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Word Press, open source and world domination: why Matt Mullenweg looks for the things you can’t teach

Matt Mullenweg is the creator of blogging platform WordPress and CEO and founder of the Automattic suite of tech tools. So what does he care about, who does he hire and what’s the company mission now? (And by the way, he’s on the lookout for Kiwi developers).

You have really diverse interests. How did tech win out as a career?

The career came from what did best. Tech did a lot better than photography or music. Can I keep them all up now? Absolutely. I use my photography in header images, for example, and millions of blogs across the world use images I’ve taken.

Did you always want to start your own company?

I always was a little bit of a hustler in terms of starting my own business. I never had any problem working for someone else. I hadn’t yet found a workplace that made the things that were important to me. It was about how we build things but also releasing things in an open source way. The open source philosophy is very important to me.

What’s the most powerful thing about a blog?

My favourite thing about blogging is the comments or even people responding on Facebook or Twitter. The interaction sometimes corrects me if I’m wrong and it’s a nice way to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.

You have an investment vehicle, Audrey Capital. Where do you put your cash?

It’s a big topic but I look for things that are open source, and that have a market opportunity and where I’ve identified something I’ve used or I know personally. On the team – is it someone I know who’s in my network? Are they in it for the long term and will it be sustainable and have an impact on the world?

It’s maybe a little silly but some of the best developers I know are also users of their own product and are co-creating with their users. They’re doing support or using it alongside people. That’s extremely important.

Kiwi tech firms have a big problem finding and keeping talent. What make a star hire for you and how do you reward them?

We don’t have any problem keeping hold of people but I look for all sorts of skills. We have skills based filters to help us find the most competent people, but I look for the things you can’t teach, which are work ethic, taste, integrity and curiosity. We’re a distributed company, so there’s no one looking over your shoulder.

Taste is kind of fuzzy, but if you’re a designer or developer, approach your work in a tasteful way. Curiosity is important because the skills we need now will change in the next one year and the next five years. The most long term people are those that are constantly learning and care about technology and the world.

What impact is mobile having on your business?

Mobile is something we’re not as strong as yet but it’s an area of intense focus. It’s something we have a lot of opportunity for growth in.

What’s the current plan for world domination?

The mission then is the same as the mission now. To democratise publishing. WordPress has about 22 percent market share, so there’s another 78 percent to go. A lot of the world is on proprietary systems or those that don’t respect users or give access to to their own data. Making an alternative is our way of making the world a bit of a better place.

I believe open source is the best way. We can look at Automattic’s progress so far as an example of that. In Wellington last week someone told me they were modelling their business on Automattic. I hear that more frequently. One of the goals was something like a template people can follow that’s socially responsible and can be good for the world and can be successful financially.

All businesses should be globally focused. There’s no reason now to think of what ever you’re building in a holistic fashion. Automattic is hiring and we’d love to have five or 10 people in each city including New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Indonesia. If they want to work in a co-working space, that’s fine. We’re up to 250 people now, in 190 cities.

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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