A tale of two companies: Atlassian and beecom
“Atlassian is a very boring software company. It develops products for software engineers and project managers, with hits like Jira (for software project management and bug tracking) and Fisheye (a revision-control browser). And who could forget Confluence (an enterprise knowledge management system)?”
We would have to say the same about our company beecom – an eye wateringly boring software company, filled with energetic nerds who love coffee and rock music.
Luckily for us, our similarities don’t end there. Since 2003, beecom have partnered Atlassian, which has made 75% privately owned waves from Bondi Beach that reach to the opposite side of the Pacific to Silicon Valley, and beyond.
But how did Atlassian grow to be worth $20 billion, while beecom grew at a steadier, yet still impressive rate of 50% a year? Was it the differences between software development talent? Entrepreneurial mindset? Digital readiness differences between Australia and Switzerland? Connections to Silicon Valley venture capital and big enterprises?
Australia has just passed Switzerland as the richest country in the world as measured by household median wealth, and Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian thinks its reliance on mineral wealth has made the country slower to make tech investment or long-term economic change a priority.
Indeed, in Atlassian’s first days, they relied on credit cards for initial financing. They advertised by going to developer meetups, buying beer for the room and putting Atlassian stickers on the bottles. In a room of Aussies, this would now be labelled, Community building 101.
In retrospect, what we do know is that Atlassian built the products that we wanted to build first, at scale, and developed an amazing partnership platform so others (like Beecom) could develop other fantastic products (like JSU) and come along for the ride. This model of building an ecosystem allowed a community and their core products to flourish at the right time, to a global user base.
The focus of the New York Times article is Atlassian’s founders, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, who have until recently flown under the radar.
However, their profiles have risen into the spotlight following the acquisition of Australia’s most expensive homes (formerly owned by the old-world masters of print media) and because they are the country’s first start-up-to-I.P.O. tech billionaires.
Utilizing their heightened visibility, they are becoming more outspoken, with sometimes unconventional political flexes to impact their passions for bring tech talent to Australia, and environmental sustainability.
“Sometimes we try the front door, sometimes we need to blow up the side door,” Mr. Cannon-Brookes told New York Times.
This radical approach to change is also mirrored in the beecom team. Worldwebforum’s origins as a user group to discuss upcoming digital needs in the Atlassian community, became an opportunity to connect and affect the members of the business community who saw the need for radical change.
If the corporations and bureaucracy were the “front door” so to speak, then the Worldwebforum community were absolutely ready with dynamite for all the side doors in Swiss business.
Exponential growth doesn’t come without it’s challenges. According to the article, running a growing tech company in Australia faces hurdles: Recruitment is hard. Two-thirds of Atlassian’s workforce is in San Francisco.
In Zurich, we are blessed with openness to the migration of skilled engineers, yet to New York Times, Mr. Cannon-Brookes shares that his tech mates around the world like Daniel Ek, the Swedish chief executive of Spotify, and Ryan Smith of Qualtrics, based in Utah, “We’ve got all the same problems.”
And so every two years the Atlassian founders have hosted a private retreat, inviting every Australian start-up valued over $100 million, which is about a dozen. They hike and fish. Families are invited. The goal is to encourage camaraderie and share best practices.
Similarities to the annual Worldwebforum Pre-Unconference in Laax are present here as well.
Whilst Atlassian heralds home-grown startups, Worldwebforum brings the renegades from Silicon Valley and other tech hotspots to the Swiss Alps to share ideas and inspiration. We ski and eat fondue. The goal is to form deep partnerships that will change the world.
So even if we are not valued at $20 billion (yet), we like to think that we are on the right track.