Earlier in January, $6 billion Aussie software giant Atlassian announced the surprise $425 million acquisition of Trello, a productivity app for project management with 19 million users, making it something of a cult hit.
Trello CEO Michael Pryor describes the sale as a “complex decision”: The company had “a lot of interest” in a new round of venture funding to continue its growth, but says that ultimately, he decided that Trello and Atlassian had so much in common that it made more sense to sell.
For the last several years, Pryor says, it’s been his big talking point within Trello that the company should think big and aim for 100 million users, an “audacious goal” that he says was like planning “a trip to Mars.”
Funnily enough, Atlassian has the exact same goal: a common sense of purpose that Pryor says drove them together. And, as Pryor notes, the publicly-traded Atlassian is “many times bigger than us,” suddenly making Trello’s wild dream a little closer to reality.
“This is like we passed the moon,” says Pryor.
Plus, as Pryor points out, Trello had raised a relatively modest $10.34 million in venture capital in its lifespan, making the $425 million a “very good price” for investors and employees alike.
Together, says Atlassian President Jay Simons, the two companies are going to take on the dominance of Microsoft Office with a new way of thinking that hinges on the team, not the individual. While Microsoft has made strides with adding collaboration features to its productivity apps, Simons says, Trello and Atlassian’s tools literally can’t be used solo, reflecting that teamwork across departments, offices, and even continents is the new normal.
“I think Microsoft is still centered around the notion that that they’re making individuals more productive,” Atlassian President Jay Simons says.
‘Very special moment’
Atlassian JIRA is the project tracking and help-desk tool of choice for technical people all over the world, and has been for many years. Similarly, Trello uses “kanban,” a system of post-it note based project management pioneered at Toyota in the early 20th century, to give teams a “common perspective” on the task at hand, Pryor says.
In general, Atlassian has spent much of the last year and change trying to make Atlassian JIRA more accessible to non-technical teams — notably, actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba has expressed her love for the product.
Pryor tells us about the “very special moment” where he realised it was a match made in heaven.
Back in November, after Trello’s talks with Atlassian were well underway, but months before the deal was announced, Pryor says that he and Simons from Atlassian were slated to do a panel together at the Web Summit event in Lisbon.
Backstage at the event, an entrepreneur and fellow speaker geeked out a little bit on having Trello and Atlassian in the same place. She told Pryor and Simons that her engineering team used Atlassian’s JIRA software to manage their projects, and the rest of the company used Trello for the same purpose. Pryor and Simons looked at each other and smiled.
Trello offers a “very visual” way to manage projects without “a huge learning curve,” Pryor says. By integrating Trello with JIRA more closely than they already do, Simons says, it means Atlassian has something that everybody loves — especially since this incident proved that people were using them together, as it was.
As VentureBeat reported earlier, Atlassian’s most recent earnings statement indicates that the company is only expecting Trello to bring in $4 million between the deal’s closing and the end of its fiscal year on June 30.
While Pryor declined to comment on that figure, Simons says Atlassian isn’t worried — Trello is “very early to monetisation,” Simons says, and they’re confident that with Atlassian’s resources, the company’s place in the bigger picture will become clear.
And, Pryor promises Trello’s 19 million users that even once the deal closes and the company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Atlassian, there won’t be any big sweeping changes or shutdowns of key features. With 18 acquisitions to its name, Pryor points out, Atlassian has shown that it knows not to mess with a good thing.
“Everyone says they won’t ruin it,” Pryor jokes, but he says he’s actually heartened by the “passion” that people have expressed for the product since the deal closed, and that there’s no need to worry.