We Interview Matt Mullenweg, Co-founder of WordPress & CEO of Automatic
Step into the world of WordPress with our semi-spicy interview featuring Matt Mullenweg, co-founder and visionary behind one of the most powerful platforms on the web. Gain unique insights into his entrepreneurial journey, leadership philosophy at Automattic, and exciting updates on what’s next for WordPress. Dive deep into this thought-provoking discussion by being part of our exclusive show.
#1 – Matt, we are now In the fifth year of the Gutenberg project. Significant progress has been made recently, but many in the WordPress community still worry about the progress speed and the project’s fundamental direction. What are your views on this?
#2 – Do you feel it’s possible with a semi-open source project like WordPress, which has around 43% to 45% of the market share, for it to be both a professional (actual agency level tool) and an all-embracing DIY solution similar to Wix is this possible?
#3 – Recently, many of us watched Open AI semi-imploded. From the outside looking in, it seemed inherent stresses between what open-source objectives are and what commercial capitalism looks for and requires fell into the conflict. What are your views connected to what has happened inside OpenAI and its problems with governance? What alignment or similarity can we infer between WP and OpenAI?
#4 – A few years ago, you made the public statement that you were the “benevolent dictator” of WordPress. Have your views on this particular statement changed, and if not, why do you feel this situation is okay connected to one of the most significant open-source projects on the web?
#5 – With some personal reflection, do you regret making some of your recent public statements on X (formally known as Twitter) connected to what might be seen as real problems related to a possible unbalance of “power dynamics?”
#6 – If you return to a time machine at the beginning of your business journey, what advice would you give yourself?
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Sensei LMS: Sensei LMS
The Show’s Main Transcript And Links
[00:00:14.650] – Jonathan Denwood
Welcome back, folks, to This Week in WordPress and SaaS. This is episode 896. We do have an exceptional guest. We got the boss in the house. He’s in holiday mode. He’s He’s only got a few hours and then freedom. Freedom for free bumps, he has. We have the pleasure of having Matt Malweg with us, the co-founder of WordPress and the CEO of Automatic. So Matt, would you like to give us a quick 10- 20-second intro about yourself? That would be fantastic, Matt.
[00:00:53.410] – Matt Mullenweg
Oh, it’s so hard. But I am a boy from Houston, Texas, who loves music and values community, sharing, and building things together. My participation, volunteering, and everything else led me to discover the open-source and running events in Houston, Texas. That got me involved in online communities, like IRC, newsgroups, and everything. Again, I came to Houston from a very, very little, very modest background. But I had a computer and an internet connection, which was my gateway to the world. Once plugged into the world, I just lit up. It was so exciting to connect with people with shared ideas and philosophies around the world. One of those people I joined with as a 19-year-old kid with no computer science background, training or anything like that was Mike Little. He left a comment on my blog. We had both been contributing to the open source project B2. He left a comment on my blog, and we went on to create what would become WordPress. It was very much just that optimism and that hope of creation. What can we do?
[00:02:36.290] – Jonathan Denwood
Well, it’s been an amazing ride, isn’t it?
[00:02:39.430] – Matt Mullenweg
Yeah. I think it’s also very much the… I have that blog post, The Power of One. When I did this blog post where I said, Hey… Because, at the time, there were lots of different blogging software. It was Moodle type, which was the dominant one. It was Blogger, which had been bought by Google. It was a Google-owned blogger. There was one called Text Pattern by this excellent designer, photographer, and man named Dean Allen. It was beautiful. I would have never created WordPress if the text pattern had been open source. But I had been radicalized by these open-source ideas like, Hey, this code needs to belong to all of us. You need to be able to modify. You need to have these rights attached to it. The philosophy The last video of open source had really gone into my brain as a teenager. And that’s what drew me to B2, which was created by Michelle through Valdreddy. It was different from the other software It wasn’t as good. It didn’t have all the functionality. But it was in PHP, which was the language I liked. It was open source. It had these rates attached to it, the four freedoms.
[00:03:59.420] – Matt Mullenweg
Freedom to use the software for any purpose. Freedom to see how the software works, modify it, and redistribute those modifications. Those four freedoms were embedded in the software. I was like, That’s what I want to be a part of. I started packing around on that, and Mike did, too.
[00:04:17.480] – Jonathan Denwood
Well, some of those things we’re going to discuss in this interview. I’ve got my co-host, Kurt. Kurt, would you like to introduce yourself?
[00:04:26.650] – Kurt von Ahnen
Yeah, sure thing, Jonathan. My name is Kurt von Ahnen. I own a small agency called MananaNoMas. We focus largely on membership and learning websites, and I work directly with Lifter LMS and WP-Tonic.
[00:04:37.240] – Jonathan Denwood
That’s great. Before we go into this great interview, I’ve got a couple of messages from our major sponsors. We will be back in a few moments, folks. Are you tired of hosting providers that can’t handle high-traffic loads?
[00:06:23.500] – Matt Mullenweg
Are you going to get in the sponsors later? Because I don’t know what the sponsors were. I want to know what they were.
