Geographic discrimination is an artifact of a knowledge economy still thinking in a factory model
Co-Founder of WordPress, Founder of Automattic, Investor with Audrey
People no longer need to be in one place to do the work and produce a world-class product.
It is not only morally odious but mathematically silly to not hire women.
Working virtually is not about cost savings; it is about lifestyle.
Lesson: Building a Unicorn with Matt Mullenweg
Step #4 Virtual: Geographic discrimination is an artifact of a knowledge economy still thinking in a factory model
I think geographic discrimination is kind of an artifact of people in a knowledge economy still thinking of things in a factory model. People need to be in one place to actually do the work and produce the product that's world class. The analogy I make is just like it would not just be morally odious but mathematically silly to say not hire women because you would immediately cut out, at least, half of the population. And so, by selection by whatever you choose is going to be less representative and that's good.
Everyone reacts strongly to that and says, "Oh, we would never do that, " but then you point out to them that they're cutting out 99.99 % of the population that doesn't live or want to move to San Francisco, it doesn't really occur to them. So that's geographic discrimination, and we try to not do it. We try to say the best and brightest minds in the whole world, we're happy to work with them and we organize and structure the company so that people who are in rural Alabama in a town of 2000 can be just as effective as someone in New York or San Francisco.
There's still the occasion that have rules like Cuba or North Korea that have certain laws that we have to follow, but by and large anyone anywhere in the world could be an Automattician.
So even though the company is fully distributed, most people work from home and there's 230 people across like 170 cities. We found there are some things that super high bandwidth in-person thing is just better for. For example, ideation loops, brainstorming, bonding, becoming friendlier and getting to know someone better. It can certainly happen online, there are lots of examples of that, but there’s something about it being in-person where it can happen faster and better.
This combination of things, to get 90% of benefits, you don't need people together every day. But we found bringing the whole company together once a year, even as it's gotten much bigger and that becomes a bigger deal, and then allowing individual teams to get together two or three times a year is the perfect cadence for the balance of being able to design how your life works and that focus on output rather than input and really crank on things.
We do ask people few weeks a year, they are going to need to travel some place and we want them to be fully present at that time and with their colleagues, and so that's kind of our ask, that's kind of our trade. Say 48 weeks out of a year, do whatever you want and then three or four weeks a year, come to meet with your colleagues and brainstorm, and work together, and get to know each other.
I do think there is something intrinsic to travel that broadens your mind. Experiencing a different language, a different culture, different food, it just makes you think of things differently. In a selfish way I love that Automatticians get that experience in a lot of places.
We allow the teams to go wherever they want, actually, so there's been meetups in Athens, in Greece. Hawaii's a perpetually popular spot. There's one coming up in Buenos Aires. Again, how we organize this is we don't have strict guidelines around how much a meetup should cost or anything like that. We say more than $250 per person per day, you're probably doing something wrong, but then what we try to is introduce transparency.
So whoever organizes a meetup, after it’s done, does a write-up, where they talk about where they went, who was there, what sort of activities they did, where they ate, whether they liked it or not. Sometimes we try out new places and the Internet was really poor, so it was hard to get work done, or something didn't go well. So they write up that, sort of like a review like you might see on a TripAdvisor.
And then the last part is what was the per person per day cost? So there's a transparency there. And that kind of evens the playing field. A meetup with 20 people can be judged in the same way a meetup of five people is, and it serves as a template, because planning these meetups can take up a lot of time, just like planning your trip could take a lot of time.
But I can look at the meetup write up for Buenos Aires and say, "Oh, this is kind of a template for how we could do it! We could stay at this hotel, which has good Internet, go to these restaurants, which are cheap and tasty, and there's this sort of thing going on this time of year,” or something like that. So it actually makes it more efficient over time. It's almost like an internal TripAdvisor.
Our travel budget is pretty high, and the grand meetup, where the whole company comes together, that's now in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; probably over half a million dollars at this point. It's just the logistics of moving and feeding and housing 200 people in a hotel or something. It adds up pretty quickly. So we don't really think of it distributed as a cost savings. We think of it more as a lifestyle savings. It’s where people can really have a better quality of life. It doesn't necessarily mean it's any cheaper or more expensive than having an office. It's probably honestly evens out.