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Ask the Expert – Speaking About Startups with Collis Ta’eed of Envato

Ask the Expert is a popular and on-going interview series here on Design Informer. In this edition of Ask the Expert, I had the chance to email Collis Ta’eed and ask him some questions regarding Envato, the popular web startup.

Collis is one of the founders of Envato, which originally started with just one website selling Flash files. Envato now has over twenty websites and they are still constantly growing. Collis provides general vision, design, marketing, and new business ideas for Envato, where he is the CEO.

Also consider the following related articles:

Speaking About Startups Link

Envato has emerged as one of the most exciting companies in the creative world. Can you please give us a brief history of your startup?


Envato4 started out about four years ago initially to build a marketplace for Adobe Flash files. Back then we were called FlashDen5 which was the name of that marketplace and really that was the whole plan – to build one site.

But as soon as we launched the site, we began planning more marketplaces. Because we had to wait a long time before we had the resources to make another marketplace, I found myself with enough time to also start some side projects. After I got into blogging we launched first FreelanceSwitch6 and then later Psdtuts+7 which quickly took on a life of their own. Fast forward to today and we’ve grown from one marketplace to six, one tutorial site to eight and launched a lot of other sites on the way!

I remember when Psdtuts+ was just a tutorial blog. What made you decide to finally start Envato, which back then was called Eden?

Ah yes, we’ve had many name changes! After we launched our second site it was clear that “FlashDen” wouldn’t work as the company name, so we changed to “Eden Creative Communities” before realizing that to trademark something like ‘eden’ is really, really difficult. So we changed the name to something completely made up – Envato. Because it’s not a real word, no-one else uses it and trademarking is much easier!

How many hours did you work when your company first started?

Many! Too Many! When we first started out my wife Cyan and I were freelancing to pay our bills. So in the daytime we would work our freelance jobs and then at night and on the weekends we’d work on FlashDen. It was very hard work and I remember going literally months without a day off from long, double days. But it all paid off because the hard work meant we didn’t need to borrow or take investors and that’s given us a lot more freedom now!


How did you keep yourself motivated when you first started?

Good question! It was quite difficult, especially just before launch when it wasn’t at all clear that the site was going to be successful or even that we’d finish it, and we were pretty far in debt from paying for everything, and exhausted from all the work. I think we just focused on one thing at a time. So first it was just focusing on launching the site (somehow), and then we focused on somehow getting people to visit the site, and then we focused just on making enough to pay for the day to day operations, and so on.

If you think about everything all together it’s a bit too daunting, but if you just keep focused on one or two steps ahead with just a broad overview of where you are going, then it’s easier to stay motivated because one or two steps sounds possible while a big journey might sound too hard.

Business Model

Did you base your business model and principles after another successful startup, or did you create everything yourself?

Our first marketplace FlashDen was influenced largely by iStockPhoto9, Dreamstime10 and other stock photo marketplaces. iStock actually lets you sell Adobe Flash, but they did (and still do) a pretty poor job of it, so we focused on doing it all better for Flash designers and developers.

How did you avoid the mistakes of many other dot-coms? Most of these companies grew tremendously in the beginning and they are nowhere to be found today.

I think focusing on building a good product as cheaply as possible without taking a lot of investment was probably the key. Those early dot-coms used to have to take tons of money from investors to do anything – in part because the internet was a lot more expensive back then in terms of bandwidth, expertise and so on. For us we benefited from the internet’s maturation both in terms of development and in audience. So we could build cheaply and then just work hard and wait for revenues to start building before we invested more.

What would you say is your companies motto? If you don’t have one, how would you spell your company’s success in one sentence.

We’re successful because of our community of authors, readers, reviewers, staff and users.


You have given a lot to the community since you started out. (Free resources, tutorials, as well as organizing Blog Action Day12.) Can you tell us about the importance of giving back to the community?

I think one of the most important trends we see in the world today is that there is a slowly developing consciousness that we are all part of one, connected, human family. This has many big implications in the world, but also many small ones such as the one you mentioned – that it’s important to give back to the community. If you realize that people are all interconnected then it makes sense that you’d want to share and give back to each other, just as you have a natural instinct to take care of yourself. Giving back to the community can come in many forms.

Blog Action Day13

It is important for a company to do these things:

  • Take care of their staff.
  • Produce great products to give value to their users.
  • Look for ways to use their resources for the greater good.

