🏃🏻 The Forrest Gump of startups - Atlassian’s rags-to-riches story with community as the cherry on top

Atlassian pioneered this product, and although there was an equal possibility of failure, their hard work paid off. It paid off so much that it took them around the world and beyond.
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Priyanshu Anand
January 25, 2022

Poetry in motion

Picture this - the year is 2002, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is in theatres, the word ‘Facebook’ means nothing, and smartphones are just sci-fi gimmicks. But somewhere in South Wales, Australia, there are two college graduates probably downing a couple of beers, reluctant to wear suits to a job they don’t want to wake up to, and there’s a start-up idea brewing in the midst of all this. Mind you, start-ups were nowhere near being household names even in the US back then, let alone in Australia.

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, college mates turned entrepreneurs/business partners, started Atlassian - a company that the Sydney Morning Herald referred to as ‘a tech giant nobody understands’ just a couple of years ago. It was born into an industry that was non-existent at the time in Australia, and to top it all off, what they did wasn’t really ‘sell-able’, as some might consider.

Cut to right now, Atlassian has 6 offices around the world, with over 13,000 employees and 130,000 customers. 86% of Fortune 500 companies are today their customers. It is the 6th most valued company in Australia with a total market cap of $74.21 Billion. For reference - Atlassian today is larger than the National Australia Bank in terms of valuation. I like to think of Atlassian as the Forrest Gump of start-ups because there’s is a story that’s the polar opposite of what you might call ‘conventional’.

The founders win IT professionals of the year award - source

You would think that like most successful start-ups the story of Atlassian would also start from a college dorm or a garage, but no, the story begins with a $10,000 credit card debt and a rented office space in Sydney. Part of the reason is also that back in ‘02, Venture Capital and investors weren’t a thing in Australia, so the founders decided to take it upon themselves to fund their project.

Computer Science graduates, the founders didn’t really have options like we have in 2022. Eager to come up with something that could onset a stir in the market, they realized that in the race of developing a platform for the world, the art of development itself needed a support pillar. So, with an idea to create a developer tool for developers, and with no money to pay for a sales team, the founders had to figure out a way to not just offer something that people would pay money for, but also figure out a marketing strategy without having to pay for it. The calling was steep, but a billionaire status doesn’t roll into your lap uninitiated. Both Mike and Scott took it on themselves and their marketing strategy was to physically spread the word to developers about their product Jira, and offer them to try it out for free.

👉 Jira was Atlassian’s first-ever product that provided developers with issue tracking and project management on an interface to manage bugs, update features, collaborate, and release software.

What Jira looked like in 2002
What Jira looks like today

Today, Jira is the number one software development tool used by agile teams. Why? Because Jira offers everything developers need to manage their projects, all in one space. Not just that, developers can customize the platform to work exactly how they want it to work.

Atlassian pioneered this product, and although there was an equal possibility of failure, their hard work paid off. It paid off so much that it took them around the world and beyond, like literally. Both NASA and SpaceX use Atlassian’s products like Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket, Bamboo, and more, to manage their space missions.

👉 Confluence lets users create, collaborate, and organize their work all in one place. Any project, any idea, can be deconstructed, organized, and segmented into spaces for teams to have better visibility on resources, even when things get complicated.

Confluence became Atlassian’s left hand after Jira’s success. Confluence and Jira became inseparable; anyone who used Jira, would also gradually gravitate towards Confluence because of how convenient it was for them to not just organize their code, but also collaborate on the resources that go behind it. With these two heading Atlassian’s growth, what came after was in a way, inevitable.

The historic SpaceX launch of two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on Endeavor spaceship has an essence of Atlassian sprinkled on it.

What’s more? NASA’s beloved curiosity rover exploring Mars as we speak crunches a day’s worth of data into a few hours and sends it back to earth demanding an updated list of tasks for the next day. Atlassian’s Bamboo works in the background powering a deployment pipeline that delivers software updates quickly and directly to the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory - the manufacturer and owner of Curiosity Rover) cloud as soon as engineers deploy the code.

