Automattic acqui-hires the team behind Frontity, a React framework for WordPress

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WordPress.com parent company Automattic has acquired Frontity, an open source React framework for WordPress-powered websites. Frontity’s entire team, which includes founders Pablo Postigo (CEO) and Luis Herranz (lead developer), will now join Automattic to work on the WordPress open source project, with a specific focus on frontend development tools and improving website performance.

“After a series of conversations, Automattic offered to sponsor our team to work on the WordPress open source project, and more specifically, to help improve the full site editing developer experience,” Postigo noted in a blog post. “We saw this as a huge opportunity for our team to make a more significant impact in the long term, and decided to go for it.”

A WordPress world

Powering an estimated 40% of all websites, WordPress needs little introduction. The omnipresent content management system (CMS) is available in two broad versions — the open source, self-hosted incarnation available through WordPress.org, and the hosted entity operated and commercialized by Automattic through WordPress.com. The Frontity acquisition is all about Automattic investing resources in the former.

Founded out Spain in 2015 initially as Worona, Frontity has evolved through the years to become a framework that enables developers to leverage the benefits of the React JavaScript library in their WordPress websites. Frontity is all about removing the complexity of connecting WordPress and React, allowing developers to focus on core development needs and creating fast-loading WordPress websites, and spend less time on configuration.  The Madrid-based company raised a €1 million ($1.2 million) seed round last year, with Automattic as one of the investors, and it later announced a partnership with digital agency 10up to open the Frontity Framework to the enterprise.

While Automattic is primarily associated with the WordPress brand, the company has increasingly targeted businesses through the years with a slew of new tools and products, while it has also engaged in a number of acquisition and investment initiatives to diversify its scope. A couple of years back, Automattic secured $300 million from Salesforce, underscoring its intentions in the enterprise sphere, while it also acquired ZBS CRM, a customer relationship management plugin for WordPress, and ecommerce plugin WooCommerce. Earlier this year, Automattic’s enterprise-focused content management offshoot WordPress VIP acquired engagement analytics platform Parse.ly, while Automattic also went on to invest in business email startup Titan and decentralized team messaging platform Element.

Last week, WordPress cocreator and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg announced that his company had quietly raised $288 million in financing back in February, serving not only to fund its acquisitions, but also to spearhead a hiring spree.

Headless

While the Frontity acquisition is perhaps not a pure enterprise play, it fits a broader trend that has seen businesses embrace a so-called “headless” architecture, where software’s backend and frontend are decoupled for maximum freedom and flexibility. For example, Contentstack recently raised $57.5 million for an enterprise-focused CMS built for a more modern architecture, based around microservices, APIs, cloud, and “headless” — or MACH, for short.

Under Automattic’s wing, Frontity said that its team’s knowledge of “frontend tooling, performance, and developer documentation” will benefit the broader WordPress development world, and together they will “explore ways to improve the developer experience with blocks and themes” — this is particularly pertinent with the new WordPress Gutenberg editor.

Frontify’s existing open source framework will continue in its current guise, but the team is working to transition the project to a new community of maintainers given that Frontify’s developers will now be working on new WordPress-focused tasks. So in effect, this acquisition is more of a talent grab than anything else.

“By joining forces, we have the chance to help improve the experience for all developers who want to use WordPress, not just those who want to use it as a decoupled CMS,” Herranz said. “We believe this move is not only a big step forward for our team, but also for the WordPress ecosystem.”

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