By Millana Snow
Matt Mullenweg

In Conversation: Matt Mullenweg, Co-founder of WordPress.

In September of 2019, I had the immense pleasure of leading a breathwork meditation for the keynote event at the annual Automattic meetup in Orlando. This once a year gathering was for the hundreds of people behind brands like WordPress, WooCommerce and Tumblr, just to name a few. Over the course of my three sessions, I met team members from all over the world, after doing breathwork and energy healing work with hundreds of people; we cried, we laughed and we connected in ways that can only come from experiences where you are reminded that we really are all one.

One of the amazing people that I met there was Matt Mullenweg, the founder and CEO of Automattic- most known for his hugely impactful role of making the internet a more accessible space with WordPress- which powers over 37% of the world’s websites. It was also Matt that had the final sign off to have me lead his entire company in a moving mindful experience. I am honored to share that thanks to him and the amazing folks at Automattic- our new shiny site is built in partnership with WordPress thanks to the wonderful connects made on that occassion.

In our exciting partnership with WordPress, we are kicking off our new journal with an interview with Matt Mullenweg, a thoughtful leader who truly is making this world a better place by democratizing the web, redefining how we work and so much more! It’s not a coincidence that we have come to together with a shared vision to make the worlds we work in more accessible. Im excited for you to follow along on this three part interview, on topics that Matt has rarely spoken like his meditation practice, self-care, his “woo-woo” reading list and what he does to be a well rounded leader. Enjoy part 1 by watching a segment of the video conversation or by reading the redacted text below.

Millana: I have some questions for you have an interview series called the medicine cabinet that we’ve been interviewing with healers, authors, and speakers in the wellness space. I’m  so excited about launching the new WordPress site, we decided to expand who we’re speaking to through the lens of wellness and healing. And I thought of you and to include you talking about your wellness and healing experiences, because I don’t think I’ve actually read that much about that side of you. So I hope you’re ready for all my questions! What is your mood right now? What is your vibe? Where are you at? 

Matt: My vibe and mood is really great, actually, you know, I had a  great morning. I got to read,  had a small workout and I’m talking to you. So I would say that this is has been a very strong start.

Millana: Nice. What is your intention for the day? 

Matt: My intention for the day is around communication. You know the company now, Automattic, is over 1300 people and there’s a little bit of a backlog of things I need to catch up with. And so I’m going to do a lot of reading and writing today, which is kind of some of my favorite days.

Millana: As you know, we’re kind of in a different world in the wellness space. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to have you. Thankfully, the wellness industry today is now becoming more of a mainstream thing. I’m curious if you could share with our audience a little bit about who you are and how you are at the intersection of wellness, spirituality, or – not.

Matt: Hi, my name is Matt Mullenweg. I’m born and raised in Houston, but I pretty much live on the internet and I’m a tech guy. I make websites that help people make websites. I try to make tools for creativity. My company Automattic creates, which allows people to publish blogs, websites, WooCommerce, which allows people to sell things online. And now over $20 billion a year of goods and services are being sold through WooCommerce. We also now run tumblr, which is a cool social network that we’re trying to create a kind of a positive third space for people to connect online and there is lots of creativity, and lots of wellness on there. 

We try to do a lot of fun stuff for the internet. We are a very  philosophical company so everything we do tries to make the web a more open place. Most of the software we create is open source, which means that it kind of belongs to everyone and anyone can edit it or change it much like the Wikipedia, but for software. That’s what I plan to continue doing the rest of my life because I believe the more and more our lives are influenced by the digital realm it’s important that we see how this works and be able to modify and change it to truly be control of our destiny.  

In terms of health and wellness, I try to keep myself alive and well so that I can do my best work. For most of my twenties, I was really just on the computer. I started WordPress when I was 19, and so I really would just be on a computer for 12 to 14 hours a day and I just coded a lot. I think there was a book I read called Mind Rules by a neuroscientist and I thought this is great, it’ll make my brain a better brain! And the first rule is exercise, and I was like, what? Exercise? I’m not a jock, I don’t need to move. But then it talked about all the benefits to your cognition and that was the beginning of me starting to see my mind, not as a separate thing that floated on the internet, but actually it was, you know, embodied  into part of the rest of me. 

Millana: I think it’s really interesting to see the trend of people who are leaders like yourself in tech, who are starting to come to this awareness. I saw on your site that you thank your teachers, which I thought was really interesting, I don’t think I’ve seen that outside of an acknowledgement in a book. I was just really intrigued by that, I wanted to ask you why that is?  What made you put that in your “about” section of your site? And also if there were any teachers that have taught you concepts of taking care of your body, mind, and your holistic self?  

Matt: I have been trying to practice more gratitude, especially during the pandemic and just finding happiness. When I started thinking about teachers a lot of them are music teachers when I was younger, a number of them passed away actually. They just kept popping up for me in dreams, or when thinking of people I was grateful for. A lot of the lessons I draw on come from music for me. Including like how to be in front of audience, how to breathe, how to lead a group of creatives, how to follow as well as lead.

Millana: I love that, that really inspires me. Also just in the little glimpses that I’ve had in person with you, but also what I’ve seen online,  I’m like wow, that’s just another example of how humble and considerate you are. I just really wanted to highlight to you personally, but also for anybody who will be reading because I think you’re such a great example for all of us to follow.  

