WordCamp Asheville Keynote: How did we get here?

When I started thinking about what I might say in this keynote address, the song, “Once In A Lifetime” by the Talking Heads kept popping into my head.

“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife

You know that song?

So how did we all find ourselves here today, on this beautiful weekend in Asheville, when you could be doing any number of other things?

Can you think of a time in your life when you made a decision to take an action that turned out to alter the course of your life in a positive way? For some of you, coming here this weekend could be that time.

You may have come here not knowing what to expect, accompanied by some fear that it would all be over your head.

Or maybe you’re carrying a dream for a new business and you’ve come as the next step towards making it a reality.

Others of you, like me, are here because you are dedicated to pursuing your craft and you want to be the best you can be.

Still others were inspired to volunteer to put on this event in order to give back to this community that has helped you make a living doing something you love.

At pivotal times like these, even when you feel in your heart of hearts that you’re doing the right thing, you may ask yourself,
Why am I doing this? I have no idea where it’s going.

Why am I doing this? I’m not being paid.

Why am I doing this? I’m so far out of my comfort zone. In fact, I am really uncomfortable.

I want to challenge you over these next two days to take some risks. To simply say, “YES” when an opportunity or challenge is presented. We never know when a connection or an agreement made will set the stage for something extraordinary to happen in our lives.

I’m going to tell you two stories. They are stories of what can happen when you follow your aspirations with practice, dedication and grit – and, when you make decisions from that place, in many instances, right along with your fear, indecision and insecurity.

As I tell these stories, I ask you to listen for the “yes” moments. These are the game-changing moments, when people had an idea or were presented with an opportunity. Saying “yes” enhanced their own lives and, in some instances, made a difference in the lives of others worldwide.

First, I will tell you the story of how we all arrived at this point today and you’ll understand just how different this event and this WordPress community is from any other.

Then, I’m going to tell you the story of how I ended up speaking to you today.

By the time I’m finished, you’ll understand that WordPress is not just software. It’s a movement.

The first story is the story of WordPress

The first story I am going to tell is of how in just 11 years WordPress has become the world’s leading publishing platform. Powering over 60 million websites, which is 22% of all websites all over the world. Not only that but the story of the creation of this amazing community around WordPress came to be.

It starts in in 1984 in Houston Texas.

Matt Mullenweg is the son of a stay at home mom Kathe and dad, Chuck who was a computer engineer.

Early on, Matt picked up both the saxophone and his love of computers from his Dad.

By age 12 he had built his first website which he parlayed into a little side business.

Matt attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts continued with his work with computers but he also studied jazz, did photography.

In 2002, at the end of his senior year in HS, Matt started a blog, photmatt.net, so he could share his photos from a trip to Washington, D.C.

He’d chose a blogging software program called B2 or Cafelog, which was started by a young man in France name Michel Valdrighi.

In the fall of 2002 Matt started college at University of Houston. Studying Political Science and Economics. He continued blogging and hung out with people in a Houston blogger meetup.

By November 2002, Matt had 20,000 unique visitors and over 10,000 hits a month on his Photmatt.net blog.

But. . . problem was Michel V disappeared from b2 and wasn’t answering anyone messages. This was a big issue for the 2000 or so b2 users since the updates on the B2 stopped.

Sure Matt could have switched to another blogging platform at the time but he didn’t like the restrictions these copyrighted programs placed on what people could and couldn’t do with their software.

B 2 was founded with a different licensing model. Instead of a copyright, B2 was founded under a GPL, or general public license, which is an open source license, sometimes, referred to as copyleft.

What this meant was that the source code that made up the B2 program was freely available for anyone to copy and take in a different direction, which is called forking.

There is a caveat though to that type of license.

Anyone who forks and creates something based on the original software inherits the same open source licensing.

Matt wanted to stay with B2 but if he did, someone needed to maintain the program.

At this is the point he made a crucial decision.

Since no one was doing anything about it, he could give it a try.

On January 23, 2003, he wrote a post titled, ‘‘The Blogging Software Dilemma,’’

“My logging software hasn’t been updated for months, and the main developer has disappeared, and I can only hope that he’s okay.

What to do? Well, TextPattern looks like everything I could ever want, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be licensed under something politically I could agree withfFortunately,b2/ cafelog is GPL, which means that I could use the existing codebase to create a fork, integrating all the cool stuff that Michel would be working on right now if only he was around.

The work would never be lost, as if I fell off the face of the planet a year from now, whatever code I made would be free to the world, and if someone else wanted to pick it up they could.

I’ve decided that this the [sic] course of action I’d like to go in, now all I need is a name.

What should it do? Well, it would be nice to have the flexibility of MovableType, the parsing of TextPattern, the hackability of b2, and the ease of setup of Blogger.

