What is Excellence in Action?
The Tidemark community features people who are practitioners of excellence in their domain. Excellence in Action spotlights world-class talent discussing the superpowers, strategies, and tactics that drive category leadership.
Who: Tidemark Fellow Cameron Deatsch
What: Chief Revenue Officer at Atlassian
Why: During his nine years at Atlassian, Cameron Deatsch has held six different high-level roles in all corners of the global category-leading platform, eschewing the traditional linear leadership progression. How? By leaning into high-growth discomfort, embracing ruthless logic, taking risks, and never being afraid to fail miserably.
In 2002, two young Australians decided they didn’t want to wear suits to work. Uninterested in conforming to norms and expectations, they set out to defy them instead. That refusal to accept the status quo paved the way for other guiding beliefs—that difference is an asset, that culture is the key to unlocking potential—and evolved into the foundation of one of the fastest growing tech companies the world has ever seen: Atlassian. What began as a team of two has grown into a product-driven, convention-busting software community with 7,000-plus employees and 2000,000-plus customers, all without a conventional sales team. Their beloved products—tools like Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket, and Trello—fuel productivity and creativity across the globe. This is the story of how Cameron Deatsch, Chief Revenue Officer, has helped lead Atlassian by applying the company’s tenets to his own career: putting people first, improving continuously, and never being afraid to throw the masterplan out the window.
When Cameron first heard of Atlassian in 2006, the company had just celebrated its fourth year in market and had a reputation for making stellar products. Cameron was busy forging his own reputation as a marketing leader at two Bay Area software companies that used more traditional strategies and structures. The companies he worked for were profitable, but days were a slog and room for innovation was scarce. Despite the success, something wasn’t clicking.
A conversation over a cup of coffee changed all that. In 2012, Cameron sat down with former colleague and mentor Jay Simons, the then President of Atlassian. What began as a friendly catch-up ended as a job offer.
“What ultimately led me to saying yes to the opportunity was Atlassian’s unique business model. My experience in tech had always been that the sales organization steers the ship. They own the numbers, and every other area of business exists to make the Head of Sales happy. But Atlassian didn’t have a Head of Sales and their growth was off the charts,” said Cameron. “At Atlassian, the product is at the helm. By focusing on building tools that people need and love, rather than building a sales force that convinces people to buy them, it flipped the industry on its head. That mindset completely changed the way we worked, what defined success, and how we showed up every day. The plan others had followed wasn’t for us. There was no playbook, so we wrote it ourselves.”
When Cameron joined Atlassian, he quickly found that the same instinct which guided the company to reimagine operations and distribution also led to being able to reimagine career progression. The majority of Cameron’s previous experience fell in the go-to-market side of business, but his Atlassian tenure has spanned divisions and broken down boundaries at every turn. Instead of continuing to move up the corporate ladder, he turned the ladder on its side, taking roles across the company wherever he imagined he could make the biggest impact.
He was first hired as the Senior Director of Advocacy, but was soon promoted to Senior Director of Marketing and Online Sales, Head of Server and Enterprise Marketing, Head of Corporate Development, Head of Server Business, and currently, Chief Revenue Officer.
That’s six different roles in a nine-year span. The opportunities came in part because of Atlassian’s explosive expansion—from 500 when he first joined to its current crew of over 7,000 global employees—but also because of Cameron’s own growth mindset.
“When people give me an opportunity, I assume they are smart and have a reason for it. They have faith in me to figure it out, and ultimately, I’m just the guy who never said ‘no.’ Sure, there are those moments after you agree to take on this big new challenge that you’re going to wake up at 3 a.m. and think ‘Oh no … I screwed this all up, didn’t I?’ But if you’re willing to endure that discomfort and come out the other side, the sky's the limit,” said Cameron.
That willingness paired with Cameron’s innate ambition helped make him a success in each role, but the destination was never a fixed target. His career hasn’t been propelled by a particular title or a specific end point. Instead, he’s driven by a need to continue to take on and do even more.
“I’ve always wanted progress. Progression is critically important to me,” said Cameron. “At Atlassian, I always measure myself by: where can I provide the most value to the business? I’d get a new role, get it running, build the team, set goals, set the strategy. And once that was up and running smoothly, I knew it’s not where I was providing the most value anymore. Once I wasn’t stressed out in the middle of the night, I could step away and look to where I’m needed next.”
Challenge for Change
While the job functions change from role to role, the core of what Atlassian has needed Cameron to accomplish has stayed the same: make change. That’s the value he provides—experience in taking risks, a willingness to be deeply uncomfortable, and the insight to ask questions other people aren’t—particularly within that initial high-growth time frame.
“I always make sure, within the first six to 12 months of a new role, that I change the business in a way that’s meaningful. What I always focus on is: what’s the big thing we’re going to change, what’s the new muscle we are going to build, what’s the new challenge we’re going to take on?” said Cameron. “No one puts me in a role to just run what’s there. They put me in these roles to truly change something and progress the business.”