[00:06:28.820] – Jonathan Denwood
Well, we put some video adverts. They have some audio adverts as well, Matt. When you’re on your break- Sponsors.
[00:06:38.360] – Matt Mullenweg
We like the sponsors, right? Yeah. It’s much about nothing, Matt.
[00:06:43.690] – Jonathan Denwood
I would be I would worry much. You have bigger things to worry about, mate. Getting through this interview might be… All right, so let’s start off, Matt. So we’re in the fifth year of the Gutenberg project, obviously.
[00:07:07.950] – Matt Mullenweg
A little further, actually. Gutenberg, I think we’re in the seventh year, right?
[00:07:13.200] – Jonathan Denwood
Oh, dear. All right, there we are.
[00:07:14.880] – Matt Mullenweg
All right. I thought Gutenberg was going to be a 10-year project, and I think we’re about 70% of the way through.
[00:07:22.520] – Jonathan Denwood
Right. I would say that You had to phrase this. I think it’s taken… But obviously, you’ve just answered it because you said it would be a 10-year project. I think that’s much too slow, But I think you’ve also been a bit frustrated during this journey. I believe- It was slow.
[00:07:55.470] – Matt Mullenweg
I think from the very beginning, we knew this was going to be really, really big work. Because I’m creating, we’re looking at all websites, content management, everything out there. We’re trying to create abstractions. We’re trying to develop primitives that could be reused, these Gutenberg blocks. Now I can look at any website across the entire internet. I can squint. I can know like, Oh, these are some Gutenberg blocks that could create that and be open source. That is why it was going to take 10 years. We were just trying to be realistic when we started that, Hey, this is a really big engineering project that is going to take a while. That’s why we had the four phases, Gutenberg. At first, we focused on just the editor, Then moved to be able to change everything. The third is collaboration, and the fourth will be taking it into localization.
[00:08:57.760] – Jonathan Denwood
Obviously, I must take into consideration what you’ve just outlined because it is pretty easy for me or for people to be critical. But I try and balance it with the factors you just outlined, that you’re refactoring massive, driving on almost 40 to 45, maybe 45 % of all websites on the internet. It’s an enormous task.
[00:09:27.040] – Matt Mullenweg
What I want to give is every single person. I I want to provide them with the tools to be able to… I want any kid in the street, any kid in Houston that’s 19-year-olds today, I want to be able to look at a website and say, I can build that. Before, you would have to hire a developer or learn something. But with WordPress, what we’re doing is we’re democratizing publishing. We’re putting the means of production in the hands of the people. We’re allowing them to say, Hey, if I learn Goodberg or WordPress, I can build a site that looks just like that because I understand these fundamental primitives, these building blocks, these basic concepts that can then build up into cool patterns if I look at different design patterns, interaction, and flow.
[00:10:17.850] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, but the fact is Matt, that I do see all the power, and I agree with your decision that that’s something this pathway needed to be done. I understand your thoughts to some extent and why you chose this and your team because it just wasn’t… But as you know, internet years are like cat years. We don’t even know what’s going to happen two years in the future. Unless you were in the small community of artificial intelligence, we wouldn’t even realize until at least a year ago what was going to happen with AI. My main concern about where we are is that a year, I think the past 18 months, we’ve seen enormous progress with Gutenberg, I would say, because I just sense until about a year, 18 months ago, I just felt it was a little bit lost, to be frank with you, Matt. I just thought it was a project that was… I had significant concerns. My concerns have diminished, but there’s a problem with my stance.
[00:11:46.410] – Matt Mullenweg
It’s okay. I have great concerns about Gutenberg, too.
[00:11:48.310] – Jonathan Denwood
I’m sure you don’t, but there’s a deep…
[00:11:50.420] – Matt Mullenweg
I’m the world’s unhappiest WordPress user. I can tell you exactly what I want to fix.
[00:11:58.320] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, but it’s a There’s a problem with my stance. I’m just saying it’s not going so fast. But then when it came to full-site editing, I have adopted Gutenberg, but I’ve used the Lies Cadence WP as my way into Gutenberg. We’re now using it on a few of our clients’ websites and projects now, and we’ve been very happy with it so far. But full-site editing- Part of why it takes us longer to do this is that…
[00:12:29.180] – Matt Mullenweg
I mean, obviously, I mean, there were page builders and other things five, six, seven years ago, but they didn’t create very clean code. They were not high performance. They were not accessible. To build things in a way that is hold our standards for performance, accessibility, everything, composability, future compatibility, API access, everything, it takes longer. That’s why we had this 10-year roadmap for Gutenberg was part of what happened because we had a tower of Babel. Folks had created page building solutions. Obviously, people wanted this. People wanted this to exist. There were 15, 20 different page builders out there. And themes that started to also solve these problems for their customers. Like Divi and Nevada and others has really in and created essentially page builders to solve the solution for their customers, which is great. They were solving a problem for their customers. However, it’s very bad for the platform and the ecosystem because now Now, if I’m writing a plugin for WordPress, because they all have their own… They didn’t build it in an open-source way. They didn’t think of the data models, they didn’t think of the abstractions, they didn’t think of how to factor it out to work and scale for 42% of the web.
