A Conversation with Scott Farquhar, Co-Founder of Atlassian


Scott Farquhar is the archetypal entrepreneur.  He and his Co-Founder Mike Cannon-Brookes started Atlassian in 2002 (after meeting whilst studying at the University of South Wales, Sydney).  Deciding neither of them wanted a corporate job, they took out $10,000 on on credit cards and bootstrapped Atlassian; a company which has now grown to over $13 billion in market capitalisation, with 2,500 staff in 6 countries (2 planets) and over 100,000 customers.  Scott and his Co-Founder are now both billionaires in their own right, and two of the world’s most progressive philanthropists.

Alongside being an incredible business success story, Atlassian has set the standard when it comes to company culture, and community engagement.  Their values of open company, no bullshit – playing, as a team – building with heart and balance – Not *$&£ing the customer and being the change you seek are hard wired into the organisation which does a huge amount of work in the community and donates 1% of profit, product, equity and employee time to charity, helping hundreds of thousands around the world.

I caught up with Scott to learn more about purposeful entrepreneurship.

[bios]Atlassian unleashes the potential of every team. Our collaboration software helps teams organize, discuss and complete shared work. Teams at more than 112,000 customers, across large and small organizations – including Citigroup, eBay, Coca-Cola, Visa, BMW and NASA – use Atlassian’s project tracking, content creation and sharing, real-time communication and service management products to work better together and deliver quality results on time. Learn more about products including Jira Software, Confluence, Stride, Trello, Bitbucket and Jira Service Desk at https://atlassian.com.

Scott Farquhar is the co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian, a collaboration software company that helps teams organise, discuss and complete shared work. More than 110,000 large and small organisations use Atlassian’s tracking, collaboration, communication, service management and development products to work smarter and deliver quality results on time.

Atlassian donates 1% of profit, product, equity and employee time to charity, helping thousands of children in developing countries receive an education. In 2011, Scott was awarded the Corporate Social Responsibility Award by the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). In 2015, Scott helped spearhead Pledge 1%, a corporate philanthropy movement dedicated to making the community a key stakeholder in every business. To date, almost 4,000 companies around the world have joined the movement.  Scott was the youngest person ever to be awarded the ‘Australian Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2006 by Ernst & Young alongside co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes. Both Scott and Mike were named on the 2017 Forbes Global Game Changers list for their part in reshaping the world. Scott holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Information Technology from the University of New South Wales, Australia.[/bios]

Q: To what extent are companies having to become communities?

[Scott Farquhar]: Increasingly, companies like ourselves have social events, sporting events and activities to bring people together.  If you come to Atlassian, you can do Monday morning yoga, Tuesday gym class, Wednesday meditation…. These are all things that drive employees together, help us become a deeper part of their lives, and the community.

Being a community also means that we teach people that resilience is important.  Most people wouldn’t put that as a key life-skill for themselves!  In business, you get incredible highs and lows… and it can take a decade of work before you start to see the story, and so having peer networks around you helps you realise other people have been through this, and can help you.  Mental health is important for business owners and employees alike, and creating mental health positive environments is a big success factor for companies.

Everything from showing our support for social issues, to making sure there’s a safe space for people at work… to ensuring work-life balance is maintained, and we offer flexible working… all matter.  We also ensure we have an open culture in the workplace, where we encourage open debate.  On our intranet, our employees will routinely ask difficult questions to myself and other key leaders; and we have a weekly channel globally where people can ask questions to myself and my co-founder.  Like the leaders of any community, we are accountable to them.

Companies now have to take a much larger role in the community; not just from a CSR perspective, but also empowering their employees to be good citizens and contribute to their communities how they want.

Q:  How can companies make a real difference in their community?

[Scott Farquhar]:  A while ago, I founded a campaign called Pledge 1%.  We adopted a policy where we gave 1% of our profit, 1% of our equity, 1% of our employee time and our product away for free.  When we started out, we had no employees, no profit, and we couldn’t give our product away; so, it was nothing but now? alongside us, we have 4,000 companies committed to this pledge, it’s becoming a movement.

It’s important to also enable employees to make a difference.  We have the concept of foundation time in our business, so employees get 5 days a year of volunteering- and so far, we’ve donated over 30,000 hours of employee time on high-value activities.  We have teams building websites for non-profits, and really using their skills to help the community move forward.

We also work to support non-profits that resonate with us.  We’re a huge supporter of an organization called Room to Read in San Francisco, they work in Cambodia and have the simple ethos that changing the world starts with educated children.  I’m proud that we’re one of their largest donors, and we regularly have employees going there to volunteer and see the impact they make.

We also encourage payroll deductions.  Often our employees feel so inspired by projects they want to give directly, so our programme ‘a dollar a day…’ means that they can have between one and five dollars a day deducted from payroll to go to non-profits.  Nobody notices a dollar a day disappearing from their payroll, but think of the impact of a thousand people doing that.

Q:  How do you choose where to make an impact?

[Scott Farquhar]:  At the company level, my co-founder and I sat down at the very start of our journey and said well what areas are we personally interested in?

We were both passionate that we wanted to really make a difference; soup kitchens are good, but they don’t prevent homelessness.  You can go to volunteer at a soup kitchen every day of the year, and you’ll still have homeless people.  We wanted to tackle root causes and tackle them globally.

The more we worked, the more we realised that education is key.  So we’ve focused on children’s education, largely in the developing world.  We recently set ourselves the goal of educating 10 million children in the next decade; it’s ambitious, but we’re attracting incredible people and partners to help us on this journey, and I genuinely believe we’ll achieve it.

Q: What motivates you as a leader, and what do you hope your legacy will be?

[Scott Farquhar]:  I started my entrepreneurship journey straight out of college, and at the time my goal was simple.  I didn’t want a real job, and I didn’t want to wear a suit…. Anything more than that was a bonus.

Today though, I get a lot of enjoyment from hearing how we’re impacting customers.  We’ve heard of companies that were going under, and adopted our products to help them get back on track (sometimes then eventually selling for hundreds of millions of dollars!)… We’ve also had lots of companies who contact us to say how our products have helped them become more transparent, and improve their company culture; and that makes me really proud to hear.

I also get a great deal of satisfaction from how satisfied our employees are with their careers.  We’ve won best place to work in Australia two years in a row, and we’ve been in the top 10 for as long as I can remember us applying.  We’ve alos got a lot of people who have been with us for over a decade, no mean feat when we’re only 15 years old!

It’s hard to create a very successful company, not many people do that.  It’s even harder to create a company that is durable. Our aim is to create a company that outlasts its founders, and to build a hundred year company you need to provide great customer value, have great employees and great processes.

My ultimate legacy would be to retire from Atlassian one day and see it going on to bigger and better things in twenty, fourty, or fifty years after me!

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.