Changing the Web at 21

Changing the Web at 21

Matt Mullenweg

WordPress is one of the most widely used pieces of blogging software on the Net. We use WordPress everyday to spread our ideas and connect with people all around the world, but how many of you actually know who created WordPress?

Type “Matt” into Google and you have your answer. Matt Mullenweg is the #1 most important Matt in the world, according to Google, as well as the founding developer of WordPress. The kicker is that he is only 23 and he released WordPress 2 years ago, when he was 21. Matt was born in Houston, Texas and moved to San Francisco in 2005 to work for CNET Networks.

After quitting his job at CNET in late 2005, he has devoted the majority of his time to developing a number of open source projects and is now a frequent speaker at conferences. In late 2005, he founded Automattic, the business behind WordPress and the spam-catching software we all love, Akismet.

In November of 2005, WordPress stopped being invite only and opened up to the world.

Matt is also the guy behind Ping-O-Matic, the software that pings search engines when a user publishes a new blog post. This has been instrumental in getting all of our blogs indexed by the search engines. It is great too because Google search results have a special love for blogs that the other big name search engines do not appear to match. Ping-O-Matic has helped our blogs reach a much larger audience, thanks to Matt’s work.

I read an interview Matt did with Digital Web Magazine and they asked him why he chose to make WordPress and open source, GPL-license as opposed to a licensed plan. His response was:

If you do anything for the money you end up selling out. Do what you love, what you can’t not do, and the money will follow.

I think the WordPress value to the community as a GPL extension of what came before is a million times more valuable than whatever pittance I would have gotten from doing a proprietary thing. The benefits I’ve gotten personally from focusing on what I love have been numerous, and go beyond the purely monetary.

Matt has the attitude of a true winner. He says, “do what you love, what you can’t not do, and the money will follow.” He loves being able to empower other bloggers. I think that is the best advice anyone has ever given about success – do what you love, the money will follow. I have heard that from my dad way too many times count, but the fact is, it’s true. Working is less painful when you enjoy what you are doing, and as you enjoy it, you want to do more of it. I work 10-12 hour days, but it’s what I like doing, so it doesn’t feel like work.

I really get a kick out of hearing about young entrepreneurs, especially those in their early twenties. It is amazing the amount of young entrepreneurs who are changing the way we use the web.

The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is also 23. Makes you think…what were you doing in your early twenties? Probably not changing the web.

Update – Matt Mullenweg personally thanked me for writing this article. The real thanks goes to Matt for the amazing work he has put into WordPress.

80 thoughts on “Changing the Web at 21”

  1. And I don’t like how MBL only allows 1 avatar per URL… so Jane’s photo always pops up when I leave comments. I’m gonna have to figure out a way around that.

  2. Geez, 21 years old!!!! That’s insane.

    Hey, why does my picture show when john leaves a comment??? That’s strange.

    1. Are you guys using the same computer? The avatar is stored via a cookie, so if you log out of MBL and have John log in when he leaves a comment, that should fix the problem.

  3. Great quotes. At 23 I was teaching AP English–and challenging my students with the fact that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18. Newton formulated the law of gravity at the age of 25. Matt is another good reminder that we shouldn’t sell ourselves short because of our age.

    On the other hand, we shouldn’t think we’re too old to change the world! Goethe wrote Faust at 80. Verdi wrote Ave Maria at 85…

    1. Hey Mark, thanks for the comment. You were certainly doing some very interesting things at age 23, as well. You are so right – no one should ever sell themselves short whether it be age, gender, race, etc. We all have the power to create our own destinies! Good luck to you!

  4. While this Matt fellow is pretty amazing for creating WordPress, the current state of the software is crappy. Bloated and hacked.

    19,000 lines of PHP: 19389
    In comparison, Mephisto: 8891 (3728 is actual code, the rest is testing code)
    Typo: 9338 (3898 of which is tests)

    Maybe if they cut it down to a manageable amount of code, they could actually screen their codebase before releasing a hacked version.

    1. Their code was hacked on their servers after it was released. The version itself was not flawed with the hack.

      Let the rest of the world vote on what blogware they like…so far that seems to be WordPress. Let Hank stay at home alone in his Mother’s basement and count lines of code, which is irrelevant.

  5. Well, it time I suppose it will get better. Software development always goes that way. After initial release you are SUPPOSED to go back through and see what you can improve upon.

    Same theory with web design. Go back through and figure out what you need to speed up your page while maintaining current design.

