COVID-19 is no barrier to global expansion

Recent restrictions on international travel are proving no match for the growth ambitions of some fast-moving Australian companies.

For any company to add 1000 workers in a six-month period would be remarkable at the best of times. For the Australian software developer Atlassian, what makes that achievement truly noteworthy is that none of those workers have yet set foot in an Atlassian office.

According to Atlassian's work futurist Dom Price, the idea of physical location has become less important to the company over time.

"We've been on this experimentation bandwagon for a good few years," Price says. "Before COVID, our third biggest office was 'home'. And then since March, we have all been working from home."

That includes the 20 per cent of the company's staff that have joined since the crisis first hit.

The COVID crisis has also not thwarted the global ambitions of the Australian video production company Shootsta, which markets a subscription-based service that enables clients to produce their own professional-quality video content easily and cheaply.

Since its launch in 2014 Shootsta has grown to have offices in Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, California and London.

Its CEO and founder Mike Pritchett came up with the concept while running another corporate video production business, Trapdoor Productions.

"We were creating these high-end videos (for clients), and then we realised more and more they were wanting internal videos, and the cost point was simply too high," Pritchett says. "I was banging my head against a wall trying to scale a business that simply couldn't scale."

The Shootsta model trains clients to record their own audio and video content, and then provides production services to ensure it is ready for presentation.

Pritchett says he has encountered numerous challenges in expanding the business, some of which has been compounded by the COVID crisis. Chief amongst these is the realisation that in a global business, he can't be everywhere at once.

"You can't build your business by remote control - you have to be in locations and get to know those locations, and fortunately for us we did that pre-COVID," Pritchett says. "Can it be done digitally now? Sure, to an extent. And hopefully, the world opens up again soon and people will be on planes to be able to able to do that."

His advice for other entrepreneurs however is that if they have an idea that they think can grow, they need to start building now, and do it fast.

"Make sure that you actually have an idea that fits a purpose and solves a need for a client and are not just trying to ram a widget down somebody's throat," Pritchett says. "Surround yourself with great people that lift you up, build you up, and give you bigger thinking - preferably people that have gone global before. And then run, get out there, and do it."

People have also been critical to the success of Atlassian, where Price says the company has strived to develop the right values in its workers.

"Virtually every successful business is reliant on their people as their biggest asset," Price says. "And we rely on ours not just in terms the wisdom and experience they bring, but also the values that we hold. Values like no BS, don't 'bleep' the customer, play as a team, and build with heart and balance.

"And so, we want people to genuinely bring their true best selves to work. And that enables us to innovate and explore and experiment every single day."

For the past seven years Price has been guiding experimentation in workplace culture within Atlassian, keeping one eye directed towards what the organisation will need in the future.

"We have a mission around unleashing the potential in every team, and to do that we need to know what's going to be happening in work next year, the year after, and the year after that," Price says. "And that is because we can't just build the product we want today. We want to build the product we think you might need tomorrow."

That sees him now focused on helping the company 'unlearn' what he says are some old habits from the past, and create the space, time, and freedom needed to allow for experimentation. One of the outcomes of this process will be Atlassian's recently announced new Sydney headquarters, to be built at the Tech Central precinct between now and 2025.

While this project seems to run counter to the current ethos of remote working, Price says it is all part of the experimentation process.

"We are constantly experimenting with what that office could look like, because I think place will still be important," Price says.