EP325 – Joost steps down as WordPress CMO

June 7, 2019

On this episode of WPwatercooler, we delved into the complexities and nuances of leadership within the WordPress community, specifically highlighting the challenges around communication, marketing, and public relations. The panelists discussed the apparent disconnect between the community’s expectations and the actual direction of the WordPress project. A key point of debate revolved around the difficulty leaders like Matt Mullenweg have in letting go of control, drawing parallels with other tech leaders like Jack Dorsey who juggle multiple large-scale projects. This struggle, often akin to “entrepreneurial trust issues,” is not only common in small businesses but also seems to permeate the WordPress community. This adds to the challenges of managing such a diverse and global developer base. As the conversation wrapped up, the panel emphasized the need for openness, trust, and perhaps even a shift in leadership style for the continued growth and success of WordPress.

00:00 Introduction
01:20 Challenges of Leadership in WordPress
04:50 Communication Gaps and Community Expectations
08:15 The Role of Marketing in WordPress
12:30 Global Scale and Asynchronous Communication
16:10 The Exit of Yoast and its Impact
19:40 Matt Mullenweg’s Leadership Style
23:00 The “Entrepreneurial Trust Issue”
26:30 Diversity and Egos in the Dev Community
29:00 Comparisons with Other Tech Leaders
31:40 Sponsor Thanks and Sign-off


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Episode Transcription

(00:00) it’s like yay we’re life yeah let’s go hey welcome to a water cooler I’m not Jason Tucker well let’s go around the room and introduce everybody and then I’ll talk about response the first mani ladies first and I work in a Button Factory no that’s not that’s not right I make repressed you treated priests were treat WordPress bleed WordPress think about WordPress and dream about WordPress and get kind of tired of interest let’s talk about sis dreams don’t take my song you go around the
(00:44) room I have to leave for one second over at that your turn hey everybody you Jason transfer okay if that long wig happy to be here happy to talk WordPress and yeah let’s do it up Manny yeah I’m a knee and basically in Las Vegas I organized a lukewarm us meet up here in town this is next month is now in June is our fourth year anniversary doing the mass M it up and we can also have what camp busier is the 10th anniversary of our word camp in September so you guys know where camp Vegas with us yep nice not following you like Vegas is
(01:33) basically like another like like universe as far as I’m concerned you should come it’s an awesome I went to word camp Reno think I may have also gone to word cam Vegas but I forgot to say one I’m at savory media on all the things and to I’m also a core igniter for Rick in Long Beach what what in the house and I’m Steve’s hanging on the founder of Zeke interactive and I run the SC WordPress meetup so what do you want today let’s talk about our WP users should be bad yeah I’m just sad
(02:26) that say couldn’t figure out how to fit us into a song we could fill 27 minutes for that alright what happened with Yost well the you first have to summarize what had happened in the first place where in so far as Yost a bulk of the Yoast plug-in suite SEO primarily suite took on a role in the WP project let me turn that off turn took on a role in the WP project as what he had thought would be sort of a CMO chief marketing officer role and on Wednesday was a Wednesday now say yesterday because Wednesday I
(03:30) don’t really know I think for he he resigned his commission in a short that was that happened at WordCamp us which was in December is that accurate it was in December and it is now what month is it so that was a six month experiment the most interesting thing about it I thought was that he framed the way that he framed his his resignation letter as him failing which I didn’t think was actually what the the subtext said but then all the comments on his blog post were like it’s okay if you fail you just
(04:14) pick yourself wait a little bit the community that was part of the problem because everyone thought he was working at automatic which is not the WordPress project that’s wordpress.com but he was taking on that role for the WordPress project which is a role that had not previously existed and that happened at the same time that just as a Haydn had taken on the role of executive director another role that previously had not existed so these were two brand-new roles and really they were very undefined they were undefined to the
(04:56) community but the interesting thing is from Yost’s host on the Yoast post was he basically made it clear that it was also undefined for him on the inside which i think is very very a bit of a microcosm of the WordPress project in general because everyone’s like oh this is so undefined and it’s unclear on the outside there must be some secret cabal of people who have this figured out and a plan and whatever on the inside and well I believe we can take from this and in my experience of now way too long with WordPress what
(05:38) year is it this is 12 years I’ve been working with WordPress oh my lord that that is not the case it is also just as unclear on the inside so and maybe there is no inside maybe the inside is out sided upside down maybe it’s bizarro world I don’t know so I read the post I read the Yoast post as well yes I read the Yoast post and I reckon are the same thing you did right I mean yeah he he was kind of looking the mirror and looking himself to see where where he may have screwed up but I didn’t unless
