Envato: Be Creative. Launch Often. Be Profitable.

Collis Ta’eed of Envato comes up with a lot of business ideas. This is the story of how he built a profitable business by thinking through each of those idea’s potential on a Moleskine notebook and turning those notes into active web sites.

He wouldn’t reveal just how profitable his privately held, unfunded business is, but he confirmed that it generates over a million dollars in annual revenue and gives him an outlet for his ideas. Envato owns a collection of digital goods marketplaces like ActiveDen, which offers Flash components, and tutorial sites like Psdtuts+, which offers Photoshop lessons.

Collis Ta'eed

Collis Ta'eed


Collis Ta’eed is the co-founder and CEO of Envato, whose mission is to help people to earn and to learn, online. The company operates marketplaces where hundreds of thousands of people buy and sell digital goods every day, and a network of educational blogs where millions learn creative skills.



Full Interview Transcript

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Here’s the program.

Andrew Warner: Hi, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and, of course, the place where entrepreneurs come to tell the story of how they build their business so that you can take their best ideas, go out there, use them in your business and, hopefully, after you create a great company come back and do what today’s guest is doing.

Big question for today’s interview is how do you take an idea that you sketched out on a notebook and turn it into a thriving, profitable business? Well, joining me is Collis Ta’eed, founder of Envato. As you’ll see in this interview he has done it over and over and over and over again. All bootstrapped. Envato is a large network of online marketplaces and educational blogs. The marketplaces include ThemeForest, where I recently bought, well, not a full theme, but a landing page design. Great landing page template, by the way, only $8.00, and the educational sites include PSD Tuts, a Photoshop blog and tutorial site with 152,000 RSS subscribers.

Collis, I wrote a whole lot here and even that, I feel, is just a small intro into what you do. So, first of all, welcome.

Collis Ta’eed: Thank you. Welcome to myself, I guess. Hello. Hi. [laughs]

Andrew: And, second, right, actually, I didn’t even realize it’s kind of natural, right, when someone says welcome you just almost repeat what they say?

Collis: [laughs] Yeah.

Andrew: Especially, with some pre-interview jitters. How many sites do you have?

Collis: Yes, sites, I was just looking before this interview. Actually, I’d say about 30. It kind of depends how you count them. We tend to break a lot of our networks into sub-domains. So, you mentioned Tuts just now, the PSD Tut site, there’s ten, I think, ten Tut sites. The Tut’s manager is going to drill that into me, I’m sure, after this interview. There’s a whole bunch of those, but they all sit at tutsplus.com. I guess, in a sense, we have 30 different sites, but they tend to break into a few blocks. So, it’s kind of manageable sort of.

Andrew: OK and it’s tutsplus.com and the reason I pronounce it toot is I assumed it was toots from the tutorial.

Collis: Yes, it is and I think it is one of those names, I want to say in branding, that you should never choose a name that has multiple pronunciations and, well, we went did exactly that. I’d say 50% of people say tuts. I say tuts for some reason. We get a lot of toots. So, don’t worry. Toots for some reason just kind of sounds like annoy. I don’t know. It just doesn’t sound right to me somehow.

Andrew: Right, actually. I see what you mean. Toot sounds like a different sound. Dude, I named my Mixergy. So, I am nobody to tell anyone else how to come up with a good name.

Hey, how much revenue do you have?

Collis: That’s not something we actually give out, unfortunately. Nice try.

Andrew: Did you see how I said that? Like we didn’t practice before in the pre-interview? Let me ask you a response question to that. Let me ask a follow-up question. Do you have at least a $1 million in revenue?

Collis: Yes.

Andrew: OK. All right. So, of course, we know that because you told it publicly on 37signals Blog and we agreed we’re not going to get deeper into revenue than that.

So, what we’re going to do now is go back in time, hear the story of how you built this company and along the way, like the greedy entrepreneur that I am, I’m going to pull as many tips and much information as I can for my audience so we can go out there and duplicate your success.

Collis: Sure thing.

Andrew: So, starting with what’s the very first site that you created?

Collis: The very first one was actually ActiveDen. It was called FlashDen back in the day. This was like back in 2006 and it’s one of the digital marketplaces. So, it was a marketplace for selling flash components. Actually, we started with flash on video and pixel fonts, I think it was, but it was basically about flash. Later, one day, we got a letter from Adobe a couple of years later saying don’t use flash in your domain name or brand. I think it was because we started to try to trademark it. The funny thing is when we actually started the site, we went to a lawyer and at that time we planned on calling FlashFox and this lawyer was like oh, oh, we got to watch out for fox. They’re very particular about their trademarks. I was like oh, yeah, better take fox out. Not really thinking, hey, what about the other word, which is actually a product being sold on the side.

