Persona Non Grata – 10 Years as a WordPress Entrepreneur

This week marks 10 years since I started Edublogs and became one of the earliest WordPress entrepreneurs. Ten years, five offices, six products and about a bazillion WP dramas later… This is my story.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve got issues. Issues with authority, popularity, inclusivity, regular-ways-of-doing-business, independence and, erm, polite society.

Along with unfairness, corruption, bullying and the stinking mess that a project like WordPress can become.

Which is what this post is about: 10 years of WordPress and me. From the launch of Edublogs through to a bunch of crazy projects to where we are today at WPMU DEV, and all the insane, screwy, mad, bad and rad things that have happened along the way.

Consider it part history, part mea cupla and part great big complain.

Because? Why not. I’ve got to get this off my chest at some point, I guess, and now is as good a time as any.

So…

Let’s start with the fundamentals. For example, I don’t think this is how you’d usually court favor with your leading trade publication:

“from: James Farmer 
to: Jeff Chandler 
date: Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 9:23 AM
subject: Re: WordPress.org Plugin Reviews

Hey Jeff.

F*ck you.

Maybe you should ask your own boss about publicly campaigning for Jetpack to be rated higher. Remember that? Very ‘optional’ I’m sure.

Actually, don’t bother about answering that, if you guys want to be the new Candy/Daily/Ahole WP site out there then go for your life… for as long as you continue to be some egomaniacal rich kids pet project at least.

Also, I recommend that you ask twatt to make sure he gets any article fully lawyered before you hit publish, Candy wasn’t worth suing, you guys are.

Don’t email me again.”

But then again, I had form:

“from: James Farmer 
to: Brian Krogsgard,
Ryan Imel
date: Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 5:16 PM
subject: Re: Incsub.com Contact: WPCandy article on Video User Manuals and WPMU DEV

The pair of ya are nasty pieces of work – ooo, i’ve published some libelous bullshit and now I’m gonna ask for comment after the fact – that makes you a c*nt Brian, that’s not how it works in the world, it’s not fair or nice, and it’s plain not legal – if you guys were worth going after, believe me I’d be there with bells on.

And Ryan, same for you and your entertaining of nasty little wankers like that donnacha chap, it’s just not ok, in any system, to let that level of libel, let alone simple abuse, flourish within your controls… especially when asked to check it… you wouldn’t find a reputable media outlet doing it, you won’t find us doing it, it’s just f*cked up from both a human and a legal perspective.

Hope you guys go the same way as valleywag, if not, and you carry on both promoting and entertaining the sort of shit you have been doing, I hope you never do make it to the point where it’s worthwhile me taking the time to introduce you to my lawyers.

Regardless, until such time that either of those things play out, f*ck off.”

And hey, if that doesn’t do the job why not stick it to the man himself:

“from: James Farmer
to: Matt Mullenweg
date: Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:37 AM
subject: Re: wp-plugins.org

Hi Matt,

First up that’s just plain rude, do you honestly think it’s cool to
send people one liners like that?

Second, what makes you think you have the right to demand private
business info from me? I wouldn’t *dream* of demanding that you tell
me anything regarding Automattic’s business plans :/”

Oh, and then there’s just a few of the published articles, too:

Along with no shortage of other material, from WordCamp blowouts to forum fallouts.

Join me on a trip down memory lane, where I overreact and get all full-on with people while they try to systematically crush me in return. It’s going to be a hoot, promise!

… It Begins

July 31st, 2005 wasn’t my first experience with WordPress. I’d already moved my first blog over to the platform from Dave Winer’s Radio Userland a year or so before. But it was the first time I had done anything truly meaningful: pairing the revamped WordPress MU platform with the domain edublogs.org that I’d bought on a whim a year or so before.

The original edublogs.org - that's a nifty theme I think you'll agree.
The original edublogs.org – that’s a nifty theme I think you’ll agree.

It was exhilarating making something that people were actually using.

I’d go to bed at night and wake up with a dozen new sites having been created. After a couple of years of desperately hoping for comments and pingbacks from other blogs, this was like attention / feedback crack.

It still is.

And like all good addicts I wanted more.

So along came uniblogs.org, learnerblogs.org and eslblogs.org (I figured people wanted their own spaces. Turns out they kinda didn’t…).

And BlogSavvy (your decidedly un-savvy blog consultant, which never made a penny beyond the $4k I eventually sold it for) and a whole new world as probably one of the first online community editors around at The Age newspaper.

citizentheage
Nice hat!

Which was, of course, a great place to upset the mainstream and generally make myself unpopular – something I was becoming increasingly good at because, well, I was always after the next hit.

Question: positive or negative? Which is better? Not as simple as it first sounds.

Bathing in acclaim and respect, dealing with sycophants and sitting on laurels, or righteous anger and rage, “me against the world,” to be the odd one out, the fiercely independent underdog.

Or the ideal, the respect of your peers for being a maverick, for standing up against the norm, for righting a wrong or speaking a truth even if the vast majority are just full of hate for you.

Honestly, to this day, I have no idea. I guess both would be nice, but at least I’d started the process of trying things with about a 25% hit rate and upsetting folk in the progress.