When creating a web startup, do you think it is important that you are a good developer, or is it okay to outsource the development of your website to somebody else?

I think being a web designer or developer is a great benefit – particularly in terms of saving money – but certainly you can start a web startup in many different ways and outsourcing or hiring a developer has worked for many, many companies.

I noticed that even though Envato has grown by leaps and bounds, you still manage to be very involved in the little things of your websites. I still see you make announcements, write posts, as well as design some of the sites, such as WorkAwesome, which looks very nice. Do you think that it is good for the owner to be involved in all of the little things?

I think it’s great to be involved though I’m finding it harder and harder the bigger we grow. I think one of the big challenges for entrepreneurs is giving up their involvement in everything and realizing that you have to let go of some things. Still it’s also important to have you ear to the ground and know what’s happening and that often means being involved on a low level – at least some of the time!


Do you think that co-founders are a good idea, or would you rather start a company by yourself?

I think having co-founders15 is an excellent idea and I would certainly never start a company without them. They bring many benefits including skills you might not have, energy when you are feeling unmotivated, manpower when you need a lot of things to happen with little resources, ideas that you might not have had and generally more resources and contacts that you wouldn’t have alone.

Roger Federer

Do you keep track of what your competitors are doing? If so, what do you do with that information?

Oh yes, I always keep an eye on our various competitors largely to get ideas and be inspired. It’s always motivating having someone great in the same field because they help you be better. You think about Tennis for example with Roger Federer16 out there, if anyone wants to beat him they have to push themselves that much harder and do that much better to beat him. He lifts everyone’s game by being so great. In the same way having good competitors means you have to lift your game to keep pace or to stay ahead.

How did you make your business model scalable?

I think it’s important in any business to be always thinking about how to grow the business.

For me I always tell myself if I want to do all the things that I want to do, then I need to find a way to make the business run without me as much as possible. Focusing on that (removing yourself from the equation) is a good way to make a business scalable because often times the founders are one of the most limiting factors – after all there’s only one of me and one of each of my co-founders.

I think the other important thing is to think about how a successful idea can be applied to other areas. For example when Psdtuts+ was successful we started thinking “hey let’s teach other stuff in the same format!” and so we started other Tuts+ sites!


Can you share with us some resources that helped your startup to get where it is today?

I think books are a great resource for entrepreneurs and a couple I’d highly recommend reading are “The Art of the Start”17 by Guy Kawasaki and “Good to Great”18 by Jim Collins. There are so, so many other great books though, and I can’t recommend enough reading lots and lots!

Are there any final words of advice that you have to those who are contemplating on a startup?

The advice I always give to new entrepreneurs is to just get started, but start with something small and manageable. Don’t necessarily try to take on the whole world all at once. There will always be time to evolve and grow your vision, it’s better to focus on getting something going first.

Build something, get it earning some money, grow it, then improve, then grow some more. Iterating a business means you acknowledge that it might not be perfect the first time around, but that you will keep working on it until you can get it perfect in the future!

Thanks again Collis for answering these questions for the Design Informer readers. Your startup has been a real inspiration to me and I’m sure that it has really inspired others as well. If you want to check out the entire Envato lineup of websites, go ahead and check out their company website19. Also, if you are looking for more excellent articles about startups and business, Collis has an excellent blog with practical and useful advice called The Netsetter.

The Netsetter

I hope you enjoyed this interview. There are more excellent interviews coming up in the future and there is one in particular that you won’t want to miss so go ahead and subscribe to the RSS feed20. Please share your thoughts about the interview below and give us some feedback. Thank you!

Footnotes Link

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Former editor in chief of Designinformer.

  1. 1

    Jad Limcaco

    March 2, 2010 3:52 am

    Thanks Sneh! I had a great time asking these questions and an even better time reading the response of Collis. :D

  2. 2

    Jad Limcaco

    March 2, 2010 4:06 am

    I was really thrilled when Collis agreed to do the interview as his blogs was one of the first blogs that I started to follow. PSDTUTS was probably the first blog that I followed and shortly after that, I also became a huge fan of NETTUTS when it launched.

    About the interview, I really do try to delve into questions that don’t normally get asked. I like to give the readers a unique and inspiring interview and hopefully, this was one of them. I know that this interview has helped me and I’m already looking into getting those books. I’m still amazed at how much Collis has been able to do with Envato in just a few years. If I remember correctly, just a few years back, he was working out of a garage. :D

  3. 3

    Mikael Halén

    March 2, 2010 4:17 am

    Great interview and lots of great information! Thanks Collis for sharing and Jad for the great questions!

