Like many successful technology start-ups, Australia-born Atlassian has seen grungier days.
Co-founders and co-CEOs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar started the business as university students in Sydney in 2001.
They targeted a global market and initially hoped to open a US office in New York City, before settling on San Francisco in 2005.
The then-26-year-olds recruited former Accrue Software and CSC executive Jeffrey Walker to lead the San Francisco team as company president, but ended up spending half their time in the US helping to shape the office and culture in its first year.
So they rented one of Atlassian’s first corporate apartments: a two-bedroom place in the Tenderloin, to be shared by the millionaire founders and any staff visiting or relocating to San Francisco for work.
The Tenderloin is centrally located but has a reputation for drugs and theft.
Atlassian was turning over almost $15 million a year in revenue at the time.
“The company always has been very frugal, which has let us control our own destiny and be profitable, so I hugely appreciate that instinct in them [the founders],” said director of developer relations Jonathan Nolen, who was Atlassian’s second San Francisco hire and moved from Santa Barbara for the job.
“Nobody actually got mugged, but it was a place where a lot of students lived, so it was a relatively inexpensive apartment in a big tower.
“Not only did we have that crappy apartment in the Tenderloin, we actually got another one a block or two away. Everybody who had joined the company from somewhere else in the country – which is a lot of us – all did our two weeks in this apartment while we were looking for someplace else to live.
“We all said, ‘Are you kidding? Get us out of here! Don’t make the next guy do this, it’s the worst introduction to San Francisco ever.’ But it was easy, and it was affordable.”
Atlassian employees actually recall the apartment fondly, describing its practicality as part of the company’s DNA.
“Back in the day, travelling to San Francisco was always a bit fun because you’d get on the 22 bus with all kinds of people – it was an experience,” said Matt Ryall, who joined Atlassian’s Sydney office from Macquarie Bank in 2006.
Early US employees stayed “scrappy” in the office as well, with each new hire typically left to build his or her own desk on their first day of work.
“For our whole first year, whenever a new employee would show up, we would have a chair and a desk for them but the desk was in a box,” Nolen said.
“The first thing you’d have to do was to break out the toolset from the supply cabinet, flip over your desk, attach the legs, pound all the things in, then you could flip it over and start work.
“The good thing was that it was not something that you could do by yourself – whoever was around you would offer to help. That’s our version of staying scrappy.”
Atlassian gave up its Tenderloin apartments about two years ago, when its office moved from Alabama Street in the Mission District to what staff describe as an “up and coming” area: Harrison St, South of Market.
Visitors are now housed in two new, corporate apartments three streets away on 4th Street although Nolen notes that there’s so much movement in the now-750-person company that many visitors just stay in hotels.
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