Atlassian’s Geeky Software Carves Out A Big Home With Developers

f you’re not a developer, you’re not going to understand Atlassian’s success. Atlassian employs no salespeople, yet it’s doing over $200 million in annual sales, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal.

While enterprise software companies struggle to make their wares more consumer-friendly, Atlassian builds software that only a developer could love: It’s geeky, not super intuitive and frankly somewhat unpleasant to use for a business user like myself.

Yet it’s now worth $3.3 billion. How’s that?

Of The Developer, For The Developer

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar told The Wall Street Journal that “These days, people are making decisions based on how good the products are.” The definition of “good” may not be the same for developers as it is for the average business user, however.

Wikis, issue tracking systems, Git code hosting, etc.—these are not tools your head of marketing really wants to use. I should know: Every time I have to fill out a JIRA request to get content changed on my company’s website, a little part of me dies inside.

Then again, I’m not Atlassian’s target market. The developer is. And developers love Atlassian.

In the world of developers, the definition of “ease of use” differs. This is a world that still thinks fondly on the command line. Even among this crowd, however, Twitter’s Chris Aniszczyk posits that Atlassian’s software may not be the best, but rather the best of a bad lot:

I’ll take Chris’ word since I’m not much of a developer tools power user myself, but it’s his latter argument that I find so compelling: Atlassian succeeds, in part, because it treats its developer audience with serious respect.

Giving Tribute To Developers

This reason behind Atlassian’s success is echoed by Fintan Ryan of Strand Weaving, who suggests Atlassian tools are “the best of a limited bunch, and relatively configurable.”

While the first part of Ryan’s comment suggests Atlassian doesn’t deserve much credit, it’s the second half that really sets Atlassian apart. Developers don’t want unnecessary frills that get in the way of productivity. This same desire is what has driven GitHub, AWS and other developer-focused software to succeed. 

That group of tools developers love is a very small club. As it turns out, it’s very hard to develop tools a wide array of developers want to use. 

Not only does Atlassian support the things developers already do, but as Operational Results web developer Cody Nolden notes, Atlassian’s tools may actually expose problems in team workflows:

They’re very configurable and can match whatever workflow your team uses. I’ve found that when I struggle to use Atlassian tools it’s because of more underlying struggles as a team not knowing what process we follow and we haven’t configured accordingly.

Ultimately, Atlassian succeeds not because it’s the best tool among a bad bunch, but because it respects developers’ time and concerns. Tools like JIRA are intentionally not flashy. They’re utilitarian, not because Atlassian lacks creativity, but because the company cares more about what developers want than what marketing or sales or other groups within a company may want. This shows not only in the software itself, but also in how it’s sold: Atlassian is salesperson-free, over-the-web, and costs a reasonable amount of money.

That’s a great strategy for appealing to developers.

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