February 24, 2020

Don’t #@!% the Customer: 5 SaaS Lessons from Atlassian


It’s possible to have a great SaaS product and never make it big. Without a strong company culture, in particular, your business can end up turning down the wrong road and never finding its way to success. 

But, what exactly is company culture? 

According to Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, “Culture is the collective behavior of a company.” According to Horowitz, your company is going to have a culture whether you set it or not.  And for growing SaaS companies, it’s crucial to establish and cultivate positive culture. 

Atlassian, the Australian provider of collaboration, development, and issue software whose products include Jira, Opsgenie, Statuspage, Bitbucket, Bamboo, Confluence, and Trello, boasts more than $1 billion in revenue and nearly 4,000 employees worldwide. Its success is attributed to more than the usefulness of its products, but also its company culture that empowers employees to do their best work for customers. 

Here’s what Atlassian does to cultivate strong corporate culture that all growing SaaS businesses can learn from. 

Establish values. 

In order for staff to mindfully demonstrate company values, staff needs to know what they are. Atlassian’s values are as follows: (1) Open company, no bullshit, (2) Build with heart and balance, (3) Don’t #@!% the customer, (4) Play, as a team, and (5) Be the change you seek. These are not written in high in the sky prose, but rather they are as candid as they sound. 

Having your company’s values on paper, on your website, and on a wall in the office, gives all employees a frame of reference for the value system that they should make decisions from. Should they get angry with a challenging customer, or ignore their own feelings to ensure that the customer has a good experience? Should they feel threatened or excited when a team grows and shifts? Should they bring that cool idea they have to their manager? Values help them to decide. 

Culture is constantly shaping at global and local levels according to the decisions that employees are making and the attitudes that they are forming at all times. Values are constant and they are constantly helping to shape the decisions and attitudes of employees at all levels.  

Hire right. 

Atlassian is committed to hiring people that share the company’s values. They use what they call “the sidewalk test,” i.e. if the hiring team saw a prospective employee on the street, would they want to stop and talk with them? Not only can you not teach values like you can offer experience in new areas or train on new skills, you cannot teach compatibility. That’s important to remember because it’s easier for employees to collaborate if they get along.

In other words, Atlassian does not look to teach their company’s values to new employees, instead they strategically try to hire employees who already possess them. 

Encourage transparency. 

No one succeeds when gossip makes its way slowly from one desk to the next all afternoon, and then for the rest of the week. Hit repeat. Multiply times the number of offices. It’s a lot of wasted time and energy in one office, not to mention more.

Atlassian encourages transparency on a global scale by making workflows inclusive. Every project has a page in its collaboration software, Confluence, that is accessible to all employees in an effort to help prevent teams from working in silos. Even more, it encourages honest communication at all levels.

For example, it urges daily standup meetings with teams to support effective and open communication and hosts a weekly town hall for all employees from Sydney to San Francisco. 

Get your plank on. 

Okay, not really, but in the Atlassian Austin office, “Pushups and Planks” are a thing. Led by Adrian Mason, staff participate in twice-daily workout sessions, toning their cores and their culture. Each session typically includes 10 pushups followed by a 30-second plank, then mountain climbers for 20 seconds, a 30-second plank, 10 more pushups, and then a 30-second freestyle.

According to Mason, the workouts were viral once a few coworkers joined in. More than just helping staff to get moving during their mostly sedentary workdays, the sessions help to encourage camaraderie and in-person exchange.

The takeaway: the workouts are a means for in-office fun and bonding that physically engages staff in culture. 

Encourage fun. 

Fun is not culture, but it can be a key component of it.

At Atlassian, they send new hires around the office on bikes serving snacks on Friday afternoons. They have parties, lunches, snacks, and all of the things that bring people together physically and in a fun way during the workweek.   

Long-term success requires that your employees want to work for your company and want to do a good job. That requires having a strong company culture created by employees living out shared values in the workplace. Atlassian might post their values on a webpage and maybe a wall, but it doesn’t leave them there—instead, it proactively engages all employees in bringing them to life on a daily and weekly basis.

Not only does this empower employees to do their best, it establishes a sense of trust that translates to greater satisfaction at work. And that’s good for everybody.