Founded in 2002, the Australian software maker Atlassian is an exceptional company in many regards. But foremost, Atlassian is one of the best examples of flywheel SaaS companies yet. Atlassian counts 1600 employees and sells four product JIRA (bug tracking software), Confluence (project management), HipChat (internal chat/collaboration), BitBucket (code repository) and JIRA Service Desk (help desk software. Yesterday, Atlassian filed their F-1, a document preceding their IPO, and revealed how efficient a software company they have built.
The chart above details the revenue growth of the business compared to the median of the 50+ publicly traded SaaS companies. It follows a beautiful geometric curve characteristic of Flywheel business models, where an efficient customer acquisition engine keeps building momentum and growing revenues exceptionally. Note only the last 3 years of revenue are found in the F-1. The rest of the data points I gathered from press about Atlassian.
generates revenue of $5594 per year, which places it among companies like Zendeks, LogMeIn, ConstantContact and Xero in the smallest quartile. Atlassian has grown their customer base from 11,000 customers in 2010 to more than 48,000 today. Though Atlassian counts more than half of the Fortune 500 as customers, no single customer accounts for more than 1% of revenue. In other words, no single client pays Atlassian more than $3.5M. And only 864 customers pay more than $50k per year.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Atlassian’s business is their go-to-market efficiency. While the median SaaS company spends between 50-100% of their annual revenue of sales and marketing, Atlassian has spent between 0.04% and 2% of their revenue on customer acquisition in the last three years. These metrics simply unheard of. They also imply a sales efficiency, normally in the 0.8-1.2 range of 4,000 to 10,000. The data makes clear that Atlassian employs a fundamentally different go-to-market than the classic sales development rep to inside sales model championed by books like Predictable Revenue and popularized by Salesforce. This flywheel model uses the product and analytics to attract customers and upgrade them into higher paying tiers.
As a consequence of immense sales efficiency, Atlassian is profitable – a rarity in today’s software companies. Atlassian’s net income as a percentage of revenue has been positive the last three years: 7.2%, 8.8% and 2.1%.
In addition, Atlassian generates cash flow of between 15-18% of revenue. This cash, in addition to a small amount of venture capital, has provided the wherewithal to fuel the business’s growth.
Atlassian operates at 83.4% gross margin, 12 percentage points above the SaaS median of 70.9%.
Atlassian spends frugally in research and development, investing only single digit percentages of revenue over the last three years, substantially less than the typical SaaS company, though spending has increased recently as competition in a few key product areas has intensified.
Atlassian surpassed the $50M revenue mark seven years after founding, in 2009, similar to Hubspot, DemandWare, NewRelic and other great companies.
Compared to the typical SaaS company, Atlassian has growth at roughly the median growth rate over the past 8 years.
If nothing else, Atlassian is existence proof an exceptional business can come from anywhere. It’s a unique flywheel business with best-in-class sales efficiency. Every SaaS founder should study this business to understand the model. It’s a case study in sales efficiency.