In order to deliver on those big changes, Cameron relies on ruthless logic backed by a relentless willingness to question the way things work. It’s a mindset that helps to cut through both precedent and clutter, delivering fresh ways of looking at the work and the kind of innovation Atlassian is known for.
“One of your principles always has to be: challenge the status quo. Saying this is how it’s always worked is as dangerous as chaos, because then you can never truly innovate. There’s a big portion of the Atlassian business where if you just said, well this is how we always operated, some of our core offerings wouldn’t exist at all,” said Cameron. “That’s where you need ruthless logic. Attack every major decision point with that mindset. Ask yourself: Do you really have to do this? How are we going to measure it? What’s the actual value of this approach? And then hold the leaders and experts to account, and drill and drill and drill until you get the answers you’re looking for and the data to back it up.”
His constant companion in change and discomfort: Atlassian’s culture and Cameron’s own leadership principles. Here are some of the firmly staked ground posts that help to guide him.
Core company values
Atlassian’s values weren’t an afterthought—they were baked in from the company’s earliest beginnings. They’re essential to how the organization functions, a part of every big move and every small moment. These are their five firmly held beliefs:
- Open company, no bullshit
- Build with heart and balance
- Don’t #@!% the customer
- Play, as a team
- Be the change you seek
Steps to success
As a leader, Cameron lives and breathes Atlassian’s values. But he’s also had more opportunities than most to sharpen his acumen and assess the reasons behind his success. With each new role at Atlassian, he’s further distilled his philosophy, defined by his own three key principles:
“One: Kick ass in your role, no matter what it is. Two: Make your boss’ life easier. If they put an ounce of energy into you, you put five ounces back into the business. And finally three: Be someone people want to work with. Be the engaging person they’re actually looking forward to talking to, the one who makes hard work just a little bit more fun. If you do those things, you’ll keep getting new opportunities.”
Very smart people
At Atlassian, people matter. In Cameron’s career path, he’s proven time and again that having the right people can make all the difference, especially when you’re in a new role and need to learn quickly. He has frequently had to step outside his go-to-market comfort zone, at times heading research and development teams as well as mergers and acquisitions, two areas of business that came with a steep learning curve.
“When you have the right team in place, when skill set, capacity, personality, culture, and need all align—that is one of your biggest assets, especially when you’re learning something new. I am so lucky to have an incredible team that are all smarter than me. I pinch myself on a daily basis because I get to manage them and work alongside them. At Atlassian, we hire the best. This is hard work and the best make a difference,” said Cameron.
Eschew extra credit
To do, or not to do: that is the question. For Cameron, the answer is much simpler than one might suspect. As Chief Revenue Officer, his list of tasks could be miles long, but it isn’t. His success strategy: refining what’s possible into what’s attainable.
“It’s so easy to get lost in the minutia, the complexity, the opinions, and the options ahead. At the start of each fiscal year, write down three high-level things you have to do to be successful. You may not ever get to them, but they will help shape how you spend your time. Anything beyond those three is extra credit,” said Cameron.
He applies the same strategy to his team—set three reasonable goals and don’t get so caught up in growth that you lose sight of what’s right in front of you.
“Part of good leadership from my perspective is turning the seemingly chaotic set of priorities that comes with a fast pace into crisp measures of success and importance (it always comes down to the prioritization),” said Cameron.
On Cameron’s list for the 2022 fiscal year:
- Decentralize the go-to-market strategy to focus on three separate markets
- Build deeper strategic enterprise relationships with CIOs in the existing customer base
- Continue to work to establish and accelerate the third party marketplace
What’s happened at Atlassian over the past two decades is a SaaS masterclass and they’re not slowing down any time soon. When innovation is so central to mission, the bigger goal is always clear: build the future.
“There’s so much ahead for Atlassian and for industry leaders as a whole. This company has helped shape what’s possible, not just in product or service model, but also what kinds of opportunities exist for people and how success is defined. I think you’re going to increasingly see a need for leadership to truly understand the tech experience and how to deliver value to customers. Executives will need to be technologists, to balance strategy with experience,” said Cameron. “Who knows—maybe if I’m right, I’ll put myself out of business. But for now, I am thankful for what’s here, for what’s happening today, for the chance to show up and make a difference in people’s lives. Our biggest problem right now? Too many opportunities. What’s better than that?”
From Dave’s desk: “I’ve been fortunate to know Cameron for a decade now, and see him consistently knock down one challenge before moving on to the next. Cameron’s so good at simplifying complexity, that it can be easy to lose sight of the high level he is executing at, and the incredible level of skill he’s achieved at a wide range of functions. That he is the consummate multi-tool athlete makes him a modern leader and executive. That he manages to combine high expectations with a low ego makes me proud to count him as a friend.”