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Atlassian, An Agile Company

March 30, 2016.

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquha, Atlassian

Atlassian is a software editor that is little-known by the public at large, yet has a worldwide following among companies that practice the Agile work methodology. Atlassian has brilliantly demonstrated how to succeed with a product that is not particularly novel, by paying attention to clients’ needs and providing high-quality service.

Atlassian was created in the summer of 2001 in Sydney, Australia, by two friends from university, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar. Mike and Scott provided service and support for Enterprise Java (J2EE), Orion (IronFlare) and OC4J (Oracle) server installations. Why did the founders choose the name Atlassian?: “It means ‘like Atlas’ or ‘Atlas-like’ - it’s not a real word, but it’s the would-be adjectival form of Atlas. Atlas was an ancient Greek god whose role in life was to stand atop Mount Olympus, holding up the sky with his hands to stop it from falling. He literally was the first person to fulfil our mission to provide legendary service while ‘supporting the world’.” In 2002, the company released its first software product, a set of Orion server management tools (Atlassian Tools).

JIRA Website, 2002

A short time later, Atlassian released a beta version of the software that would make it famous: JIRA, an issue tracking system based on J2EE. JIRA is a system for submitting issue tickets describing bugs, requests for features or any other task request. Each ticket is assigned a priority level, from “Trivial” to “Blocker”, a status, from “Assigned” to “Closed”, etc. The program was not a game-changer; in fact, it was similar to other issue tracking systems then in existence, such as Bugzilla, a similar program launched by Netscape Communications in 1998. The difference was that JIRA wasn’t limited to software bugs.

As for the program name, Mike and Scott explained that they didn’t particularly like using Bugzilla – understandably – so they nicknamed it Gojira, from the Japanese name for Godzilla. In Atlassian lingo, Gojira became the nickname for any bug tracker, even after an internal solution replaced Bugzilla. When they decided to launch their own solution, Mike and Scott decided to drop the “Go” and just keep “JIRA”.

In 2004, Atlassian released Confluence, a not-bad-not-great Java Wiki software for enterprises. Confluence has been stripped of Wiki syntax, a loss that some might lament but that is largely made up for by an excellent WYSIWYG editor.

In the years to follow, Atlassian launched Crowd (an authentification and authorization tool), Bamboo (a continuous integration server), Clover (Java code coverage), Crucible (code review), and FishEye (version management). Atlassian further created an impressive marketplace packed with third-party extensions that complement its own solutions.

JIRA GreenHopper, 2009

In 2009, Atlassian’s two showcase products were JIRA and Confluence. That year, Atlassian started selling itself as an enterprise that practiced the Agile work methodology, and started promoting its software as work aids for Agile teams. That same year, Atlassian bought GreenHopper, a JIRA plug-in entirely dedicated to Agile project management, developed by Pyxis Technologies.

In 2010, Atlassian raised 60 million dollars from Accel Partners, a venture-capital investor. It then bought Bitbucket, a startup by Jesper Nøhr, offering a Web hosting and software development management service using Mercurial. The following year, Atlassian added Git project management support.

In 2011 and 2012, building on its growth-by-acquisition momentum, Atlassian acquired HipChat, a chatting and instant messaging tool for enterprises, soon followed by SourceTree, a Git/Mercurial client for Windows and Mac.

Atlassian San Francisco, 1098 Harrison Street

In 2014, Atlassian raised 150 million dollars (T. Rowe Price Associates) and, in December 2015, went public on NASDAQ, quickly raising 462 million dollars, for a total market valuation of 6 billion dollars.

Basic JIRA now runs on the Agile logic and discourse, in both Scrum and Kanban flavours. Scrum projects can be carved up in requirements (“user stories”) which are catalogued (“backlog”), then divvied up into “sprints”, i.e. iterative work sprints, all within a modern, functional interface.

Today, Atlassian has six offices worldwide (two of which are in the United States): Amsterdam (Netherlands), Austin (USA), Manila (Philippines), San Francisco (USA), Yokohama (Japan), and the historic headquarters in Sydney, Australia. Atlassian employs 1,400 people and serves upwards of 50,000 clients, including many well-known companies. But Atlassian can’t afford to rest on its laurels, with competition nipping at its heels; HipChat is under attack by Slack, and JIRA is fighting competition on all fronts. One of Atlassian’s advantages is that, thanks to its various product offerings, it covers most software development companies’ needs. That said, many companies are now opting for a combination of solutions, for example using JIRA for ticketing and Github for code.