Pretty sick, right? 🤙

Jira became so big that there was a time when people knew the product but had never heard of the company that owns it. In fact, when Scott approached Doug Burgum - the chairman of Atlassian - to see if he’d be interested in taking the position, he said he’d never heard of the company before but knew what Jira was.

It’s important to also note that Atlassian has been infamously known around the industry to stay under the radar and behave like an underdog, despite having a billion-dollar empire. In their early days, the founders turned down many offers from interested investors and stuck to their tradition of not raising any capital. This connects the bridge between the idea they put into marketing and how they chose to represent their brand.

Reportedly, Atlassian only spent 19% of their revenue on sales and marketing and focused more on R&D and organic marketing. For context, an average SaaS company spends 50% or greater on annual sales and marketing, so anything less than 20% seemed close to impossible before Atlassian did it. Instead of flashy ads, they let the product speak for itself by making it unbelievably inexpensive for even smaller teams to be able to use it without second-guessing the pricing model. Word spread like wildfire and developers quickly started chanting Jira’s name as a ‘life saving’ software.

Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt out of your depth, like a fraud, and just guessed/bullshitted your way through the situation, petrified that at any time, someone was going to call you on it? - Mike Cannon-Brookes

It wasn’t until he became colossally successful that Mike realized that he suffers from imposter syndrome. For those who don’t know - imposter syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments.

Coming from just average grades and no job experience, Mike often felt like he didn’t belong wherever he was, he didn’t deserve where he was going, and the worst of all, that he’s come way too far to just sleep it off and never look back. The early days of Atlassian would be him attending meetings in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and his signature trucker hat while everyone else would be in suits. The acronyms being thrown around would often go over his head, forcing him to jot everything down, go home, and look them up on Wikipedia to get a hang of what’s going on.

It took him a while to realize that imposter syndrome isn’t the frustration of not being able to do something because you’re not qualified enough for it, but instead is the fear of getting caught in the process of trying to do so. You can’t run away from it, all you can do is embrace it. And that’s exactly what he did.

If you appreciate stories and self-deprecating humor, check out this Ted Talk where Mike talks about Imposter Syndrome - the realizations he had, and what came of it. 👇

The founders celebrate as shares open on NASDAQ

Focusing on things that matter

Becoming successful hasn’t made the founders less grounded than they were. Within 4 years of existence, Atlassian Foundation was created along with a pledge to donate 1% equity, company profit, and employee time to charitable causes.

Mike himself has pledged USD 350 million in personal funds to organizations fighting climate change. Wanting to be more than just a billionaire philanthropist, he wants to affect change in the most impactful manner plausible and firmly believes that Australian companies need to focus on sustainability in the long haul. Given the speed at which infrastructures are expanding, he thinks that people who can affect real change need to realize the responsibility they have and take charge before it’s too late.

The founders always valued human connections more than anything. What their brand set out to be slowly inherited itself into an image with certain values at its core which was presented at a meeting during the company’s early days.

The idea of a community manifested with the values that honed Atlassian’s steady growth. The company became exceedingly people-centric and has since evolved into a $72 billion dollar community-powered engine.

Let’s dive in.

Connect globally, meet locally - Becoming a part of Atlassian’s community

Okay, where do we even start?

Atlassian’s community is perhaps one the best examples of how communities should be built and scaled through constant engagement.

How big is Atlassian’s community?

In 2021 the online community had 17.6 million visits with 85,000 average daily visitors. Atlassian has been named a top community by CMX, and FeverBee. Furthermore, they went on to win the Community of the year award at CMX’s 2020 Community Industry Awards.

Once you get to Atlassian’s community page, it branches out into 3 main sub-categories:

  • Products

Get involved with online forums for each Atlassian product. If you know your way around the products and are looking for something specific, this is the right place for you.

Products sub-category
  • Interests

Get involved based on your interests in the community. Be it agile, DevOps, or if you’re looking to just blow off some steam and go off-topic, this is probably the right place for you to roam around.

Interests sub-category
  • Groups

Get involved based on the groups that appeal to you. And there are many.