All Roads Lead to ‘Matt

Which was when I got an offer to join Automattic :)

I kid you not, dear reader, I had a bona fide discussion with Toni and Matt about becoming, I dunno, employee #12 or something and trading in Edublogs for taking a teeny stake in the empire while it was still being established. They offered me something like 0.2% or “a few hundred k” for the site. I countered with 1% or “a million dollars” [raises pinky] and they realised I was obviously a mercenary swine and didn’t make a counter offer.

On reflection, I was massively flattered but wanted to do my own thing and so largely made myself unhirable. I think I did us both a favour.

james+matt
<a href="https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/automattic-acquires-incsub/">During our weekly turkish bath</a>, did you know that one *major* WP CEO received an email about this asking if they should be concerned :D

That was far, far from the end of our interactions, although I’d largely say it was the start of the process where I’d go from potential hire to becoming absolutely untouchable.

Although, ironically, it wasn’t actually me that really got the skids on – that was my co-founder.

Making the Jump – Incsub, WPMU DEV and the GPL

My journey from working in a backyard shed to CEO was covered when Rae interviewed me last year about the start of the company, so I won’t go into it here (this being strictly a mea culpa / salacious gossip / catharsis / semi-decent-story post).

But TL;DR: I started Incsub as a MU consultancy after getting a gig completely by accident. It enabled me to jump from theage.com.au and, with my co-founder Andrew who had started wpmudev.org as place to share WordPress MultiUser plugins, we turned that into the site that today, along with Edublogs, is at the core of our business of 60-odd people.

And things were going so well I even had my very own wordpress.org blog and the post is still there (although it’s now attributed to Ryan – I wrote it, as you can probably tell by excessive comma and parenthesis usage). I organized and ran the first ever WordCamp in the Southern Hemisphere and everything was going great buns until… You guessed it, some shitty conversation about the GPL.

[ironic aside]
For the uninitiated amongst you, Matt is probably the most outspoken and intense of GPL advocates, single handedly forcing WP behemoth Envato, for example, to adopt the license, although a measly ~3% have done so. But I digress…
[/ironic aside]

Basically, as soon as we really went for it in terms of selling premium plugins, we got called on our lack of license, followed by a disagreement between me and Andrew over whether we should / could do GPL (I was for, backed by a variety of reasons, some cynical) and I lost. The subsequent emails saw me acting a lot like Del Boy, promoting some more plugins in a somewhat incendiary fashion and just being a bit of a twat about it in general.

Four months later in June 2009, I won the argument and we released all of our stuff under the only license we’ve ever used, and continued to use till this day, GPL.

But the damage was done. Lots. Here’s a highlight reel.

By the end of June, Matt was concerned about why we wanted to buy wp-plugins.org… (that’s when I was less than polite in the email up top)

By October 2009, there was us “copying” the wp.org website

To this day, I struggle to tell the difference ;)

Then, two months later, there was the blacklist

Yep, by November 2009 we were quite literally scrubbed from the project. This I didn’t take so well.

WPMU, We’ll Teach You

And as a coup de grace, in January 2010 – which was surely hoped to put us out of business – he renamed ‘WordPress MU’ (the basis of WPMU, as in ‘WPMU DEV’) to WordPress Mulitsite.

Bang goes your brandname, huh.

ron735

Now I do have some confessions to make here throughout the whole sorry debacle. I did try to get this blog onto the WordPress Planet in exchange for GPL-ness (boooo). I didn’t particularly mind us looking quite similar to the wordpress.org website and it was teensyweeny deliberate (hisss), the blacklisting made me both spitting mad and played into all my various outsider-unloved-unpopular-screw-you traits so I was less than cooperative (shaaaame) and also, as soon as I found out about the WordPressMS thing, was so, so stressed and enraged (i.e. that’s my business you’re destroying!) that I went out and bought some WordPress domain names, like wordpressms.org (which I offered to give back, along with a $1000 donation to the foundation by way of saying sorry… They just expired though).

Oh, and some other stuff about not contributing in ways he thought we should, our wrap sheet eternal.

Immature? Yep. Proud of? Nope. Understandable? Perhaps.

Desperation

But in my defence and perhaps to explain it better, things were not good in my world at that time.

Leaving aside any of the personal stuff (we all have that, right?), the GFC had completely routed the “Incsub” consultancy business… Nobody was gonna pay a bunch of clowns like us six figure sums to do massive MU installs anymore, and besides, the real agencies had gotten into the business so we were screwed there anyway.

And then there was Edublogs, which was doing what it always had done (not make any money), and now was managing it on a much more significant and scary scale.

And the not inconsiderable matter that working with my co-founder was getting increasingly difficult for me (and hey, possibly for him – running yourself into the ground with the leading figure of your industry isn’t exactly what you want your biz dev guy doing).

And Matt was about to “discontinue” MU.

Not. Good. At. All.

I was pretty scared. We needed alternative revenue streams, fast!

So I thought, why not try out some other revenue streams? After all, I’ve got the (25%) Midas touch, right? Um, maybe not.

Business-Services-Theme

WP.MU (<3 the domain, :( the business)

It was a right PiTA to install Multsite, bbPress and BuddyPress, so we bundled them all together with our premium plugins, wrote an installer and charged people something daft like $295 to run it.

Net result: ~3 sales a month and a nightmare to maintain.

Devs literally begged me to get off the project. Fail #1.

Blogs.mu

BLOGS.MU – Network Networks!

