Profile of Atlassian founders, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, the first Australian billionaires in the technology sector related to the creation of the company (IPO) whose company is now worth $ 20 billion


SYDNEY, Australia – Atlassian is a very boring software company. She 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 about Confluence (a business knowledge management system)?

So why are his two founders known in Australia?

Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, both 39, are the first company in the country to enter the I.P.O. billionaires of technology. And because last year, they started making noise.

Until recently, they remained largely out of public view, even though Atlassian was becoming a $ 20 billion company. Now, as Australian politics leans to the right on global issues such as immigration, cybersecurity and climate change, they emerge as new political voices, tweeting on Twitter and lobbying Parliament.

The other reason for their fame: in 2017, Mr. Farquhar bought the most expensive house in Australia, a historic Sydney estate sold for 73 million Australian dollars, or $ 52 million.

In December, Cannon-Brookes broke that record by closing the next house.

I met the founders of Atlassian for a few days in Sydney. On the occasion of brunches, a ferry crossing and a birthday party, they spoke to me about their new roles in public life and what the One feels like the first technological billionaire of a country where wealth usually comes from mining or banking activities.

"People are now interested in what we say," said Cannon-Brookes. "We have a voice. We have a sense of responsibility. "

The two students met at the University of New South Wales, where they both participated in a scholarship program sponsored by Australian companies. After graduation, they were encouraged to join one of these companies. It was the two friends who founded Atlassian, which shocked their teachers and their friends.

It was in 2002. Making a start-up was unusual.

"It was really amazing – why not go with a sponsor company?" Said Christine Van Toorn, Program Director and Lecturer at the school.

They used credit cards for the initial financing. They advertised by going to developer meetings, buying beer for the room and pasting Atlassian stickers on the bottles.

The company took off almost immediately.

"In less than three years, we have gone from pariah to sponsoring the program ourselves," said Farquhar.

The products they created were inexpensive and easy to use. They sold by word of mouth (the company employs few representatives). But Silicon Valley gave them a little attention. When their friend Didier Elzinga, founder of Culture Amp, was at a venture capital dinner in Palo Alto, California, an investor asked why people should care about Atlassian.

"And I said," O.K. Tell me a Valley company that has a market capitalization of $ 5 billion and where the two founders own 75% of the capital, "Elzinga said. "They did not need Silicon Valley."

They first confused Silicon Valley. And then they confused Australia.

"The orthodoxy among Australian technology companies is to stay out of politics," said Alan Jones, founder of M8 Ventures, an Australian venture capital firm. "And now there are these guys."

Their approach to politics is an extension of how they run a business and live side by side: building on their differences.

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Mr. Cannon-Brookes' father was the managing director of Citigroup Australia. His son wears long hair, usually under a trucker's hat. He has a hairy beard and swears casually.

Mr. Farquhar's roots belong more to the working class: his father worked at a service station and his mother worked at McDonald's. He is calmer and has shaved and light brown hair.

He was recently upset at not having completed a marathon in less than four hours (four hours and two minutes). When his green smoothie almost spilled out of his glass (but did not do it), Farquhar immediately thought of the lenses: "A positive meniscus!" He exclaimed.

In their political activism, Mr. Cannon-Brookes is often the public face, posting on Twitter and addressing the media, while Mr. Farquhar focuses on Canberra, the capital – where he caused a sensation this week by condemning a new law technology companies may be forced to create tools allowing law enforcement to bypass the encryption of their products.

"Sometimes we try the front door, sometimes we have to blow the side door," Cannon-Brookes said of their political activities.

Both became more interested in Australian politics after the policies took a radical turn, as the government coalition abandoned its efforts to combat climate change and fueled fears over immigration.

This posed a problem for a company that needed to hire talented engineers, often from abroad. Thus, in the beginning, the founders' primary goal was fundamental: to make Australia more user-friendly and politicians more technology conscious.

