Thursday, April 10, 2014

Build better software, and the world will still beat a path to your door!

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to read an article on the WSJ, that Atlassian was recently valued at $3.3B, and has sold $150M worth of its equity in a secondary sale mostly for the benefit of some of its long time employees.

I first got to know about Atlassian after using the JIRA issue tracker - which they had kindly made available to the Apache Software Foundation projects. It was a great product to use, and every developer I knew who had used it, simply loved it and would promote it without any hesitation wherever they went.

After leaving full time employment in late 2008, I bought my first couple of licenses for JIRA to help support some of the customers I was helping as a freelance consultant. Another great thing about Atlassian is that they help smaller companies at just $10 a piece for most of these really cool products under their Starter Program. Even the $10 goes to the Room to Read charity, and the startup licenses have already contributed more than $3M for charity!

After starting my own entrepreneurial career a few years back, I started to admire Atlassian even more. They actually bootsrapped that great company. I've read so many articles about them, and listened to the talk 'Art of the BootStrap' by the co-founders, where they share many great insights about the bootstrapping process and the rise of Atlassian. Like GitHub, they didn't go looking for funding, but instead focussed on building great products that would sell themselves - due to great experiences the users had, and the resulting feedback and word of mouth referrals. When GitHub bootstrapped, they Optimized for Happiness, since they were happy to build things of value, than about writing business plans with make believe numbers. This also allowed them to throw away things like financial projections, hard deadlines, ineffective executives that make investors feel safe, and everything that hindered employees from building amazing products.

Something even more interesting to know about Atlassian is that they do not  employ any sales folks - and with the money they save, the company invests heavily on research and development. Farquhar states that "Fifteen years ago, as long as you had the best distribution you would win". "It didn’t matter whether Oracle was worse than SAP. These days, people are making decisions based on how good the products are" - which is really true. This is the same sentiment I read on the article "The Reasons Businesses Use Open Source Are Changing Faster Than You Realize"

Large enterprises now realize that good Open Source products have great quality behind them, although they may cost significantly less than competition. And the ability to have the source code, and modify it really means that the user can extend a product even if the vendor developing or supporting it does not want to do that for you. I'd leave you to read through the slides from "2014 - The future of Open Source", and possibly the web cast of the panel discussion with Michael Skok  et al. Today 8 out of 10 choose Open Source for Quality.

Atlassian too allows any of its licensed users to download the source code - if they are interested in it. Although I've never had to do that, I feel privileged to have this option available to me - if I ever needed it. I'm sure many of you would have used quite expensive commercial software from very large companies that we all know of. Although these companies spent possibly millions of dollars, that does not make their software bug free. Many years back, I was at a client to install a leading RDBMS from an unopened box that contained the software the client purchased. However, to my surprise I found that to install that database version in that unopened box, I first had to get a service pack applied :) I seriously think that having access to the source code - even for closed proprietary software, is a great thing, since many end-users can innovate faster than some of the large companies can enhance their own products. Open source projects attract features and great ideas from many enterprise architects who use them, and these ideas turn up to be great features to sell to future customers - who are seriously happy to see such features - as they too values them very much.

Last year, a recent Fortune #1 company with ~$450 Billion in revenue selected the UltraESB, when many commercial ESBs, as well as open source alternatives existed on the market, which they could easily afford. This was after extensive analysis of our technical strengths, product stability and code quality all turned up with great results. Like Atlassian, we do not have a sales team either, but only a really strong engineering and support team and a great product that simply finds itself around, including to the top of the Fortune list of companies. We never approached any of our current customers; instead, they all found us. It was like what Emerson said, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door"

Earlier this year, we had a similar POC where we were shortlisted against a competitor with well over a hundred million dollars in funding. Again, we were selected on the technical merits, and also since we had handled the customer relationship better than how the sales team of our competitor could. When a potential customer talks to us, he talks directly to those who had written the code, installed it at many enterprises around the world, and who helped many clients before with similar and real problems. Quite obviously, no sales team can beat that - especially when the customer understands technology.

We have exciting times ahead of us now, and a great list of customers already utilizing our software in production, in addition to the recent Fortune #1.

So later this year, we will be looking forward to talk to those who believe in us, our journey so far, and our potential to take on the world. Fortunately, we will have the freedom to make a wise and informed selection, as until now, we've certainly optimized for happiness and for passion!