Welcome to the “Inception” of WordPress where you could start your own Multisite network, just like WordPress.com.

In my mind, this was a crucial development as it was just like Edublogs Campus (hosted Multisite installs) and so somebody would do it and it’d kill Campus, so I might as well nail it.

Needless to say, nobody actually wanted to do this and it only resulted in massive failure, the most interesting outcome of which was a network of bacon blogs ;)

You know what’d be amazing? A network of networks of networks! Fail #2.

WP-Plugins

WP Plugins – Allllmost a good idea

The original CodeCanyon, but without the massive community and necessary quota of Ta’eeds ;)

Also didn’t help that we were setting up a company to compete with ourselves (hmmm, note to self).

Possibly the best thing that came out of this (besides paying theme authors well over 250k while it lived) was that lots of people congratulated Matt on the idea, heh.

Fail #3.

newbuddydress

BuddyDress – Ouch

Themes for BuddyPress! What could possibly go wrong?

Howabout barely anyone using BuddyPress, and regular WP themes working with it?

Oh yeh, that’d do it.

Never start a business with a pun. Honestly, don’t do that.

And that’s Fail #4.

But fortunately, throughout all this, WPMU DEV was there being it’s trusty ol’ self, keeping us afloat.

And, perhaps equally benevolently, at one point it dawned on me that this kind of insane-scatter-gun approach to building a business wasn’t perhaps what we should be doing (or, at the very least, we should consider them a little more beforehand).

But at least it distracted me from what was becoming a serious problem in WP land, at least until it all went nuts again.

The WP Candy Crush Saga

And then came WP Candy. For those of you who never had the pleasure, it was a kind of gossip / trash / valleywag publication that eventually (somewhat hilariously) managed to stitch up most of its loyal supporters by promising a glossy quarterly publication, taking lots of cash for it, and then proceeding to produce only two of them, allegedly (I have it only on third party information).

Anyway, into the meat!

Without rehashing the arguments (I don’t want to get back into them, for a start) everybody’s favourite dutch oven decided to “out” us for having stolen some code (it wasn’t stolen, a rogue developer, already fired, had nicked it as the developer himself acknowledged at length) for which we apologized and  immediately killed the plugin, which was competing with his SEO one.

I wonder how much more Matt will like me…

… if I really go after these guys.

And he proceeded to go on about it for ages (he’s still picking on us at all opportunities, which are unfortunately many, even though we came to a “gentlemens” agreement to remove the corresponding posts) and provoke a great many nasty comments, which I probably didn’t help by getting involved with and also being nasty. Haters, eh.

And then some real dufus from just round the corner here in Melbourne decided he’d try to go one better (him and a mate even had a go at doing it again down the track, to some success) which needless to say, they also published and it was, as they say, on for young and old.

Which, to be frank, was absolutely horrid.

And not just for me either, we were sponsoring WordCamps and staff were getting grief at them. The company as a whole felt like a very sad and difficult place to be and the sheer injustice of it all was just gut wrenching.

Granted, I’d walked right into this. You piss off the guy who goes to more WordCamps than any other and has more power than anyone else and it’s to be expected really. And then my comment etiquette is somewhat lacking (I’ve heard “James should stop trolling people” more than I’d like to from our own staff. Ouch).

But also, by this point it was evident that Matt had been doing the rounds essentially trashing us at every possible opportunity (or at least it felt like that. I was getting lots of reports from attendees along the lines of “he really doesn’t like you” etc.) and what was to become our long hard slog up the WordPress coalface had well and truly begun…

Talk to the Hand

… Which has been a mixture of outright hostility and simple, good old fashioned ignoring the hell out of us.

Sometimes the only thing worse than being talked about is… Yeh, you know the rest. And Woo managed to pull that off stupendously with their 2011 Wooville:

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.01.52 pm

Yeh, we were more about plugins than themes, so I’m probably being picky here… But neither was WP Candy and this blog was (and still is) by far the biggest WP blog on the web if we’re gonna get all Alexa on ya.

Anyway, it’s worth including this one just ‘cos of the cheeky Matt helicopter parenting. Maybe we’re in the naughty corner?

Then there’s the official news site for WordPress, WP Tavern, also owned by Matt, whom we cite regularly and frequently (check out how much of your referral traffic comes from The WhiP, guys), and that’s despite Jeff being, um, intransigent. How do I know that? Well, he straight out said it (it’s in a comment somewhere, should have bookmarked it).

Regardless, there’s not a single link to us in a single post in the entire past year on WP Tavern. I think that’s evidence enough.

In fact the only way we’ve received any sort of a mention anywhere was with massive doses of condescension in last year’s State of the Word for contributing 5% of our staffing to the wordpress.org Support Forums. It was surprising, apparently.

Then there was us being actually banned from sponsoring WordCamps.

Yes, you heard me correctly, banned from sponsoring events.

I’d take the below with a pinch of salt (i.e. they are doubtless full of lies), but the gist is there:

I think we were trying to sponsor Otto to come over, if I remember correctly
I think we were trying to sponsor Otto to come over, if I remember correctly
But clearly there was uproar at the prospect... I wonder who from ;)
But clearly there was uproar at the prospect… I wonder who from ;)

And that’s at the same time that we released by far the most ambitious WordPress theme concept out there: Upfront.

The silence has been deafening.