  6. I’m sorry, but WordPress, and “blogging” are rather uninteresting. The fact that less than 3% of the population can or has tried to do something large doesn’t make it great. I mean, I can’t ride a unicycle across a highwire while balancing little people on my shoulders, but it’s not something very useful or desireable either. *shrug*

    Oh, and then there are all of the WordPress “Errors Connecting to Database. . .”

    1. Those “Errors connecting to database” are usually issues with shared hosting and have nothing to do with WordPress itself. Any DB intensive app (i.e. a site with lots of hits) on a crappy shared host is subject to the same thing. I’m surprised you found your way on to the Internet…

  7. I’m just about to turn 23 and possibly looking for VC for a new branch of a company I started at 18 🙂 Any takers?

  8. It’s not about the money, it’s about the freedom. Great work man, you’re an inspiration! 🙂

  9. Great to see folks such as Nate doing what he loves. There’s nothing better than creating your own destiny.

    Anyway, I got started doing some cool things well before my 20s — but I wasn’t “changing the web”. Some things I’m grateful for are opportunities to correspond with the likes of Bill Gates and other CEOs. I’ve always been a learner, and I’ve been fortunate to learn from some great people.

    1. Hey Ronald, thanks for the comment. You are right – it is such an incredible feeling to feel like I am creating my own destiny. That is awesome that you have corresponded with some big name CEO’s in the tech world. Learning from greatness inspires greatness!

  10. I donated after I fell in love with WordPress and he actaully sent me an email saying thank you. That’s pretty cool considering I only sent $50.

  11. Very inspiring quotes in this post. I feel I have the same mentality toward programming. I have never heard of Matt before in my life until reading this. But I certainly know of what WordPress is.

    I am a fellow developer who just turned 25 on Saturday Night!

    I dont agree with some people knocking down the software (Hank). Even though the code might be too many lines, or may be hacked all to hell, he still made it work and obviously it works well enough to be widely adopted. Programming is not at all about limiting the lines of code. Some people program more efficiently by breaking it apart in a manner that seems clean and logical to them.

    Please feel free to drop by my web app at I love programming it every night and will maintain focusing on the application rather than making money.

    1. Happy Birthday to you, Dave! I also agree with you that there are different ways to determine a piece of software’s success. The fact that WordPress has been so widely adopted is clearly because it has so much value and it performs correctly most of the time. Granted, no software is perfect, but WordPress is certainly better than any other weblog solution right now, and I think that the fact that most A-list bloggers use it is a clear indication.

      1. Look at myspace. It is one of the most unorganized buggy piece of crap ever written.

        Most of their issues are because of load on their servers, but they handle it and the user can just try again.

        It still has very nice features. I just wish it was as cleanly written and designed as

        All of the apps that I wrote are like myspace in the sense that you program an enormous amount of ideas into an application, do it well, and then see if it goes anywhere by your users, then you can add to it or fix bugs. Web programming is all about taking one idea and expanding to all the little subset functionalities that takes a script and turns it into a widely used application like wordpress.

        Many web developers need to look at open source examples and think about how it would be sweet to have such functionalities in their application. I am sure Matt did a lot of that and thats why his code might be a little sloppy because he might have used open source scripts.

  12. Way way back in the day, by the time a man or woman was 21 or 23 he or she had lived most their life already and did many of the major accomplishments they would get to do. Today, many 21 year olds, due to the nature of society are still getting their feet wet in the ‘real world’ and have no idea what they are capable of, much less reach those aspirations. Kudos to those who realize what they can do and go forth and do it. Some people never do. At 21 or 61.

  13. I agree that when you look too much at age it can become limiting and ultimately lead you nowhere. You have to try to be inspired by the fact that if he can do it at 21 then there’s no barrier to entry for you. At 32 I feel like I’m just getting started.

    1. Frank, I totally agree. Any observation about another can ultimately either be inspiring or intimidating, and the difference simply comes down to a person’s attitude. Not to mention, their desire for success wil ultimately be one of constant inspiration or none at all.

  14. . . .my point still stands. WordPress isn’t impressive. Not to mention, the entire thing could be written in RoR in a matter of minutes (a bit of hyperbole there). Blogging is uninteresting and the entire “advent” of it while empowering for others that know no better, is still pretty much, eh. . .ZZZZzzzzzzzzzz

    1. I was very surprised to learn that Matt was so young, but at the same time, it almost made sense. I mean, look at what young people are doing on the Net these days… It really is incredible. The successful entrepreneur is getting younger and younger.

