If you’ve ever blogged, chances are you’ve used WordPress, the free and open-source content-management system used by more than 60 million websites. The project was co-founded by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little and initially released in 2003 when Mullenweg was just 20 years old.
Today, Mullenweg is founder and CEO of Automattic, a distributed company that includes the WordPress development team and supports a host of mostly open services, including the ubiquitous blog tool. Automattic has raised $317 million and acquired 17 companies over the past decade, according to CrunchBase. Its current valuation is reportedly $1.2 billion.
Born in Houston, Texas, Mullenweg dropped out of college and spent just a year working for CNET before devoting himself fulltime to developing WordPress. Not only does the guy have some serious entrepreneur chops, he’s wise beyond his years.
A couple of years ago he was asked for advice on starting a profitable business during a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). I thought his response was insightful, somewhat counterintuitive, and mostly consistent with my own outspoken opinion on the subject. His five-part answer is in quotes; the rest of the commentary is mine.
“It’s really hard not to be distracted by the things you think you should be doing, or that you see other businesses doing, and focus in on what actually matters to your chosen business day in and day out.”
While your hearts are in the right place, perhaps the single biggest threat to your success is that the vast majority of you are blindly following the status quo instead of carving your own path. Forget everyone else’s habits and advice on what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. It’s your career and your business. Use your own head and your own heart and do what you think is right.
“It's easy to be very busy but not get anything done that you'll look back a year from now and say was worthwhile.”
Let’s face it. A lot of what we do is either busy work or just plain slacking off when we should be working. You know it, I know it, we all know it … with one exception. Real entrepreneurs driven to create thriving businesses don’t do that. They simply don’t. They work hard, they work smart, and they focus on making great products.
Granted, it’s hard to do that, but that’s what they do. They don’t do what’s easy. They do what’s hard.
“It's good to work someplace before starting something on your own.”
I’m thinking a lot of you have never heard a broken record repeating the same riff over and over, but I talk about this so much, that’s what I’m starting to sound like. I’m just glad to hear someone like Mullenweg say it for a change.
There’s so much to experience, so many opportunities, and so many potential partners and mentors to meet in the working world it isn’t funny. Gaining that exposure, knowledge, and experience only increases your chances of making it on your own.
“If you can bootstrap without investment you'll have more control. But make sure you'll drive yourself to higher and higher performance and growth the same way someone external would.”
Those words describe an aspect of venture funding that nobody ever thinks about. It’s more than just capital. It’s incredibly valuable feedback, validation, and oversight – all of which are hard if not impossible to come by without outside investors.
Related: Are You a Success Story? Why Not?
Besides, I think control is a double-edged sword that can work for or against you. Who is to say who’s right, you or them? It’s always good to have outside perspective. And these days, when entrepreneurs have more leverage than ever before, you can retain voting rights. That just might be the best of both worlds.
“You'll get a lot of contradictory advice, and often neither side is wrong.”
This, in a nutshell, is the big problem with all the generic online and self-help style advice that the mainstream entrepreneurial crowd seems to thrive on these days. You’ve got to admit, if one article, book, coach, or consultant says one thing, you won’t have to look very far to find another that says the opposite.
The question is, how do you process that? The answer is you don’t. You simply don’t need it. Instead of casting a wide net for advice, find a handful of smart, close friends, investors, or mentors you trust and keep your sphere of influence small. There’s absolutely no reason to dilute the quality of advice by going too far afield. Absolutely none.
Besides, at some point you have to trust your own reasoning and gut to make the right decision. I know that sounds scary, but it isn’t permanent. You get to make mistakes, learn what works and what doesn’t, rinse and repeat. That’s the beauty of life … and entrepreneurship. Carve your own path. After all, it is your life.