And, to a large degree, until this point I’ve held it together, not bothered to make a big deal out of it and just got on with my work.

But if the various dramas around Thesis.com show anything, it’s that staying quiet and being a good little boy doesn’t cut it… As it would appear, allegedly, that the man in question is completely happy to use $100,000 of his investors money just to get back at someone he’s had a conflict with years ago.

“Do You Think This’ll be OK With Matt?”

OK, enough about Matt, let’s have a look at perhaps the most insidious issue we’ve had to face: the fact that so, so, so many of the people in WordPress have refused to do any work with us.

To quote Douglas Murray, out of context but very much on point, from 2011:

Self-censorship is the most invidious and successful type of censorship – not just because it is self-reinforcing but because once it is people invent reasons to cover for themselves.

And I suppose that’s the problem for us. It’s not so much that there’s an active campaign out there (everybody needs a bogeyman, although thanks to the aforementioned Chris Pearson maybe we’re only second on the list) but the cogs are most definitely in motion.

Just from my personal experience:

  • 2012 – Company looking towards partnership, even acquisition, backs out because of “relationship with Matt”
  • 2013 – Major exec at major WP firm calls us “dangerous” over coffee with me and says, “You’ve got to be careful”
  • 2014 – Another major exec at same firm backs him up on that, saying “you understand, though”
  • 2015 – Not 3 yards from where I write this, a huuuge VIP customer concludes that they wouldn’t want to work with us as “it might upset Matt”

And those are just the ones I get to hear about :( How many other deals, opportunities, links or chances have we missed out on? How often and how much do we have to go it on our own? How long does this go on for?

I know the WP community can be an absolute pile of stinking crap, apart from when you’re being nice to each other of course, but guys, try being on the end of it, undeservedly, for six long, long years.

Our in-house illustrator is not without a sense of humour
Our in-house illustrator is not without a sense of humour

What Have We Done to Deserve It?

So I’ve scoured my emails, posts, comments and even my conscience, to come up with a pretty conclusive list of the things we’ve (I’ve) done wrong:

  • Back in the day we hosted, for our paid members, a single, modified GPL plugin. It was clearly stated as such and we made a donation to say thanks
  • We also hosted, for our paid members (and then for free), a bunch of GPL themes, which were heavily modified for Multisite use, and which our members demanded we keep and update accordingly ‘cos they found them so useful
  • We didn’t contribute, as Matt would have liked, to some specific stuff he thought we should have contributed to
  • We took four months before selecting our first license, which was GPL, and I was a bit of a pain over adopting it

I’d like to point out that all of the above are actually “OK.”

  • A rogue developer copied some work (and owned up to it). We then took all appropriate steps to rectify the situation
  • I wrote some stuff that was overly troll-ish and snarky

None of which is that bad, is it?

Or maybe it is.

Which Leaves Us…

If only I knew where.

Some days I honestly think “Screw it, I’ll just get a GM in and go and do something completely different.” Other days I think “I’ll show ’em, we’ll show ’em, that stuff just comes round,” and mostly I probably wonder whether, if I was running some successful company where everybody loved us, if I could actually deal with that.

And then other days, completely out of the blue, you see a comment on an utterly unrelated post, in July 2015, that makes you want to spend a couple of days putting the record straight.

This was like a gigantic karmic gift saying “yes, you really should write that post.” Thanks Donnacha, word up!

WP Tavern, July 18th 2015 - thanks Donnacha, I needed the motivation to finish this :)
WP Tavern, July 18th 2015 – a-ston-ish-ing.

But in terms of my decision, my life, my choices… Man, it’s hard to tell.

Maybe I’m right where I am out of choice as much as circumstance. Maybe I’m happiest re-living ostracised kid or maverick outsider. Maybe I’m happiest unhappy.

But regardless of all that, I do know that 10 years is a significant amount of time do anything, especially as an entrepreneur, and it’s at least worth a post of note about it. Writing helps.

I mean, if we’re going to struggle through another 10 years in an ongoing death grip until one of us falls under a car, gives up or does something else, we might as well do it knowing exactly where we stand.

And at least now, I can point people to something that explains exactly the reason why I stand there.

73 Responses

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    Hi

    Seriously, interesting reading. For someone not in the know, it’s sort of depressing to think that WordPress isn’t immune from ill advised influence and control. But at a day to day level, I use WordPress – as do millions of others. BUT I also subscribe annually to you guys, and that’s what makes the difference for me. The products and services you provide in return for that subscription.

    I’m sure there are mistakes we all make along life’s journey, including ‘Matt’. But my mistakes (usually) have little influence and repercussions, that’s not the case for those wielding such influence.

    For what it’s worth, from my selfish perspective, keep up the great work for as long as you can please. You’ll never be liked by everyone (as you well know) so that’s their loss, not yours :- )

    It’s a real shame that ‘Matt’ isn’t wondering just what further great things might have been achieved for the WordPress community if he hadn’t been obstructive in the way you describe, or more forgiving of your alleged failings.

    • DEV MAN’s Apprentice

      Hi esadarap!

      I think one of the most amazing things about the WordPress community is that it contains so many different people, with so many different experiences. Dissent can be as healthy as agreement in a community this large, if it keeps things moving forward and encourages conversation.

      I think I can speak for our team when I say the respect of our members, like you, is far more valuable to us than anyone else. We appreciate your kind words.