Matt: One I’ll mention now, she comes to mind. I gave a talk at a tech thing in San Francisco and this body worker for Korean acupressure called Hae Min Cho walked up to me and said, “Hey, I loved your talk. It was really inspiring if you’d ever like a free massage come by.” I was like, that sounds strange, but I actually went and now I’ve kind of seen her off and on for probably  12 years. She always tells me “when I first started working on it, you were like Gumby. Like there was just no muscles anywhere. You’re totally flexible. Most people come in with like knots or something. You had none.” But she would push me to work out and other things. Being on the table, we’ve talked for some time now, there was a lot of discussion that would happen around the things she believed and what I understood or didn’t understand. 

Millana: You were the last person who signed off on having me come and do breathwork for a few hundred of your team members. So you’ve got some woohoo in you!  I would say a lot of people who are in the tech world or who are very science and number driven often say they need science and data to kind of prove the woowoo validity – the things that are unexplainable. I’m curious, for you what kind of bridges the gap on some of those modalities?

Matt: I think one thing that tech has going for it is a group sense of open mindedness.  I’ll usually say I’ll try anything that doesn’t seem like it could potentially be harmful at least once just to try it out. You mentioned experience, sometimes the analytical part of my mind likes to question if something is placebo effect or if there is something embedded in it.  I must say I get very excited when science explores these areas and can perhaps isolate the variables for whats having the impact versus what maybe is coming along and if there is a way to expand it or accentuate it. This is happening in an amazing way with psychedelics right now, where we have very old compound molecules have been used for thousands of years now in phase three medical trials. There’s a point when a couple of years from now, veterans or people with PTSD could be prescribed something like MDMA and that could have a really huge impact.  As widely, as known as it might be, we need the science to validate it and make it something that could be prescribed. Something that government can pay for something that could be legalized.

Millana: Yeah, I’m so glad that you are mentioned that that was actually one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. I did hear that you helped support some of that program and I would love to know what your own personal experiences were that backed up the importance of supporting such an important and impactful program?

Matt: I think that anyone who explores these things, if you have an ineffable experience, something that you can’t really describe, there is often a desire to understand it better or to share it. And so if you feel like these are medicines that could have a really healing effect on people or you’ve seen it; I certainly have people in my life who have overcome some really difficult things, especially around mental health, using some of these things. Ayahuasca, MDMA, MDA, Toad, whatever it might be it can be super powerful. So how do we open that up? How do we make it? What could actually be part of someone’s treatment or something holistically that can be accepted?  It’s starting to happen to other countries. It’s starting to happen in the US with the legalization of cannabis. All of these things have pluses and minuses, the light side and dark side. Just like any medicine, including caffeine or whatever it is, there’s a moderation to it. I would love that to be better, understood, better explored, and hopefully in a few years, part of what you could be prescribed by your doctor.

Millana: I’m a big supporter of that as well. I think it’s really important that finally there’s going to be some science to kind of back these things up. I find one of the things that I’ve had trouble with personally, and I know a lot of the people in our community who are practitioners have as well is how to bridge that gap. A lot of us come from a more experiential lens, I actually started meditating when I was four and doing things of the mystical and very weird things at a very young age. I didn’t really have the language for my experiences until I started to read more about it and find ways to kind of bridge that gap. 

I heard you say that you read this morning, what are you reading right now? 

Matt: What I read this morning was something called Broken Stars, which is science fiction that’s been a collection of stories entirely translated from Mandarin. It’s really fascinating because this whole genres of science fiction don’t exist in English. I have two books by David Eagleman here, one that I’m going to read and one that is one of my favorites of all time. It’s called Sum, it is 40 tales from the afterlife and each one starts out at the moment of the beginning of your afterlife and is different. Some are based on quantum mechanics, they’re all short stories and some are just a few pages and it’s incredible. Another one is The Devil To Pay In The Back Lands and The World Is Sound by Nada Brahma and probably the most woo woo that I have here right now is A Guide to Shaktipot.

Millana: Thank you for that! I hear you are going off-grid camping, I really understand and practice being connected to the importance of being in nature and really being fully in it. I’m curious if this is one of the main, “self-care” tools in your toolkit and if you could tell us a little bit more about maybe what self-care looks like to you? 

Matt: Every year I make some new year’s resolutions, but I also ask people in my life or loved ones to assign ones to me. I’m always curious, like what are they going to pick for me? And then I usually report back like towards the end of the year. My mom’s this year was to be outside more. It’s been a wild year but, I’ve been able to incorporate that. I would say particularly in Houston where it’s pretty spread out and people drive where I was for the first four months of the lockdown, it was really, really nice to be able to get out. When I came over to San Francisco, one of the things I was looking most forward to is that in San Francisco you can drive an hour and be in Redwood forest. You can be on a beautiful coast. You can go South, you can go in a Tahoe for a couple hours to national forests there. I have a little vehicle that can go kind of off road and I’ve been trying to do so now of course, the fires, which are really tragic have, have thrown most of that off.

So I was making it out almost every weekend, for awhile there and have it in awhile. So I am, I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go yet. I’m kind of navigating by maps, leaving it unplanned, but Southern Utah is looking, clear and nice temperate weather and that’s also one of my favorite places in the world.

So by the way, I have this podcast that talks about distributed work. I guess I forgot to mention, but our company, everyone works from home even before the pandemic. So we’re across 77 countries when you came to our grand meetup last year. That’s really one of the only times where the only time in the year that we tried to bring the whole company together, but we did a post, which was. I basically gathered everyone’s tips for self care and the kind of COVID and working from home. And so it’s on and it’s called 161 ways to practice self-care from home. I think it was one of the ones I put in there, several one on the list, but there’s literally dozens and dozens. So if anyone listening to this, like myself, like anyone feeling a bit stressed out just by the state in the world and working during that, check out that list. It’s got some nice tips.

That’s the end of part one of this three part interview, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and for the next part of our conversation.