Matt Mullenweg: Geeking Out on Socks, Gadgets, Favorite Books, and More – Below the Line with James Beshara

Key Takeaways

  • One of the best things about having other founders as investors? – They know the sh** you have to go through
  • Always remember, as a founder, you are NOT your company
  • James highly recommends trying Dr. Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8” breathing exercise. Here’s how you do it:
    • Let all the air out through your mouth, breathe in quietly through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and blow air forcibly out for a count of 8
      • Repeat for 4 cycles
  • A powerful question to ask yourself when experiencing a negative emotion: “Is this useful to resolving whatever is bothering me?”
    • This will help you realize that freaking out is almost NEVER the solution
  • “When things get crazier, I get calmer”Matt Mullenweg

Books Mentioned

Products Mentioned

Intro

Talking Japan

  • Matt just got back from Tokyo where he dove deep into the tea culture
    • He recommends visiting Mixology Salon for some tea-based alcohol cocktails
  • Matt’s been to Japan a handful of time now
    • During one trip, he walked an ancient pilgrimage trail called the Kumano Kodo, an 8-day 100 km trek ending in Koyasan
  • “I’m always inspired when I go there. It’s such a lovely society.” – Matt Mullenweg
    • Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss said something similar in these Podcast Notes, noting particularly how polite everyone is
  • As it turns out, Japan was one of the first big adopters off WordPress

Automattic’s Happy Tools

  • Automattic has 1150 employees (WordPress is their largest product)
  • One of Automattic’s other divisions that Matt is particularly excited about is called “Other Bets” (the name is Alphabet’s Other Bets)
    • One of their sub-divisions is Happy Tools; a few of their products include:
      • Happy Schedule
      • Happy Chat, a chat system for talking to customers (but it hasn’t launched yet)

The WordPress Story

  • When Matt was 19 attending The University of Houston, he took an interest in using b2, an open-source blogging platform
    • Over time, Matt and a few other developers started working on improving the project, eventually forking it off into what’s now known as WordPress

Young Matt Mullenweg

  • When Matt was 16, he founded the “Houston PalmPilot user’s group”
  • In Matt’s junior year of high school, he began playing live music (saxophone) in a band 
  • Matt and his dad, a fellow computer science enthusiast himself, would often build computers in their spare time

Fixing Computer Problems

  • When Matt was a young teen, he joined the Houston Area League of PC Users
    • “One of the most influential things for me for in later creating software was that on Saturdays, any member could bring in their computer, and we’d all try to fix it… These were real estate agents, lawyers, and accountants, but they were really frustrated with the technology… I was able to help people, but they’d always be so apologetic. ‘I’m sorry, I’m so bad at this.’ But I started telling them, ‘It’s not you… The software is the problem. It’s not intuitive. The people designing it didn’t think about this.'” – Matt Mullenweg
  • James’ first job was repairing computers at a store in Dallas Texas
    • “I really loved the context of someone having an issue. It’s very empathetic; you see their problems, and you can provide relief… It feels so great.” – James Beshara
  • Everyone at Automattic is required to work 1 week/year handling customer support inquiries
    • “I love doing support… Especially with live chat, it’s so satisfying for someone to come with a problem, you can talk them through it, and at the end of it they have a smiley face.” – Matt Mullenweg
  • “I love fixing someone’s WIFi. If you fix someone’s WiFi, you’re their friend for life.” – Matt Mullenweg
    • James adds: “It’s like giving them oxygen”
    • Related: James highly recommends eero’s WiFi system

Gadgets and Gizmos

  • Every year, Matt writes a blog post detailing what he keeps in his backpack
    • The 2019 edition is coming soon!
  • A few of Matt’s favorite gadget/backpack items include:
    • Victorinox Swisscard Lite Pocket Tool, which contains a knife, scissors, tweezers, a nail file, a screwdriver, and a ball-point pen (and more!)
    • A lavender potpourri bag (he loves the aroma)

Phones

  • James rocks an iPhone XR
    • He used to use an iPhone XS (which has an OLED screen), but he found the high screen refresh rate (AKA the flicker) gave him a headache
    • James will often leave his phone at home, just taking his Apple Watch with him (which allows for phone calls, texts, and general note-taking)
      • “I don’t really care about my phone. I actively hate this thing. The phone pulls me out of moments way too much… It’s really destructive to my flow and being in the moment.” – James Beshara
  • James and Matt both have PopSockets on their phones
  • One year for Lent, Matt gave up his smartphone 
    • “The thing I missed most were maps and the ride-sharing apps… I would actually call friends and ask them to call me an Uber.” – Matt Mullenweg

The iPad Pro

  • “My favorite device by far in 2019, and it was the same in 2018, is the iPad Pro– James Beshara
    • “For anyone listening who has thought about getting an iPad, these things are feature complete. It’s everything I need. The keyboard is better than the MacBook keyboard. It’s powerful… Everything is so much faster than my MacBook.”
    • James actually wrote most of his book, Beyond Coffeeon his iPad