[00:14:02.230] – Matt Mullenweg
They now had to build an integration. If you talk to developers like Yost or something building SEO plug in, all of a sudden, their code base becomes so much more complex because now they have to build an integration for Elementor, an integration for Divi, an integration for all these sorts of things. That’s why I said to all the block builders out there like, Hey, please, we’re going to do this in Gutenberg. Please, orient your roadmap apps to be built on top of Gutenberg so that all the add-ons to WordPress, everything that integrates to WordPress, everything that understands our data models, can write things once. Then it’ll work for all the sites, regardless of whether you’re using Cadence or all the other things that are built on top. Today, we now have a number of things that are built on top of Gutenberg. From an evolutionary point of view, I think a lot of software as is a phylogenetic tree. A phylogenetic tree is, if you ever seen those, that like when species mutate and they evolve and some are more fit in the market and some survive and some don’t. In the market, I think that things which are most compatible with core and can interoperate and can work with all the different plugins.
[00:15:22.800] – Matt Mullenweg
That will be most fit in the market and that will survive. You might be able to solve your problem. You can build a site using some Same random theme or plugin. You can create a site that looks fine. But if that code base is not part of this core, it will not be really compatible with what the future of WordPress and software is. Eventually, that brancher on will die off. That’s why I’m encouraging people to really build.
[00:15:48.990] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, I know. So thanks for that, Matt. Over to you, Kipp.
[00:15:53.310] – Kurt von Ahnen
Well, I just wanted to almost follow up with that, Matt, because my experience as a user in an agency is Similar to what Jonathan said, when Gutenberg first came out, it did feel like a boat anchor. It was hard to adapt. But I got to say, 6.2 came out and it was like a breath of fresh air. And then full site editing, I got involved with the sky pilot theme at Lifter, and it just works really, really well. I used to be element or dependent, and now I find myself working with full-site editing and cadence blocks and ASTRA, Spectra stuff. From that user experience, experience that difference crossing over to 6, 2, 6, 3, when you mentioned collaboration and stuff like that, as a user, can we look forward to those types of leaps with those new phases and stages, or will they be more subtle?
[00:16:43.260] – Matt Mullenweg
There’s some pretty dramatic stuff coming in the next year, actually. First, I want to say thank you for sticking with us. We’re open source. That means we’re building this in public. Squarespace ships new versions. I forget which version they’re on, but they go from V6 to V7. They’re working on it privately in their company for years sometimes. Then they come out one day and they do a big launch and they say, Here it is. You’re seeing Sausage is being made. You’re seeing Gutenberg in its state where it wasn’t very good, where it didn’t do very much, where it had lots of bugs. It gets better and better and better every single day, every single release, relentlessly. We are dedicated to this. I My plan to spend the rest of my life building open source CMSes. I want to democratize publishing, commerce, and messaging. Those are my missions in life. I want to create… But you’re going to see all along the way when it’s not as good. It’s funny if you look at old versions of WordPress, I’m embarrassed. Oh, my goodness. Why did anyone use this? It was so terrible. But that’s also where we have to We have to solve people’s needs today while also building towards this ideal version in the future.
[00:18:07.280] – Matt Mullenweg
Jonathan, to your point, when Gutenberg was announced, first demoed or whatever, 2014, 2015, the content we introduced comes as a block and these attractions we were going to do. We were also trying to make WordPress relevant to the market. In fact, in that time frame, Our market share gains have been multiples of the entire market share of Drupal, Square Space, and Shopify in terms of the number of websites that are offering us. We’ve grown like five Shopifys in the time since Gutenberg wasn’t out. We are also like, judge us by our results. We are also creating things that people adopt.
[00:18:54.990] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, that was a great point. I think that, yeah, I will think about At that point.
[00:19:01.390] – Matt Mullenweg
Shopify is a hundreds of billions of dollar company with like, six or seven thousand engineers full-time working on proprietary software. That’s what we’re competing against. But that is the power of community. That is the power of open source. We’re able to. It’s like both the David and Goliath. We’re able to match and create better things than these competitors with far more resources, far more money than us, far more everything. Because we’re doing it with love. We’re doing it with… And with high ideals, with high principles around performance, security, accessibility, everything. We’re building this in a way that is very high integrity. We get attached for accessibility in Gutenberg. Go try the accessibility of the page builders in Squarespace or Wix. They’re not accessible at all. You know what? I’m not going to get attached for accessibility, but I love that we are being held to a high standard because that’s what we should aspire to.
[00:20:02.190] – Jonathan Denwood
Right, fair enough. Another question has come up. I had an interview and you had some back and forth with Kevin Gehry on Twitter. Oh, he’s running away. No, he had another day. You had on X, formerly known as Twitter, you had a bit of discussion with Kevin Gehry. When it comes to Gutenberg, can Gutenberg, as the phrase that you really love, democrazize publishing, I be a DIY tool. Can it also be a such a factory solution for a WordPress professional agency? Because I wouldn’t say I agree with everything Kevin has said, but the problem with Gutenberg is it’s not class-based. He got a lot, and in some ways, he got a lot of comments and style remarks. But the actual logic of his statement I agreed with is that it’s not class, but you see- One space? Class. Class? Class. You use classes for different elements in CSS. Do you think it can be both? Can it be Gutenberg be a just democratizing, as you say, and also be a true professional tool.
