Managing Insane Growth

with Matt Mullenweg

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You do not make yourself a leader; your people do

Matt Mullenweg

Co-Founder of WordPress, Founder of Automattic, Investor with Audrey

Lessons Learned

As time goes on, your team needs more training.

Entrepreneurs must have tenacity, grit & composure to get through tough times while sheltering team.

People are all that matter; deal dispassionately and logically with all people issues that arise.


Lesson: Building a Unicorn with Matt Mullenweg

Step #10 Leadership: You do not make yourself a leader; your people do

I think it was Bill Campbell who said, “You don’t make yourself a leader. Your people make you a leader.” You can be in the role or you can be a leader or not. But ultimately your actions kind of determine whether they consider you that.

I met Toni when I was 19 or 20 and I might have been legal when he joined, 21 or 22. I don’t recall exactly. I guess 21 or 22. It’s about eight or eight and a half years ago. So one of the things, I just really gelled with Toni. There are few times in your life when you meet people that you just have that immediate connection to and it spans ages. We have a lot of years between us. It spans backgrounds. He’s from Switzerland. I’m from Texas. Pretty much everything and just sort of a philosophical and business soul mate. So meeting him, I didn’t really have any doubt that this was someone who I could work with for 5, 10, 20 years to come.

It was also nice that things I was passionate about, we were passionate about different things. Well, not that we were passionate about different things, that we were okay doing different things. So, I wasn’t trying to do his job and he wasn’t trying to do my job. He actually provided an incredible amount of autonomy and space, sometimes for me to make mistakes, but then learn from it.

So that was how it all got started and the latest phase is just a different, he’s in a relationship. I’m really passionate about going from 200 to 2000. Toni is really passionate about working with a small, tight knit team and that’s what he’s doing now. Instead of Automattic, he’s working with a new team called Tinker, which is working on some brand new products with some of the coolest people in the company. So I’m a little jealous but it’s a happy jealousy where I’m excited to see him back in the element where he’s most satisfied with his job.

I think it’s also important that it’s from the company, that we want people to be happy in their role, regardless of what that is. All the way up to the CEO can say, “Hey, I’m not feeling this as much as I used to. I want to design a new role for myself.” And that’s okay.

The way we’ve been able to maintain the vision of Automattic over, you know, many years and ups and downs, was twofold. One that Toni and I share that vision. So whichever one of us is running the company, we’re going down the same road. And two, that we communicate a lot. So, that was very important especially in the early years. Things were a lot more amorphous. We hadn’t really nailed down.

There were open questions whether we should be a distributor or not. That was something we really as it was our duty to really discuss and dig into and see whether that was the right thing. Whether it was something we were doing or whether it was the best thing. So that’s why we’ve thought a lot, a ton about these topics. So, that I think those are really important.

One of the things that, I think, we have decided to work on more now as we’ve gotten larger is providing more training for folks. So, I didn’t realize it but that there were, like a program I went to when I worked at CNET or things like that, that talked about how to be a manager and you know, sort of the logistics. Compliment in public. Criticize in private, thinks like this that should be intuitive but aren’t always. Especially if you’re like me from an engineering background. Some sort of whether that’s part of our field guide or whether it’s some sort of training session. I think that these are good things for everyone to know whether you’re in a management or leadership position or not.

Success, that's a good question. I guess it's not something I think about too much. Day to day there are good days and bad days and I guess if there's a string of longer more good days than bad, I can look back and say that was a successful week, successful month, a successful year.

I think one thing that probably distinguishes entrepreneurs from what makes a great employee or someone working in some place, is you really have to, I don’t know if it's a tenacity, or grit, or composure that allows you to get through really tough times and ideally sheltering most of that from the team. Every business that is on the cover of a magazine had times in business’ life when they should have been on the cover of the obituaries and being able to work through that is what defines I think what a great businesses.

Being able to work through that while maintaining your principles, while maintaining grace under fire and these sort of elements, I think are probably the most important because you can't really predict whether things are going to go well or badly or everything else.

The second thing, we talked earlier about people are all that matter. So the ability to deal this passionately and logically and rationally with all the people issues involved with the company is pretty crucial because there's going to be ups and downs there as well. Not just hiring all your friends and maybe your family members introduce a lot of dynamics if you would work with them, or are tougher the company to deal with, or introduce complexity that’s not needed.

If you’re really I think this passionate and rational about all of the people decisions that a company will make over its, hopefully, many years of life, that helps set up a stability and an accountability and sort of general understanding about what it means to work at the company, that’s really healthy.

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