The WooThemes Acquisition through the Eyes of a Former Ninja

On Tuesday afternoon I was rushing out the door to meet with Vova Feldman, a WordPress developer and founder of Freemius. During LoopConf we exchanged a few tweets back and forth but didn’t end up getting to connect, so we figured out a time to meet up once we were both back in New York. I was running late and about to run out the door when a few tweets caught my eye, followed by messages in the Post Status Slack channel that WooCommerce had been acquired by Automattic.

WooCommerce had been acquired by Automattic?! A dozen questions raced through my mind as I raced out the door. What about the rest of WooThemes? What would happen to all of the ninjas? What about the rest of the products? Was only WooCommerce acquired, or was WooThemes in its entirety now part of A8C? The initial posts on the topic, as well as Matt’s own blog post stated ‘WooCommerce joins the Automattic team‘, which caused confusion for me since WooCommerce makes up the majority of WooThemes revenue. It would seem illogical for a company to get rid of its largest revenue generating product. I’m now underground in the subway with no internet and endless questions popping into existence.

The subway is now above ground (which I guess at that point kind of just makes it a train), I start reading more tweets and receiving messages from people asking if I’ve heard. At this point I learn that WooThemes as a whole is becoming part of Automattic. This news makes me happy. I spent a year and a half at Woo working with the greatest ninjas in the world. Knowing that the whole team is joining a company that complements them so well is completely awesome.

At WordCamp Europe 2013 the entire WooThemes team attended. Our yearly WooTrip was planned around the first ever WordCamp Europe. Noel Tock presented on “Less is More: The Journey of happytables as a WordPress SaaS”. After the talk, all of us sitting in that row exchanged glances and thought the same exact thing: “We need to do that for WooCommerce!” Create a hosted WooCommerce as a service, that is.

WooThemes is a product company. They’re very good at building products. A SaaS model is completely new and different territory. A different business model, different challenges. Building out infrastructure and scaling up servers isn’t something we’d ever specialized in. Now it’s 2015 and WooCommerce as a service hasn’t come to fruition. This acquisition changes all of that. What is WordPress.com really good at? Scaling a ginormous multisite to host tons of WordPress sites. And what’s one thing that isn’t offered on WordPress.com? A good e-commerce solution. Well that sounds like a match made in heaven.

Obviously there are a couple of hurdles within WooCommerce itself. WooCommerce adds 7 or 8 additional DB tables, and that doesn’t jive with the schema restrictions on .com/VIP. I’m sure they’ll figure out how to deal with that, and from the sounds of it, it’s not going to come out until sometime next year.

The actual news and details of the acquisition itself have been covered thoroughly. There’s a lot of news that I expect will becoming out in the weeks/months to come, which is what excites me just as much, if not more, than the announcement itself. The changes and decisions that occur as a result of the acquisition are what have an affect on the community/ecosystem. There are a few things I care about that haven’t yet been answered, at least not fully, in those articles.

1. Happiness. Everyone I’ve talked to has been very enthusiastic and excited about becoming part of Automattic and meeting all of their new team members. One big highlight of this may be the town hall meeting where the senior team got to introduce themselves. All of the pictures being posted on Facebook are just awesome, and it’s neat to see these events unfold as WooCommerce enters the next chapter of its life with additional team members and resources behind it.

2. What happens for all of the 3rd party extension developers and companies? The long term implications seem a little less clear at this point, though Woo addressed this briefly on their announcement article. For the time being nothing changes, and my guess is that it won’t hurt them at all since WooCommerce will remain in the .org repo. One thing I’m unsure of though is if the extension marketplace will remain on WooThemes.com in the long term. There’s also the potential upside that maybe some of these extensions could be made available on WordPress.com when the time comes.

3. What happens to the themes? Post Status already stated that the themes will be brought into the fold of WordPress.com themes, Woo already has close to a dozen themes on .com already. Would self hosted versions still be available too though? I’d imagine so, but will they remain premium themes, or will they be made public on Github or added to the .org directory? That will be interesting to follow.

4. What happens to the other premium products? Well, Sensei just became a public repo on Github. I wasn’t expecting that, at least not as quickly as it happened. (Edit: Hugh has pointed out in the comments that Sensei has been public for a few months now, it was just never announced. My mistake.) It seems others like WooSlider may follow.

5. What happens to side projects, extensions/plugins developed by ninjas? It sounds like A8C has a no side projects policy, and from the looks of it some are already looking for new maintainers/owners of their projects. I’m curious to see the outcome of this and where the many projects and plugins may end up, but I know they’ll be put into the best of hands.

I’ve an eye to the screen for the announcements that will be coming and can’t wait for the next WooConf. The second WooConf is supposed to be in November in Austin, but wouldn’t be surprised if this changes. When it happens, WooConf 2 should be a pretty big deal and I’m sure going to be there.

My extremely heartfelt congratulations to everyone on the WooThemes team, I’m looking forward to all of the awesomeness you’ll be doing as part of Automattic!