Joost de Valk Steps Down as WordPress Marketing Lead

Joost de Valk has announced that he’s stepped down from the WordPress Marketing and Communications Lead role. The position was created and awarded to de Valk earlier this year. Not only was it a new position, but it also expanded the leadership roles in the WordPress project.

Despite making progress, de Valk didn’t feel as though he was fulfilling the leadership aspect of his role. “My experience over the last few months made me feel that while I was doing things and getting things done, I certainly wasn’t leadership. I don’t want to pretend I have a say in things I don’t have a say in,” he said.

Not having a clear definition of what marketing means and having people within the project on the same page contributed to his decision.

“There’s a stark difference between where I thought I would be in the organization in this role, and where I am actually finding myself now,” de Valk said.

“Even things that every outsider would consider marketing (release posts, about pages) are created without even so much as talking to me or others in the marketing team. Because I felt left out of all these decisions, I feel I can’t be a marketing lead.”

He also cited a lack of clarity surrounding his position, “I’ve been asked dozens of times on Twitter, Facebook and at WordCamps why I now work for Automattic, which of course I don’t but that is the perception for a lot of people,” he said. “On other occasions, I seem to be the token non-Automattician, which I’m also uncomfortable with.”

Due to taking a toll from failing to fulfill the position, de Valk plans to take an extended vacation during the Summer and when he returns, focus 100% of his efforts on Yoast and his Chief Product Officer role.

Matt Mullenweg commented on de Valk’s article thanking him for being willing to try new things and for his passion, impatience, and drive to improve WordPress.

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30 Comments


  1. He was never really given a role. This was just for show.

    It’s not hard to paint the picture of Matt’s agenda.

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      1. WordPress is no longer truly open source. Matt’s agenda is Automattic, at all costs.

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    1. Neither Joost or myself would have invested the time we did if it was just for show. We both thought it had a chance for success, and tried hard to make it so. WordPress still needs help in several of these areas, especially W.org, so I’ll be looking for someone else to fill in there.

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      1. I think this is the perfect example of why you should embrace wpgovernance.com project.

        You can’t do it alone and you can’t simply give someone a title and expect them to fix everything.

        There needs to be proper structure in place, proper processes for people to follow, and consequences for people not following these processes.

        You can’t be WordPress dictator forever Matt.

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      2. I’ll be looking for someone else to fill in there.

        Perhaps it’s time to let WP community to define the role and elect candidate. WPGovernance is great tool to accomplish that.

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    2. I’m sure they wouldn’t do this purely for show. Perhaps it wasn’t handle as well it could have been (I have no idea whatsoever), but creating an entire marketing position and putting someone prominent into it just for sure would be quite stupid IMO.

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  2. It was good of Joost to give it a try and to have the presence of mind to step down when it was clear it wasn’t working out.

    I’ve suspected for a few years, since the Theme Review team tried to implement new processes, that there were serious organizational issues with WP org. The only one who can fix those is Matt. It would take something like appointing an Executive Director of the WordPress Foundation and giving that person a budget and authority over the Foundation’s workings and WP org. I believe that the Drupal Association, for example, is responsible for Drupal.org.

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      1. Awesome. I don’t imagine that you have the time to sort things out and put a structure in place personally, so I hope that someone can be empowered to do so.

        Membership options, such as the Drupal Association has, would help with fund raising. I would be willing to contribute to an annual membership and I think many of my peers would be also. Of course there are now lots of businesses in the WordPress ecosystem who would also be willing to pitch in.

        WP org has great volunteers, but needs further person-power. I appreciate that Automattic seconds staff to help with WP org. If we can increase the WordPress Foundation’s funding then more staff could be hired and it wouldn’t all fall on Automattic.

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      2. But last I saw, perhaps it is outdated, she does work for Automattic, or at least used to.

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      3. About opening up leadership: as long as Matt also keeps doing the State of the Words on his own and not share that throne; the ‘outside’-community will only see one leader.

        Maybe Josepha can present or co-present the State of the Word, this WCEU?
        Or multiple persons, as it was done a few years ago when Gutenberg was developed.

        By the way about that Marketing role: it’s just not realistic (to me) to do that role part time; like 1 day a week. The same goes for leading an Open Source project while managing a company of 900 people.