(06:15) I see it as his screw-up me neither I think it was a very unclear definitely a misalignment of expectations oh are you stealing my terms oh did you say that liked it okay no I said it to you I’m just kidding Govan okay I did go on well it’s alright I’m just messing with you Steve expectations I don’t want to take credit for someone else’s work no I don’t know who that song was by the earlier I think it’s like TLC or something so just to credit them all so I didn’t make up that amazing no song that’s
(06:57) beside the point I just googled your resigned word present I couldn’t find it so I don’t know I so I also believe there was a misalignment of expectations and I don’t know that anybody was necessarily at fault right nothing nothing there’s a there’s a way to look at this where nobody did anything wrong right nothing bad happened right there’s nobody really to blame it’s just different side we know but when I read in the post is it’s different it’s different management styles right or no management styles
(07:33) that’s still that’s still a style just like how making no choice is still making a choice that that is it yeah that’s right right so you can never avoid so management with no communication is a management style it’s not a very effective one right but it is a style right and so and so I think that’s what was happening here is is there was no there was no expectation laid out as to what he would be doing what sort of authority he had right and I think he expected at least when I read this post he expected to have a certain
(08:09) say in a certain yeah certain a certain participation and decision-making that didn’t just in heaven right and with the title he was given I would expect the same thing absolutely I think his distinction between what marketing is and what advertising or promotion is is something that is a huge misnomer in the non marketing fields and how they view marketing so that’s really a problem that I encounter with my clients and along the way where people think marketing is just the end thing where you’re just you know putting out some
(08:47) social media posts as opposed to the entire process we’re considering users and approach and you know something that’s very holistic so I thought that was that was a very like universal problem that that lack of definition between what those things are I thought that was really interesting now this is still we’ve only read one side of the story right so this is this is your take on what happens right but you know I another post about we won’t we will not hear any more about it right there is only one side that we get and
(09:24) that’s really a problem with a lot of this stuff yeah and you know and sometimes when I read us really read something and it’s one side of a story and you know it’s it’s very attacking or demeaning or condescending or pick a word right I tend to me right I tend to discount it that’s not what this was right this was written very Bob and also I think very even handed like that well he he took responsibility for his lack of understanding of expectations but also did not say you know this is
(10:03) totally my fault you know I’m a total mess up which I he I don’t think that he is let’s look at the like literally like enormous company and impact that your ghost is and the impact that it has had on our community like you can’t you can’t say that that’s just a fluke you know so if it has been in no direction really it seems like the philosophy then is time to lean time to clean like basically and that’s kind of what the philosophy is with a lot of WordPress like you see worth where the
(10:38) problem is you pick it up and you start attacking it but that is not something that you should or can do when you are handing out bowls like CMO like you can’t just say okay well the same way that we’ve been handling you know okay there’s a you know patches there’s problems that need to get addressed never things you do that you can’t that is actually so that is how the project itself the make community is has been and I think that’s some of the frustrations that can people continually
(11:20) come up against is that it’s it’s like DIY to a fault because it’s like if you want to do it go do it and do those things and you can do those things and if you just want to talk about those things or if you want to figure out what to do or if you’re looking for any authority in that situation that just does not exist so it’s like it’s almost like the purest meritocracy there ever was maybe it’s a duoc recei it’s a duoc recei right that’s the word that everyone’s used for it it’s like if you
(11:50) do it then you that is in and of itself if you want to do a thing do the thing and that can be extremely frustrating that has been frustrating for me why I haven’t been more involved at multiple times tried to get involved in more involved in the make community and I’m continually frustrated by that this was a big rule by automatic or just like yes it was a paid role not by automatic there’s a paid role of the WordPress project important to make that distinction okay not the same thing wordpress.com and automatic is run I
