Earlier this week, Day One announced that it was acquired by Automattic, the company founded by WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg and owner of WordPress.com, WooCommerce, and several other brands. This is good news for Day One: Automattic’s proven to be a good steward of SimpleNote, Tumblr, Zero Bullshit CRM (now Jetpack CRM), WooCommerce/WooThemes, and almost all of its 18 other acquisitions over the years.
It does, however, beg an interesting question: why is a blogging platform acquiring a journaling app?
Automattic: The Personal Content Management Company
Automattic’s roots are in blogging. Matt’s the co-creator of WordPress, the open source platform that’s the most popular content management system on the web, and Automattic’s first product was WordPress.com – essentially, a consumer and small-business oriented platform that was the first managed hosting offering in the WordPress space. Automattic’s product development and acquisitions over its decade-plus history, though, suggest much larger ambitions: to become the personal content management company for public and private content across every imaginable use-case.
Automattic began with a focus on public content: blogging through WordPress.com. As blogging later separated into more formal and less-formal content, their Tumblr acquisition filled the latter mold. SimpleNote began to address private content through note-taking, and Day One augments that category with reflective journaling. P2, Automattic’s internal company communication tool, addresses semi-public work content. Jetpack CRM addresses personal contacts, a type of content. The mold fits together nicely.
|Day One||Private||Reflective (Journaling)|
A focus on personal content doesn’t mean neglecting businesses, either. I’ve written before about the blurring lines between business-to-business and business-to-consumer products. The rise of the creator economy and the growth of the prosumer market are strong tailwinds supporting Automattic’s thesis: by empowering individuals with a network of tools, they give them an ecosystem to grow up in. What begins as a Tumblr site might grow up into a WordPress.com blog that sells products to fans through WooCommerce – with P2 and SimpleNote to help you run the business, and Day One to help you stay sane. Automattic’s original mission was to democratize publishing, which has since expanded to democratizing publishing and commerce. Democracy starts with individual people.
Outside of these core products, Automattic’s broader portfolio of acquisitions and investments rounds out this ethos. An investment from earlier this year, PeachPay, is a simpler commerce complement to WooCommerce. Element facilitates personal private conversations.
So where do they go from here? The most noticeable gap in Automattic’s portfolio is in email. Though Jetpack CRM facilitates tracking contacts, there’s no means by which to actually contact them. A ConvertKit, say, would fit into the puzzle perfectly.
An Indictment on WordPress?
Over the last few weeks, much has been said about the growing moment of acquisition activity in the WordPress ecosystem – including insightful takes from Post Status about Delicious Brains’ acquisition of Advanced Custom Fields and LiquidWeb’s growing M&A activity, spearheaded by GiveWP. If the WordPress marketplace is becoming attune to the opportunity that exists in acquisitions, should we read into Automattic’s silence in the marketplace?
It’s easy to think “yes.” As the commercial entity most closely aligned with WordPress – and, arguably, the company with the most invested in the platform – one might expect Automattic to be the driving force in acquisitions within the WordPress ecosystem.
I don’t think that Automattic’s lack of M&A activity in the WordPress ecosystem is an indictment of the ecosystem, though. It’s evident that Automattic’s aspirations lay far beyond WordPress – and, while WordPress plays an important part of that strategy, acquisitions from the WordPress ecosystem will be largely incremental for them. As a company that’s now raised a nine-figure warchest, Automattic needs to aim bigger to realize their vision.
To complicate things further, Automattic’s past activity in the WordPress ecosystem has often come with pushback from the community. As the sole licensee of the WordPress trademark (which is owned by the technically-unaffiliated WordPress Foundation), Automattic possesses a distinct competitive advantage in the WordPress marketplace that’s nearly impossible to challenge. This most recently came to a head a few years ago with the roll-out of the WordPress.com Business Plan – a shot across the bow at a number of up-market hosting providers – which I wrote about at the time. In short, the politics of becoming heavily involved in WordPress ecosystem M&A, coupled with the merely-incremental benefit of that activity, simply isn’t worthwhile for them.