  4. 4

    Brilliant interview – Really nice with a focus on the business side of Envato.

    • 5

      Jad Limcaco

      March 2, 2010 4:01 am

      Hey Martin, nice to have you back. Thanks for the comment. I really tried to focus on the business side of Envato with this interview.

  5. 6

    Its a year back i was new to this design community and want some great tutorials to start my design career.. then one day one of my friend told me about Tut network and since then i regularly visit net/psd tut plus and learned a lot from them. I cant imagine myself without the help of tut+network. I think who ever i am now is just becoz of envato. Thank you so much for this great company of yours. Jad you did a great job interviewing Collis.

    • 7

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 1:52 am

      Hey Vikas, glad to know that the Tut Network was a big help to you. It definitely helped me a lot as well and I can’t remember how many of their tutorials I followed from start to finish. :D

  6. 8

    Hey Jad, once again you did your homework so thoroughly and with the thought provoking questions, you’ve drawn out the best information that your expert has to offer. You yourself is an expert when it comes to interviewing experts.

    Collis thanks for sharing with us your storehouse of knowledge and your expertise. It is so vast it will take a lifetime for me to learn….

    • 9

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 2:12 am

      It might take a lifetime, but remember what Collis said about taking it one step at a time. :)

  7. 10

    Thanks for sharing your vision and how you got started. I always like to read interviews with owners of succesful startups, and how they do and did it. It always inspires me a lot :)

  8. 11

    AWESOME, Great read! Collis is a fantastic guy to work for and with, we can all learn a thing or two about so many things, he’s just full of insights. Glad to see he ended up doing the interview and the redesign looks fantastic. Keep it up.

    • 12

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 1:56 am

      Definitely! I learned so much just from asking him a few questions. Thanks Derek! You’re one of the main reasons why I was able to do this interview. ;)

      BTW, your interview here on Design Informer was excellent as well.

  9. 13

    Excellent and insightful interview, but I was hoping for more tips on how he got the community to grow!

    I’m gonna check out the books mentioned but another book I enjoyed was Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It. Although relatively new, I found it interesting how he started building his own community for his video blog.

    • 14

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 2:05 am

      Hi Victor, I should have asked him that. :(

      Anyway, great suggestion about that book. I’ve heard lots of good report on it and will look into purchasing it.

  10. 15

    Brian Jones

    March 2, 2010 7:13 am

    Excellent interview Jad and thank you both for sharing!

  11. 16

    Great interview, really enjoyed reading it! It beats the normal questions most people ask when interviewing people!

    • 17

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 2:07 am

      Hey Callum, thanks for stopping by and I’m stoked that you liked the interview questions. :D

  12. 18

    Jad Limcaco

    March 2, 2010 6:59 pm

    Yes he is, glad you enjoyed this interview.

  13. 19

    Teodoro Lopez

    March 2, 2010 7:32 pm

    Great Interview, goes to show that hard work and dedication pays off in the end. It is crazy for me to see how much your sites have evolved, about 2 1/5 years ago I started following nettuts since back then is when I first started to get involved with the web. Now Im following just about all of them. The tuts network is what I recommend to anyone wanting to learn and gain more skills on graphic and web design or on how to run your own business with freelance tips.

    Again great job!!

    • 20

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 2:17 am

      I find myself doing the same thing. When one of my friends asks me about Photoshop or web design, I usually direct them to PSDTUTS, NETTUTS and Smashing Magazine. Oh, and Design Informer. ;)

  14. 21

    Great interview, it’s really nice to have a look on the man behind the projects. It’s inspiring and motivating, thanks a lot ;)

  15. 22

    great interview Jad!

  16. 23

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 1:55 am

    Haha, I still remember that old design with the spoon. It seems like it was just yesterday. Now, the whole network is massive and the great thing is that they are still continuing to grow everyday.

    By the way, it’s nice to hear that a partnership has worked great for you as well.

  17. 24

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 1:58 am

    Yes, definitely. I’ve been taking it one step at a time with Design Informer, but I think that I am finally ready for growth and expansion, that’s why I plan on releasing Coding Informer next month. :D

  18. 25

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 1:58 am

    Yes, Envato is definitely a great example.