(12:26) don’t know how it’s one management style or whatever but it is a separate entity so you know these confusing overlaps is also part of the problem because people don’t know what part they’re talking about but Yoast was not CMO of automatic or CMO of wordpress.com he was basically supposed to be CMO and I don’t even know if that was the actual title he got or if that was just the role like you said CMOS stuff do some similar stuff just go do that but here’s a problem right is is is when when you
(13:07) don’t have there is no structure at least on the outside it seems like there’s no structure around these these rolls right there might be no ourchart right and when you’re talking about something that powers the third of the Internet that could be problematic yeah I’m gonna take up a I was being diplomatic ties go ahead and say that it is problematic it is causing problems whether or not it’s a it’s solvable or fixable the problems are there and the problems are recurring and I don’t like to use the word trash
(13:55) fire but it just keeps coming up in my head trash fire I think yes it’s a little much however really the more I think about it the more I think of WordPress the WordPress project being run kind of like indie rock or to a better extent like a like a punk rock sort of like upstart where it’s just like and and especially if you’re familiar with like Black Flag or Henry Rollins as we get in the van we’re doing this let’s go and [Music] exactly if if you want to make the contribution if you can pick up a bass
(14:39) and play a couple chords like hey you’re in the band whatever man great but on the flip side like I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a punk squad but those places are hellish oh yeah then nobody’s nobody’s doing the dishes because they don’t believe in nrt like they’re just like everybody actually there’s usually one person who does the dishes for a while and then they like try to call a meeting everyone’s like cares man and then like that person those people are crazy yes exactly like
(15:17) what keeps happening everybody does the thing that they’re interested in and doesn’t worry about the underlying structure they’re just happy to have a place to crash they’re just happy to have a place to like do their music or in this case code you know and and contribute to something and they think that they’re they’re part of this would unified scene and I’m sorry about my dog barking in the background but it is it’s it’s it’s very much like an exhausting thing to watch but the more I think
(15:53) about it the more I realize that that we’re kind of just dealing with this whole kind of DIY punk ethos and and now that we’re pressed project is a teenager and it’s moving further into you like getting closer to it okay we gotta we gotta set the pump [ __ ] aside and start actually acting like people who yeah who are paying their mortgages with WordPress who are doing Shh stuff like that III think that I’m sorry I would just wanna quit one of the things you said Casper they’re of the underlying
(16:32) structure that is really what when when Yost came on to that role I was actually really excited because I thought that and I believe this is also what he thought that he would be able to address that underlying structure and get that get that situated and I think that you saw that the flaws in that from the frickin get-go of the announcement of his role when it upset the entire marketing team and the entire structure that was happening there and caught like this wasn’t alike oh yeah someone’s coming in and we’re
(17:06) gonna be able to like have you know a link to the to the management and we’re gonna be able to like really take our projects to the next level which is what I think was expected by Yoast at least and definitely by myself not to speak for him but that’s kind of you know just where that conversation was going and that is that is the is what caused problems from them from that moment like having that undefined role you know made people think that that he was coming in as CMO to take over his marketing lead and you know as
(17:39) opposed to being this like overarching kind of let’s see how we can unify this project and unify these efforts and that I think is what failed I think that is what Yost feels that he failed at doing and again I can’t speak for him but that’s what I got from his his videos poster but to mirror to mirror what some customer said is is there are companies that there and people that pay their mortgages right by using WordPress as part of how they make their living right and a lot of people a lot of people not
(18:22) just some people and aside from that there’s there’s businesses that run their entire business on WordPress right and so this this is almost a big to fail right it’s too big to fail is it though I I think we’re in I think we’re in that state right I mean obviously you know if it fails then you can find something else but that transition is is is not easy and it’s not cheap right and and that’s gonna affect a lot of people if if it does fail I’m not saying we’re on the brink of failure don’t read it that
(18:59) way all right that’s not I’m saying but one of things to look at is there are competitors that are run by grownups a difference of being the open source community and having that and having a structured company with like Matt org charts and you know management structures and people who have are trained in that and their role is to manage people and be leaders you know that there’s a reason that that that structure has evolved and it’s because when you have people operating at scale we’re not even just talking about scale