[00:21:54.040] – Matt Mullenweg
There’s a few things in there. When you were talking about the technical details of how Gutenberg’s data model uses CSS classes and things like that. I welcome really hardy debate on all of those things because the semantics of what we’re doing is really, really important. So get on track, get on the issues. Let’s nerd out on exactly what we should call the thing. You know why we spend so much time on that? It’s because we have to support it for decades to come.
[00:22:34.020] – Jonathan Denwood
[00:22:34.710] – Matt Mullenweg
Did you know that you couldn’t take a theme written for WordPress like 1.0, 20 years ago, and it runs on WordPress today? We’re really committed to backwards compatibility. When we introduce something, we say we’re going to support it. Or our commitment to our users is that this is going to keep working forever, basically, or migration path or a I don’t think this might change over the decades, but we have a very, very serious… If you look at why WordPress has been more successful versus some competitors, our commitment to backwards compatibility is one of those reasons. But it sucks as an engineer, because then you have to… There’s things that drive me crazy about WordPress’s database model. Why is ID capitalized in the database? Because B2 did it, but it should be lowercase. It’s like, I wish I could change that. In fact, we probably should change that at this point, we can migrate the database. But there was a point when that would have broken some plugins and that wasn’t worth it. Then your question, I think… That was a data model. Then I think your question was, can Gutenberg be used for professional stuff?
[00:23:44.560] – Jonathan Denwood
Well, there’s a decouple to it. Can it be a Wix, Quasar, really easy-use DIY product, but also for feel the needs of WordPress professionals like Kevin Geary. Because his position is that we’re, I said five years, but now seven years, as you pointed out to me. And he’s done some videos and he got a lot of positive and also negative feedback. He just tried to do a really intermediate, basic layout in Gutenberg, and you couldn’t do it. I see that as a problem, Matt. But I don’t know if you do. You might say- Absolutely.
[00:24:41.360] – Matt Mullenweg
Yeah, this is a tool. I want people to be able to build what Whatever their heart can imagine. We have a lot to do around education, teaching people to use this tool. It’s like when you first opened up Photoshop for the first time. All those buttons, everything. You had no idea how to use it. We need to teach people how to use Gutenberg. Actually, what’s cool about this, Gutenberg is bigger than just WordPress. You know what Drupul is, exploring a topic in Gutenberg. When people learn the Gutenberg primitives, it might work even for other CMSes or other places on the web, which is so beautiful. I hope that these interactions and these ways of working with things become the standard for literally all interaction with computers. That’s why, you notice, what did we do with Gutenberg that we did not do with WordPress? With the license?
[00:25:38.370] – Jonathan Denwood
Well, I don’t actually know. You’re going to have to tell me.
[00:25:42.020] – Matt Mullenweg
I’ll tell you. All my life, I have only produced GPL software because I am like an open source hippie. I’m a radical. If you take my code, I want you to have to also… Your code should also be open source, right? If you build on top of it. That’s what the GPL does. It’s a viral license. Copy left. With Gutenberg, for the first time in my life, I have devoted thousands of person years of effort, millions of dollars of development effort, and we created a DO license. I made it available under the… I think we used the NPL, the Mozzila Public License, or one of those others. It might be maybe that is more permissive, which says you can take this open source code and build something proprietary with it. Why did we do Why did me, the open source radical, I’m like, love to have Richard Stallman, for the first time create some software that can be embedded in proprietary things. It’s because I want these primitives, these things we’re creating to be accessible. Because part of the challenge isn’t just getting the code being used. It’s teaching people the affordances of the interface.
[00:26:55.080] – Jonathan Denwood
I don’t think- swip to unlock.
[00:26:58.110] – Matt Mullenweg
You didn’t know what to do, right? But Apple taught us all, here’s what you do.
[00:27:01.390] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, but I don’t think that in all fairness, Matt, I don’t think that is the problem. The problem is when you get somebody like Kevin Gehry, who is a experienced front-end developer, and when he’s trying to do an intermediate level layout and he utilizes native Gutenberg without any add on plugins.
[00:27:24.520] – Matt Mullenweg
He wasn’t able to do it, right?
[00:27:25.910] – Jonathan Denwood
He can’t do it. I see that as a major problem.