  15. Kamy, you’re the second person to post about freedom being more important than money. I agree–it’s one of the foundational truths of my country after all. But I’m not sure that’s Matt’s point.

    He talks about “the WordPress value to the community.” A big part of what he enjoys about WordPress seems to be the service it provides to others, the freedom it provides to others.

  16. Great post Nate.
    Yeah, Matt is definitely an inspiration to all young entrepreneurs.

    Hmm… what was I doing at 23? I guess, reading your blog 😉 …and hopefully changing the world a little bit.

  17. . . .the concept of blogging hurts my head. . .or rather the “enamoration” with it.

    . . .everyone take a second to think. Is it really that special? I mean really. . .?

    1. I hope you are joking. Blogging has changed the way in which people digest information, as well as the immediate availability of information and news. Take this years Macworld event in San Francisco where they unveiled the iPhone… bloggers were reporting live from the scene on the story WAY before mainstream news got ahold of any of the information. Blogging has allowed people all over the world to reach one another and turn their ideas and opinions into subject matter to be read by ANYONE. I would say blogging IS really “that special.”

  18. 21 years old?! It’s amazing to think that somebody so young has already turned themselves into a great success. It encourages me to get started on several projects I have brewing around my head at the ripe age of 18. 🙂

    1. Kyle, I totally agree. Young Internet entrepreneurs like Matt Mullenweg and Mark Zuckerberg should be motivation to ANYONE looking to make a difference. The only limiting factor for anyone is their attitude! That’s more reason that ever to stay positive and aim for the stars!

  19. Oh, it’s *absolutely* amazing to think that someone has made themselves so relevant at the age of 21. My confusion simply comes from the fact that it’s blogging. I suppose my problem is more with the perceived awe at the “format” than whether or not it’s relevant. I mean if relevance is based solely on the number of people *using*, then Matt could have been a “dealer” at 21 and achieved the same thing. Granted, that’s a strong comparison, but hopefully it gets the point across. So then the question: How is blogging any different (or more special) than what, say, has been going on the last 10 years in the e-reporting world? And, is it *really* as amazing a thing as people “worship” it as?

    An opinion is simply an opinion, but taking a step back, I just don’t see it. In a room full of purple people, I’ve obviously missed something.

  20. blogging? what you’ve missed is the implication of blogging. It’s still happening–but do you realize what is happening? For the first time, we are just a few years out from a marketplace in publishing where the products of the five major publishing houses and the newspapers (who are already feeling it) will be in direct competition with free content. The publishing industry is just beginning to get turned upside-down.

  21. Ok, that makes a little more sense. I suppose I’ve been too caught up in the technical aspects (or lack thereof) of what’s going on to appreciate any kind of truly perceivable social implications. The fact that it’s affecting the publishing industry helps me to understand that the awe isn’t with the amazingly simplistic format, but with the ability to bypass “the man” so to speak. Is that even a remotely accurate assessment?

    In my mind I suppose it’s accurate to say that it’s like giving someone a pen and paper during the advent “moveable type”. Technologically it’s unamazing and nowhere near the power of moveable type, but socially I suppose it is empowering.

  22. I wouldn’t say blogs allow us to bypass the big house publishers, so much as have a chance of competing with them more easily honestly. Writers don’t have to follow their rules. On the other hand, a lot of their rules are really good.

    The other difference is the interactive nature of blogs. If you and I had read Nate’s article in Wired magazine, we would have just flipped the page and taken another sip of coffee. At best we would have shown the article to a friend and said, “Hey, check this out.” But here, we get to engage each other.

  23. So I am the VC lucky enough to have the chance to be backing Matt.

    When I first met Matt I couldn’t (legally) buy him a drink. But it didn’t take long to figure out that he is a pretty special entrepreneur. When I ultimately invested in Matt’s company, a number of colleagues commented on how much Matt had to learn. The truth of the matter is that I think I’ve learned more from backing Matt than vice versa.

    And, ironically coming from a VC, the fact that Matt is driven first and foremost by his passion for what he does is not just endearing but is the attribute that makes him most compelling as an entrepreneur to back. If I were to go back through our investments over the last 10 years I’d bet that this is a common trait amongst our most successful entrepreneurs, whether it be JJ Allaire (Allaire), Danny Lewin (Akamai) or Bob Langer (a highly decorated MIT prof we’ve backed about 10 times now).

    Thank you Matt!

  24. Not only has he made a huge difference on the net, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him drag another person through the mud. Matt seems fairly reserved and pleasant. Sounds like a great guy.

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