Someday, right?”

But the next day January 24, 2003 one other user of B2, a self taught programmer named Mike Little who Matt knew of from participation in the b2 forum replied:

‘‘Matt, if you’re serious about forking b2 I would be interested in contributing. I’m sure there are one or two others in the community who would be too.’’

And that was it, another yes.

This world changing movement started with that simple post and reply. They both jumped in Mike the UK and Matt in Texas and they worked like crazy on the new program. They wanted it to be easier than Moveable Type and more attractive.

All they needed now was a name.

Christine Selleck, a blogger friend of Matt’s from Houston called Matt and suggested the name WordPress. Now that might not seem to be a game changer but she had to put in some time and thought about this and she did it. And she still blogs and knows that she was played a huge part in WordPress.

In May of 2003 they released first version of WordPress was released.

Within one month June 2003, with release of version .71, WordPress had surpassed the use of b2.

At this point, Michel Valdrighi, resurfaced. It turns out had taken a break to find himself and a job.

They were a bit nervous about what would happen but Michel v kept b2 but also got involved with WordPress and he brought along other programmers by telling them that the WordPress team as being easy to work with.

Since Matt was so dedicated to the concept of open source, he wanted to attract people to work on the code who had similar values so he practiced what he preached. Everything with WordPress development was done in public. All of the decisions, bug fix and feature lists were all out there for anyone to see. This transparency did in fact draw lots of programmers with similar values to join in since they could see and experience the culture themselves.

It also had something to do with Matt’s being a blogger.

In the Fall of 2004 with over 15,000 users and an ever-increasing number of loyal volunteer contributors working on WordPress from all over the world, Matt decided to leave school and go to San Francisco to go to work for CNet, an Internet media company who had promised that he could have a job with a salary and 15% of his time could be committed to work on WordPress.

This was a huge move for Matt. It was the hardest thing his mom had ever had to deal with. But while in San Francisco, Matt made friends that are still with him today.

During that year the competition was hot between WordPress with other programs such as Moveable Type. But then Movable Type’s owners decided to charge their users, which caused outraged users to jump ship and move over to WordPress giving it a huge bump.

Just a year later, in October 2005 Matt left Cnet to start a company he named, Automattic that was a play on his name.

Matt biggest motivation was to ensure publishing was democratic for everyone. He asked a couple of volunteer core contributors to join him, telling them it was a total bootstrap operation and was going to be GPL and at 21 he really had no idea what he was doing but the three developers Donncha O’Caoimh, Andy Skelton, and Ryan Boren quit their jobs and joined him.

Automattic would make its money through a “freemium” model, where a percentage of customers opt to pay for such features as backup and premium domain names.

They first worked on and released Akismet, our much loved spam protection plug-in for WordPress. Aksimet had a sliding scale model where it was free for bloggers not making money but asked for money from commercial enterprises. The need to stop spam fostered the success of Akismet and this paid the bills and allowed Automattic to add a few more employees.

Since WordPress was a little much for the non-technical blogger. Matt wanted Automattic provide a hosting platform for people to easily start a blog without having to have hosting or a domain name where they would not have to know how to transfer files. And a few months later, in November 2005, WordPress.com was born, allowing anyone anywhere to set up a blog at no charge at all, in about five minutes.

It had amazing success and in just a couple of weeks there were over 100,000 blogs run by one copy of WordPress and hosted by Automattic.

In 2005 Matt met Toni Schneider. Toni Schneider, had a start up that he sold to Yahoo for 29 million and then worked as an executive at Yahoo. Matt was late to the meeting by 30 minutes but they talked through to evening and realized they each had a similar vision of created a company that hired people to make great products and built an organization that would exist to support the makers.

Matt who was just 21 at the time brought him as CEO since he had corporate experience. Matt who had recently turned 30 just changed roles with Tony and is now CEO.

The way Automattic runs based soley upon the open source WordPress.org code which is a very unusual thing for a for profit company to rely on Open Source code. But it is set up as a mutually beneficial relationship. A lot people that work for Automattic also contribute their time to improving WordPress. Matt and others at Automattic attend WordCamps all over the world.

WordPress.org indirectly has changed the lives of many people around the world who are now making their living designing websites teaching and consulting around WordPress and offering maintenance services for WordPress users.

My story

I was the oldest child of a family of seven kids born in Pensacola Florida my dad was a Navy Pilot. We moved around a lot. To all the good beach towns.

When I was nine I say a Lucy Comic strip and realized that there was a job where you could get paid for giving advice and so I decided that was a perfect job for me since I gave a lot of advice. I went to Berkeley and then to USF and got on the direct route path to become a psychologist.

