Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes: Atlassian
For Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, being outed as one of Australia’s wealthiest individuals on BRW Rich Lists has been a bit of a nuisance.
Cannon-Brookes and uni mate Scott Farquhar founded Atlassian in 2002. They made their debut on the BRW Young Rich List in 2007, topped the list last year and joined the BRW 200 last month after being valued at $250 million each.
The entrepreneur has fielded some odd requests for funding ever since, typically from acquaintances who ask to “catch up over coffee” and end up pitching a business idea.
Strangers and friends of friends have called, emailed and turned up at his front door.
“Oh god, you should see the stuff that turns up on my desk,” Cannon-Brookes told Business Insider. “Everything from bringing baseball teams to Australia to buying helicopters to funding movies.
“It starts with, ‘oh, I know you’re really into sci-fi and horror’ [but] I hate horror films! They’ve just made up this stuff.
“A mate of mine met a girl in a bar and they were trying to bring a sports team into Australia. And my mate was like: ‘Mike Cannon-Brookes, I know him. He’s really into baseball. He would love to bring down major league baseball teams into Australia.’
“So I get this email and I’m like, I’ve been to two baseball games in my life … I find it a really boring sport. And if you look at the investment criteria of bringing baseball teams to Australia, it’s a horrible idea.
“It’s fine when they email – it’s a minor annoyance but you can just delete it. But when people show up and start accosting you with things, it’s a bit rude. It must suck to be a film star.”
‘Boring rich people’
Cannon-Brookes describes himself and co-founder Scott Farquhar as “boring rich people” with far simpler tastes than US start-up celebrities like Sean Parker.
Atlassian is one of the few high-profile success stories in the Australian start-up scene.
The enterprise software vendor brings in more than $100 million in revenue a year and attracted $60 million in venture capital from Accel Partners in 2010. It now employs 700 people, with plans to recruit an additional 100 in Sydney alone in the coming financial year.
Still, Farquhar has lived in the same house and driven the same car for the past seven years, he told Business Insider. “We’re really boring rich people – we work hard and enjoy what we do,” co-founder Cannon-Brookes explained.
The duo may not be splashing out on Ferraris but their fast-growing wealth certainly has made its mark on Australian start-ups.
While they declined to disclose how much they have invested in Australian venture funds, Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar have contributed to seed fund StartMate, Blackbird Ventures and incubator Pollenizer.
“We’ve invested in funds that have a domestic focus,” Farquhar said. “Part of that is patriotism, I guess; but also, we want to help out.
“We look at a whole bunch of younger people who are running smaller businesses and say, how can we help them – what is the help that we would have liked when we started Atlassian.
“I haven’t set financial targets; hopefully it’s successful and you make money, but I think you have to be willing to lose, investing in start-ups.”
Farquhar said he tended to take a hands-off approach to the start-ups he helped fund. Cannon-Brookes said he was involved, to some extent, with payments start-up Tyro and online retailer Shoes of Prey.
“I think the Australian space has a lot of great companies around; we invest in good companies and we drive them pretty hard and try and help them out,” he said.
“They’re in different industries but the same issues are there. It’s like cross-training for business – I see other people’s problems and come back to work and say, ooh, they solved that in an interesting way.”