Boosting Profit and Productivity: How Trello Organized Its Way to Success

Boosting Profit and Productivity: How Trello Organized Its Way to Success

17 Dec 2019


Khusbu Basnet

If you’re in the tech world, you’ve heard of Trello. Even if you’re not, you’ve probably still heard of it. It’s that online sticky note company with Taco the Husky as its mascot. Ringing a bell?

A tech start-up with collaboration and productivity at its heart, Trello went from being the simple (but great) idea of two web developers in 2011 to getting acquired by powerhouse Atlassian in 2017 for $425 million.

Who would’ve thought something as simple as list-making and could turn into an app used by millions?

Learn more about the Trello success story in the following case study. 

The Backstory

Trello was officially launched in 2011 by co-founders Michael Pryor and Joel Spolsky.

The two had been working together since 2000 when they started their first software company together in New York — a place for freelance web developers to work.

They saw a hole in the market for cool productive places for web developers to spend their professional time in New York, so they started creating some products to help. 

Some went well, some didn’t. Such is the nature of the startup game.

One project that did take off was Joel’s project with another developer Jeff Atwood, Stack Overflow. It’s now regarded as the place online for developers to get advice and share their work with the tech community. 

One of Joel’s other projects was his blog ‘Joel on Software’, which is still highly regarded in the tech scene. 

Basically, Trello was started by two tech-heads with a keen eye for identifying–and filling–holes in the market. 

The idea was born from the concept of using sticky notes for organisation and communication. Who doesn’t love a sticky note? Trello is essentially that. Collaborative, digital boards of sticky notes. 

Trello’s Success Model

We’d call this section Trello’s business model, but we thought it would be more accurate to call it their success model.

These guys took an idea that was probably had by many before them and made it blow up. They knew what they were doing. 

The Freemium Model

When they started Trello, Pryor and Spolsky had big goals in mind. They wanted to make a product that would be used by 100 million people. 

But, would 100 million people pay for an application that is essentially a to-do list? Probably not. 

First of all, Trello is much more than an online to-do list. But we’ll get to that later. 

The first stepping stone toward their ultimate success was the decision to make their product free. By using the freemium model, it allowed their customers to access their application free-of-charge–up to a certain point. 

The Trello Success Story

A business model doesn’t mean much if the product isn’t good. But with Trello, that is not the case.

These are the main driving factors behind Trello’s success. 

A User-Friendly, Collaborative & Customisable Product

It’s so well-designed that the onboarding of new users is as easy, quick and pain-free as humanly possible. It’s clean, concise, and organised. Exactly what you want from a productivity app

Their design team is on-point when it comes to increasing user engagement, and their marketing team knows the importance of email for marketing and onboarding. 

Not only is the product easy to use, but it’s also completely customisable to suit the needs of any individual or team who’s using it.

There are loads of pretty sample templates to inspire users and show them what the product can do. But it’s just as easy, if not easier, to create boards and get started yourself. 

Setting up Trello and inviting team members to collaborate is as easy as sticking a Post-It note on a wall. It’s the clean simplicity of the product that’s the real driver of their success. 

The Collaboration Mentality

Perhaps the number one thing Trello has done right from the start is recognizing that collaboration is stronger than competition. 

Instead of competing with other tech industry giants, they choose to work with them. By offering their users what they call “Power-Ups”, they invite even more functionality and productivity into the mix. 

Among others, Trello implements Power-Ups with tech giants like Slack, Google Drive, Zendesk, and Jira. They are of the healthy mentality that there’s no reason everyone can’t play nice together. 

And it’s a win/win situation for everyone involved. If a user can connect their Slack account to their Trello boards, and share big files via Google Drive, what could be the downside? 

Not only does Trello collaborate with other tech leaders to offer the best product to their users, but they are also the collaboration tool for users. 

That’s what sets Trello apart from all the other list-making apps out there. It’s not a list-making app. It’s a collaboration app.


Okay, so they made a great product and are able to offer it for free to their users. How do they make money? 

Tiered Subscriptions

Nothing is free in this world. The free version of Trello is great for individuals and small teams, but once companies want to level-up their productivity, they’ll have to pay for it. 

So, they offered three subscription programs: Trello Gold, Business Class, and Enterprise.

Trello Gold was $5 per month and offers users perks like 3 extra Power-Ups and custom board backgrounds.

Business Class was $9.99/month and includes unlimited Power-Ups along with every other feature included in the Trello Gold and free versions. 

The fee for the Enterprise version ranges based on how many users there are and comes with a dedicated support and onboarding team. 

A Brilliant Referral Program

Another smart way Trello was able to continue to level-up their monetisation was through a referral program.

Anyone who invites a new active user to Trello gets gifted a month of Trello Gold for free. This really is a brilliant mechanism to get people to not only refer their friends but to get a glimpse into the value of paying for the Gold subscription. 

Time to Get Working

If you run a team remotely, Trello is the tool you need. Now that they’ve been acquired by Atlassian, their business model has changed a bit. But it’s still the best productivity and collaboration product out there. 

To stay up to date on all the latest tech industry news and for other case studies like the Trello success story, check out our blog and find out more. 


Khusbu always has everyone's best interests in mind when managing projects. The delivery of projects managed by Khusbu are always of the highest quality. Her aspirations to build her business and grow those under her management strive her to become one of the best in class Project Managers.

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