This article was first published on Business Review Weekly, we are just spreading their amazing story!
Cyan and Collis Ta’eed may have had to swallow their wanderlust but they have enabled millions of other people to make a living from being creative.
When the founders of online marketplace Envato started the company, their dream was to use it to combine work with travel.
Eight years later – with two small children, 250 employees, 6 million members and earnings of $215 million through their sites – Cyan and Collis Ta’eed find themselves anchored in the Melbourne head office.
They may have had to swallow their wanderlust but, in doing so, they have enabled millions of other people to make a living from being creative – and some of them are making a fortune.
Envato Market acts as a kind of eBay for those who want to buy products from designers, developers, photographers, illustrators and producers.
Cyan says 25 “creatives” have earned more than $1 million each selling their work through Envato’s sites.
Canadian musician Tim McMorris is one beneficiary. His song It’s A Beautiful Day was licensed for US advertisements for Adidas and Toyota, and another song, Overwhelmed , was licensed for Samuel Adams (a US beer) and reached number seven on the US iTunes charts.
Selling more than 40,000 of his music licences at $18 a pop through Envato has been lucrative, and led to a regular career writing music for the advertising industry.
Making money with sweet music
“He was a struggling musician and very, very talented and really wasn’t getting much traction and started selling on [Envato site] AudioJungle,” Cyan says.
He now makes “hundreds of thousands” of dollars annually as a musician.
Another Envato star is Muhammad Haris, who is one half of the team that created a popular webpage theme, called Avada, which has sold more than 92,000 times (for $58 each) over the past two years.
Living in Lahore, Pakistan, Haris has been able to finance the building of a three-storey house for himself and his extended family.
“We have one author who has made $5 million from one [website] theme,” Cyan says.
“We do [also] have quite a few authors who are under age who have needed written parental consent to be able to sell with us.”
The Envato story started with three friends who saw a need for an online marketplace for stock photography and website components.
Taking a gamble
Along with Cyan and Collis was Jun Rung, who had grown up with Collis in Papua New Guinea and shared a home with him in Sydney.
Cyan and Rung were both graphic artists and Collis had studied maths and computer science, but was inspired by Rung to switch careers. Cyan and Collis had already started their own fledgling studio when they decided to gamble on starting the online marketplace.
“We hired someone Collis had worked with to build the site and he said it would take three weeks. Nine months later, we launched it,” she says.
The site was far more complex than they imagined and ended up costing about $90,000.
“For that period of time, we did our freelancing jobs, nine to five. We worked nights and weekends on the marketplace. So for months and months, we didn’t have a night off or a weekend off,” she says.
The couple borrowed money from Collis’s family, moved into Cyan’s parents’ basement and put every dollar they could afford into their project.
“I think to be honest, by the time we got to the end of the project, we were terrified it wouldn’t succeed. But we had already sunk so much money into it, a huge sum of money for us at that point, that we didn’t have any choice. We kept freelancing for two years after that and didn’t pay ourselves for two years,” Cyan says.
Marketplace that pays creatives
Rung offered to invest as well, but Collis told him to hold off until they knew it was a sustainable business.
“He was terrified of losing Jun’s hard-earned money. He didn’t feel he could do that,” Cyan adds.
She says part of their motivation in starting Envato was to create a marketplace that paid “creatives” more fairly than the 20 per cent of sale that was common at the time.
To start with, they offered 30 per cent and then increased it to an eventual range of 50 per cent to 70 per cent.
Launching in 2006, they attracted sellers to their site by promoting their venture on online forums and luring buyers with free credit.
Finally, when they were able to start paying themselves a salary in 2008, they put their personal travel plans in motion.
Cyan was 28 and Collis was 30.
They sold everything they owned in a yard sale and flew with their laptops to Hong Kong, where they worked remotely for three months.
“We were still working 40-hour weeks, but you would work all day, go out for lunch, finish up work and go out in the evenings and meet people, and do touristy things on the weekends.”
Rung was keeping things going in Sydney (he has since left the company, but remains a part-owner) and Allen was in Melbourne.
That was the first stage of a 16-month “working holiday” that also took them to Canada, Florida and Paris.
As they wandered, the company kept growing and they began hiring people to work remotely from the US.
Meanwhile, Collis’s brother, Vahid, had joined the company and, in 2010, sent them a warning that it was time to come home.
“When we left, it was just the four of us.
“By the time we came back, there were four developers in Melbourne and another probably 10 remote staff from all over the world,” she says.
“We could see the company was really picking up, we were starting to work 60-hour weeks, and so travel was not as worthwhile as it had been.”
“We were so excited about how the company was growing and it didn’t seem like a sacrifice to set up in Melbourne.”
Set an ambitious target The couple are aiming for members’ total earnings to reach $1 billion.
Keep the dream alive Even though they are now in charge of a big operation, the Ta’eeds still make the attempt to travel. They have been able to take the children on a “working holiday” for a month.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander Envato staff have flexible working policies enabling working from home for up to five days a month, and teams can create their own policies (one has every Wednesday off). The company has 90 remote staff and 160 in Melbourne.
Rationalise At one stage, Envato had dozens of sites under its umbrella, but these were culled down to three products: Envato Market, Studio (handpicked designers, developers and creatives for hire) and Tuts (online tutorials).
Venture capital They have had many approaches but the Ta’eeds are aware some of their decisions (made with their community or long-term goals in mind) may not please venture capitalists. “We raise commission rates time and time again,” Cyan says.[:]