[00:27:30.190] – Matt Mullenweg
Totally. So one, is it possible, yes or no? Yes, of course, it’s possible. Did he know? I guess not. So what we have to look there is we have to look to the top agencies, WordPress agencies in the world, the Tenups, the Human Mates, etc. I’m missing some names, but they built whitehouse. Gov with Gutenberg. This is one of the top websites in the world. It’s beautiful. It works really well. It has vertical text. You can edit it in real-time. That’s so cool. I love what Jamie at Boodlepress is doing, where he says, I’m going to take techcrunch. Com and rebuild it in 30 minutes using Gutenberg. That’s the type of thing we need to get out there. One of my dreams is that we have this WordPress showcase. Everyone’s all like, Why do you make this showcase so prominent? It’s because a lot of times when people come to me, they say, well, WordPress can’t do this. WordPress can’t do that. I’m like, what about this? Whitehouse. Com. I saw it. Absolutely. I saw the top websites in the world. Now, what I want to do as well is on every showcase entry, I would love to have an X-ray, essentially.
[00:28:39.000] – Matt Mullenweg
Here’s how they built it. What if every showcase entry could have a tutorial next to it? Here’s whitehouse. Go. That’s built on WordPress. So- So you could recreate it using Goodberg in 30 minutes. That video would be so cool. This podcast episode is brought to you by Lifter LMS. The leading learning management system solution for WordPress. If you or your client are creating any online course, training-based membership website or any type of eLearning project, Lifter LMS is the most secure, stable, well-supported solution on the market. Go to liftrelms. Com and save 20% at checkout with coupon code podcast20. That’s podcast20. And Enjoy the rest of your show.
[00:29:32.770] – Jonathan Denwood
So to recap, what I think you’re saying is that you don’t feel what people like Kevin and other individuals, you think that they are mistaken to some degree.
[00:29:47.420] – Matt Mullenweg
No, I think, again, it’s all our fault. We did not provide the proper education. We did not provide the proper tutorials or ways for him to learn. So it is It’s true that he did not know how to use Gutenberg to create the site that he wanted to create. It’s possible. It’s true. Someone else could do it. But we need to do a better job showing him and learn. That is the WordPress community.
[00:30:14.410] – Jonathan Denwood
I could come back to you on that, but I think you’ll push for time. This could go on forever.
[00:30:21.400] – Matt Mullenweg
Well, I would challenge you as well. Bring me a website that you say can’t be created with Gutenberg, and let’s just do it.
[00:30:28.870] – Kurt von Ahnen
That’s a great answer. That’s a great answer.
[00:30:30.800] – Jonathan Denwood
It’s not quite as easy as that. It depends on how they are being made, Matt.
[00:30:36.200] – Matt Mullenweg
So- No, literally, bring me any website in the world and give it to me, and I will have someone create it using Gutenberg and we’ll make a video of it and you can see exactly how it was done. I think we built the tool that can do that.
[00:30:50.750] – Jonathan Denwood
Right. Fair enough. Over to you, Kerb, for the next question.
[00:30:54.060] – Kurt von Ahnen
And I get the question. So you should know Matt up front. I started I started in WordPress in 2004, but I didn’t even embrace community until the last handful of years. I was one of those dudes that worked in it but didn’t know the community. Furthermore, never really understood open source, especially with the passion that you’ve expressed today. So this question speaks to a guy like me that doesn’t see open source maybe as tangible as you do. So recently, we also like Open AI. It semi imploded, right? They got rid of their person. They did this. There’s all this turmoil, and it seemed to stem from the stress of capitalism versus open source, right? And then you see as something, at least I see as something as a happy capitalist, you see how when something grows and it becomes profitable or it becomes productive in that way, it seems like it just conflicts with the idea of open source. Of course, WordPress is on that same tier. What alignment or similarity do you see between the WordPress environment versus OpenAI? How do we keep that community saying healthy instead of competing with capital?
[00:32:11.790] – Matt Mullenweg
Yeah, that’s a very nuanced and interesting philosophical question. I’ll try to explain this from my point of view that, in fact, open source is one of the greatest enables of capitalism ever. Let’s go just from code and more to the idea of intellectual property and property rights. Property rights at the core of capitalism. You should have what’s a fundamental innovation of capitalism and democracy. It’s the idea, back in the old days, everything belonged to the king. You just would have… You were a surf. You didn’t actually have ownership of it. One of the things we innovated on as society is that you could actually own things yourself. Now, that said, so much innovation comes from the idea of the commons. And part of what we’ve navigated as society is if something new is invented, should that inventer be able to hold on to that invention forever and keep it to themselves? Or at some point, does it move into the commons, in which case everyone can use it? This is the idea of patents and copyright. As a flood to be looking at. How long do you get an exclusive use, exclusive right to your invention, your creation?
[00:33:39.500] – Matt Mullenweg
We are at actually such an interesting time for this because if you know, on January first, 2024, The earliest versions of Mickey Mouse went into the public domain. What is public domain? That means that anyone can build on top of it. This is so poetic as well, because if you look at what Disney did, like What did Disney create? They took public domain stories, stories that were the creations of others, the Brothers Grim and others. They took those stories and they built cartoons and stuff on top of them and they sold them. If those had been proprietary, they couldn’t have done that. That intellectual property had to be part of the commons for them to build on top of it. It is so powerful that more things are going into the commons because then other people can take it, remix it, do new things with it. Just yesterday, there’s this new game. Have you seen this? It’s called Power World. Have you heard about this?
