Atlassian's in-house incubator lets employees put their product ideas to work

Ron Miller
·3 min read

Every company wants to maintain that initial spark it had when it was an early-stage startup, but keeping that going as you scale into a public company isn't always easy. Atlassian is taking a unique approach by opening up product ideas to an internal competition, and actually funding and building the best ones with the goal of bringing them to market.

Steve Goldsmith, who is heading up the project for Atlassian, says that it's an in-house startup incubator called Point A. The company wants to encourage employees to be constantly thinking about new ways to improve the products. And every employee is encouraged to participate, not just engineers or product managers, as many might think.

"Point A is our internal framework for turning ideas into products. It's our way of finding the innovation that's happening all over the company, and giving a process and framework for those ideas to reach the maturity of actually becoming products that we offer to our customers," Goldsmith told me.

He says that like many companies they hold internal hackathons and other events where many times employees come up with creative concepts for products, but they tend to get put on a shelf after the event is over and never get looked at again. With Point A, they can actually compete to put their experiments to work and see if they are actually viable.

"So we think of Point A as a way of finding all those different ideas and prototypes and concepts that people have in their brains or on the side of their desk kind of thing, and giving a process and a structure for those ideas to get out the door, and really invest in the ones that have some traction," Goldsmith said.

He says by providing an official internal process to vet and maybe fund some of them, people inside the organization know that their proposals are being heard and they have a mechanism for submitting them, and the company has a way of seeing them.

The company launched Point A in 2019 looking at 35 possible projects, and testing them as possible products. Last January, they chose nine that made the final cut and four turned into actual products and made it out the door this week, including the Jira Work Management tool, which is being released today.

The next program is ready to roll with employees ready to present their ideas in a pitch day competition to get things going. "Our first class is graduating out of this program, and [...] we start the process again. We actually just went through our big list of all the ideas to do it a second time, and we are doing a pitch day. It's going to be a fun Shark Tank, The Voice kind of inspired [competition]," he said.

Company co-founders and co-CEOs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar both participate in judging the competition, so it has executive buy-in, giving more clout to the program and sending a message to employees that their ideas are being taken seriously.

The company provides funding, time away from your regular job and executive coaches, and combines that with customer collaboration and early founder involvement with the goal of finding a scalable, repeatable process with defined phases that helps teams take the most innovative ideas from concept to customer.

Some make it. Some don't, as you might expect, but so far the plan seems to be working and is successfully encouraging innovation from within, something every company should be trying to do.