(19:34) we’re talking about literally all over the planet like we’re talking about every time so just a you know that’s why the slack is such chaos you know what I mean it’s just like these you know it’s just people talking all the time and everything’s asynchronous and it’s either you’re like in the pool or you’re out of the pool and it’s just it’s madness my point was that marketing is a key role here right and and it’s something that if you if you look at this like channel something that people
(20:02) ask for they ask for right for WordPress to be marketed better for WordPress to be advertised right they they ask for these things and that’s important it is important for the brand it’s important for the sustainability this is an important role and I thought I thought the same thing you did when yo is come on board I said this is great that’s a great that’s the perfect person for that role and so this loss does hurt right this note again but this hurts yeah I’m sad because I I thought if anyone would
(20:37) be able to do it it would be him because of who he is his position in the community his relationships with various leaders of the community you know his knowledge of the community I really thought that this would be something that he could synthesize and honestly I’m I’m a little concerned that he wasn’t able to do that because it seems to me that that the result is now not that it can’t be done but that that is not what Matt wants and I you know he talked about that a little bit in one of the sections where he talks about how
(21:13) the decisions are made and that goes back to how I early what I was earlier saying about like how everyone who’s like on the outside or just on the outskirts or whatever of the community or like oh there’s a secret cabal and people are making these decisions and whatever and it’s like it’s not really what’s happening it’s really just you know kind of no one knows what’s happening what this did is pulled back the curtain and said listen it’s not even that organized yeah it’s very
(21:39) seriously it’s not even as good as the Illuminati come on but I also want to say one point really quick here you were talking about how marketing is that people ask for it so marketing is more than advertising and it is more than n motion there’s also this concept of public relations and public relations is not just about public relations – again the users it’s about public relations to the community and this is where the trash fire part starts because that lack of communication about what’s going on
(22:11) and that lack of you know Twitter just went nuts and Twitter’s like saying all this stuff it’s like now no one knows what to believe and everyone’s like there’s rumors and she said she said and they said and whatever it just it’s a nightmare because there’s a lack of if you have a public relations nightmare around the public relations role does that cause a rift in the space-time continuum I think it does like we are right now sorry manic okay I think the ideal person to take this role must be
(22:46) like a people person not a marketing specialist or a cos specialist because you’re dealing with a lot of different background different people different like no senses it’s not only us is the whole world right that who uses WordPress so it’s a good thing that is coming from Netherlands you know it’s coming from Europe but yeah what I’ve seen here you know when I’ve been involved with the community just for you know maybe five years now but it’s a lot of hard to deal with all the egos and
(23:21) you know and we are a bunch of packing people – we just make mixing it harder I think the hands-off approach has been what everyone is done because it’s easier just to let everyone kind of figure it out themselves and see what rises to the top and it is to actually enforce some structure upon that diverse of a of a dev base or of a community base but that is also what is causing the problems so you know because then you have all those same egos and all those same things and everyone’s running over here and saying this to that and it
(23:55) becomes very fractured and and ideally ideally the person over to replace Yost in this role is somebody that it does not come from the tech space right you need like a CMO that came from Kokua right or some some I think that would be a complete travesty honestly do not understand the WordPress community and I don’t think that you could do this role and I don’t I think again I would like to say I do not think that Yost was the problem with this well no but you’re saying someone else could come in from
(24:28) somewhere else but he can learn the guy that came from you know whatever company he can learn if it’s oh no open-minded to you know okay I would just like to point out that you assumed that would be a man must be he can learn right you can you know see a doctor okay it’s all good it’s all you it’s it’s it’s a lost in translation of thing so it’s Portuguese all good sorry about that Jaromir let’s just call it that it’s fine I’m not angry I’m just I like to point out the you know the inherent