[00:34:35.680] – Jonathan Denwood
I have good times. I’m struggling to make a living, but so…
[00:34:41.400] – Matt Mullenweg
There’s this new game called Power World. It just has sold 8 million copies. Basically, what it is, someone took Pokémon and gave them guns. It’s a new video game created with AI because as the creator put it, Americans like guns. It’s the funniest thing. But they essentially took Pokémon IP, something that people loved, and When Mott remixed it and have created this hit game, the biggest new game in years, that is the power of remixing. When you think of in music, in all creative arts, for example, music and jazz, I can copyright and restrict a particular melody, but I can’t copyright the chord changes. In jazz, there’s this thing called rhythm changes. It’s a set of cords that actually come from the musical, the song I Got Rhythm. I got rhythm, I got music. That chord changes is the basis of hundreds of other jazz songs. It’s built on top of those really cool core changes that at one point someone invented. Now, I can’t take their exact melody without licensing it in a certain way, but I can take the core changes and build on top of it. Now, the radical idea of open source is now it takes copyright to copyleft.
[00:36:04.690] – Matt Mullenweg
What does that mean? It takes these property rights. My creations, the intellectual property I create, I have a right to say how people can use it or not. It turns it on its head. What I do with the sacred intellectual property right of my creations, the code I have written, the ideas I have come up with, I now put those into the comments. With this license I usually use, GPL, I put them into the comments in a way that says, Hey, you can remix this, you can build on this, but whatever you do, put that back into the commons, too, so other people can build on top of it. That is the radical idea that is accelerating progress. When that stuff is in the commons, things move so much faster. If you look at where we are stagnant as a society in medical research and science and everything, it’s generally because there’s not enough sharing. When we share ideas, that’s when things move faster.
[00:37:02.100] – Jonathan Denwood
But the thing is, what has happened with OpenAI, and I listened to Professor Galloway in his podcast, and he pointed this out.
[00:37:16.090] – Matt Mullenweg
Isn’t there- He’s a good man, Professor Galloway. I was on the pivot podcast. Yeah.
[00:37:20.380] – Jonathan Denwood
But isn’t there a really total contradiction here, Matt? And the contradiction also applies to Automatic and the WordPress foundation as well. Is that you, through Automatic, over six rounds, have taken, I think, slightly below $900 million of investment. And you have taken- That’s not pretty much- You have taken investments from some of the biggest sharks of Silicon Valley, and they want a return on their investment. And then you got the WordPress Org Association, which is our open source foundation. We’ve seen this with OpenAI. Capitalist enterprises are like a shark. They only have two purposes: to take capital and utilize that capital the most efficiently and to produce money for their founders and their investors. Where open source and a foundation is a totally different concept. And what you’re seeing with open source, and I must say, you also see it with the relationship between automatic and wordpress. Org, is that you get a bit of a mess, basically. What would be your response to what I’ve just said, Matt?
[00:38:58.860] – Matt Mullenweg
Well, you just introduced a number of interesting things. You introduced Milton Friedman’s concept from the ’70s of that the only fiduciary responsibility of a shareholder is to maximize returns to the shareholders. I studied economics deeply. I actually have met Milton Friedmann. Google, Mullenweg, and Friedmann. There’s a picture of me and Milton Friedmann. These theories, I think, are interesting. What I have tried to introduce into the world, both through my actions and WordPress and everything else, is an idea of what I will call conscious capitalism. So that through using things like open source licensing, putting things into comments, it is possible to do well while doing good. So Automatic has created a very substantial business that is making hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and providing great returns to its investors. The most sophisticated investors in the world are banging down the door trying to get access to our stock. While we have also created this comments, this WordPress thing that now powers 42% of the web and contribute, I shouldn’t say created, we have contributed to this thing. Now, I know I’m doing something right when all the capitalists in the world say, Matt, you’re an open source hippie, you’re never going to make any money.
[00:40:19.580] – Matt Mullenweg
All the open source hippies are like, Matt, you’re a raging capitalist. You’re just going to make money. You’re going to optimize things and you don’t really care about the people. When both sides are attacking me, that’s probably means I’m doing something I think if you look at the results, like Automatic has created an amazing business, one of the best businesses in the world. As a private company, it’s been valued in the upper echelons. As you’ve mentioned, I have raised capital of over $900 million. There’s very few entrepreneurs in the world who could say they have done that.
[00:40:50.780] – Jonathan Denwood
Yeah, but the problem is- At the same time, I spend all my…
[00:40:54.130] – Matt Mullenweg
We have created this open-source movement which provides a living and employment To millions of people, hundreds of thousands of professionals, tens of thousands of companies out there are building on top of WordPress. So all of this intellectual property, all these things we created did not accrue to just one company. We have created an ecosystem. And what’s challenging about this is we’re not seen as a tech giant. Because if you look at a Google or Facebook, when they create their intellectual property, when they create something cool, all the money goes back to them. I estimate the WordPress ecosystem to be between $10 to $15 billion of turnover per year. But it’s spread across thousands of companies. Automatic is a small percentage of that, probably 4 or 5%. The rest is everywhere else. So we don’t show up on a single Forbes list or we’re like the dark matter of the web. But WordPress’s contribution to the economy, to capitalism, is huge. Think of the economic enablement. I take I take everything you’ve just said in, because basically I’ll give you slack.
