Guest Essay

The Beginning of the End Game: WordPress Acquisitions


Last week I wrote about the story of Gutenberg as a key theme for MasterWP over the last 5 years. Surely the other has to be acquisitions.

We’ve been on a wild ride: when we started the newsletter, any acquisition was huge news as they were few and far between: GoDaddy bought ManageWP, or Automattic bought WooThemes. Fast forward to 2021 and acquisition activity in WordPress reflected the global economy: it hit record levels. We got to the point where I got pretty fed up writing about acquisitions — you may note for a six month period we basically ignored all but the most significant stories.

One can make the usual comments: 2021 was the confluence of global trends and the maturing of the WordPress industry. Many WordPress businesses were 5-10 years in, and suddenly there was the opportunity to step away, take a break, and do something else. One can see how that is appealing.

All the activity creates more and more FOMO, too. It’s now noteworthy that someone hasn’t sold if they meet a couple of criteria. The social pressure coming from peers exiting, and then everyone telling you on Twitter an exit is something to be unquestionably and universally celebrated, is not something to be discounted.

This newsletter has, of course, played its part: whilst we’ve been more selective than most about what we cover, we have still constantly talked about them. I also co-founded FlipWP, a marketplace for buying and selling WordPress businesses, last year. A good capitalist can’t ignore market opportunities!

Why are all these companies being bought, and what happens next? This article is a good primer from Venture Capital firm Andreesen Horowitz on what exit options are for businesses. This is especially important for the largest private companies in WordPress — Automattic, WP Engine, and arguably Pantheon too. A subtle shift over the last 18 months is these businesses have many more financial options than before. There’s no longer impossible pressure to list on the stock market and become a public company, and the article lays out the options. This, I think, is the story to look out for next.

Alex Denning is a co-founder and former editor of MasterWP, and the founder of Ellipsis Marketing, a strategy firm for WordPress businesses.

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