Andrew: What do you mean by flash components? What is that?

Collis: Flash components. OK, so, flash components, you know, Adobe flash, yeah, the thing that Steve Jobs dislikes intensly. So, to build a flash site or flash animation even it is possible to use pre-made little pieces. So, it might be a pre-loader for a website or a menu system, a video players, what have you. So, rather than always building everything from scratch yourself, sometimes it’s kind of easier to just buy a few pre-made pieces and cobble them together. Especially, maybe, if there are, let’s say flash creators, as often flash designers and then there’s flash developers and so maybe your designing and you don’t know much about development or the developer doesn’t know much about design. Kind of makes sense you might leverage someone else’s work.

Andrew: OK. So, let me see if I understand this right. When you’re watching a flash video, for example, or interactive with a flash program, there’s that little loading video that comes on, right? Before the actual thing that you came to see. That little loading video is sometimes the creator of the thing you came to see did create. He comes to your website and he buys it and, from what I remember, it might be something like . . .

Collis: A dollar.

Andrew: A loading or maybe it will be someone chipping into a watermelon and by the time he finishes chopping the video is ready. It’s stuff like that. Am I right?

Collis: Yeah, exactly, and we’d sell them for a couple of bucks and it’s not us that’s creates them. It’s an open marketplace. Like eBay I suppose, except it’s all digital. Flash designers, developers, wherever you are in the world and typically they might have made it already for some other project they’re working on and maybe it was a throwaway or something they were fiddling with and then they can just upload it. We’ll put a price on it if, like I say, and if it’s good enough we’ll load it into the library and then other people can buy.

Andrew: What’s the revenue breakdown or the share of the revenue?

Collis: So, we began when we very first started we would pay quite a miserly amount of 25% per sale and then as the person sold more, I think, it would get up to 40%. We were very, very small so we needed a big percentage, I guess, to grow. Since then we’ve changed the percentages two or three times. Actually, maybe four. Anyhow, these days an author will take 50% on the day they begin and then they can get up 70%.

Andrew: OK and I think the percentages change based on whether they’re exclusive to you or not. Right?

Collis: Yes, that’s right. So, non-exclusives, which we are much less catering for, it really helps for us to have an exclusive library. So, non-exclusives have a much lower rate. I guess also affiliates will take part of the other percentage, as well.

Andrew: OK. All right. Let me focus for a while on FlashDen because this is the big thing that launched the rest of the business. So, one of the questions that I have is how do you get in a marketplace, both sides to come in at once? The customers, right, who want to have developers and products to buy and on the other hand those developers aren’t going to come unless there’s an active marketplace with customers. How did you make that happen?

Collis: Yes. Very difficult and this sort of thing happens at a lot of start-ups, I guess. It’s like you want to start jump board, it’s like you need some jump ads to get some people who want to apply and the same kind of thing. I think that at the end of the day you kind of need to just try to see both ends as well as you can. So, we started with content. You have to have something there for sale. I did some flash work. So, I made some stuff. We commissioned some audio and a bit of video and we used a lot of our seed money. We started off with our savings, basically, and pay to pay for these things. So, we had a little bit of content and then after that the other side, to seed buyers, initially we just totally like grassroots, would go on flash forums and talk to people. Designed the sites kind of nicely so we could get into some flash [??], much like galleries and that brought some traffic. The real, I guess, turning point for us was that maybe three months in and we managed this promotion where we gave out $10,000 in credits to anyone. So, it was like $10 per person and all you need to do is register and, I can’t remember, I think you click a button and then got $10.00 and, then you could spend on whatever you want. So, I guess our thought process was our commission rates were low 25’s or 40%. It was just starting so everyone was pretty much on 25%, so really $10,000 cost us $2,500, plus people buying would then be helping the authors who would then feel happy to make more stuff and I got a bit of momentum. That was probably our big turning point. Before that our revenue per month, I don’t know what it was. It was like $100 a month and then after we got to maybe $1,000 a week by Christmas, three months in. I remember that was the moment where I was saying, “Wow, a thousand dollars a week. That just sounds unbelievable.” I guess from there we had enough to keep us going. Of course, you have to keep driving all sides and things, but, yeah.

