On being acquired

· by Steve · Read in about 6 min · (1070 Words)

A lot of you will already know, but SourceTree, a Mac client for Git and Mercurial I created over the last 18 months, has just been acquired by Atlassian. There’s a press release, articles on TechCrunch and VentureBeat, and an official FAQ on the SourceTree site. But this is my personal blog, and I’ve had a few requests for a personal angle on this, so here you go.

I said in a previous post that in my experience, the best opportunities often come along when you’re not looking for them, and that was certainly the case here. I wasn’t even thinking about looking for acquisition opportunities for SourceTree - sure, the idea had crossed my mind as something I might want to consider eventually, but it certainly wasn’t an active line of thought this early in the product lifecycle. SourceTree had grown to become a viable business for me, and I was very much enjoying the process of just creating a software product that I used every day myself too.

So, when the Atlassian opportunity came up, I wasn’t at all prepared for it, and I had to make some decisions. I was enjoying being master of my own destiny, and was managing just fine - so my initial knee-jerk reaction was to be very cautious. However, the more I thought about it, and the more I learned about Atlassian, the more I realised what a huge opportunity I’d be turning down, both personally and for SourceTree, if I said no.

Any acquisition kicks off with a financial offer (don’t expect details, they won’t be forthcoming ;)), but that’s far from the whole story. In my case I didn’t have any pressing need to sell, and I’ve learned from experience that being happy about what you do is extremely important. I also have a strong attachment to the products I create - that’s why I stayed with Ogre for 10 years and it was/is still a wrench to leave - and that’s the case with SourceTree too; not to mention that I’m a daily user of it myself. So if I was going to sell, it had to be to the right company who would look after it just as well, or better, than I did.

Luckily for me, I discovered that Atlassian was about as perfect a fit for SourceTree as I could have asked for. Atlassian lives and breathes developer tools - that’s their entire product focus, which in itself is a good start. They’re investing heavily in DVCS tools - hence the 2010 Bitbucket acquisition and its recent enhancement to handle Git as well as Mercurial (which of course SourceTree does too) - again spot-on on the compatibility chart. I learned, particularly when I visited their HQ in Sydney, that everyone at Atlassian really ‘gets’ developers (well, most of them are developers after all), and care a lot about giving them good products. Development tools permeate the entire company - the CEO is a regular user of SourceTree, and people in marketing understand when you talk about version control. Even though they’re quite a big company now, it retains a startup feel. Then there’s their corporate values, which are very much in evidence when you talk to people there - things like “no bullshit” and “don’t f**k the customer”. And it’s not just on the wall, it’s really how people in the company make decisions. These are the kind of people I can relate to, and definitely the kind of people who can add a lot to the future of SourceTree.

Another thing I found reassuring is that at no time was there any question that Atlassian would want to railroad developers into their own tools at the expense of others. Clearly Atlassian already owns Bitbucket, and SourceTree supports Bitbucket, GitHub and Kiln already. It was made abundantly clear to me that no-one at Atlassian took the view that restricting developer choice to favour Atlassian tools was a good idea. Their ideology is to make developer’s lives better by giving them choice, and of course they’re going to want to offer good Atlassian options in there, but if a developer wants to use an alternative, no-one is going to stop them.  The view I got from everyone was that giving developers a positive experience that reflects well on Atlassian, including giving them their own choice of integration, is far more valuable than artificially chaining them in. Obviously, I concur.

My final reason was that while I really, really enjoyed creating and supporting SourceTree myself, the workload is quite high, and was increasing. It’s not a continuous death-march, but the availability requirements are very high - since I was developer, webmaster, sales, customer support and everything else all rolled into one, taking a day off was basically impossible. Making sure the website was still up, and making sure customers got a quick response to support calls, was a 24/7 responsibility. After a while, that gets tiring, even just checking on things all the time means you never have ‘proper’ downtime. A big advantage of joining Atlassian is that I get some extra backup. That’s good for my health & mental wellbeing, and I’m sure that will be good for SourceTree too long-term. I really didn’t want to start resenting SourceTree for preventing me having a proper holiday occasionally 😉

So based on all these factors, I decided that the future for both myself and SourceTree would be better within Atlassian than continuing alone. I learned a lot along the way to this acquisition - dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s turned out to be more time consuming and stressful than I expected, so I wouldn’t say it’s a process for the faint hearted, but if you’re as lucky as I was to be approached by the right company, it can lead to a really great outcome.

I’m still fully committed to developing SourceTree, like I was before, but now it has a more robust support structure around it. Taking things to the next level, both in terms of user base and features, is so much more practical now within Atlassian. I’m very confident that they’re the right company to take SourceTree forward - our thinking is very similar, I respect their values a great deal, and the people are great. My decision was a lot easier than it might have otherwise been because of this!