  • New Recruit

    You should consider giving a big present to the person/people who tried to talk you out of this post. Most of us don’t know or care to know about all this drama. Like the HBO show ‘Silicon Valley’ you have managed replace the efficient and professional image of your company with an image of petulance and immaturity. This is not something I can now ‘unknow’. Too bad.

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    I see a book and then movie in the future…actually just get the screen play done…make sure you get there first. :) WP like microsoft, apple and other big names…usually end up on the big screen because of interesting people, AND your shit is entertaining. Thanks for the great read. Member for a few years now…keep up the great work.

  • New Recruit

    Congrats on 10 years, and thank you for having everything in your directory and your products be 100% GPL.

    FWIW, I haven’t thought about WPMUdev in a while except when I get pings from the blog. (And occasionally when at a WordCamp who says they “subscribe to WordPress for $300 a year for the cool plugins” — but that confusion is way less common now that the logo and domain issues are in the past.)

    • The Bug Hunter

      Matt thanks for your eye on the prize re. GPL… and for taking the opportunity to keep a civil tone in response here (as James has rather exhaustively shown, its not always easy)… that said, it seems that James is making genuine effort to be open while also being authentic… more importantly, its good that the focus is upon identifying a path forward that ultimately serves the needs of multisite users (both present and future).

      Also, its perhaps worth mentioning that WordPressMultisite.com was recently transferred to the WordPress Foundation after having been released from registration. At the time, I had no idea about all this back story… I just thought it would be good to have that name well taken care of so I arranged the transfer… point is, this is a real-world effect of James’ effort to choose a different path… grokin’ it?

      Kind Regards, Max

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    This is kinda scary… :? And sad. But… KInd of normal, too, I guess.

    Mostly, the sad part is where it forces you to realize that no matter how cool That Thing You Love is, communities of humans will always involved politics and backbiting and disagreement and heated tempers and such. But, it’s also kind of sad how it makes me think “I’m kind of glad I don’t have as much time to be as involved in the community as I might like sometimes – I don’t want to be in this kind of crossfire.”

    Also, it’s scary, because WPMUDev makes my WordPress life MUCH better and easier, and any idea of it being imperilled is… Unsettling. I don’t, as a rule, panic – but if I were to consider taking up panicking, “Lose WPMUDev” might be a subject on the list of things I’d consider panicking about.

    On UpFront, though… I keep thinking “Man, I really need a few free days to really familiarize myself with this, because I’d love to use it for this client project…” but, so far, free time has been not forthcoming. So, when you say the response has been deafening silence… It’s not going away is it? I love the idea, it’s just… The first time you hit a wall of “Wait, why can’t I make it do this?” in considering a new theme for a client project, with a looming deadline, you fall back to that theme you don’t -love- but work well with, thinking “Oh well, at least I know I can make this one do what I need on a timeline.”

    I want UpFront to be that easy – I want to be able to show clients “Ok, look, I’m going to use this theme, then you can make all these changes yourself, and just call me in for the big stuff.” but, until I can answer most of their “Wait, how do I do this?” questions, I can’t. And, for me, at least, UpFront hasn’t been -quite- as “Ah ha! This is super-easy!” as it looked up front (NPI). I get that that comes with the power included in it, but the end result is I still need to make time to learn it.

    How did this comment get so long? :-/

  • New Recruit

    I will say that I have a fine appreciation for someone who can write a good flaming email. In any case, good luck man. I feel like I had to step out of the “WordPress Community” for some similar-feeling reasons. I get that some people don’t like others but there’s really no reason to go all revenge porn on them for a decade. I left because there’s only so much a person can handle before they decide it’s really not worth it anymore. The whole atmosphere isn’t sitting well with me and it feels ickier by the day.

  • The Crimson Coder

    Congrats on 10 years! There’s always two sides. Thanks for sharing yours. I rely heavily on WPMUdev and have for years now. I’m very glad you are there. Even if your plugins and themes came from wordpress.org (which they didn’t), I would still pay my annual dues. My clients and I need current products, continuity, compatibility and support. We get all of that from WPMUdev! You save me soooo much time! Thank you.

    Cheers for 10 more years!!

  • HummingBird

    I have been around for a couple of years, and some more around wordpress. Something I try to avoid is the WP forums, mainly because the people there seem to be harsh and uptight (or maybe because my troll-sense tickles a lot (even though I may be part troll sometimes). But, here everything is quite different (and polite!). But that might be the reason of why most of the communities are like that. The sense of belonging and self-righteousness that comes with the reputation/badges/post-count (yes, I’m looking at you StackOverflow). I feel that here, everything is different, because we are actually interested on solving, learning and making it work. For ourselves (as our income) or for a client (as our reputation/more income), and we know it’s not that easy and quite time consuming.
    Plus, having you guys here to have our backs it’s awesome. Not only for support, but for new ideas, insights and of course products. Money well invested. :)

    Kudos for the flaming mails. It’s hard to maintain the line of “politeness” in those kind of messages. Plus, are quite entertaining to read. As mentioned before, there are always two sides (at least) of a story, and it’s awesome that you’ve decided to share yours with us. Personally, I root for you and incsub. So if you need pitchforks for the angry mob, let me know I know a guy ;)

    • Hey Jorge,

      I just want to say, the way you described our forums couldn’t make me any happier. When I first got into WordPress, the way I learned a lot of the stuff I know now was in large part from reading various WP related forums and asking the odd question, I was more of a forum lurker. I found some(read: many) forums were quite harsh – to the point you would be afraid to ask a question.