Andrew: The $10 though that you’re handing out. Very clever technique. I don’t know how I missed that in my research of you. So, what’s interesting is that people actually took it. How do you get that into people’s hands? A lot of times when you offer something that’s a great deal people are reluctant to sign up for it and take you up on the offer. How did you get them to say yes?

Collis: I must admit I don’t recall it being too difficult. We built a flash showroom because we needed a way to drive the traffic, I guess to the site. As a designer and knowing that a lot of our market was designers, I knew that you could traffic from these galleries and showcases, so we built this thing called the flash showroom. It took a few weeks. I was convinced it was only going to be a couple days work. Anyways, it was a few weeks work and we just kind of took as many files from the library that we could find and cobbled them together into something that looks kind of cool and so submitting that to some flash galleries brought the traffic and on there there was a big banner saying, you know, sign up, get $10 free. I guess enough people took it. Not all the $10,000 went though. I think maybe $7,000 or $8,000 went and they had two weeks to use it and after $8,000, something like $6,000 actually got spent.

Since then we’ve done it again. We’ve done it a few more times and progressively after a while we realized that actually the people taking the money were just our existing user base. It made less and less sense the bigger we got.

Andrew: Oh, that’s really clever. Ok and even if they didn’t take advantage of it. You still got them to join your site and maybe they bought something in the future.

Collis: Yeah.

Andrew: You said that you had a small grubstake that you used to commission designs. Where did that come from?

Collis: A grubstake you said?

Andrew: A grubstake. I guess that’s a western word. I mean west in the U.S. You had seed money. You seeded the business with some commission work. It sounds like that money came from a previous venture.

Collis: Not from a previous venture, actually. The four of us founders, we actually began with three, and we brought in a fourth a few months in. We just kind of cobbled together, I guess, our life savings. We weren’t too advanced in life, so there wasn’t too many savings for our life savings. So, it was my wife and I and my best friend and we used some money we got at our wedding, plus some money we made freelancing and then, of course, we just didn’t pay ourselves for a very long time and continued freelancing while we were running FlashDen to pay the bills. A bit of a hard time.

Andrew: How much did you invest in the business?

Collis: In actual dollars maybe like $40,000 or so. I forget exactly and then we kind of worked a whole heap leading up to the launch and just noted our hours to sort of figure out how our equity in the company landed at the end of it all. So, I remember thinking about like our hours and everything altogether. It was maybe $100,000. So, if we had to hire a designer as I haven’t done the design or had to hire a frontend developer, as it happens I did that, as well, if we had to do all those things it would have come to maybe 100k, but we actually put in 40 or so. That is a lot of money for us.

Andrew: That’s a lot of money to get started. That’s more money than Y Combinator companies get when they get started.

Collis: True, true, true.

Andrew: So, where did the first $40,000 go beyond the net? Where did they go?

Collis: We had to hire a Ruby developer. Actually, I was trying to hire a php developer, but this guy I had known from before came along and was, like, don’t use php, only use Ruby on Rails. At the time Ruby on Rails, I think, had been out for like, I don’t know, six months or something. This was a long time ago and I’m not sure how he convinced me. I was like, oh, yeah, sure, why don’t we build our whole company on this fledgling little technology. Anyway, happily it turned out really well. That was good, but a lot of it went to him, I mean, he was a contract developer, and since then he’s become one of the staff here., but initially he was somewhat of a contract developer. Seed content for the sites and some little animations and things and then miscellaneous stuff we had a not as good accountant as I would have liked and left us with some problems to deal with later in life. A lawyer and, yeah, all the kind of little bits and pieces.

Andrew: What kind of accounting trouble did you have?

Collis: Our accounts just weren’t very thorough. When we changed later, it would look back and we had some problems getting the accounts from the first accountant. I think he wasn’t too happy that we’d left him. Just some miscellaneous accounting troubles, but it’s OK. We can resolve all of them. It just means things are harder later on when everything is kind of fuzzy in your mind about what had happened and even things like equity we had to through. How we had it all planned out. At the time I’d had a freelance business, as well. So, my wife and I were freelance designers and our accountant, who was the accountant for the freelance business, as well, was kind of like moving money from one entity to the other and it was very hazy, but it’s OK. We cleared it all up. Just took a lot of time.

Andrew: So, you were focused for a while on FlashDen, which was renamed what? I’m sorry?

Collis: ActiveDen.

Andrew: ActiveDen. Excuse me.

Collis: Yes.

