Atlassian acquires Trello for $425M: Will It Remain Free?

As most acquisitions start out with the “ideal” that the product will remain pristine and nothing will change – it will be interesting to see if the acquisition of Trello by Atlassian will be the norm or the exception. From a business point of view Atlassian paid $425M, so they will want their investment to pay off.

What’s interesting in today’s world is that instead of putting a bunch of developers in a room to develop new software, companies like Atlassian, instead buy a company. This is truly an emerging strategy in product development and one that makes sense with respect to acquiring best of breed. We hope that Atlassian will keep its word and Trello will remain free. Proof is always in the pudding.

Often the story during the press release phase is that “The original folks are going to run it, not the new company!” “Things will stay the same.”

WhatsApp and Waze are both pretty good examples of high profile acquisitions. It’s generally unlikely that it will be the executive team from any start-up that ends up sticking around past whatever agreement they signed with buyer. There’s generally some “golden seatbelt” that requires the start-ups executives to stay for a particular period of time. And once that time is up, its not unpredictable that they leave that because they are “start-up” personalities – meaning they like the start-up phase and not so much the growth and maintenance or innovation phase of a company because their jobs will change and hence their interest.

It really takes four types of entrepreneurs/management to make a start-up successful. First the the start-up folks who like the beginning, ideas flowing, do a lot with a little, the adrenal of “can we do this?”

Second, to have a company grow, it takes people who are really good at R&D and growth strategies, which different often greatly from start-up strategies and tactics.

And third, there are the maintenance executives who are really good a making a company run like a well oiled machine; again very different type of personality traits are required for this.

The fourth stage is now required (it had not been as much a part of management theory in the past. But with technology changing so rapidly, innovation to stay relevant and on top requires people to look outside their comfort zone and understand what’s coming next and how can they innovate and transform their company.) Otherwise the company becomes a dinosaur and dies. We’ve seen plenty of that happening to the likes of Tower Records, Circuit City, etc..

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We all have our beloved start-ups. And many of us have been part of start-ups. What’s true is that we all hope nothing will change. What is also true is that it takes a lot of effort to go beyond the start-up phase into the growth, maintenance and innovation phases. People get tired; they want their initial investment to pay off; and they truly like doing what they do best. And it may not be the other phases of what a company goes through. It’s not fair to ask people, however idealistic it is, to do things they don’t enjoy or are not good at.

Will Trello stay the same? Or will it change as many other acquisitions have, as they got bought or swolled up, and give into the reality of the phases of what it takes for an initial idea to grow into a company? Only time will tell.

@DrNatalie, VP and Principal Analyst, www.ConstellationResearch.com

Covering customer-facing applications and innovation

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