      When I first became a member here I felt very comfortable asking questions, helping out, and creating discussions – which normally I would very very rarely do. So comfortable in-fact, I applied to spend all my time here :D lol.

      Anyways, I’m glad the forum atmosphere from the members point of view is still like it was when I first joined :) thanks for sharing. Enjoy the rest of your day!

      • Yeh, that’s awesome, a big part of starting the paid-for version of DEV was to give non-super-technical people (like myself) a better chance at getting things done than was available in the free forums – volunteers can only give so much of their time.

        Hoping to expand to offer an even better ‘non tech’ members experience (support, ideas, networking, resources) shortly too.

  • Syntax Hero

    LOL Coming from an Ex Employee of James like one other here, it’s a shame that people dont get to see the other side of him and thats how he looks after his team. Without going into too much detail he helped me out big time financially when my car died, I live miles from anywhere and it took one email to him and the issue became a non issue. Despite how he gets blasted for stuff way in the past today, I can tell you he is one of the best bosses you can want, and the team is awesome, is it a bed of roses, no as with any group of people, people piss each off sometimes, does it get fixed yes about 99% of the time. Not far below that business head of his is a heart of gold that if he can help someone he will.

    One of the best laughs I have had was the weekend most of the team flew into New York for a long weekend meeting up with the rest of the team face to face instead of our usual google hangouts. Maybe the drama doesn’t reach this part of europe but I never heard a bad word about WPMU DEV whilst I was there and doing a talk on multisite, which included a long list of wpmu dev products.

    Any way Keep it up mate, good luck for the next 10 and beyond.

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    James,
    For 32 years, I worked with an asshole entrepeneur just like you. I loved the guy! I’m now retired but it’s because of his tenacity, ego, and intuition, that I was a big player in a business that, over those 32 years has emerged into a $100 million dollar company (and growing). In a small town in northwest Pennsylvania! The man could crucify you or help you float on clouds. I read Tom Eagles comments and just couldn’t help mentioning my experience. That guy has a heart of gold and is one of the major benefactors of our small town and beyond. Yet, he would kick your ass from here to Sunday if he thought you were not doing what was right (to him). He’s 82 and still in the game.
    I have to confess I really enjoyed reading this post. It was almost like a fictional short story. I’m a just a regular guy, retired, trying to build a site on WordPress. It’s not so easy as everyone says. I’m not a code person…I’m trying to learn. After several tries with several different “no code needed” themes, I’ve decided to try Upfront. So far so good, but I have a lot to learn. I’ve said this before in other posts, but wanted to reaffirm here. I have never received, from anybody I’ve ever dealt with over the internet, such prompt, courteous and helpful service than I have from the WPMUDEV staff. That is to be commended!
    Back to asshole entrepeneurs. I don’t really care about all of the drama that’s going on regarding WordPress. Although, it makes for interesting reading. Only those involved in the diatribe think it means anything of value. It’s a power struggle based on the fear that drives “powerful” people. I just want an easy way to make a website to bring some happiness to the world. I think the majority of us who use WordPress would agree. You all, up there in the WP hierarchy, just need to be sure you don’t sacrifice your livelihood for your egos. And, please, don’t make me have to start all over once again.

    • Flash Drive

      ★ ★ Hi James, ★ ★

      I guess there’s a ★ rebel ★ part of all of us that enjoys being the one out in some way. That’s fine, but as one of my mentors explained to me long ago – “At times living like that requires a strong stomach.”

      ★I guess I’m trying to say I identify with you, and to some extent from experience empathize… but in no way do I sympathize.

      ✹You created this community here and aligned yourself with the great people that make what it is today. I’m pretty sure you’re eating a steak when you choose, a cold brew to wash it down, and a fine piece of whatever flavor tail suits your fancy at whatever time you fancy.

      Dude… ✹ ✹ THAT IS SUCCESS! ✹ ✹

      Being new here I’m just learning about things… ✹ One thing I instantly knew when first visiting this site for the first time less than two weeks ago is that I really need ☛ Your ☚ company’s support and better once you create higher levels.

      ✹This is the what and why I’m here – ✹ To regain success and financial freedom in my life with a web based BizDev effort using ☛ Your ☚ services to help.

      ✦ Want a project to help one of your new members and show how WPMUdev can grow a company quickly? I have a brand new transparent company, started with very small cash investment, about 8 domain names, a cloud server, and a subscription to your service. We have a working cloud based CRM we’ve been working on we’d like to integrate seamlessly into WPMU core, and offer a set of tools and services to make life easy for new business users.

      ✦ If not my project, there’s tons more here.

      ✦ My point is: Don’t sweat the small stuff… There’s plenty good I see you’ve done, and maybe digging into some other aspects of the company and your customers will keep you out of caring so much about what others are doing?

      There’s a method I have personally found helped me understand how my ★ Maverick ★ attitude affects others… ★ I learned to say “I’m sorry for”:_________ then I shut the fuck up and listen… The other person will fill in the blank – sometimes in gory detail. This gives me a chance to understand their side of how I can screw things up for myself – so i can learn over time to stop hitting myself in the head with a hammer.