  19. 26

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:04 am

    Hey Richie, thanks for the excellent commentary about Collis and the Tuts+ sites. I definitely understand what you mean about entrepreneurship.

    Also, your point about timing is excellent. That’s definitely one of the main reasons why they have grown so quickly because when they first started out in their niche, there really wasn’t much competition.

    Lastly, thanks for the compliments about the interview format and questions. I’m really glad that I was able to bring a new perspective to Collis and Envato. BTW, keep up the great work with your blog, it’s been doing excellent lately.

  20. 27

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:06 am

    Hey Chris, it truly does amaze me how they are able to keep on launching new sites, all within the design industry and each site that they launch seems to dominate that particular niche. They are definitely doing things right at Envato.

  21. 28

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:09 am

    That’s good for you David! Hope your small startup does well.

    It’s definitely good for someone who has a great startup idea to start right away. I think the problem sometimes is that when you wait too long, someone else comes up with the same idea and it just makes it that much harder to start once there is already some established competition.

  22. 29

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:11 am

    Oh yeah, I forgot to ask that. Shucks! Anyway, whatever is in store for Envato, we know it will be awesome!

    Dare I say the TUTSPLUS network could even compete with regular standards of state education if it expanded to more curricula based topics.

    I completely agree with that. I think they might even be more advanced with some of the courses as they are constantly learning and evolving unlike most courses which are typically a year or two behind anyway.

  23. 30

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:12 am

    Haha, yes, that name is so cool. From what I’ve read on different articles, Cyan is a graphic designer as well, or she used to be, which makes it even cooler.

  24. 31

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:13 am

    Hi Duane, Australians are doing excellent huh? I’m from America but I do have some relatives in Australia. :D

  25. 32

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:15 am

    Woah! It’s Kriesi!

    Hey man, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. You have absolutely been killing it over at ThemeForest. Keep up the great work man. Way to take advantage of Envato’s growth. Keep on producing those excellent themes! :D

  26. 33

    Jad Limcaco

    March 3, 2010 2:16 am

    Collis is definitely a humble guy and very nice! He was so kind and he was very courteous with answering emails and responding. Definitely a gentleman!

  27. 34

    Awesome interview Jad. Definitely inspiring to how Collis started out and seeing how far he took the Envato Network. With so many stuff going on, I would love to know how they manage their time – something I’ve been trying to work on.

    Just came across your “ask the expert” series. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest.

    • 35

      Jad Limcaco

      March 3, 2010 2:18 am

      Thanks Stanley. Definitely check out the rest of the Ask the Expert series. There are some really great and in-depth interviews with some of the industry’s finest.

      As far as managing their time, it definitely is amazing, considering most of their employees work from their own location and they are all around the world.

  28. 36

    I really look up to Envato for doing this on their own, and having a vision which later paid off. It’s always great to see people succeed, but it’s more outstanding to see them be a normal human and one who likes to share the knowledge and advices!

  29. 37

    Thank you for sharing Collis, the interview is very inspiring

  30. 38

    Wow! This interview was almost like reading a book! He is a great inspiration for new entrepreneurs!

  31. 39

    This is so good. Thanks a million, Jad. By the way, you new design is so cool. It is very readable and functional. I’m learning from you, man. Keep it up.

    • 40

      Creating A Web Design Business can be one of the most rewarding careers you’ll ever choose, but only if you do it right. It’s unfortunate, but many of the top designers/entrepreneurs aren’t willing to help someone who’s just starting out, because they either don’t have the time, or they don’t want anyone using these secrets to compete with them but thanks to Collis who is more than willing to help. I’ve learned so much from this in-depth interview, and it amazes me how Jad can put together intelectual questions that readers want to know.

      Thank you Collis and Jad for this very informative and very intellectual interview. Keep on keeping on! :)

  32. 41

    Thanks for the share, truly inspiring story, its good to read about start up when you are working on one. Keep Posting and thanks @Jad and @Collins.

  33. 42

    Jad Limcaco

    March 5, 2010 8:07 pm

    @Dimi, Brian and Julio, thanks for your kind words. Collis has truly inspired us in so many ways.

  34. 43

    Jad Limcaco

    April 2, 2010 2:23 am

    Will try my best Matt. Glad you liked the interview!

  35. 44

    Nice one! You’re inspiring even Pixmac!


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