How Atlassian’s twin-CEO structure has aided the business prosper

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Atlassian’s founders and co-CEOs, Scott Farquhar, still left, and Mike Cannon-Brookes.


In this weekly collection, CNBC will take a glimpse at businesses that designed the inaugural Disruptor 50 list, 10 a long time later.

In early March, collaboration program maker Atlassian released a website publish titled, “Atlassian stands with Ukraine,” laying out the firm’s plans to assist staff and prospects in the area and announcing it was “pausing the sale of all new computer software to Russia.”

The post was signed by co-CEOs Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes. They went again and forth on the articles and the principal factors. But Farquhar did most of the work, freeing up Cannon-Brookes.

That is just one of a lot of conveniences of maintaining two people at the top of a business. The atypical construction has assisted propel the Australians’ 20-12 months-previous agency into the major tier of the aggressive software program marketplace, with solutions so perfectly identified that large companies may possibly uncover it tricky to move absent.

In 2013, Atlassian landed on CNBC’s inaugural Disruptor 50 listing of private businesses really worth viewing, ahead of its 2015 Nasdaq debut. The stock has risen just about 1,000% because then, in contrast with 124% expansion for the S&P 500 around the same time period.

The duo have had the exact occupation at the identical enterprise for 20 many years, they had been born a person thirty day period apart, they grew to become parents three months apart, they were being ideal males at just about every other’s weddings, and they personal residence up coming to each individual other in Sydney. “Our inventory ticker is Crew, and so, yeah, that is what we’re about,” Farquhar stated.

But they are distinctive folks. Cannon-Brookes is a lengthy-haired idealist, who became an operator of a U.S. basketball workforce and attempted a takeover of Australian utility organization AGL Strength. His responses are sprinkled with obscenities. Farquhar is clean up-minimize and mindful as he speaks. Early investor Prosperous Wong of Accel calls Farquhar far more analytical.

“Mike is type of the quintessential unreasonable guy,” Farquhar reported. “‘The environment should perform this way.’ ‘Mike, it won’t yet.'”

Early VC fortunes

Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes turned pals in the late 1990s soon after using the similar program at the College of New South Wales. The engineering bubble broke all over the time they graduated, and dealing with a dearth of career prospective buyers, they fashioned a company. Initially it offered guidance for one more company’s software server. Then it adjusted direction and started developing its own application. The 1st variation of Jira, a software for tracking problems and initiatives, appeared in 2002.

In about 5 a long time, numerous Accel-backed get started-ups experienced embraced Jira. “It was already the conventional that you had to integrate your application with,” Wong said. The firm widened its portfolio with the 2004 launch of document-collaboration service Confluence and the 2012 acquisition of workforce messaging application HipChat. Along the way, Atlassian introduced variations of Jira for different styles of employees.

These days Jira is a market leader, transcending its status as Silicon Valley darling and overtaking heavyweights with a long time of expertise offering to enterprises. Atlassian controlled bigger share than any other enterprise in the current market for software package modify, configuration and procedure administration tools in 2020, ahead of Microsoft, IBM and Broadcom, according to an estimate from researcher IDC. Atlassian’s profits in the market place grew about 22% year above 12 months, faster than the total classification, which expanded pretty much 15% to $4.8 billion, dependent on IDC’s knowledge.

Element of the momentum derives from programmers receiving to consider out Atlassian’s program for no cost right before they shell out for it. The method goes back again to the founders.

“Our exposure to application commenced with matters like game titles,” Farquhar explained. “Again then, video games had distinct small business models. You could acquire your PlayStation types shrink-wrapped. If you appear at Id Software, they came out with a shareware model, form of try out just before you obtain. We considered that was a excellent way to promote software package, due to the fact of program you want to try ahead of you get. At SAP, you can find no seeking. You get to see what it appears to be like, due to the fact it usually takes that extended to put into practice it.” (SAP does provide free of charge trials for some of its products.)

Atlassian was possibly the very first or quite early to sell software program with a freemium provide, Farquhar said, incorporating that cloud file sharing app maker Dropbox made it much more common. And in the late 1990s Purple Hat, which IBM later obtained, gave absent CDs containing its distribution of the open up-resource Linux working technique and permitted persons to obtain it cost-free of charge.

Lacking a pile of dollars from enterprise capitalists for its 1st 8 a long time, Atlassian skipped the customized of assembling a squadron of salespeople to score deals. Now, even though, there are a few on team who pursue select business enterprise chances, Farquhar stated.

Concentrating considerably less on selling hard and more on providing items people today basically want to use has given increase to a robust financial profile. Atlassian enjoys the fifth widest gross margin of all 76 constituents of the WisdomTree Cloud Computing Fund, at 83%.

That status has caught the interest of investors.