[00:42:06.260] – Jonathan Denwood
And what I mean by that, now I’ve been totally frank with you, Matt, is that I find this situation and your response to my question is consistent with other interviews that you’ve had. It’s been the same response. And I got to be honest, I find it infuriating. But I also I also give you slack because I think you’re a very honest individual and you’ve done a lot of good and you contributed an enormous amount. I think some of the criticism that you get is very unfair. But I also think that you won’t accept the fundamental contradiction of having a full profit company that’s got $900 million investment. At the beginning of this interview, you’re saying, well, we haven’t got the resources in the open source to push Gutenberg forward. I find it- We have pushed Gutenberg forward.
[00:43:12.950] – Matt Mullenweg
Wait, wait, stop. I did not say that. We have pushed Gutenberg I’ve heard Ford fantastically. You said it’s taking too long, but I said it was going to take 10 years. I’m sorry that you think we should go faster.
[00:43:23.540] – Jonathan Denwood
I wish we could- I tell you, actually, I think 10 years is much to you, Lord. I’m sorry.
[00:43:29.670] – Matt Mullenweg
By the way, I wish it could go faster as well. But I’m trying to be realistic with the reality of building really complex hard software. Sometimes these things take time. Rome was not built in a day. Nine women cannot have a baby in one month. You can’t add more people to these problems. No, I think you’re making a really strong point there because people say you just throw more people in.
[00:43:54.030] – Jonathan Denwood
But in a software, if you get to a certain size, it doesn’t help.
[00:43:58.410] – Matt Mullenweg
It actually worse. It’s called the mythical Man Month that talks about this. You put more people on a project that goes slower, not faster sometimes. What you want to do is you need to get the right talent, the right people with the intelligence, the design, everything, the right teams in place. Then it moves faster. But just to run more resources at the problem doesn’t work. You could see that. If just money was the issue or resources were the issue, why don’t the companies with far more money have better software? Look at big enterprise companies that make way more than automatic does, and they make really crappy software.
[00:44:41.210] – Jonathan Denwood
Unfortunately, I use it on a regular basis like yourself.
[00:44:44.490] – Matt Mullenweg
What are some of these? Like a black bald or whatever the education things are, like some of these LMSs, they’re terrible. Oh, my goodness. They make so much money. It’s not money is the issue. It’s about good design, good teams, good principles.
[00:44:57.630] – Jonathan Denwood
Look, man, we’re up to Have you got another five minutes or do you have to be off now? Because I was told that we’re up to 8:50 and you need to be- Let me look at the clock real quick.
[00:45:12.360] – Matt Mullenweg
Okay, I can do five minutes. And by the way, I’m happy to come back on again. I really enjoy and I want to debate my harshest critiques. I want to discuss with the people who I infuriate because hopefully we can come to a shared- I would take it too personally.
[00:45:30.190] – Jonathan Denwood
I view a lot of people in the WordPress. I don’t want to upset people, but I’m not just going to agree just for the sake of green. I actually support you and what you’re doing. I just want an honest discussion, but I actually think you’re a very sincere person. You’re one of the more interesting people in tech. You got your full bulls. I see you late at night, you’ve had a rough day trying to get things. I see you with your Jack Daniels bottle in your glass, and you’re on Twitter. You get onto Twitter, and you just can’t resist commenting. And in some ways I love it. You do get on Twitter and comment. At least it shows that you’re a human being. But I have a discussion late at night. You got your whiskey bottle when you…
[00:46:30.040] – Matt Mullenweg
It’s not… It’s usually not whiskey, but… I mean, yes. The time I blew up that huge fight with GoDaddy, which was dumb, I had COVID. I had a fever. I was literally operating at like, lower. So, yes, I need to be better about not engaging in those times. But please do not also. I am also making good faith arguments. So that’s why sometimes people say like, Hey, you’re saying this. They’re like, Are you drunk or whatever? I’m like, No, I am. This is of sound mind. This is actually an argument. So please, I hold everything to a high standard that I say. Don’t assume it’s late night or whatever.
[00:47:08.370] – Jonathan Denwood
Let’s combine two of my last questions together, which I can do very ease as Kurt has seen being my co-host. A few years ago, you made a statement that got my hackles really up a little bit, to be quite truthful about it, that you were okay You’ve been a benevolent detaitor. And I thought, this is totally… How can you make a statement like that, Matt? And also at the same time, Seeing the praises of open source and democratizing publishing, it does seem, I thought, this is a total contradiction. Now, I think one of the problems with the WordPress project is that there’s too much overlap, and it’s not clear what belongs to automatic and your being it’s a private company, and what really is in the control of WordPress. It is the boring subject of governance, which to say it’s tedious would be the understatement, but it’s important.
[00:48:31.610] – Matt Mullenweg
It’s so important.
