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Developer tool maker Atlassian readies for IPO

Let face it, developer tools are boring. So how has this young Australian company grown to 18,000 customers and $100 million in annual revenue without salespeople? Word of mouth.

With 460 full-time employees worldwide, 18,000 customers, and plans for an initial public offering on the horizon, Atlassian's revenue has grown from $17 million in 2007 to more than $100 million five years later.

Possibly more interesting is that the company doesn't have salespeople, was founded in Australia instead of Silicon Valley, and largely saw this enormous growth selling behind-the-firewall tools to development teams.

Let me put this out there upfront: developer tools are boring. And yet, you talk to Atlassian execs and its customers, and it seems to be a big lovefest for the company and its tools. I've been a sworn user of its JIRA bug tracker since 2005 and it's the first that I recommend any startup pay for to manage development. Atlassian tools power most of Silicon Valley and a huge percentage of the biggest companies in every industry you can think of.

I met with Atlassian President Jay Simons to get an update on the company and its latest product, Stash, a distributed source-code management tool. The company is notoriously quiet with PR and marketing, relying largely on word of mouth and internal viral adoption. Even Stash, its first big new organic product, went up as a blog post and on the company's Web site.

In regards to Stash, the company had huge user demand to offer a behind-the-firewall Git source management product. Git is a distributed revision-control and source-code management system, initially designed and developed by Linus Torvalds for Linux kernel development, but has since grown into the hip way to manage code via Github, a free and commercial entity that hosts your projects in the cloud.

Simons told me that the Atlassian customer base is 80 percent behind the firewall and 20 percent on-demand, which means the company had plenty of empirical evidence in addition to demand to suggest that customers would be interested in running Git for themselves.

What's interesting to note (and a bit ironic) is that a huge number of SaaS companies, as well as the majority of Fortune 500 companies, keep their source code repositories on-premise. Simons believes that source code control is the last frontier for SaaS. Markets such as CRM, HR, and financials all made their way into the cloud, but code hasn't taken the leap just yet.

And because Stash is integrated with JIRA (again behind the firewall) all of the commit messages and tasks are associated across the applications.

A big part of Atlassian's marketing moving forward to the IPO is the notion that software is everywhere -- even car commercials are a place where you'll see a big part of what is being sold is the software that powers the car features.

According to Simons, Atlassian's goal is to build great software and help companies innovate. I believe they succeed at both by giving developers the tools they need and creating their own innovative business model that we can all learn from.