Polaris Passes a $75 Million WordPress Baton to Tiger Global

In 2005 I was introduced to a kid who had just dropped out of college in Texas and moved to San Francisco to pursue his dream of building an open source software platform.  The kid was Matt Mullenweg, and the software platform was WordPress.  

These were the very early days of the social web, and I certainly didn’t have conviction that it was going to be a massively important tech platform shift.  Not to mention the fact that Blogger and Six Apart both were way ahead of the still fledgling WordPress product and community.

But I did have a conviction that Matt was not your average 20 yr old.  Matt was the type of person who thought in terms like “code is poetry.”  Some of my partners thought I was crazy, but it was pretty clear to meet that Matt was a special talent – special enough that software developers around the world were taking the time and energy to contribute to WordPress.  What really struck home with me was what I saw on Matt’s kitchen counter during the small WordPress 1.5 release party he hosted – a download counter that was whizzing away as thousands downloaded the new release as soon as it was available.  I was sold, and soon thereafter my Polaris partners and I invested $500k in Automattic, along with Radar Partners and Phil Black (then of Blacksmith Capital, later co-founder of True Ventures).

And we were off!  This was Matt’s first company; but it was also my first seed investment.  Over the next 6 years, we both learned a ton.  Sometimes together, sometimes apart, sometimes at odds with each other.   The journey was a great one and has a lot to do with the seed investor I am today.  My biggest learning?  That the key to seed investing is backing extraordinary founders.   My second biggest learning?  That the key to seed investing is supporting extraordinary founders.  Great companies are made great by their founders.  Lots and lots of help along the way is awesome, but founders are the heart and soul of the company, and they will get the best help from other founders who truly understand the journey.  My third learning?  Venture boards are not always the best vehicle for helping founders succeed.  Being connected with peer founders is more valuable.

In 2011 I left Polaris to start Resolute Ventures and focus 100% on seed investing.  Sadly, this meant the end of my board role and formal involvement with Automattic.  But the lessons I learned along the way have been a major influence on how Resolute and I practice seed investing today.

Yesterday, Matt and The Wall Street Journal announced that Tiger Global (with Iconiq Capital) was purchasing $75 million in Automattic shares from Polaris (which still retains a substantial position in the company), on top of a $50 million secondary earlier in the year.  This is a great exit for Polaris and its LPs.  But the bigger congratulations goes to Matt and to Tiger.  WordPress now powers 20% of the world’s websites, WordPress.com just surpassed Yahoo in Quantcast’s US Web Audience rankings; and Automattic is without question on its way to still bigger and bigger things to come.  Congratulations, good luck, and thanks for helping me cut my teeth along the way!

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