Atlassian's $5.5 Billion User Onboarding Magic


When the Atlassian team rang the opening bell on the NASDAQ last week, investors around the globe had the opportunity to park their savings in another public SaaS company. But look deeper and investors will find that the Australian software makers behind popular workplace products like JIRA and HipChat is not just another SaaS business.

A few highlights from Tomasz Tunguz’s astute analysis of the company’s financial performance:

While the median SaaS company spends between 50-100% of their annual revenue of sales and marketing, Atlassian has spent between 12 and 21% of their revenue on customer acquisition in the last three years. These metrics simply unheard of.
Atlassian spends aggressively in research and development, investing more than 40% of revenues of late into improving their products, optimizing the funnels which fuels the growth [its business model].

Atlassian has grown to $320M in annual revenue with virtually no sales team. Damn.

Anyone in SaaS can tell you that there’s only one way of doing that: a low-touch funnel that converts new signups to paid users at a ridiculous rate.

So how did Atlassian do that? What do they know about user onboarding that the rest of us don’t? Is there a silver bullet, after all?

Curious, I signed up for 4 Atlassian products—JIRA, HipChat, Confluence, BitBucket—to find out how Atlassian is onboarding new users. What I found may surprise you.

A quick primer:

  • JIRA is a project management tool to help teams collaborate (similar to Asana)
  • HipChat is a team chat tool (similar to Slack)
  • Confluence is a wiki-style knowledge base for teams (similar to SharePoint)
  • BitBucket is a code collaboration tool for teams (similar to GitHub)

At the risk of disappointment, there are no paradigm shifting tactics used in Atlassian’s onboarding flows. This isn’t Slack or Duolingo or any of the other “best” onboarding experiences. There isn’t anything that will be sensationalized by the tech community.

On the contrary, each of the Atlassian products start with a simple workflow that explains how the product works and drives users to start cranking.

What Atlassian Does Well

Try before you buy

Each of the four tools is free to get started and does not require a credit card to sign up. JIRA and BitBucket both charge based on seats and are free for the first 5 users. HipChat also charges based on seat but instead offers a freemium version with no user limits and a paid version with gated features like video chat and screensharing.

Confluence, on the other hand, does not have a freemium plan and instead offers a 7-day trial. I suspect this is because sharing logins for Confluence was far more common than for other Atlassian applications where a user’s identity is more core to ongoing product usage.

BitBucket pricing packages

Simple Sign Up Process

One of the benefits of not having an inside sales team is that there’s no need to collect qualifying information upon signup. Atlassian doesn’t ask a new user for bounce-causing information like phone number, team size, geographic location, etc.

JIRA simple signup form

Explaining key parts of the interface

Jargon can overwhelm new users and prevent them from fully understanding how to use the product. And niche workplace tools like those offered by Atlassian are oftentimes the worst offenders.

On several occasions, Atlassian uses jargon-y naming conventions that are highly specific to the product use case. Rather than risk confusing a new user, however, Atlassian knows when to pump the breaks and give more prescriptive instruction.

Take this example from JIRA:

JIRA user onboarding tooltip 1
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 2
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 3
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 4
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 5
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 6
JIRA user onboarding tooltip 7
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JIRA user onboarding tooltip 10
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JIRA user onboarding tooltip 12

While this may seem like it’s adding friction rather than reducing it, it provides the right amount of hand-holding to ensure users will be successful with the application. And for power users, there’s the option to skip.

Driving users to take meaningful action

Within minutes of signing up for each product, users are driven to start acting within the tools.

  • JIRA: Create a project and issue in the backlog
  • HipChat: Invite colleagues, start chatting
  • Confluence: Create first document
  • BitBucket: Import or create a code repository

See each of Atlassian Apps' entire user onboarding sequence

I'd like content on improving user retention once a week.

What Atlassian Could Improve

Eliminating email confirmations

Email confirmation step

When signing up for JIRA, Confluence and BitBucket, users are asked to confirm the email they just used to create an account. Email confirmations are one of the biggest momentum-killers in user onboarding.

Awkwardly long loading screens

App loading screen

These loading screens took anywhere from 46 to 60 seconds.

Redundant sign-in screens

Redundant sign in step

After a new user has already created an account, confirmed her email and made it through the awkwardly long loading screen, they are welcomed by another login screen that seems quite redundant.

Not prompting users to invite colleagues

HipChat is the only Atlassian product that has a dedicated onboarding step for inviting users.

Hipchat invite tooltip 1
Hipchat invite tooltip 2
Hipchat invite tooltip 3
Hipchat invite tooltip 4

Since collaboration is so core to each of Atlassian’s products, I’m surprised more of them do not have a similar experience as above.

A quick caveat: We don’t have access to any of Atlassian’s data. For all we know, perhaps there is zero dropoff rate due to email confirmations or long loading screens. Perhaps colleague invites are still off the charts. These just seem like improvement opportunities from an external vantage point.

So how has Atlassian grown to $320M with no sales team?

Atlassian’s onboarding flows are not head-turning. The company doesn’t seem to have any onboarding magic that the rest of us don’t know about. They have simple and straightforward flows that are intuitive, but could still be improved.

So if Atlassian’s onboarding experience leaves a lot to be desired, how is it that they have scaled to $320M in recurring revenue with no sales team? How is the company only spending 12-21% of revenue on sales and marketing while other SaaS businesses are spending 50-100%?

Product simplicity.

In an alternate universe, you could imagine an Atlassian that had bundled its various tools into a heavier workplace solution in the same way Salesforce or Marketo pack so much functionality into a single product. And for some organizations, having HipChat, Confluence, JIRA, BitBucket, etc. all within the same interface would be an ideal solution for which they’d be willing to pay far more.

But had this been the case, Atlassian’s go-to-market strategy would have fallen flat. In the bundled example, which meaningful action should users take first to get started: writing a knowledge article? adding a JIRA ticket? syncing an existing code repository? sending some messages to your team?

The fact of the matter is, as product complexity increases so too does the amount of effort it takes for a new user to get the most out of the product. When products are complex, different types of users sometimes have very different value propositions.

To accommodate this, software companies like Marketo or Salesforce augment their products with Sales and Account Management teams that interpret a prospect or customer’s motivations and needs and ensure they use the product in the correct way.

With this level of complexity, replicating the role a salesperson plays with an in-product experience is a daunting, if not impossible, task.

As Atlassian designer Benjamin Humphrey wrote, the best onboarding is an intuitive product. The company clearly understands this: each product is simple, has a clear value proposition and orients around a specific Job-to-be-Done. So while they may not have “sexy” onboarding flows that the entire tech world wants to talk about and emulate, Atlassian does have an incredibly effective no-touch funnel that fuels its growth. Atlassian wins.

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Building @appcues, startup that will improve your user #onboarding | Learned @BucknellU & @HarvardHBS | Proud St. Louis native | Explorer | Made in the 80s

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