[00:48:32.910] – Jonathan Denwood
But this is something that you seem to be totally resistant to clearing up and really doing something about it, Matt. What’s your response to what I’ve just outlined? Because there seems to be total resistance about clearing this up in a constructive way, Matt.
[00:48:57.840] – Matt Mullenweg
Okay, so in the three minutes we have remaining, I will try to solve the problem of just governments of society, which literally we have been debating for thousands of years. I will return to the works of Plato, actually, in answering this question.
[00:49:12.570] – Jonathan Denwood
It’s a good place. That’s what I read as well.
[00:49:15.790] – Matt Mullenweg
Because this has been studied and debated for thousands of years. And what have we learned? Plato talked about democratizing. I’m not saying I want WordPress to be a democracy. I’m saying I want to democratize as a verb. And so what does that mean? So, to me, that means giving people freedom, liberty, and autonomy to do whatever they like with the software. Now, that does not mean the software itself is built in a way where everyone has an equal say. It is not. We don’t vote on every line code change and how WordPress is. So how are these things to go back to Plato? He said, A democracy is a way to run a just society. But it was not the highest ideal way. He said the perfect way to run a society was to have a philosopher king. But he said the problem with the philosopher king is that… Let me finish. Is that power corrupt? In something like a country, it is hard for people to… Let’s say you had an unjust philosopher king. You disagree with the direction. You now have to physically pick up your job and family and move to a different place.
[00:50:30.050] – Matt Mullenweg
Because it was geographically about it. In the world of atoms and physicality. I don’t think philosophers, kings, or dictators are right in that society. However, in technology and the space of software and ideas on the internet, Open source enables several things. One, you could have bloodless revolutions and coups. Anyone, you today, could fork WordPress, take the entire code base, everything we have created over the past 20 years, and make Jonathan press. You have access to everything we have done, and you can make your version of it at any day. That’s part of the rights. You have that innate will, right? That holds power to account. At any point, the WordPress community. Yes, I am in charge of philosophizing the dictator, whatever you want to call it. I can see why that would get your hackles. I think you said.
[00:51:25.690] – Jonathan Denwood
[00:51:26.720] – Matt Mullenweg
I also believe that to build great products, You need… Nothing great is built by the committee. You need strong points of view and a clear line. I know you’re…
[00:51:38.640] – Jonathan Denwood
I need to respond quickly to the two things. I think I’ve listened to all your interviews, and you’ve utilized this argument consistently because it’s open source, and Jonathan could take it. I’ve got to be honest; your response, what you have stated, is factually true. But being that you’re much more intelligent than me, Matt, you know that is slightly iffy because- You also have to bring over all the people building WordPress. I don’t, as Jonathan. Even WordPress wouldn’t have all the resources of $900 million and what that brings, man.
[00:52:21.700] – Matt Mullenweg
But you could go to a free society. You could raise money. You could get people to follow you.
[00:52:28.010] – Jonathan Denwood
I’m not as bright as you. I’m not as bright. That is you, but.
[00:52:32.530] – Matt Mullenweg
It is. Part of my position is because through the things I say, the ideas I put out, I put out a philosophy, a secular religion if you will, that people say, I want to follow that. I want to sign. I want to be a part of that. You know what? If tomorrow I woke up with double rooms and became evil, those rational people with free choice who can leave at any time. I know.
[00:52:57.330] – Jonathan Denwood
I also want to get onto the second point, but I now have to run because I have a meeting starting.
[00:53:03.760] – Matt Mullenweg
I have 158 hours before my sabbatical starts, so I have a lot of things to do.
[00:53:10.640] – Jonathan Denwood
All right, but thank you so much for coming on this show. I’ll answer some difficult questions, and hopefully, you will come back. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.
[00:53:21.390] – Matt Mullenweg
I would love to come back. Please invite me back, and let’s continue this. So, thank you so much for bringing this debate, these discussions, and the WordPress community. I appreciate That’s what you do.
[00:53:30.660] – Jonathan Denwood
I want to say one thing- I would worry about far more. I want to say one thing: not many people in tech would come on this type of podcast and be prepared to have this type of debate. I’ll give you total credence, credos, about being ready to have this type of discussion because not many would do it, Matt. I think many people don’t give you enough credit for being.
[00:54:02.580] – Matt Mullenweg
But I will return as often as you want because I want to engage with the WordPress community.
[00:54:11.760] – Jonathan Denwood
All right. Thank you so much. We’re going to wrap it up now, folks. Hopefully, you’ll come back next week, and we will have another fantastic guest and discussion. We’ll see you soon, folks. Bye.
[00:54:26.720] – Matt Mullenweg
Hey, thanks for listening.
[00:54:28.000] – Jonathan Denwood
We do appreciate it.
[00:54:29.840] – Matt Mullenweg
Why not visit the Mastermind Facebook group? Also, to keep up with the latest news, click Wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
WP-Tonic & The Membership Machine Facebook Group
Why don’t you sign up and be part of the Membership Machine Show Facebook group, where you can get all the best advice and support connected to building your membership or community website on WordPress?