It’s hard to build a publishing empire, and it's just as easy to lose one. Newspaper magnates were mostly replaced by broadcast moguls, first radio and then TV and cable, and now of course, they are all fighting against the social media tycoons and streaming impresarios who want to capture our attention. Each generation of media titans dies off and is replaced, just as each medium finds its niche only to be supplanted by something novel.
So when it comes to Automattic, the leading commercial complement to the open-source WordPress publishing platform, time and longevity have a rather peculiar meaning in an industry littered with the gravestones of media sites of yore. Founded in 2005, the company continues to assiduously evolve and expand as it staves off that ambient and inclement sense of doom that pervades media.
Sixteen years in and now valued at $7.5 billion, Automattic has found a multitude of strides, even as it strives to own ever more of the media market. It’s a publisher, a social media network via its acquisition of Tumblr, an e-commerce giant with WooCommerce, a productivity tool with P2, and more. It reached this peak doing pretty much everything wrong, according to VCs, a strategy, as we will see, that proved to be exponentially effective in the long run.
The lead writer for this TC-1 (our slightly rechristened EC-1 to match our TechCrunch+ rebrand) is Chris Morrison. Chris has been among our most productive analysts of breakthrough companies, profiling Roblox and Klaviyo in previous entries of this series. In addition to writing and analyzing, he’s an independent game developer and brings his expertise in business development and engineering to bear in understanding Automattic and its open source focus. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto and illustrations were created by Nigel Sussman.
Morrison has no financial ties to Automattic or other conflicts of interest to disclose.
The Automattic TC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 10,700 words and a reading time of about 40 minutes. Let’s take a look:
- Part 1: Origin story “How doing everything wrong turned Automattic into a multibillion dollar media powerhouse” (3,850 words/15 minutes) — explores the formation of Automattic in the wake of the success of the WordPress project and how a 21-year-old jazz saxophonist with a side hobby in publishing became a media magnate.
- Part 2: Open source development “There's nothing Automattic about balancing commercial growth with an open source developer community” (2,500 words/10 minutes) — investigates the tensions inherent in being a commercial backer of an open source project, and how Automattic balances pushing the community forward while allowing contributors to participate in the project.
- Part 3: Acquisitions and future strategy “Can social and e-commerce transform the future of the open web?” (2,350 words/9 minutes) — analyzes Automattic's long history of acquisitions and expansions by surveying the company's initiatives in e-commerce and social media, two competitive verticals upon which its future success will be built.
- Part 4: Remote work culture “The future of remote work is text” (2,000 words/8 minutes) — reports on the development of Automattic's unique corporate culture, which was remote years before the corporate tech world was ready for work from home, and how the company centralizes communications around text.
We’re always iterating on the TC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at firstname.lastname@example.org.