Group sub-category

Our recommendation? Become a part of the Welcome Center group because that’s a pretty darn good place to start.

Here’s a little something for users to get started:

Dipping your toes - This is the stage where you first sign up, start reading articles, questions, and become a part of discussions.

Hopping onboard - Congrats, now you’re a community member. You start reading more discussions, articles and attending community events. At a personal level, this is where you start learning and thriving within the community.

Rising Star - You’re not just an observer anymore but a participator. This is the level where you start giving back to the community and helping newer and existing members with the knowledge you’ve garnered.

Becoming a leader - You know the insides of working in a community - how it functions and how it follows. Under the guidance of community leaders, you slowly start becoming one of them and community becomes not just an integral part of your day, but also a part of your identity.

Community leaders are the stewards of Atlassian’s future; when you think you’re ready for it, you can apply to become a community leader at Atlassian, and the perks?

Benefits of becoming a community leader

But along the way, there’s a lot more that happens, after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Earning Badges

Atlassian utilizes a very simple yet efficacious method for engagement in the community. Each member gets an opportunity to earn badges for everything that they do. You entered the community? Get a badge for that. Answered questions? Get a badge for that. A gamified metric to signify and glorify your efforts in the community keeps up involvement and induces gentle encouragements to keep doing what you’re doing (and perhaps maybe even more).

Earning badges in the community

Check out more on How you can earn badges in the community.

Atlassian Community Events (ACE)

How do you empower a community on a global scale? What can you do to ensure that people not just connect with your products, but empathize with the people that make the product what it is? You host events. But what do you do when hosting events become infeasible for a community so big? You let community builders do it for you.

Atlassian Community Events are free, user-let meetups that take place in cities all around the world. All you have to do is look up events happening in and around your area and RSVP! Here are the benefits you get👇

ACE community benefits

Looking to host community events? Sign up to become a leader and here’s what you have to do to be one 👇

ACE community leader benefits

A sneak peek 👀

Developer Community

It can get overwhelming working with a plethora of services and products, but the one thing that makes it easy is getting help from peers who’ve had hands-on experience. Atlassian has a whole forum for developers to hang around, ask questions, and answer them on their developer community. Anything remotely related to working with the Atlassian development tool can be found here.

Developer community forum

Atlassian documentation

Powered by Confluence, the documentation suite provides a sophisticated yet comprehensive guide to working with all of Atlassian’s products. It’s a goldmine, to say the least. Oh, and there’s different documentation for developers on API app integration and development, and enterprise documentation for learning everything there is to know about deploying and managing Atlassian products at scale.

Doesn’t end there.

Atlassian University

You can do courses, certifications, and product training on Atlassian products with their online University.

  • Learn more

The courses offered are from Atlassian experts and provide hands-on experience on the software.

Courses on Atlassian University
  • Earn more

Not just practical experience, but the courses are designed to offer advanced career opportunities.

In a 2021 survey, 73% of Atlassian Certified professionals reported that earning their credentials increased their job prospects.

Events you can’t say no to

  • Fun Fridays

Are Fridays in your community just another workday? Well, that ain’t the case for Atlassian’s Community. Fun Fridays are when members gather around to talk on a topic posted by any one of them.

Here’s Stephanie Grice’s - the Head of Global Community & Customer Advocacy at Atlassian -Fun Friday post urging members to post ‘Two truths and a lie’ about themselves while adding her own.

Fun Friday post

Here are our own Two truths and a lie:

  • We believe community builders are unsung superheroes.
  • We have 3 pets
  • We absolutely hate free coffees and cookies.

Answer down in the comments👇


They’ve been doing this since August 2017.

Here’s a list of all the Fun Friday posted by Laura Holten, a community leader at Atlassian.

The One With All The Friday Fun Topics Part 1 & Part 2

Caution: Enter at your own risk because these posts are a rabbit hole of entertainment. I’ve spent hours here 🤷‍♂️

  • Atlassian Community Contests

How do you measure community engagement? Is it something only done within the confines of ‘work-hours’ or ‘professional-boundaries’? Atlassian’s community has grown into a family, and the things they do together are living proof of that.