First, they organized a coding class for elected officials and began working to have engineering integrated with more curriculum.

"It was like organizing the worst marriage in the world," said Cannon-Brookes.

Yet, it earned them a little respect. "They do wonderfully creative things," said Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the Liberal Party from 2007 to 2018. "Mike and Scott have an extremely influential role to play."

Australia has just moved from Switzerland to one of the richest countries in the world, measured by the median household wealth, and Cannon-Brookes thinks that his reliance on mineral wealth has made the country slower to make investment in technology or a long-term economic change a priority.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes is particularly passionate about climate change. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison reflects on Australia's renewable energy ambitions, Cannon-Brookes has become a staunch critic.

"You've made me crazy and inspired me," he said. says Prime Minister on Twitter, adding an expletive for emphasis.

In addition to encouraging Elon Musk to make Australia the largest battery in the world to help solve his eating problems, Mr. Cannon-Brookes has brought together other personalities from around the world. Australian business to advance Canberra. Peter Dutton, the Minister of the Interior, asked the Atlassian founders to "stay true to their expectations."

"He knits well in the country and he does not seem to be doing it," said Cannon-Brookes.

It invests personally in alternative sources of energy and fuel, and is particularly interested in environment controlled agriculture. "My wife and I firmly believe in the future of insects as a source of food," said Mr. Cannon-Brookes during a brunch (muesli, not insects).

Farquhar tends to focus on the issues of Atlassian's fortune: cybersecurity (the new encryption law has cost big customers) and immigration (the government is slowing down recruitment and innovation by to reduce immigration to Australia).

It is not at all clear if it can influence the law of encryption; potential amendments need to be debated in Parliament this week and no changes are planned.

But on immigration, the Atlassian founders have moved the needle. After the Australian Skilled Worker Program removed several technological roles (including Web Developer) from its approved visa categories, MM. Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes lobbied Parliament to change course and offer more opportunities for international recruitment.

On a ferry trip to work, Farquhar pointed to the homes of the two founders, vast estates nestled in Sydney's green hillside. Before buying the properties, it was planned to demolish the houses and build the land.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes and his family moved out a few weeks ago. He and Mr. Farquhar put a hole in the fence so their children could play together. One day a week, the founders pick up their children at school together and bring the ferry back home.

"It's a changing of the guard," said Farquhar, referring to the houses. "They belonged to two families of newspapers. It used to be newspaper dynasties, and now they are technology dynasties. "

It was a symbolically significant transition. The Fairfax family, a newspaper dynasty, had owned the properties since 1901.

"It was a family of institutions, a very conservative family, very committed members of Congregational Church and pillars of Sydney's exclusive suburbs," said Bridget Griffen-Foley, professor of media at Macquarie University in Sydney. . It is quite symbolic that the digital upheavals have so affected the fortunes of the old media dynasty, and now you have the billionaires of technology taking control. "

This is a big change for Australia, where software entrepreneurs do not have the same cultural empire that they have in the United States and elsewhere.

"Most of the neighbors' mansions are foreign billionaires or real Australian currency – mint, gold rush," said Jones, the venture capitalist. "It's been 100 years since most Sydney Harbor families make their money."

Despite the money, running a growing technology company in Australia is a challenge, said the founders. Recruitment is difficult. Two-thirds of Atlassian's workforce is in San Francisco.

The founders have formed a cohort of friends with major technology companies outside of Silicon Valley, including Daniel Ek, Swedish director of Spotify, and Ryan Smith of Qualtrics, based in Utah.

"We all have the same problems," said Cannon-Brookes.

Thus, every two years, the founders of Atlassian organized a private retreat, inviting each Australian company valued at over $ 100 million, or about a dozen. They walk and fish. Families are invited. The goal is to encourage camaraderie and share best practices.

This is one of the many reasons why both men said that they would not leave Australia for Silicon Valley.

"I am very familiar with the United States and I am very familiar with Australia," said Farquhar. "And I think we did better here."