How Mike Cannon-Brookes built his USD 12.8 billion empire

5 min readAug 6, 2022

One of Australia’s richest person, Mike Cannon Brookes, is known as the ‘accidental billionaire’ because he, along with friend Scott Farquhar, founded the hugely successful company Atlassian straight out of university on a bootstrap budget. Atlassian is now worth more than USD 50 billion.

In a 2017 TEDx Talk, Cannon-Brookes said: “Our goals when we started were not to have to get a real job and to not have to wear a suit to work everyday.”

One glance at him sporting a pair of jeans and a T-shirt or a hoodie with a scruffy look and an air of nonchalance, despite being a billionaire, it’s clear he is living his dream.

But the phenomenal success of their initial modest plan of earning more than USD 48,500 annually (in 2002), backed with intense research and consistent hard work, forces you to question if there are in fact any accidents where success is concerned.

Cannon-Brookes has often said he is unsure of how he came into leading a multi-billion-dollar company, but his meteoric rise to wealth could be testimony to the adage, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.

Battling ‘imposter syndrome’

He has voiced his struggles with ‘imposter syndrome’, a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a deep internal fear of being exposed as a fraud. But it could be this very struggle that has put him on the path to success, as he revealed in the TEDx Talk.

“Have you ever felt out of your depth? Like a fraud? And just kind of guessed/bulls****ed your way through the situation? Petrified that, at any time, someone was gonna call you on it?

“I can think of many examples when I felt like this.

“So long as you don’t freeze, so long as you harness the situation. Don’t be paralysed.

“Try to turn it into some sort of a force for good.”

Even though he and his partner Farquhar started out on a whim, they were “doing something right and … just kept going” and that’s the possible ‘pop psychology’ explanation to how Cannon-Brookes became rich.

But there’s also a pragmatic explanation.

Atlassian is a real, lucrative business he built along with Farquhar, which earned him the windfall over the past two decades.

The majority of Cannon-Brookes’ fortune is derived from a his stake in Atlassian.

How it all really began

Born in November 1979 to global banking executive Mike and wife Helen, Micheal Cannon Brookes spent his childhood in Sydney and attended Cranbrook School.

After completing school he enrolled in the University of New South Wales, where he met Farquhar for the first time and the pair built a strong friendship.

The duo shared similar interests growing up and from that emerged the idea of starting their own software company and earning as much as average graduates would earn annually, but without having to work for someone else.

They were going to design, launch and run their new business without any external help. This required a lot of research.

With the groundwork done, they founded their software company in 2002, with the Greek-Titan-inspired name Atlassian. The company’s first office was established in Sydney with a USD 10,000 credit card debt. The first two years they were in business they were in survival mode, only earning USD 15,000 salary each.

But, 21 years later, the company with no formal sales team, even today, boasts customers such as NASA, Tesla and SpaceX. In fact, 80+% of Fortune 500 companies use Atlassian products. Both Brookes and Farquhar, who are intense advocates of climate change, are estimated to be worth more than USD 10+ billion each as of 2022.

How they grew their business

Atlassian released its flagship product, Jira, in the same year the company was established. Jira is an issue-tracking software used by various companies for bug tracking and agile project management. In 2004, Atlassian released another software called Confluence. Confluence is a team-collaboration platform that allows users to work together on projects, share documents and other media assets and co-create content. With winning products in their bouquet, Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar were named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the Year for Australia, in 2006. The self-funded company has been profitable since its inception, and had no outside investment for the first eight years.

While they could’ve gone down the standard path and do the things most software as a service (SaaS) companies were doing — build out a sales team, find investors, and try to turn an idea into millions of dollars in funding — they chose an unconventional path.

Their greatest growth strategy has been to consistently acquire other products throughout the company’s history and integrate them into the existing product suite. With this approach, Atlassian has now grown into a family of products that can spread organically through enterprise organisations.

It was not until 2010 that Atlassian raised funding worth USD 80 million in venture capital from Accel Partners. In the same year, the company acquired Bitbucket, a hosted service for code collaboration. Atlassian launched its official website in May 2012. It allowed users to download plug-ins for various Atlassian products. The company was restructured and renamed Atlassian Corporation Plc in 2014, with an office established in London. The headquarters, however, remains in Sydney.

Before going public in 2015, Atlassian’s revenues grew exponentially — USD 136 million in 2011, followed by USD 192 million in 2013, and USD 287 million in 2014. By 2015, Atlassian’s revenues had grown to USD 428 million.

In December 2015, Atlassian made its initial public offering (IPO), with a market capitalisation of USD 6.1 billion on the NASDAQ stock exchange. It has many programming-based products to its credit, including FishEye, Crucible, Clover and Bamboo. It has also dabbled in the chat business by acquiring HipChat, an instant messenger, and launching Stride, a web chat alternative to Slack. However, it quit operations in the same year.

Some of Atlassian’s biggest acquisitions include Trello for USD 579 million, in January 2017, and OpsGenie for USD 411 million, in September 2018.

The company acquired Agilecraft for USD 222 million in March 2019. It also completed the acquisition of Code Barrel, makers of Automation for Jira. Atlassian acquired Halp (a tool that generates helpdesk tickets from Slack conversations) for an undisclosed amount in May 2020.

It announced acquisition of asset-management company Mindville to add to the power of its ITSM toolset for an undisclosed amount in July 2020.

In February 2021, Atlassian acquired cloud-based visualisation and analytics company Chartio.

Personal investments and interests

Cannon-Brookes became the youngest owner of a US National Basketball Association (NBA) team in 2020. He purchased a minority stake in Utah Jazz, along with Qualtrics cofounder Ryan Smith and Ryan Sweeney, who is general partner at American venture capital firm Accel.

Cannon-Brookes is also an adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales’ School of Computer Science and Engineering. In his effort to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, Cannon-Brookes, along with the Canadian asset manager Brookfield, recently made a USD 9 billion bid to buy Australia’s largest energy provider, AGL Energy, but the offer was turned down.

Two simple strategies helped promoter’s grow their wealth and their shareholders wealth. Staying bootstrapped for as long as possible and grow their company inorganically. Hardwork eventually paid off.





Entrepreneur. A bibliophile with passion to write inspirational stories on selfmade millionaires.