Nintendo Asks Atlassian for Some Innovation Help

By Sarah Lacy , written on March 20, 2012

From The News Desk

For an enterprise software company Atlassian does some, let's say, unconventional things.

The first time I met Atlassian President Jay Simons he was wearing full drag. This wasn't in a club on a Saturday night, mind you. It was in the middle of the work day in a coffee shop. I was having coffee with one of Atlassian's VCs, Rich Wong of Accel Partner. (Also an investor in PandoDaily.) And this gangly, unattractive (sorry, Jay) woman clambered over to say hi. I think he'd lost some sort of bet.

Slightly less strange is a tradition called "FedEx days." Every quarter, Atlassian does these regular hacker days, which are so named because you have to conceive of and be able to "ship" a project in 24 hours. It's Atlassian's approach to Google's 20% time, and over six years it has lead to some major project innovations.

One of them lead to a product called Bonfire; which generates more than $1 million a year in annual revenues for Atlassian. In all about 47 projects from FedEx days have wound up in the hands of customers.

Plenty of companies offer bonuses if an engineer comes up with something cool, but Atlassian's founders believed that impressing your colleagues and challenging yourself is a bigger motivator than a cash prize.

It has worked so well that Dan Pink wrote it up in his book Drive, and that prompted some other companies to do their own FedEx days. But Atlassian has learned a lot doing them once a quarter and decided to host a contest where it would send its experts in to help put a FedEx day on for a company that needed an innovation assist.

When I met with Simons a few weeks ago, he was telling me about this. They'd picked the winner, and I assumed it was either a smaller company or big boring company in a non-techy industry. Simons said, "I'll give you a hint: It's a big video game company in Japan." At which point, his communications director dropped her head in her hands and said, "You have the PR skills of a sieve!"

Because I'm nice, I agreed not to write about it until they were ready to announce, which they are tomorrow.

It's clearly a brand win for Atlassian, given the company makes software for developer teams. But it's also pretty cool of Nintendo to jump at the chance to be more innovative. It takes a lot of confidence for a tech company to apply for something like this and I know plenty of companies that need it way more than Nintendo.

150 companies applied in all, including an unnamed one from the Fortune 10. Atlassian was noncommittal on whether this would be an annual thing.

Atlassian's FedEx day experts parachute into Nintendo's Redmond offices on April 26. Perhaps they could pop by Microsoft on the way out?

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)