Mullenweg Wants WordPress To Power A Majority Of All Websites

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Just months after Tiger Global Management paid $50 million for a secondary stake in Automattic, the maker of WordPress.com, the investment management firm has done it again. We learned yesterday that Tiger had made another $60 million investment in the company.

Tiger bought the shares from Polaris Partners, who also sold $15 million in shares to Iconiq Capital. Polaris, which has invested in Automattic since its $1.1 million Series A round in 2005, retains about one third of its shares.

“Their [Tiger’s] deep resources, market experience, and long-term outlook make them an ideal partner for the next phase of Automattic and the continued growth of the WordPress ecosystem,” Automattic founder and president Matt Mullenweg wrote in a blog post. “What we’re building will take time and it won’t be easy, but things worth doing seldom are.”

When Mullenweg says growth, he means growth. First he wants to grow Automattic from a 200-person company to one that employs thousands. He also wants to see WordPress.com powering the majority of all websites on the Internet.

WordPress.com has had great adoption so far, he said, but it still isn’t a tenth of what the team hopes it can evolve into.

It’s a tall order, and Mullenweg acknowledged that they have a long way to go. WordPress.com is currently the platform of choice for 19.9 percent of websites, compared to 17 percent at the close of 2012 and 14.9 percent in 2011. Automattic can only date WordPress.com’s market share back to 2010, when it stood at 12.3 percent.

In that comparison of CMS market shares, WordPress.com is second only to “None” — i.e. the lack of a content management system. Today 65.9 percent of websites do not use a particular CMS, down from 78.1 percent in 2010. WordPress.com is well ahead of Joomla, at 3.3 percent.

Dave Barrett of Polaris Partners expressed his confidence in WordPress.com’s ability to take the lead in the market. Barrett, who is stepping off the board of Automattic now that Polaris has sold two-thirds of its shares, will remain active with the company as an adviser.

“If you ask anyone five years ago if 20 percent were possible, they would say that’s a stretch… I do believe that it’s entirely possible and that they can be the absolute dominant [party] in website creation,” Barrett said.

Mobile will be central to the next phase of WordPress’s growth, Barrett said, as will social collaboration and building virality into the platform’s usage. The platform’s freemium model is also an important factor in its capacity to occupy a larger part of the market.

“I think in the last couple of years they’ve turned into a great software and SaaS company. They were always a great product company,” Barrett said.

Mullenweg said he has no future projections for WordPress.com’s market share growth rate at the moment, nor did he give a timetable for hiring those “thousands.” At present, Automattic employs just under 200 people, with about 70 joining so far this year.

“We’re hiring as fast as we find great people. We don’t have quotas or explicit goals, but I expect that if we fulfill the opportunity in front of us someday Automattic will comprise thousands of people,” Mullenweg said.

WordPress will be releasing its 3.7 and 3.8 later this year. Mullenweg said that the former will focus on improving WordPress.com as a platform, while the latter will iterate on the interface of the dashboard to make it more friendly for experienced users and make it more intuitive for new users.