Andrew: How long till ActiveDen worked? Till it was profitable and what you would consider a success?

Collis: I felt it was a success by December. So, we began in February planning and building the site. By August we launched despite the fact that we thought we were going to launch in April. It actually took us many months more. I’m sure that’s a common refrain. Then by October or so, we had our little marketing program and by December, I was on vacation with my parents, and saw that we had made $1,000 a week. That’s, obviously, not profitable. I guess it would have gotten profitable eventually. Well, it did, but, yeah. Anyhow, it wasn’t profitable, I guess, but I felt like at this point we could see, oh, yes, it’s on a good projectory and it could get bigger and bigger.

Andrew: A lot of entrepreneurs where I took back will look back on that first year at some mistakes they just can’t believe they made or some funny mistakes the naïve entrepreneur who are starting a business make. What are some of yours?

Collis: Naïve mistakes. I think a lot to do with the accountants. Generally, accounting for us, I guess, is three designers and later my brother, who is a physicist, actually, so we no experience in this kind of stuff. I don’t think we treated our accounts very seriously, even after we left our first accountant. We took another accountant to instantly produce the accounts, but two or three months later and in a fast growing business that means, like, you’re looking at numbers from ages ago, which just have no bearing on reality anymore because since then you’ve hired a couple of people, you’re revenues have gone up, what have you. So, we started, in 2006, by the time we’re really getting going in 2007, we’re just around the corner from the global financial crisis. Plus we were hiring madly and so there was a time where I think we were kind of running blind because we’d not really thought about accounts as a core, important aspect of business.

I don’t know how we managed instead. I think we were just totally focused on let’s just make a product, make a product, make users, make money. Everything else will fall into place, which I guess it did, but I kind of think that maybe we fell into place in a lucky way and there’s an alternate reality where it could have all collapsed because we came very close. There was a time where I think, it’s maybe a year and a half in, our expenditures briefly surpassed our income and the global financial crisis happened roughly at the same time and so I could see that in a certain scenario that just would have continued and gotten worse and things would have taken a nosedive or, perhaps, we’d have to lay off staff. As it happened, the site just growing incrementally and it sort of passed by and, of course, our accounts were so late, there was only three months later we realized just how close we’d come to financial, not ruin, I guess, but financial badness.

Andrew: What was the second site that you launched?

Collis: The second site. So, during the process of building FlashDen or ActiveDen, at the time, I guess, like a lot of new entrepreneurs, I wanted to pack everything into the site. I’d come up with this, like, scheme of what this site would like and the site map and it had every idea I’d ever had all jammed into this one site. It was going to have articles. It was going to have everything. Anyhow, our developer at the time kept telling me we don’t want to pack too much stuff in or build a big code base. It will be hard to manage. Instead, why don’t you just make a blog and you can run your competitions on the blog and you can write your articles on the blog and, I guess, at that time I was pretty new to blogging. I guess blogging was kind of new, as well, at the time. Not that new, but it was new enough and so by 2007 I started a blog, installed a bit of WordPress and started my own, like, on the side writing about some start-ups in business, which I was blatantly unqualified to do, but I don’t think that’s ever stopped a blogger before. I started writing about those and, yeah, that was, I guess, how I got into blogging. We surely later sold that type of really much more of a side project, but while I’ve had that blog, I wrote an article about freelancing, as I mentioned before I had been a freelancer and so I was like I’m just going to document all my thoughts about freelancing and, really, it wasn’t all my thoughts and later I wrote it much longer, but anyhow, all the thoughts that I had to think of at the moment on the spur of the moment and I put it into this one long article, which made it to malicious, popular [??] and crashed my webhost because at that time I didn’t know what cache plug-in was and [??] traffic is not that big. But, anyhow, I crashed my [??] installed [??] and I was like, oh, this must be a good niche to get into. Obviously, there are a lot of people interested in freelancing. FlashDen was going OK. I have, I guess, easily distracted while that was going on. One weekend I designed up a freelance site and launched it a few days later and that was like a freelance page that grew very quickly and is still out there today. I think it’s a [??] blog about freelancing and it’s got a freelance job board and whatnot.

Andrew: What’s the name of the website, again?

Collis: Freelanceswitch.com.

Andrew: Freelanceswitch. I want to dig into what you just said. You said you were trying to jam too much into the original site, into ActiveDen. What kind of things were you trying to jam into it?