My first job after grad school was working part-time as a psychologist in a new hospital addiction program. After working there for about 6 months, the hospital was sold and the director left to go with the old company. We had ten patients by that time with no one as program director. No one knew what to do. So I took over. I did the job at no extra money just because someone had to do it. I got to do it my way and also designed a program to treat anorexics there, which was very new at the time, and so I got a lot of press. Four months later the new company came in and they made me the director. I said yes.

After a few years, I got bumped up to be a national product manager for mental health programs.

This job gave me a lot of marketing experience.

I lived in Atlanta, be based in Dallas and have national territory. I did that for another year and learned a lot about corporate marketing.

In 1985, I went back to a busy private practice, and to have children, my husband was an addictionologist and self taught computer programmer who had gone to Reed at the same time Steve Jobs was hanging out there.

In the late 80’s in his spare time he wrote a little treatment-planning program and when I saw it I told him,

“You know when we get computers in hospitals everyone is going to want that. He said it wasn’t written for commercial and I told him to rewrite it.”

My Ex-husband ran an addiction treatment center and worked on it in his spare time. I had a psychology practice and built and renovated houses and we had two little children.

In 1994, Six years later, my son was just getting ready to go into first grade and the software was taking off and someone needed to run the company. While I understood the need for it, I really didn’t use computers much except for writing letters or the occasional spreadsheet.

We had one computer and he was always on it. I really didn’t want to run the company. I had been looking forward to a nice break and running a software start-up had not on my agenda.

I got under the covers and cried. But I knew I had to do this, so I did.

Two things prepared me for this. My experience starting programs and marketing them, and that I learned research methods in Graduate School. Our software was written in DOS and needed to be updated to Windows and we didn’t have money to do the upgrade.

I found out about SBIR funding and got a bunch of money to grow the company.

Along the way a financial guy came in to meet with us and he told me, Someday, you’ll want to get a real CEO in here. I was very insulted. I thought he didn’t know what he was talking about.

When we had 8 -10 employees they were saying that it was not a real business but instead an experiment in crowding so I started going out and looking for buildings.

In 1999, I bought a warehouse and renovated it for our office and I built it out in my spare time into six other lofts.

A year of so later we had 20 employees and we were in hospitals across the country as soon as they got computers.

But at that point, I realized I needed a real CEO to help to get the company in shape to sell it and I was not the person for that I found a great guy who was perfect for the job and I stepped down.

I left and sold my shares. My husband and I were also splitting up. It was a hell of a time. Everyone was mad at me but I knew I was right about needing a new CEO who could see the company and it was not me. On top of everything else I did not want to be a psychologist any longer and so everything in my life was changing. And I had no idea what I was going to do.

I finished building out the loft warehouse and sold the units and bought another building and at some point I realized that these places were not selling as fast as they should with the over building and bad loans to people that didn’t have enough money to have their own places.

By 2006, I decided that I didn’t want to build another thing I had to sell. And I needed to sell the inventory of condos that I still had.

So like we all do when we want more business, I Googled my business name

What came up number 1 was my dog’s blog on Dogster.

My old Microsoft Front Page website that I had built for my business was number 40 on the 4th page where no one goes.

I couldn’t figure out why that happened. Finally, someone told me that Dogster was a blog and it was a content management software and they were easy to update with fresh content.

This was miraculous to me. I learned the basics of doing those terrible Microsoft FrontPage sites because I hated to have to work with web designers. I had to remember what I wanted changed. Let them know. Wait for them to change it, go look to see if it was right. It wouldn’t be, Go call them and do the whole process again.

I also hated that if I had a project on the home page, what happened to that project when I had a newer project. I wanted people to be able to click on a category and have all of my loft projects come up or click another category. I had to have one of those kinds of websites.

I went to the bookstore. I went to the section in the back where the computer books were and from across the aisle one book shone from the shelves. The It Girls Guide to Blogging with Moxie.

I bought it. Not only did I figure out that WordPress was the choice for me since it was Open Source and built to take the best practices from the earlier programs, it also gave me a recipe for a cocktail at the end of each chapter.

I immediately dumped my Microsoft Front page website and started a WordPress website for my company and I started a blog for myself to continue to learn about using WordPress. It is still up although I haven’t updated it in a long time. My friends are glad since they were likely to find me writing about them and even maybe about their colonoscopy.

I was hooked.

And I knew everyone was going to want this someday.

Since I had a lot of time on my hands trying to sell my remaining condos and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, I spent a lot of time at a coffee shop friend of mine had opened. I did the website for him. I had another friend who was a music producer who hadn’t gotten around to doing her new website so I did that for her.

I kept doing sites for friends and family and then people would overhear me talking to someone about their sites and they would ask me for my card. I would tell them “I don’t have a card”. “I don’t have a business.” This kept happening and I kept helping people with their websites and their marketing.

I decided to check this out. Maybe I did have a business.

