Atlassian: The $3.3 billion software company you’ve never heard of

April 10, 2014, 6:01 PM UTC
Atlassian’s shared San Francisco workspace, a.k.a. “The Jungle”

FORTUNE — Another day, another multibillion-dollar valuation: Sydney, Australia-based Atlassian, a maker of collaboration tools (Jira, HipChat) for businesses, is now worth $3.3 billion. Earlier this week, the company announced a $150 million funding round led by T. Rowe Price.

Hefty valuation aside, Atlassian isn’t your everyday Silicon Valley startup, and not just because the company is headquartered in Australia and keeps Tim Tams on hand in its San Francisco office. Atlassian has been around since 2002, has more than 35,000 customers with virtually no sales force and claims it has been profitable for years. (Its expected annual revenue run-rate is over $200 million.) The $150 million it recently raised isn’t going into its bank account — instead, its new investors are buying shares from past and present employees in an effort to offer workers some liquidity and retain talent.

Like other multibillion-dollar software companies, a larger exit is in the works. Fortune caught up with Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes to find out more about the company’s recent financing round and its plans for an initial public offering.

Fortune: How did this [investment round] come about? Did you guys just want to buy a bunch of Teslas?

Cannon-Brookes: It’s not for us [the founding team]. We’ve got people who have been here a long time. It’s similar to the Accel deal in structure just at a different phase of the company’s life. Back then we needed to bring on a partner to learn about scale and growth. The next phase is bringing on a partner that knows about public markets for us to learn about that and make sure we do that phase properly when we get there. Our employees worked really hard, and it’s good timing for both of those things to come together.

So this is the same idea as the money you raised in 2010?

Both are secondary. But the Accel Partners round was mostly about founders, and this one is about employees. Now neither of the founders are selling anything. So this is a little different. We’ve been profitable for 10 years, so we don’t need the cash, we have a lot of cash in the bank. It’s more a case of wanting to get a partner on board and what’s the best way of making that happen. They [the new investors] are very long-term thinking. They’re good dudes.

How’s hiring out here [in San Francisco] for you, given how competitive it has gotten?

That’s one of the reasons we’re opening an office in Austin [Texas] and most of our engineering is in Sydney — to give us multiple hiring centers. It’s pretty hard up here. I don’t know if we’ve been around long enough to say it’s harder than it’s ever been, but you definitely have to fight hard to hire here. We’ve certainly tried to build a great office and do all that we can to be competitive.

I think people really identify with our model and the way we run the company. It’s a certain type of person, they’re people who might be burned out by the Valley’s culture of always raising and being so up and down. We’re a bit more stable. But good people are always going to be hard to find. That’s why I’m here now — I’m interviewing candidates.

What are your plans for an IPO?

I think it’s a logical outcome for us at some point. With our unusual model we’ve never made sense as an M&A candidate for someone else. We’ve got lots of products, big customers, a distribution pipeline. We make more sense as an acquirer to buy products to add in.

You’re also getting kind of expensive.

I think we’re reasonably priced. And I think it’s a logical move. With T. Rowe Price, it’s not a secret that they know about doing that stuff, and I look forward to getting their advice. When it comes to investors, there’s no pressure from that side, which is one of the reasons companies go public, because VCs want to get their money. There are a lot of positives for us doing that though, like employee liquidity on a true scale.

I think to be a public company you have to be really good at everything you do. You can’t fuck up anything. We’ve always tried to be really good at every piece of the business. You grow up playing basketball, you don’t dream of playing high school, you dream of playing in the NBA. We want to do it properly though — we want to be around in 10 years’ time.

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