      Congratulations on the 10 years, and a pleasure to meet you. It will be nice to have a chat some time soon. :)

      ╰☆╮╰☆╮David E Monk Sr╰☆╮╰☆╮

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    I don’t care about the arguments or the blacklisting or infighting. Both you and Matt have made my life a hell of a lot better with your products and although I’d never be able to give up WP, it would be impossible for me to give up WPMU and go back to WP without all the plugins that make life so much easier. Your company rocks, the customer service is excellent, and I love love love lurking in the forum, which is, hands down, one of the least catty and most helpful forums I’ve ever seen. I hope you stick around for eternity (not you in particular, James, because it’d be kind of weird to have a Skeletor-esque company head, but the company and products in general).

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    James,
    Congrats on 10 years, I myself am hitting my 8th in WordPress.

    This has been an entertainment to say the least, originally I was not a client of yours but over time I saw the usefulness of your plugins and your latest theme system, while at first Upfront was a pain, as I figured it out how it works it has been a great theme. I am now an annual member and plan to continue that especially after discovering the joys and heartaches of a MU site.

    I never paid much attention to the issues you had with Matt Mullenweg (MM) but the problems Chris faced from MM had crossed my path as I have been doing a podcast at WPPluginsAtoz.com for over 5 years now and had commented on the events in my show at the time.

    My comments here may land me in hot water with MM but as I get older I find I have fewer F**ks to give about these things and this is not one of them. I am a small developer with a great rep and there is little that can be done to damage that at least I think so, but I could be wrong.

    It sucks to see that you have been treated so poorly by the defacto leader of the WordPress community and the scary thing is that after reading comments on the tavern, over at Chris’s site and other places online how many people felt the need to hide behind anonymity due to what they felt the community and in particular MM would do to them is actually scary. As the saying goes if you want to find out who runs things ask about who is talked about in whispers.

    I think that comment by Donnacha you mentioned hits the nail closer than anyone realizes at the moment and to me he looks allot like MM in disguise especially with all the comments placed by him that just seem to mirror MM tactics as I see them now. As a person I have lost allot of respect for MM, but as a business leader I definitely see some forward thinking from him now, especially after reading all the comments this brew-ha-ha has stirred up.

    There are many in in the WordPress business community that should take notice of the events that have occurred here and prepare for the day Automatic is going to come after their market if they are not there already.

    As for the claims that you are some kind of A**H*le, well it is probably true to an extent but mostly due to you being an entrepreneur and building a business but pretty sure you are really a nice guy just someone with goals and plans and if being that A** is required to get the job done then that is what you become.

    If your ever in Victoria, Canada I’ll be happy to buy you a beer, we have some really great beer here.

    John Overall
    WPPluginsAtoZ.com

  • New Recruit

    Hi James,

    A humble comment from an almost aged guy and almost new cutomer for WPMUdev.
    Don’t waste your time thinking and writting about people that hate you. It seems you have a strong community of people loving you. Just be with them. It will make you happier and wealthier. Luckily most of WPMU susbscribers are not interested in WP politics.

    A final thought, it looks like politics is not your stronger point, which is good :). But. as in any big market, politics are part of the game, so… Why don’t recruit a “politically correct” guy taking care of the WP big guys?
    This could be a good thing for you and for the 376.000 WPMU members… Just a thought.

    All the best!
    Miquel

  • The Crimson Coder

    Wow! Love the language. I love knowing there is a real, live, colorful and volatile entrepreneur leader behind the signature line. Most of this goes way over my head, as I am just a little guy trying to help my lifestyle small biz owners stay afloat via wordpress sites. So, if it’s all the same to you, I will stay oblivious to the politics of all of this and continue to love what you do with wpmudev – incsub. I have been using wordpress for 7 yrs and it wasn’t until I ran across wpmudev a couple years or so ago that it turned into a satisfying, great thing that I could proudly promote. Namely, that when I use your plugins and themes there is no conflict. And if there is, help is just an email away. And that there is help – I don’t have to submit a help request to the plugin/theme that may or may not be answered ever. That I don’t have to be a developer to make it go now. You all make my life easier and make me look great along the way. No smears or innuendo will make me change my mind – the great actions of your team every day 24/7 speak louder than any words anywhere. Since I firmly believe that this commitment to quality of product, delivery and service starts at the top – kudos and please continue on! Go with Bruce Willis for the movie – ‘Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!’ Linda @iempoweru

  • Ben
    New Recruit

    You point out the logical flaws of why you are essentially blacklisted, but there’s no logic to it. If you are a jerk consistently enough, and to the right (wrong) people, guess what happens – people interact with you on an emotional level rather than a logical level. You may be in the right, you may produce good work, even great work, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve seen it happen to others – life isn’t fair for jerks. So ergo apply the logic – don’t be a jerk – stop it, reverse it, then see what happens. This is far from a “mea culpa” post.

    At least now I understand why WPMU changed to WP Network.

  • The Incredible Code Injector

    I would like to chime in on this topic, because I have relevant personal experience with running a large group that my being in charge of became a problem to many. I started a group called the Small Press Association in 2000. We grew to hundreds and then thousands of members in just a couple years. We accomplished massive things in the small press comics industry, including helping usher in POD printing, starting a hall of fame system and a yearly contest called Small Press Idol. Unfortunately, I had at one point aligned myself with a person who turned out to be not very nice, and, he managed to destroy people’s trust in me, and then eventually, my own health interfered and it became very clear that none of the things we built, could run if I was sick, and so it all fell apart.

