Not every software acquisition works out — sometimes, a buyer either stifles or outright kills the thing they bought, often leaving a trail of disappointed users in the wake.
That doesn't appear to be the case at organizational app Trello, which had 19 million users in 2017, when Australian software giant Atlassian purchased it in a deal valued at $425 million. Now, on Wednesday, Trello says that it has 50 million users, meaning that it more than doubled.
To mark the milestone, Trello also added new features — including an automation tool called Butler, which can suggest and automatically perform certain tasks — to help make it that much easier for those users to stay organized. It also introduced Templates, which can make it easier to set up one of Trello's trademark planning boards.
"We're trying to take the busy work out of the way they collaborate with each other," Michael Pryor, co-founder and head of Trello at Atlassian, told Business Insider. "If you think about 50 million registered users, we've become this operating system for work that people are relying on everyday to organize, collaborate, keep track of what's going on."
Trello started as a project at Fog Creek Software, the venerable New York City software house that's now known as Glitch. It's built around the concept of Kanban, the organizational philosophy pioneered at Toyota, which posits that tasks are more manageable when broken down into their component parts.
Pryor says that Trello was able to grow to 50 million users mostly through word of mouth. While Atlassian has traditionally made tools for developers, Trello is aimed at a much broader audience. He says it's widely used not only at work, but even for extracurriculars like planning parties, trips, and even weddings.
"If you let people run solution and share it with people, they can get started and solve those problems quicker," Pryor said. "As we look to the next 100 million, we're focused on reducing that busy work and making work easier for people."
Trello becomes 'smarter'
Trello's new automation feature comes by way of an acquisition of its own, after the company snapped up Butler in December. Butler already began as a tool for Trello power users, but Justin Gallagher, Trello's head of product management, says the team spent "a good portion" of the past year integrating the two even more tightly.
Butler had a "huge reception," Pryor says, but since it was an add-on and not built by Trello itself, it limited how users could use it. Now that it's part of the core product, more users can use it. For example, a team that has weekly meetings can use the tool to automatically create an agenda, set due dates, and send emails.
"For automation, it's like, we can look at what you're doing so you don't have to repeat the same four tasks every week when you have your one on one in the morning," Pryor said.
In addition, a big part of integrating Butler is also about reducing workplace anxiety, Gallagher says. Nowadays, employees often use a variety of different tools and may receive an overload of notifications, which could lead to anxiety. By having Butler perform repetitive tasks, it takes a load off of employees' shoulders.
"The things that are repetitive, the more mundane tasks, Trello can do that for you," Gallagher said. "That leaves more time for the deeper work. We're thinking about how Trello becomes smarter."
A 'blank page' problem
As for Templates, Pryor says the idea partly came from seeing people post blogs about how they configure Trello to solve different types of problems. By streamlining the process, it makes it easier for, say, a manager to quickly get set up with a Trello board for handling one-on-one meetings.
"We kind of collected them all in a community directory you can go to and anyone can browse through and see the different ways people are solving problems with Trello," Pryor said.
Gallagher says that users may get some anxiety from not knowing how to get started with their project, so Templates can alleviate this "blank page" problem.
"People feel a lot more secure moving forward when it feels like a proven way to do this and can say, 'I'm confident this is going to be a thing that has a good chance of working,'" Gallagher said. "What we're doing is pulling that into the product itself. We're creating a gallery where people can share those stories with each other."