I think clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. And it is something that we look for in the people we hire. If you were going to apply for a job at Automattic, probably the most important thing you can do is the cover letter.
Why did you buy Tumblr?
Tumblr was a contemporary of WordPress.com, then was sold to Yahoo for $1 billion, then Yahoo merged with AOL and then that was sold to Verizon. Then we heard it might be shut down, and we figured out a deal. We’re doing our best to really revitalize it, and hopefully we can create a place on the internet that’s safe, fun and creative — a good alternative to other social networks.
Is that a criticism at a certain level of some of the dominant platforms out there? Do you believe Tumblr could be a viable alternative and could be structured in some fundamentally different ways?
I do wonder if fundamentally, an advertising-driven business model is incompatible with democracy. Automattic is primarily a subscription business. I’m very curious to explore if we can make Tumblr not solely dependent on ads, and what incentives that creates for the product to evolve. Could that provide a third space, a space where the algorithms aren’t driven to show you the thing that’s going to get you the most riled up? Or the advertising is not targeted in a way that shifts elections? The good news is Tumblr is very active. It’s getting 60,000 to 70,000 sign-ups per day from its mobile app. So I think we have an opportunity to create that other place, that could be something that people go to feel that creativity, kind of like Instagram did in its early days.
Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook suggested that if people move to lower-cost areas, they may see their compensation adjusted downward. When you’re hiring across such a wide variety of countries which have different costs of living, how do you deal with compensation?
I have a lot of empathy for companies that do cost of living adjustments, because we used to as well. But over time, when I started to think really critically about that policy, I realized that there’s so much more than location that determines your cost of living. You can spend millions of dollars in Houston, or you could spend very little in San Francisco. There’s a lot of personal choice that goes into it. So it felt a little almost paternalistic for the company to say that you should make more or less in one place or another and have sort of weird incentives for moving someplace. The other thing that began to feel fundamentally unfair to me was that two people on the same team doing the same job, say one in California and one in Alabama, should make different money.
So what we’ve done over the past few years is actually offer the same compensation bands globally. So wherever you’re doing the work, you can have the opportunity to make the same amount. It’s not perfect, because we pay people in the local currency and sometimes currencies can move quite a bit and we have to adjust for that.