        So, create that board too, look at Drupal: https://www.drupal.org/association/board.

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      4. @James – Thanks. Checkout the Drupal Association to see what I’m referencing. Membership levels with members electing people to the board. The DA does fundraising, runs the .org website, hires the support staff etc.

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      5. @David – I am aware that the Drupal Association offers a few more perks for donations, but I’d hope that wouldn’t stop anyone from contributing to a project they believe in and draw value from.

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    1. Typos happen, especially in the age of the mobile device. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

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      1. Joost wrote in his post

        … and patience is a virtue I’ve not developed well. This was my way of trying to broaden WordPress leadership.

        Matt replied

        I really appreciate your passion, impatience, and drive for growing WordPress.

        which seems to be a direct reference to the above mentioned statement by Joost. Not a typo and not much to read into anything.

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    2. I mean impatient as a compliment, and also a word I would use to describe myself. (Sometimes I also say I’m the unhappiest WP user in the world.) An entrepreneur like Joost who can see around corners and have a clear vision of the future has a dissatisfaction with the status quo and an impatience to get to the future as soon as possible. This sense of urgency can be a mixed blessing but is ultimately key for moving things forward, and is also a characteristic of every great leader I’ve met from the Claire Hughes Johnson to Richard Branson.

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  3. “Even things that every outsider would consider marketing (release posts, about pages) are created without even so much as talking to me or others in the marketing team. Because I felt left out of all these decisions, I feel I can’t be a marketing lead.”

    Considering that he was given the position of Marketing Lead without letting the person who had the position before him know they were no longer the marketing lead, this behavior by Automattic seems normal (if not expected).

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      1. Considering that for all intents and purposes, Automattic controls all of the going-ons of wp.org.

        It is not as if wp.org can make any important decisions such as the marketing of WordPress without any input from the head of Automattic.

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    1. Given Joost’s criticism of the role, it puts any successor in an awkward position if there’s no real changes to it.

      One can see the appeal to Matt of appointing employees to positions of nominal leadership – they’re more likely to stay silent publicly about how limited their input is.

      Who’d want to be the new token non-Automatttician in a powerless role?

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  4. I’m a long-time user of WordPress, but I don’t consider myself “in” the “community.” (For example, I didn’t even know that Joost had taken that position.)

    BUT – as someone who has worked in a variety of roles in organizations, big and small, that post by Joost says a lot. “I was called a leader, but I wasn’t actually in leadership.” Yep, many of us have experienced this, and it is incredibly frustrating.

    Good for Joost for naming it. I hope that whomever is IN leadership listens – especially before they put someone else in “leadership” without actually putting them in leadership.

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  5. I think the problem is not Joost or Matt. It’s the way that the role is defined. When I first read the announcement from Matt, I thought it was great. But then I saw it was just title, not a list of actions and responsibilities.

    And as WordPress is an open source, the whole community or the WordPress Foundation don’t have an united guidelines to be acting properly in cooperation to achieve a target. It’s quite fragmented between teams. And it’s not look like an organization.

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  6. Coming from a former Automattic employee, .Org is the wild west. We had much less control than people thought.

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  7. Credit to Joost for accepting the challenge, and trying something new given the huge success he’s already achieved. It just didn’t work out this time.
    There are many lessons from this development that hopefully will serve all parties moving forward.

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  8. I have taken a position like this and stayed around for 4 years. The same things that Joost was having a hard time with, I found myself in the very same unfulfilling sentiment. I also walked and went on running my own business full time.. Much happier and in better health.

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  9. I do not think we as community have words to thank all the a8c support in WordPress.org, however in the last 5 years a8c has grown from 200 to 700 or 800 employees and almost everyone at a8c is WordPress.org contributor, volunteers or non a8c folks do not grow at the same speed, even many regular volunteers with time end up working in a8c, wish is not bad because it gives them more time to collaborate in the project however that reflects for those who are unaware of the current structure or are new on wp that in its majority WordPress.org is dominated by employees of a8c. I believe that for good health and to avoid misunderstandings a more transparent, diverse and inclusive structure like the one WPGovernance suggest would help.

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