    It took my stopping everything, then when able to, start one thing at a time from scratch, rebuilding on a basis of “This project has to be able to run without my involvement even if I am involved getting it going”. We still have many parts of what we used to be o rebuild, but doing things this way has gotten a new generation of creators interested, even if the old one lost faith in me.

    On occasion, people who had been around “back then” are starting to take notice and come back. I am using WPMU software to manage the building of many parts of the re-fitted ship that people had so completely jumped off of. I chose to move to wordpress software BECAUSE of WPMU software, because the cms I used to run on did not accomplish all I needed, and at this point, yours makes wordpress able to.

    It is not EASY to be a LEADING PERSONALITY to a movement of people. No matter how anyone who has gotten to there, there are going to be people who do not agree with, outright dislike, and otherways would like to see squished. The trick I learned, by almost dying in 2010, is that we can’t make the community about US. It really has to be about what is best for the focus of the people part of that community. What do they want, and how do you enable that community to grow itself, so that you are not the person that has to do everything, make every decision, or otherwise lead by your own desires. If you can take anything away from my point of view on this, I hope you know that I completely sympathize – hearing your path to now – on seeing projects that you thought would be great, fall flat, because something OUT THERE has made what you want to accomplish, into something people can’t support. Knowing that people would not use anything I put together because my health had made it so people didn’t think I could accomplish anything anymore, made me dig until I found my path back to the top. and it’s out there for anyone that has the stamina and perseverance to find their way. Good luck, you can count me a friend if you wish, though we don’t actually know each other, I feel your anguish.

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    If Automattic + WordPress called itself a religion, most reasonable and objective people would probably call it a cult, or at cult-esque.

    Just because Automattic + WordPress calls itself a consultancy and software product doesn’t really change what it really is.

    Know what I mean? ;)

    Note: I’m not saying this is good or bad. I am saying that heretics aren’t welcomed and that there is something uncomfortable about selling yourself as apples when you’re really oranges. But once you drink the Kool-Aid everything makes a lot more sense, eh?

  • The Bug Hunter

    Good post, read Pearsons recent post on his #wpdrama too. There is something slightly Star Wars-esk about your story James.

    Matt Vader: “Join me James together we will rule the WordPress galaxy”
    James Skywalker: “I’ll never join you……unless you pay me more”

    Now if Matt turns out to be your father…

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    It was fantastic to hear your story. I remember when people got all spazzy about the GPL license but never knew about all this drama — or had any idea it would drag on this long. I’ve been a happy, dues-paying WPMU member for god knows how long and no regrets. Love what you’ve done and I love how it keeps getting better!

    I hope this post helped. Love seeing that you got a good night’s sleep afterward!

    I’d just toss out: no matter how justified you are, calling someone a cunt and wishing them failure is going to make some long-term enemies. It isn’t being “overly troll-ish and snarky” — you’re creating the kind of grudges that never go away. If I wrote one of those emails to anyone, I would expect to NEVER be in their good graces ever again. Or their family/friends. For 10 years or 100 years. When you say that shit to people, you’re saying: “It’s blood feud time.” :)

    I wish continued success for you. And I hope that most of this crap can go away and you can focus on the kinds of things your really enjoy. But if there’s any hope for that to happen, I think you’re going to have to think about what you’re saying to people and the effects it can have. And accept that it’s not unreasonable for people on the receiving end of that kind of stuff to decide “I’m never forgiving that guy. Ever.”

    In any case: here’s wishing the next 10 years are even more successful for you, and hopes that if they’re a little less dramatic, they’re more rewarding.

  • The Incredible Code Injector

    HI,
    ( sSorry for my english, I am French)

    I ve read your post, i know what it is.. i use to leave the same think in my activity…

    I think that, anywhere you are, if you have good idea, if you are growing… you ll bother some people “plan”…. and people’s reaction are not always fair and intélligent… Unfortunately that’s how.

    You should not take care about them.

    Best regard
    Fred

  • New Recruit

    For some the GPL is a religion for others it is a business model. I have long been concerned that open source creates non-competive monopolies. In the 1990’s there were many webservers but in after a couple of years only Apache and Microsoft IIS remained. When I posed this to O’ Reilly (of the books) at the time he said that open source allowed developers to compete higher up the value chain. This has reached its natural conclusion with Automattic the firm behind WordPress eating the market for services. This is described in a good comment by Alec Kinnear on this post.

    http://wpandlegalstuff.com/wordpress-themes-gpl-conundrum-derivative-works/

    • New Recruit

      I totally disagree with the assumption that Automattic is imposing a non-competitive monopoly on WordPress related services. My experience is right the opposite. There’re a lot of great businesses in the WordPress ecosystem, apart from Automattic, doing innovative stuff, creating jobs and making (good) money. And there’s a lot of great businesses contributing to WordPress. The real threat here is to the GPL and to the community contribution model of WordPress, not from Automattic but from those who, beside not complying with GPL, try to patent stuff derived from the community contribution to WordPress, that’s the threat.

Comments are closed.