Matt Mullenweg was only 19, a freshman at the University of Houston, when he developed the popular blogging software WordPress, which now supports more than 4 million blogs and has won numerous awards.
WordPress was originally an updated version of a popular b2 blogging software. Mullenweg posted a blog suggesting some updates to the now defunct b2 software. "Well," he wrote, "it would be nice to have the flexibility of MovableType, the parsing of TextPattern, the hackability of b2, and the ease of setup of Blogger. Someday, right?"
As it turns out, someday came pretty quick. The next day b2 blogger and tech man Mike Little left Mullenweg a comment suggesting a collaboration, and the two quickly got to work on the WordPress software. According to Mullenweg, "I was frustrated with the state of blogging tools available at the time, so I started working with some other folks to make it better. I was lucky to find Mike, and have been lucky to find other smart folks to work on projects at Automattic."
Automattic is the company Mullenweg founded in 2005 to run WordPress, as well as some other popular software Mullenweg has helped develop, including the spam blocker Akismet.
Mullenweg doesn’t have any formal IT or software development training. "From a relatively young age," he said, "I was fascinated with technology. First it was just playing games, then it was fixing computers for a local volunteer organization, and later building computers and selling them and making websites for local Houston musicians and small businesses."
Start-up costs were minimal: "Maybe a few hundred dollars to incorporate on LegalZoom and a handful of servers we rented on a monthly basis. I paid for it with my debit card." Mullenweg and Little worked to design a new options system for b2, simplifying the install, reconfiguring the default template, and making the software compatible with XHTML programming. But it wasn’t until May of 2004—when WordPress competitor Movable Type announced a major price increase—that WordPress really took off.
Still, Mullenweg has never really been concerned about the competition. Nor, since WordPress is free, open source software, does he worry about some of the more traditional business concerns, like profit margins or marketing strategies. "Google’s Blogger is still probably the biggest competition. We just try to have a great product, give people the best support possible, and if folks are talking about us we try to be part of the conversation. With Automattic, it’s different. We’ve tried to keep costs in line with revenues; we have been basically break-even for the past three years.
Predictions about the end of blogging have been around since before WordPress got started. But Mullenweg says that the future of blogging is software that makes it as easy as possible for users to incorporate "rich media like slideshows, audio, and video" into their posts. That’s means keeping WordPress up to date with the latest technologies. The WordPress iPhone application, for example, developed a few months ago, has been downloaded and installed by about 200,000 bloggers.
Other than his website, there are about a dozen blogs that Mullenweg himself runs. He’s an avid photographer, and an accomplished musician, having studied jazz saxophone at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and several of his compositions (including a jazz arrangement of Mario Bros. music) can be found online.
So now, at 24, what’s Mullenweg’s advice to young entrepreneurs? "You have to love what you do. Don’t worry about the money. I guess I’m old fashioned—I think if you work hard on something you love you’ll be happy and feel successful regardless of any monetary outcomes or external measures of success."