Automattic, Matt Mullenweg's blog-tools startup, is readying an upgrade to its WordPress software this week. Anil Dash of Six Apart took the occasion to let WordPress users know they can upgrade to his company's Movable Type instead. It's a move straight out of Oracle's handbook. But Mullenweg freaked out, calling the post "desperate and dirty." Dash responded by charging Mullenweg with "slander." Some are under the delusion that this nerdfight is about software. It's not. It's about money.
Specifically, Mullenweg's money. Automattic recently raised $29.5 million in venture capital — bringing its total raised past Six Apart. The Automattic deal was unusual: Some of the money went directly to Mullenweg, and a handful of other employees, instead of to his company. Automattic's investors, in other words, partially bought him out. A failed bidder for Automattic has been going around saying that Mullenweg's personal take was around $20 million.
Why buy Mullenweg out? VCs normally like to keep founders' incentives in line with their own, so everyone's shooting for a big payday. One might think showering a founder with cash ahead of an IPO or acquisition might be a sign that he's valued. Actually, it's the opposite: Making Mullenweg rich before eveyrone else is his investors' way of saying they don't care if he takes a hike.
Mullenweg surely realizes this. As satisfying as it might be to check his bank account, it has to be frustrating to realize he's not deemed relevant to Automattic's future. And that, more than anything, is what must prompt him to lash out at his chief rival.