Take the Great Atlassian Bake-off competition for instance: The last holiday season, community members took to baking with the idea to ‘get off Zoom and get into the Kitchen’ and compete to be crowned the “ACE Baker”.

Here’s what the crowned cake looked like:

Nikki’s cake for the win!

I don’t know about you but I’d devour that in a second 🤷‍♂️

Upwards and onwards

If you look at how the company came to be - Atlassian’s journey has been mostly mesmerizing. And for the most part, as I read through articles after articles trying to boil down 20 years’ worth of events into a 10-minute case study, I realized that failures are just successes being shy. Like most things Atlassian does, their community too is anything but conventional. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen. A thriving, striving group of individuals, making the best of whatever curveball that comes their way, much like the founders did.

Stephanie, the Head of Global Community at Atlassian said in an interview with CMX that along with the company’s online forums and community events working together strategically, part of the Community growth curve has also been the investments.“If you don’t invest in things. you can’t expect them to do well,” she says. “The reason that we’re successful now is that we put our money where our mouth is, and there’s actually an investment being made by the company.”

Her advice for growing communities is this:

  • Focus on the business perspective - Make use of the data in a way that will justify investments to a community. Using data to frame the right KPIs to the right people can turn more heads than how communities are presented traditionally.
  • Hire an analyst - To get data, you need to measure the impact a community makes on the company’s objectives. An analyst can be a critical piece of the puzzle.
  • Don’t go overboard; work with what you have - She feels that there isn’t an immediate need to hire fresh recruits to do a job that is better suited for the people a company already has. These people know better what the company needs, so that’s a good place to start.

As for what’s next in the Atlassian community - there are way more events lined up already for the new year than there were last year. More webinars, events, discussions, and engagement. Atlassian’s community is truly a titan, in all sense of the word.

Living the Australian dream

The CEO magazine referred to Atlassian’s founders as ‘accidental billionaires’. If anything, Mike himself would agree that it’s true. You can’t help but think that sometimes the most inspirational of stories start off with something as simple as two college grads not wanting to wear suits to work. It’s ironic in a way too.

Two of the richest tech billionaires in Australia, co-founders, college mates, and neighbors own the two most expensive pieces of real estate in Australia.

Now, ain’t that poetry in motion?


To Summarize

Poetry in motion

  • What was 2002 like; the tech space in Australia and two college graduates building on a startup idea simply because wearing suits to work wasn’t something they wanted.
  • The start of Atlassian with a $10,000 credit card debt, an office space, and.
  • Jira then and Jira now.
  • Atlassian’s entourage of products that took them to Mars.
  • A marketing strategy to sell inexpensive software to developers without a sales team and a marketing budget.

Imposter Syndrome

  • Mike’s lifelong feeling of not being good enough in doing what he was doing.
  • Making peace with who he is (and being quite vocal about it).

A timeline of Atlassian’s journey

  • Year by year recap of Atlassian’s accomplishments from building Jira and Confluence to acquiring products like bitbucket, bamboo, Crucible, and more.
  • Listing on the NASDAQ.

Focusing on things that matter

  • The 1% rule.
  • Atlassian’s contribution to the environment.
  • Mike’s personal contribution.
  • Minimalist values.
  • A community to be reckoned with.

Connect globally, meet locally - Becoming a part of Atlassian’s community

  • Atlassian’s 4 Million members, 17.6 million visitors, and 85,000 daily visitors.
  • 3 community sub-categories
  • Products
  • Interests
  • Groups
  • From dipping your toes to becoming a community leader
  • Earning Badges in the community
  • Atlassian Community Events (ACE)
  • Developer Community
  • Atlassian documentation
  • Atlassian University
  • Learn more
  • Earn more
  • Events you can’t say no to
  • Fun Fridays
  • Atlassian Community contests

Upwards and Onwards

  • Atlassian community’s success ingredients as put forward by Stephanie Grice.
  • What’s next got Atlassian.

Living the Australian dream

  • ‘Accidental billionaires’ of the tech world.
  • A poetic ending.

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