When Will Automattic Be Acquired?

A few days ago, I was linked to an article on ITProportal.com by Desire Athow who asked the question, When Will Microsoft Buy Automattic & WordPress?. The article is confusing to follow because the author failed to delineate between WordPress the open-source project and WordPress.com. However, the usual suspects cleared things up within the comments of the post. For everyone else, here is a reminder.

Automattic Logo

WordPress.com is a service that is owned and operated by Automattic, a privately funded company. WordPress.org which is also known as self-hosted software is an open source project that is owned by no one. WordPress is a trademark that is controlled by the WordPress Foundation. Therefor, the open-source project can never be acquired while WordPress.com and or Automattic could be.

Personally, I hope Automattic is never acquired but seeing as how they are spending someone else’s money to run the business (investors) and I don’t have any specific information with regards to company ownership, there might be a time in the future where acquisition becomes the exit strategy. When talking about who would or could acquire Automattic, Microsoft seems to pop up all the time. I think this would be a huge waste of cash by Microsoft and a terrible acquisition. Windows Live Spaces was Microsoft’s attempt at hosting a blogging service which after 4 years, ended up being migrated over to WordPress.com. So in a way, Automattic acquired Windows Live Spaces without spending any cash. But if Microsoft were to ever offer a billion or two for Automattic, who knows what could happen.

When we talk about acquisition, it’s important to note that at one time during the history of Automattic, the company was ALMOST acquired. Matt Mullenweg pulled the trigger but thanks to the lengthy time period during negotiations, doubts took over his mind. He eventually decided that it was best to stay independent and go for it. Thank goodness he did because Automattic has grown into a very healthy company. However, the question that I have is, would Matt be willing to pull the trigger again?

I don’t think so, not unless it was the nuclear option. Since 2007, Matt has shown glimpses that money is not the end all be all. It’s not his number one priority in life to be wealthy. Instead, it goes way beyond the materials of life. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend reading the Automattic creed which is tied to the company but it works for the open source WordPress project as well.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

The most obvious thing to point out in this creed is the line I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. Between WordPress.com and the open source project, the impact those two things have had has been tremendous stretching from the world of publishing, to giving people a voice in which they might not have had one otherwise. When it comes to money, it’s easy to see from the initial rounds of VC funding that money is not the main priority. The first round was $1.2 million dollars which was secured in 2006 that lasted through 2008. On January 23rd, 2008 Automattic secured $29.5 million dollars. Compared to other rounds of funding for many other companies, this is pocket change. That money has been spent on service acquisitions, hiring more Auttomaticians, and generally making WordPress.com a better service which at the same time, helps to increase that IMPACT that was mentioned earlier.

Over the past four years, it’s become obvious to me that Matt and Automattic have lived by the company creed and take it very seriously. Automattic is what helps Matt pay the bills while at the same time, satisfy his passion for open source software through WordPress. Up to this point, Matt has done a great job of being able to balance the two and if you were to remove him thanks to an acquisition, I feel we would have one screwed up situation on our hands with that balance being ruined.

Despite my wishes for Automattic to never be acquired with Matt at the helm, I realize that everything has a price. I just hope that price is something very few people or companies can pay.

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