I made appointments with two different people I knew who had marketing web development agencies. They both were independently very discouraging. By this time it was 2008 right before everything hit the fan. They told me that business had fallen off and they were laying people off. Bad time to start a business.

I went away kind of relieved that I wouldn’t have to put myself out there and do all of the hard work it would take to start a business. And besides I was a 55-year-old psychologist not a web designer what would people think.

But I kept working with people and other people kept asking me to work with them so I did.

I started taking paying clients. Before long I had to admit that despite my best efforts, or despite what anyone else had to say about it, I did have a business.

I named it New Tricks for a lot of reasons. I was certainly an old dog who had in fact learned some new tricks. But I realized even younger people needed to learn these new tricks. Marketing and web design had changed. And these people in the agencies had not quite gotten the memo and were still doing things business as usual.

It was 2009, right after Obama was elected and I was starting a new business in the worst recession of most of our lifetimes. But funny enough, there were a lot of people who needed new websites. There were people that had lost their jobs who were going into business for themselves, there were people who realized they needed to revamp their marketing in this new economy and I was busy.

I was probably making 3.00 an hour that first year. Working until the wee hours of the morning trying to learn what I needed to know about WordPress to do this commercially.

I also started my own website and blogged and began a newsletter and shared my posts on social media sites and engaged with others out there. In other words, I walked the walk that I was teaching others to do.

I remember when I first heard about a WordCamp. It was 2009 and there was going to be a WordCamp in New Orleans. I was excited as a person given a chance to get off of a desert island. I signed up immediately.

Then I panicked. Who would be there? Would they all be coders? Would it all be over my head? Would I fit in?

I told those little voices, “Shut the hell up, I am going anyway.” What I found an excited room of 80 people, all ages, from all walks of life, all different technical backgrounds that simply wanted to connect, inspire and contribute to each other around WordPress. It was wonderful and all that I hoped it would be.

I came back to Atlanta and found some kindred spirits having a Meetup group across town in a coffee shop. I made my way over in rush hour traffic and was both ecstatic and dissatisfied at the same time. It was so frustrating to meet people that could talk plugins and child themes with me but we couldn’t hear each other talk over the din in the shop.

I went another time or two and each time would leave frustrated. Then each month when the Meetup notice would come around, I would get a little pissy and feel so ripped off that it was like that. Until I got it, “Why don’t I get up the courage to ask Jack if he would like my help and have it at my event space”. He said yes.

We went from a Meetup group of about 50 members to having just about 1500 members. With 30 – 50 coming each month.

In 2010 a couple of people put on a WordCamp in Atlanta. It was good but they were not a part of the local WordPress community and the WordCamps are supposed to be a place to learn and get to know each other better growing out of the local Meetups. So the next year came around and the team in charge of the WordPress foundation who are responsible for maintaining the WordPress brand and WordCamps asked Russell Fair and I to do the WordCamp.

Wow, here we both were. Very busy. Both of us had spoken at WordCamps here and there but putting on a WordCamp was not on either of our bucket lists.

But we jumped into the void of how the hell are we going to fit this in to our schedules and what if it is a flop and who is going to help us and where are we going to hold it. And said yes.

In 2012 we put on our first WordCamp. It was not a flop. It was amazing. We said yes again in 2013 and again this past March. Like a snowball gathering snow as it rolls along, we have gathered other volunteers to help get it together and have an amazing group. This year we sold out in 48 hours.

And your organizers went to WordCamp Atlanta and came back to Asheville and said yes they wanted to spread some goodness in there home and this first Asheville WordCamp also sold out because you said yes.

 

WordPress has given me a career and community that is awesome. It combines my love of Psychology, technology and design. It turns out building websites is a lot like building buildings. And I have to admit people often cry when I give them their websites, which probably doesn’t happen to other web developers.

WordPress also has turned into a family affair for me. Son, daughter and husband all have WordPress sites.

It is really crazy how this culture of WordPress was adopted and spread.

I want to leave you with this manifesto that everyone gets in their employment letter when Automattic hires them.

I will never stop learning.

I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.

I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.

I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.

I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.

I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.

Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

Over these next two days, here at Ashville’s first WordCamp

You may ask yourself,

“Where does that highway go?”

And you may ask yourself “Am I right? Am I wrong?”

And you may tell yourself, “MY GOD! What have I done?”

What have you done?

You’ve said, “YES” when you could have said no. Keep it up.

Thank you.

Slides

About Judi Knight

Judi Knight is the founder and chief at New Tricks. When she’s not working with businesses to create their online goodness, she'll be checking people into the Urban Oasis B &B,  planning WordPresss events or hanging with her husband and three Basset Hounds.

Want to get in touch? Shoot me a note, Sign up for my free social media tips or,
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