(25:24) biases we have inside our own minds not saying that that is an intentional thing yeah it’s Portuguese we don’t have that distinction when we say he or she is that’s another thing to know is this a rule for one person or she did know maybe has you know a team maybe three four people you know some sort of governance contractor I would just like to say that none of it is going to work it doesn’t matter who comes into that role unless matt is willing to have those conversations and whatever and it
(26:04) sounds to me that Yost had a lot of those conversations with Matt and they talked about it and they have a fundamental disagreement about approach and I think that matt has a very clear idea about what he how he wants to approach this and is extreme I don’t know I would just say just dug in on what that is and that’s why I’m concerned because if someone from the community who has his respect and has a quite a lot of leverage within the community cannot sort of open up that cane of chain have just changed that
(26:43) approach a little bit or shift that at all if he can’t even move mad a little bit and maybe he did move him a little bit but if that isn’t possible then I that’s what my concern is because at the end of the day as much as we like to talk about all this this project is so open and everything this is what’s happening that’s what happened with Guttenberg that’s what Yost said in his post that is something that he specifically said you know are we the quote Matt takes his input from core dev
(27:10) chats and lots of other chats and then decides what the road map should look like so if Matt is the person making these decisions then Matt is the person who has to be open to a different approach and Matt is the person who has to change his approach towards the community and the public relations approach of it he’s the only one who can do that because he’s the one who’s holding the reins and ultimately this this succeeds or fails on his shoulders that’s ultimately what it is and I think he’s a super smart guy and I think he’s
(27:41) done a ton of great work but I think that we’re reaching the limits of that capacities capacity you know how can you run this project and run another multi-million dollar project that has ten billion investments and also you know maybe have this thing called a life like how can you even do that it’s not really possible I’m sorry but part of the reason I mentioned somebody coming from me from a large worldwide corporation or outside of the tech community is is you you need somebody who’s implemented and put processes in
(28:19) place right that’s not math specialty from what I can see on the outside he’s a visionary right he’s got this vision and he’s he’s not a very least from what I see he’s not a good communicator he’s not a great planner right you need you need people with those skills to to move the in the way that you’re described yeah and the other thing too is you need to have like clear goals like for long-term short-term Anita right from what I saw here that both he was Yost wants to do something like right now you must be
(28:48) influenced into like you know everything that goes out you know with the WordPress brand position right I mean he didn’t really speak to my to my what I read through it he didn’t really speak to what they were trying to accomplish but what I’m seeing in the dynamic with Matt as the head of this not even talking about automatic or anything is what I see in a ton of my clients with small businesses they started their business they did all of the things and as they bring on employees and they add people to their project they find it
(29:19) really hard to let go of that and they find it hard to trust people that they bring on and if you can’t trust the people who you bring on did you have this problem I’m if this guy right here I mean I I know this I know this yes it is a problem I’m I’m just as guilty of it yeah exactly and that’s what I see so WordPress may not be a small business but it’s the there’s actually a term for it that I can’t remember the name for right now it’s like entrepreneur poster [ __ ] no it’s basically it’s like you
(29:49) know where you you you cannot let go and it’s a trust issue you can’t trust that these people will enact your vision or that these people will you know do what is best for that vision and that’s something we need to work on maybe we should just at WordCamp us it could be just a big trust Kaspar less words I was gonna say you look at you look at a project especially somebody who’s trying to run two things at once like say said he’s trying to run automatic he’s trying to be in a benevolent dictator for life of the
(30:24) WordPress project you look at someone else’s going through the same thing Jack Dorsey over at Twitter who’s trying to run Twitter trying to run square and he’s not doing a good job other thing yeah also a trash fire and and do not use him for an inspiration use him as a warning like actually give some of the things that you’ve created to other people and and just just [ __ ] trust them please [ __ ] trust them that’s out of here I forgot to at the top of the hour I forgot or the half hours forgot to
(31:03) mention server press thank you for your sponsorship and this is Jason Tucker signing off we’ll see you next time

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2 responses to “EP325 – Joost steps down as WordPress CMO”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    This Article was mentioned on brid-gy.appspot.com










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