March 21, 2018

Our Takeaways from Mike Cannon-Brookes’ SaaStr Annual 2018 Talk, Tales of a Modern CEO

Over the past 15 years, Mike Cannon-Brookes has grown Atlassian from the maker of Jira into a $12 billion, publicly traded, multi-product global powerhouse.Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello, which Atlassian acquired 15 months ago, interviewed Mike at SaaStr Annual 108. This post outlines our primary takeaways & things we enjoyed from Mike’s talk.

3 things Mike does every week as CEO of Atlassian

1. Builds the human element: People, recruiting and culture

2. Drives alignment and accessibility: As the company continues bringing new team members into the fold, Mike travels the globe telling the Atlassian story internally to small groups of people who can ask whatever they want

3. Looks forward: Setting the North Star and strategizing on how to get there

What are Values?

“Values are not just things you put on your website.”

Mike thinks of values as an engineering scaling problem. Without having real values as a foundation, your company is going to fall down at some point.

The DO NOTs of setting values:

  1. DO NOT write down things you aspire to
  2. DO NOT write down basic human values (ie, integrity, that’s stuff you get hired/fired for)
  3. DO NOT think/communicate that values for the company are axiomatic (definition); instead, ensure that you and the everyone in the organization understands they are lenses to look through


On Acquisitions

Acquisitions have been the primary fuel behind Atlassian’s product diversification, customer acquisition and resulting growth. According to CrunchBase, the company has made 9 acquisitions since 2010.Most recently, Atlassian acquired Michael Pryor’s company, Trello, for $400M. While Atlassian now has a $12BN market cap, that’s not chump change.So, by now, Mike knows a thing or two about how to get acquisitions right.

Vision Alignment

The acquisition process can be long, highly emotional, and exhausting. Time kills deals they say, so does unresolved conflict. So, first and foremost, you need vision alignment. Both acquiring company and target company must turn “us vs. them” into “we”.


“We’re spending a lot of money to buy something, let’s learn something”

Acquisitions don’t only bring in revenue and profits. People are typically part of the package as well.

These people have the intangibles of bringing in product/market expertise and culture. As the acquiring entity, if you neglect that knowledge and fail to bring it into your organization, you are missing out on the opportunity to increase the overall value received from the acquisition.

2 things Mike as an investor tells founders:

1. Treat it as a marathon, not a sprint

2.Remember that these are the good old days. This was the 2nd time in three weeks I’ve heard a Founder who has IPO’d say this. Michael Pryor agreed wholeheartedly. While it is a marathon, it whizzes by, so enjoy it because it changes quickly.


  • Lean into your decisions with passion and show people why it’s exciting
  • You constantly have to find ways to reduce the distance between the employee and the customer. This is a scaling challenge. Mike used to talk to customers every day, now it’s twice a year at their customer conferences.
  • Mike as activist CEO: “Australia exports a lot of shit: coal, uranium, gas and their electric grid is not performing. Mike got Elon musk to install the world’s largest battery in South Australia. Via Twitter.