Working at Automattic – The Sabbatical

If you’ve worked for Automattic for more than 5 years, we encourage you to take a paid sabbatical of 2 – 3 months. Taking an extended leave allows you to break away from the usual routine and return to work refreshed. “What should I do on a sabbatical?” you may ask? You could use the time to fulfill a goal, build a skill, or do research. Or, simply rest and relax. The key is to get away, renew, and refresh.

Ryan Merkel describes some of the perks of working for Automattic.

We are joining Automattic

Everything I’ve done has led me to this point. What point is that you ask? Let me tell you a story…

In 2006, I discovered WordPress, a content management system used for blogging, which helped me make dynamic and extendable websites.

I made my web designs on top of WordPress, and found how easy it was to build themes, so I decided to give away some themes for free, and eventually thousands of people went on to download these.

Light bulb moment! I saw an opportunity, and started selling a few themes. This led me to meet two fellow entrepreneurs online. From Norway to South Africa, we shared a common interest.

We quickly saw an untapped potential in the market, and in July 9th 2008, we joined forces and co-founded WooThemes.

We continued to dominate this fairly new premium market, and established WooThemes as a well known brand inside the ever growing WordPress community.

Fast forward to 2011, we had been giving our customers the designs and tools they needed to get online, but we were missing one piece of the puzzle. Helping our customers sell their products.

With the help of two great developers from the UK, we built and launched WooCommerce, which has not only become the most popular way to sell products on top of WordPress, but also the most used eCommerce platform in the world, with over 24% market share.

Now what?

2013 saw the exit of one of our co-founders, which pushed Mark and myself to re-evaluate or position. We journeyed to figure out what was next for Woo, and after doubling the team to a 55 people spread out over 16 different countries and hosting WooConf in San Fransisco for 320 attendees, we were definitely left with an appetite to go even further.

Being a proudly bootstrapped company, we didn’t really need extra funding, but we wanted to partner with someone who could not only help us keep, but also grow our team and market dominance.

We had talks with potential partners, including VC firms and competing companies. This led us to Automattic, who had previously shown great interest in the popularity of WooCommerce. CEO Matt Mullenweg, who is also the co-founder of WordPress, had built his company in the same distributed manner as WooThemes with a team of over 300. This was our dream partner!

The point.

After months of fruitful discussions, we’re extremely proud to announce that we’ll be joining forces – WooThemes has been acquired by Automattic!

automattic-and-woocommerce

Together we will continue to help our customers publish their content, and sell their products online!

I couldn’t have reached this stage without the unique individuals on our team, my co-founder Mark, my fiance, friends and family. Thank you.

The future definitely looks bright!

PS. You should consider working with us.

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Endless Summer

In Norway, we don’t see the sun as often as we’d like. Right now, there is a storm in the North Sea, with howling winds tearing off rooftops, accompanied by cold rain turning into snow at night. Winter is at the front door.

It’s been a little over a month since we packed our bags and boarded the plane bound for Cape Town, something we’ve thought about doing for a long time, but never committed to until now. We left the autumn behind in Norway, and welcomed the spring of South Africa.

The first two weeks felt like a holiday. We only ate in one night, as we couldn’t justify cooking dinner when dinner at a restaurant here costs less than a homemade dinner in Norway.

I believe we’ve come out of our holiday mode, and it feels more like we are in fact living here now. I can only hope that the locals need to look twice to spot that we aren’t locals ourselves.

Making a decision to move to Cape Town for the winter (or summer, depending on how you look at it), couldn’t have been timed better, even if we tried. WooThemes has been going through changes, changes for the better, and the need for face to face interaction with my team has been greatly beneficial.

Im looking forward to showing our visiting family and friends around when they come visit next year. The more time we spend in this beautiful country, the more it feels like a second home to us.

Will we ever see another winter again?

One shot at a time

Running a company is an awesome job, as there are so many new things to learn every day, but also many challenges. Great opportunities often appear, and with those come more risk and responsibility, which can become overwhelming.

We are currently receiving coaching on how to structure and run our business in a better way, as we always want to optimise our output. This is an ongoing process which forces us to think about our goals and values, not only for the business, but also on a personal level.

There is so much to think about after each session that I almost feel overloaded with information, and wonder how on earth we’ll be able to put all that theory into practice.

In times like these, I like falling back to my mental thought process from the golf, and focus on the simple process of taking one shot at a time. It may sound like a no-brainer, but it is actually something that requires a lot of mental strength and training to pull off.

If I’m having a good round and suddenly hit a streak of bad shots that should put me on tilt, I have to not let it get to my head. I will block out negative thoughts and only focus on the next shot. I won’t focus on the nasty long par-5 coming up, or the previous hole where I three-putted. I’ll only focus on my current target. Ball. Target.

This obviously doesn’t work for every shot, but over time I have become a much more steady player, and weeded out many high scores I had before. Even if I have a bad round, which is inevitable, the score will be a lot lower with this type of approach.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed, try to focus on one task at a time, one day at a time. You’ll reach your goal a lot faster this way.

