‘We didn’t want to get a real job’: Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar on his upbringing and the company’s early days

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar. Supplied
  • Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar is the latest guest to feature on Julia Zemiro’s ABC show “Home Delivery”.
  • In it, Farquhar describes his upbringing via his childhood home, the high school he went to, and Atlassian’s first office.
  • Farquhar says the company started after he met fellow co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes at university.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar gives a peek into his upbringing and the early days of the company in the latest episode of “Home Delivery” on the ABC, hosted by Julia Zemiro.

In the episode, he takes Julia through the home he grew up in in Castle Hill, describing what his childhood and family life was like.

One of four children, Farquhar described the activities he was involved in when he was younger, from being in the Scouts to getting into computers.

He recalled the time when his family didn’t have a computer but his friend did, so he would go over and play on the computer there.

“I remember one night crying myself to sleep asking for a computer from my dad,” he recalled and three months later his father bought a second-hand computer. The device wasn’t capable of playing games, but Farquhar spent around a year trying to get it to do so.

“Maybe that’s where my interaction with computers comes from,” he said, describing how he would “vainly” go through manuals to try and figure out how to play games on it.

Meeting Mike Cannon-Brookes

In the episode, we get to see the high school Farquhar went to, James Ruse Agricultural High School, and learn about him meeting fellow Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes on the first day of uni at the University of New South Wales.

The two were from different backgrounds. While Farquhar was a public school kid, Cannon-Brookes went to a boarding school and his father was the head of a law firm.

When Farquhar described how Atlassian started, he referred to an email Mike sent that said “let’s not get a real job” where they would have to wear a suit. Instead, if they could earn the same as what people were making at places like PwC or IBM, then “we’ll have won.”

“It wasn’t originally started because we wanted to change the world – that came later,” Farquhar said. “It was started really because we didn’t want to get a real job and we thought we could do something interesting.”

Toward the end of the episode, we see the inside of Atlassian’s first office. Farquhar admitted that in the early years, they were “winging it”. “We had no idea what we were doing,” he said.

He described how “everything we did was wrong” like the company’s business model and the way it sold its products – with one venture capitalist saying they didn’t think the pairs ideas were capable of success.

But, when Atlassian kept selling more of its software products and exceeding the venture capitalist’s expectations, they stopped going back to see him for advice.

“In [the] business world you have to be different and you have to be right,” Farquhar said. “Lucky we were different and lucky we were right.”

Atlassian listed on the US NASDAQ in 2015 and is one of the biggest tech firms in Australia. The company’s success made both Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar billionaires, with the duo topping the Australian Financial Review’s Young Rich List for 2019. That year, they had a combined wealth of $26.714 billion.

Butm despite ranking on rich lists, Farquhar believes it is a “weird” measure of success compared to other metrics – like how many jobs are created by entrepreneurs or how you can benefit others.

During the show, Farquhar also described what he believes is the best way to create change: vision.

“For me, change starts with a vision for a different world,” he said.

You can catch the full episode on the ABC at 8pm on Wednesday July 1.