantage but there are plenty of secondary tools you will use or build which you could open source and “give back” to the community. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

I encourage you to read the full philosophy of WordPress. Looking at the list I think there are several elements which have helped them as they have grown as an organization over the years. Then, once you’ve read it – you should seek to apply some of the similar ideas for your own business.

Is WordPress worth one billion dollars? I couldn’t say, but I can tell you this much – the core values they have determinedly followed and maintained through the past decade are a great model to follow and I wish them nothing but success as they seek to fulfill their philosophy. Can you say the same for your business?