The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work
The words you are reading just now have been written in and are brought to you through WordPress. This post is a review of a book about WordPress, but let me give a little introduction before I jump into the subject matter.
When I started blogging about five years ago I was looking for an easy-to-use platform. A friend of mine recommended WordPress. I had already acquired the hpbech.com domain and selected one.com as my web hosting provider. I am not a programmer and usually avoid investing my time in software technicalities. Getting WordPress installed on my one.com account was not a “one-click” trick. Through wordpress.org I found a helpful soul in the UK who did it for me. I made a donation to him and he became my WordPress tech support. Much has changed with WordPress since then. Today getting a WordPress blog in the air is a “one-click” effort and the software is pre-installed on most web hosting centres in the world.
Today all our blogs and most of our web sites are operated using WordPress:
- www.tbkconsult.com (the one you are reading just now)
- www.hpbech.com (my personal blog in English)
- www.hpbech.dk (my personal blog in Danish)
Today WordPress is a service offered by our hosting provider and we don’t even have to worry about the software anymore. We do update the software, obviously, and have a test version of the tbkconsult.com blog, but our social media folks test all updates before we release them on the production site. With close to 100.000 visitors per month, we don’t want any downtime on the blog!
The Book: The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the future of work
Scott Berkun’s book – based on his 12 months as a team lead with WordPress – is worth reading for several reasons.
- It gives you insight into a business model that didn’t exist 15 years ago. A business model that is unique to the software industry and that you will see much more of in the future.
- It gives you insight into a business model that lacks the three most expensive cost elements of any business: marketing (incl. sales), administration and management.
- It gives you insight into a business model where people work based on passion rather than on a paycheck.
Scott Berkun’s book is well written and has a great narrative flow, which takes you from page to page. If you are into the “the future of work” already, then there may not be a lot of new information in the book. However, reporting the practical experience of how the organization behind WordPress.com is working gives a refreshing down-to-earth perspective often missing in the more academic volumes on the same subject., e.g, Lynda Gratton: The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here.
WordPress is the software (free of charge).
Automattic is the company.
WordPress.com is where you can start your WordPress blog/web site in seconds and have it hosted without ever having to bother with the software.
WordPress.org is where you download WordPress to be hosted on your own or 3rd party servers.
Not really. When you can get great software such as WordPress for free, you don’t mind investing a little time figuring out the structure.
Automattic makes money on hosting, advertising and on selling plug-ins for WordPress. Akismet is the most popular paid-for plug-in keeping spammers off your blog. You can find more about the money-making side of Automattic here >> How does WordPress make money?
Scott Berkun’s book only briefly describes how the Automattic business model works. It goes into much more detail on how work is actually performed at Automattic. It illustrates the benefits and shortcomings. There are certain types of work (incremental improvement) where the Automattic approach is second to none. And there are other types of work (grand vision, new products and complicated software), where the approach is less effective. To make the model work on the grand vision, new products and complicated software, a substantial dose of leadership is required at the team level.
Teams are working virtually at Automattic. They seldom see each other. When they do see each other, working on their assignments continues. Automattic is very much a “getting things done” culture and each Automattician is expected to be an active team member, manage herself and stay productive.
You can see for yourself here: >>About Automattic
As a blogger, I appreciate the user-friendliness of the software and enjoy that the uptime is high. However, the world doesn’t fall apart if the blog should be down for a day or two. Annoying? Yes. Devastating? No. It will not show in my P&L.
For the vast number of Automattic customers, WordPress is not mission-critical.
When I fly SAS from Copenhagen to San Francisco, I prefer a supply chain with business models different from the Automattic model. I appreciate that the operators in the value chain work closely together and that they each have solid QA procedures in place. I am less worried about the kiosk selling me a bottle of water, but hope that the cafe brewing my coffee and fixing my sandwich have their food handling under control.
Take any company in the world and cut away their cost of marketing (including sales), their cost of administration and their cost of management. The impact on the bottom line will obviously be phenomenal. Reallocate some of the profit to product development and customer service. The impact on the market share will be fantastic.
Admittedly, not all companies enjoy the luxury of a business model run without marketing, administration and management. However, all companies constantly work to optimize marketing and keep administration and management overheads as low as possible.
From our own world
There is a reason for my passion for business models that can run without marketing, administration and management.
TBK Consult is a network of senior management consultants building a business model without the need for marketing, administration and management. We haven’t figured out how to obsolete marketing (and sales) yet, but we are working hard on that one too. From time to time the administrative monster comes creeping, but we scare it away as soon as we see it. Management stands no chance with us and we haven’t seen its ugly face for a while.
The reasons for our efforts are obvious. Marketing, administration and management don’t add any value to our clients. These functions do not add any value to us either; they only feed on our gross margin. As senior management consultants, we are refugees from large corporations. We have fled the bureaucracy and the internal politics that consume so many resources in most organizations worldwide. Instead, we are working as a loosely coupled network of experienced adults creating value for our clients. Management and coordination are done on client projects only.
Building a company without the need for marketing, administration and management has tremendous competitive advantages. But the advantages are not only financial.
I was previously a CEO. People reported to me. I reported to a board of directors.
Today I report to no one and no one reports to me. I only answer to my clients and I only spend time managing and coordinating resources related to my clients’ projects.
That is the ultimate freedom. You should try it!
No one at TBK Consult is paid a salary. Consultants share the proceeds from their projects. All non-consulting functions (marketing and back-office) are managed by sub-contractors.
Not for everyone
TBK Consult was started in 2007. We have been operating for over six years now and we have learned a few lessons.
At TBK Consult we work virtually just like Automattic.
We have no offices. We work out of hotel rooms, cafés, client offices and our individual home offices. We see each other when working on client projects and twice a year at our Synergy conferences, which takes place around the globe (April 2013 was in Istanbul, Turkey and November this year was in Barcelona, Spain).
The TBK Consult business model works, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
The most critical skill required for being successful as a TBK Consultant is salesmanship. You must be able to win consulting engagements where we can deliver substantial and visible value to the clients against equitable fees for us.
The need for salesmanship has another reason.
We help software companies grow their top line. Our core competence is international expansion. It is tough to help a company improve their capability of generating revenue if you do not master the discipline of packaging your own genius into a value format easily comprehensible for your potential clients. This is what salesmanship is all about: Package and present what you have so that it is a no-brainer for clients to engage you. The skills required to do this are empathy and questioning. In the world of selling consulting it is all about the client and very little about the consultant. Leave your PowerPoint presentations at home and learn how to ask questions that will make a Mossad agent blush.
I think you can see the picture for you: A group of management consultants who can all sell can keep themselves and many more happily busy. A group of management consultants who cannot sell anything cannot even keep themselves busy.
Which group would you prefer belonging to?
The second most critical skill is drive. Again you will be surprised to see how many people are unable to manage and motivate themselves. They need leaders, offices, water coolers, coffee machines and colleagues. They also prefer a fixed monthly salary. Most companies still work this way so there are plenty of opportunities if you can accept the disadvantages.
However, TBK Consult is designed to be a different kind of place.