Healthy Competition

There aren’t many things I enjoy more than good competition. No matter what the game is, if I have a chance of mastering it, I’ll put my everything into it.

I was always into sports (mostly golf and squash) and games (mostly computer) when I was younger, which is probably the reason why I’m so competitive in everything I do still, both in life and business.

We recently got everybody in WooThemes a FitBit wristband, so they can track how many steps they walk each day. The iPhone app syncs with FitBit, and I’m able to see a leaderboard of my team. I’ve made my steps up to number one (thanks to playing golf), but I’ve actually made conscious decisions to walk more each day just to maintain my lead.

Daniel E. made a contest for everybody in WooThemes, titled “Blogging for Benjamin”. The prize is $100 to the person who can blog every day in December. This made me start blogging again!

But it’s not about the prize for me. I enjoy the spirit of competition, and also the positive benefits that come from it, like team spirit, camaraderie and happiness. I’m walking more to be healthy, and blogging to improve my writing, and it’s making me think more about the stuff I do every day.

Competition between businesses is healthy as well, and by having good competitors, it will push us to make better products and provide better service.

Competition isn’t just about winning or being best, it’s also about tackling defeat. I’ve had really bad days on the both the golf course and in business, where I’ve questioned why I even bother. But that’s when I dig deep,try to focus on the positives, let go of the anger and turn things around.

It’s the experience from those bad days which will make those good days, oh so much better.

The Office

I co-founded WooThemes over five years ago from my apartment. It took me quite few months before I dared to quit my daily job as a developer at a local software firm. I had been working there for seven years, going to the office every day from 8 to 4.

Suddenly I was waking up each morning, throwing on some clothes, walking out of the bedroom and into my living room; My office.

There was no more scraping ice off my car windscreen, no more morning rush hour, no more boss to answer to.

It was just me and my coffee, sat in front of a computer, chatting to my two co-founders on the opposite side of the world… from my living room. Life was great. I’ve since moved out of my apartment and into a house, but I still work from home every day.

Earlier this year I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to spend the our winter in Cape Town, allowing me to be closer to those I work with every day (WooThemes has an office in Cape Town). It was a no-brainer.

We’ve escaped from the frost and snow, and replaced it with sun and heat, and I’ve been able to go into an office whenever I want and work with the awesome WooTeam. Going into the office has taken some getting used to, as it is surprisingly noisy. No wonder everybody wears headphones most of the time.

I do enjoy the office, as I get to be social again. And I don’t mean the HipChat/Skype/IRC social. I mean face-to-face social. It’s hard to replace that, which is why we are focussing more on having our team meet face-to-face more frequently (over 2/3’s of our staff work remotely).

I haven’t gone in to the office every day though. Usually I’ll go in on Mondays and Tuesdays, and maybe one more day in the week. I go to the office mainly to meet with the team, but if I just want to get work done, I do it from our apartment.

If you ask someone where they go when they need to get some work done, they usually say they go to the designated “quiet-room” in the office, or go in very early in the morning before everybody gets there.

The fact that we managed to grow WooThemes from three guys to over 30 employees is testament enough that an office isn’t a necessity in this day and age.

Think Positive!

Golf isn’t just a good walk spoiled

I play golf. A lot of golf. I’ve played since 1987, and I’m only 34 years young. When I was a junior, I played a lot of competitions across the nation of Norway, but never really competed at the top of the leaderboard. I was always afraid of winning, and whenever I had a good round going I would start telling myself not to screw it up.

You can probably guess what happened.

In my twenties, I started to understand more and more how big a part the mental game was, and I believe that you don’t have to be talented to master golf, as long as you have a strong mental game.

I learned a lot from reading the books of Bob Rotella, who coaches tour pros on their mental game, so they can reach the next level. His key message is to think positive and rely on your routine when faced with a difficult shot.

If I’m lined up with a 3-meter putt to win the match, or even win a tournament, my mind is going to start thinking about what happens when I miss the putt, and how I got so close but let it slide once again.

This is when the mental training comes into play, and I actively tell myself that I am going to make the putt, and that I always make 3-meters on the last green. I try to convince myself that this is the truth, and try to imagine the ball falling into the hole.

I know that I miss 50% of my 3-meters, and that I’m more likely to miss the putt because of the pressure, but I’ve learned that by thinking positive I have more chance of getting the putt in.

This positive mentality applies to all shots on the course, even the bad shots and missed putts. As long as I follow my routine and feed positive thoughts to my thinking, I will shave shots off my total score.

But positive thinking doesn’t only apply to golf, it applies to life in general. I have negative thoughts every day, and doubt will creep in on even the happiest of days. When it does, I try to always think of the best outcome of the situation and fight the negative thoughts by replacing them with positive thoughts.

I highly recommend that you do the same when facing a tough situation, or the next time you are having a “dark” moment. I also recommend that you read Life is not a game of perfect by Bob Rotella, which is a great read even if you don’t know a thing about golf.