“In my background of 33 many years of doing this, I have witnessed additional than a handful of businesses that have tried to do it without having an inside salesforce, or an exterior salesforce, possibly. The matter I would say about Atlassian is they’re the most prosperous at it,” claimed Brendan Connaughton, founder and managing partner of Catalyst Private Wealth, which held $91 million in Atlassian inventory at the stop of 2021, its premier place at the time.

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Like many other cloud shares, Atlassian isn’t really in fact lucrative. Connaughton explained Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar would locate it less difficult to change Atlassian into an precise moneymaker than its friends, many thanks to its reasonably sparse income group.

A a lot more prominent attribute of Atlassian’s 7,000-man or woman corporation is the team that in fact builds the company’s wares. Engineering, item and structure report to Cannon-Brookes. Farquhar supervises authorized, human resources, finance, profits, advertising and buyer-aid groups. “I am form of the grandparents,” Farquhar stated. “I go away him to deal with the temper tantrums and the screaming.”

When they communicate about obligation, they take into consideration each abilities and enjoyment. You don’t want someone who’s fantastic at handling a process but would not like executing it, and vice-versa, Cannon-Brookes mentioned.

Promoting and product sales reported to Cannon-Brookes for 15 a long time, and engineering at the time described to Farquhar. And they’ve both equally run the complete firm at different moments. They have gone on sabbaticals. Previous calendar year Farquhar took 3 months off to caravan with family members about northwestern Australia. “We type of acquired to journey unencumbered,” he said. “I assume other CEOs would have to retire or quit to be in a position to acquire a break that long.”

The structure has contributed to Atlassian’s success, mentioned Gregg Moskowitz, an analyst at Mizuho.

“I imagine it has aided, acquiring two powerful executives at the pretty prime who see eye to eye, at the very least on all the essential issues,” he reported. Other technological innovation businesses have utilized CEOs in pairs, like Autodesk, Ceridian, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP and Workday. Alphabet’s autonomous-driving subsidiary Waymo a short while ago went the co-CEO route.

The strategy has a mixed heritage, Moskowitz stated, stating it failed to work nicely at all at handset maker BlackBerry. The connection between co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and co-founder Mike Lazaridis “experienced gone cold,” according to a person account, and the two stepped down.

The founder outcome

What is actually different for Atlassian is equally Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar are founders, said Wong, the Accel investor. Their merged information allows them transfer more rapidly, he reported.

Wong pointed to Atlassian’s 2017 acquisition of activity-administration application Trello for $384 million, nevertheless the firm’s premier deal to date. At Trello it was a shock, for the reason that Atlassian’s Jira was seen as a competitor, stated Stella Garber, who ran internet marketing at Trello at the time.

“I think it took conviction of the founders to say, ‘I know we could have crafted it, but it would consider us time, and it would actually extend the organization if we make the option now and pay back what it takes to get the acquisition accomplished,'” Wong reported.

When there is an difficulty on Cannon-Brookes’ turf, it is really his choice to make. But when it is really some thing major, he consults with Farquhar, for the reason that it is really pretty much certainly likely to impact them equally. There are a lot these illustrations in and all around the organization appropriate now, and it can be purely natural that they divvy things up.

“The pandemic and Russia and Ukraine — at the minute Sydney is underneath floods,” Cannon-Brookes mentioned. “Place it all collectively, and you will find a great deal of items you need to have to deal with in a expansion biz that are not just the products.”

Farquhar reported he and Cannon-Brookes experienced very long conversations about what to do with their crew-messaging app Stride, which arrived in 2017 as Slack and Microsoft Teams have been attaining momentum.

“It was odd, essentially, since everyone was talking about how fantastic Slack is. We were applying Stride internally,” Farquhar stated. “The product was in fact superior. The Slack thing is remarkable. It is really actually not as good as what we experienced. We experienced to make a determination.”

In the long run, Atlassian shut down Stride and HipChat Cloud and marketed the intellectual house to Slack. It also purchased an fairness stake in Slack, which shot up in worth as Slack inventory appeared on the New York Inventory Trade in 2019.

When Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar were being more youthful, they could near the business office doorway and have a conversation with just about every other about a disaster, and for pleasurable they may go mountain biking or drink beer with each other. The pandemic stopped them from seeing each other in particular person so frequently. They have gotten fantastic at connecting on Zoom, Farquhar stated.

Cannon-Brookes isn’t going to will need to massage what he claims to Farquhar. Devoid of prompting, he imagined what would take place if Farquhar were to go away.

“I’d be regularly explaining issues, which would sense like I was talking down to another person,” he reported. “‘Good plan, but let me inform you what took place in 2012.'”

Indication up for our weekly, unique newsletter that goes over and above the annual Disruptor 50 checklist, featuring a nearer appear at organizations like Atlassian ahead of they go community, and founders like Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar who proceed to innovate throughout each sector of the economic system.

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