Photography

  • Matt’s an avid photographer
    • He’s been posting photos online since high school – there’s over 30k published on his website

Socks, Jeans, & Jackets

  • Matt was rocking a Zara jacket for this interview (but the specific model is no longer made)
  • Matt has quite the interest in socks
    • One of his favorites: Icebreaker Merino Wool Socks
    • “My new thing is toe socks… It’s like your toes are being hugged” – Matt Mullenweg
      • Matt’s favorite brand: Injinji 
    • James loves his Bombas socks
  • James and Matt both are huge fans of Seven7 Jeans
    • Why? – They never wrinkle

Something James Will Always remember

  • Matt was an angel investor in James’ former company, Tilt
    • After Tilt was flash sold to Airbnb, and James was describing the tumultuous journey, Matt said to him – “Wow, I had no idea you were going through all that… I just wish I could have been there for you.”
      • James adds: “That’s something I’ll never forget… That’s one of the best things about having other founders as angel investors – they know the sh** you go through”

You Are Not Your Company

  • “I still struggle with this… It’s hard not to identify yourself with your company.”Matt Mullenweg
    • “I am not my thoughts, I am not my feelings… But sometimes, I feel like I AM my valuation, or I AM my number of employees, or I AM whatever other vanity metric people get caught up in.”
  • But, building off the above, it’s also important to not let success influence your mood in a positive direction – this is also a form of attachment

Matt Hates Fundraising

  • “My least favorite thing about being a CEO or entrepreneur is fundraising… BY FAR. People think I like it because we’ve been successful.”Matt Mullenweg
    • (Automattic just closed a $300 MM round)
    • One reason: there’s so much rejection
    • A second reason: “Having to put a price on your life’s work is so unnatural”
  • For more on startup fundraising, check out the Podcast Notes from James’ interview with fundraising coach Marc McCabe
  • Slightly related: “Another thing that’s not natural for me is projecting confidence or certainty when I don’t actually have it.” – Matt Mullenweg

Books

  • James recommends Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities by A. Parthasarathy
  • Matt really enjoyed Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
    • One related fact: The “om” sound affects your vagus nerve, which triggers the body’s anti-inflammatory response, thus calming you down
      • Also related: The stomach produces serotonin, which gets transported through the vagus nerve to the brain. Deep breathing can help accelerate this transport.
  • Matt’s a fan Anthony de Mello’s writing 
    • Tim Ferriss HIGHLY recommends his book – Awareness
  • Another book Matt enjoyed: The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer
  • A while back, Matt read My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Matt loves Dan Ariely’s writing, particularly his book – Predictably Irrational

Meditation

  • Calm‘s meditation app first got Matt into the practice
    • (He’s now an investor)
  • Matt is currently working his way through Sam Harris’ 50-day Waking Up course
  • On meditation: “It can be really powerful. There’s a reason so many people list it as one of the most influential things in their life.”Matt Mullenweg

Breathing Exercises

  • James highly recommends trying out Dr. Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8” breathing exercise. Here’s how you do it:
    • Let all the air out through your mouth, breathe in quietly through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and blow air forcibly out for a count of 8
      • Repeat this for 4 cycles

“Is this useful to resolving whatever is bothering me?”

  • This is a question Matt likes to ask himself whenever he’s experiencing a negative emotion
    • For example, say you knock a plant over and the pot breaks, would being upset make it any less broken? – NO
  • This questions has helped Matt regulation is emotions MUCH better
    • “When things get crazier, I get calmer… I ask, ‘What’s actually going to solve this, or what’s actually going to be the resolution?’ It’s NEVER running around like a chicken with your head cut off.” Matt Mullenweg

What’s something Matt thinks a lot about, but rarely gets a chance to discuss

  • Incentive structures 
    • EVERYTHING comes down to incentives
    • Charlie Munger has famously said: “When in doubt, look at the incentive structure”

Additional Notes

  • Matt is an investor in Blue Bottle Coffee (despite having only had 3 cups of coffee throughout his life)
  • Matt is one of the leading donor’s behind The Bay Lights
  • James hosts his personal website using WordPress (and he highly recommends it)
    • Using freelancer.com, James hired a developer to customize his site for a few hundred bucks
  • WordPress powers 34% of the web
  • Matt has an older sister
  • The first product Automattic released wasn’t WordPress, it was Akismet (their anti-spam software)
  • Both Matt and James grew up Catholic
  • Reddit is one of the top-5 most-visited sites in the United States
  • Check out Matt’s podcast interview with Leo Widrich, the co-founder of Buffer
    • In the episode, Leo talks about some tactics for compensating the loneliness/isolation associated with remote work
  • “If you can’t pay someone a lot, sometimes it’s worse to pay them a little” – Matt Mullenweg
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