Collis: At the time, I wanted to have a design gallery and it’s sort of feature some awesome flash sites. I wanted to run tutorials about flash on there. I wanted run articles and competitions and a few other pieces. I think I also had some ideas about using AJAX to have live updating statistics and just like kind of fancy things that were, while buildable, but probably not buildable in our timeframe with our limited budget.

Andrew: So, why not say, hey, if that’s not buildable within our timeframe and budget, I’ll just focus on this one thing and find areas where my time be better spent. Maybe I could come up with a new coupon scheme or come up with a new way of bringing in more designers. The reason I ask is because it seems to be at the core of the way that you work. So, why did you decide to do other things?

Collis: I think I often feel like things are moving too slow. I mean the reality of building a website and building a community and building a, yeah, a product, I guess, is a time consuming process. Often development takes a lot longer. I can imagine things way faster than I can develop them. So, I guess, my core problem every since whenever it was started has always been that, while things were getting built, while that was tracking along well, I was busy thinking about other things. I guess, to answer your question, I probably could have done some of the things which were, and still focus on FlashDen, but maybe not from features or part of the site, but I must admit that never really crossed my mind.

In my spare time I just start thinking, hey, we should have X tutorial site or a freelance site or a blog or what have you.

Andrew: So, the freelance site was the next big project?

Collis: Yes. It was not nearly as big as FlashDen in many ways, but, well, actually, when I launched it, it had a lot more traffic, but, you know, it’s blog traffic. Blog traffic is much easier to come by than traffic to something where people are actually paying you money or have them taking action. At least in my experience. So, it grew in that way, but, I mean, it was a WordPress installation. It was a theme that we built quick quickly. So, in that sense it was a big project, but not super big and it, kind of, really got me more into blogging. I really discovered that I had a passion for blogging. Shortly later, I decided to, while running, actually, I was running FleshDen, it was the other side [??], but I was still blogging there for a little while longer thinking about start-ups and business, but I came across, I’m sure your readers will know the site, Flippa, flippa.com, which is where you buy and sell websites. So, of course, I was like whoa I can make so much money with my awesome design skills, which is buy something, jazz it up and flug it and we’ll make a huge packet of money and it will make a good case study for my site. So, I found this site that I wanted to buy, which was about Photoshop [??], because in my youth I loved making little [??] about Photoshop. Once again, long before I had competency, I actually made some journals about Photoshop, I was making them. I thought I’ll buy this site. It was called psttypes.com and it was $1,000 I think. I went and bought that then told my wife who was not impressed at all that I’d gone and blown this $1,000 because things were much smaller at the time and that was not the amount of money we had lying around at the time. It supposedly has all this AdSense and it was just going to bring a lot of money back and don’t worry it’s OK. In six months we’ll have it all returned. Anyhow, it turns out, I guess, I don’t know, maybe the AdSense numbers had been inflated. It’s not really important. Either way it wasn’t actually making much money. So, I decided to reuse these blogging skills to make a Photoshop [??] blog and posted a few other Photoshop trials and that’s how the tut site started. That was a much bigger project I’d say than Freelance Switch.

Andrew: All right. I’ve got to pause it and dig in even deeper. I want to understand everything about it, right? I was serious when I said earlier I’m greedy for your knowledge. So, going back to FreelandSwitch, I understand now where the traffic was coming from. I understand how much fun it must have been to see all that traffic come in, but there’s also a revenue model behind it. What was that?

Collis: Well, we began at advertising. I had this idea that we should start really expensive with ads. I mean, my version of expensive I’m sure. Big media companies would laugh at my ideas of expensive, but, anyhow, so we made them $1,000 a pop and some people actually bought them. So, we had some ad money, but turned out to be very up and down. Sometimes that would be some advertisers, maybe, it was like eight spots, each paying $1,000 and it was like four of them happened to pull out and you’re like revenues cut by half. What a disaster. So, we started looking for an alternative model, I guess, prop it up. I wanted to have a freelance job board for a while and job boards were really popping up like crazy at that time.

I guess everyone felt like oh, job boards are a license to print money if your selling space, which is unlimited and like $300 a job ad was enough. So, they were just popping up all over the place and, you know, a few of them crashed and burned. Some of them are still going. There’s that 37signals one still out and a few other great job boards. Anyhow, so we thought why don’t we have a freelance job board, but the trouble with freelance jobs was that, like, a lot of freelance jobs, I mean little things like oh, I need a little Java script, which is might only cost $200 a developer. So, you’re not going to pay $100 just for the job ad. So that muddled, I guess. I felt it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. I wasn’t a huge fan of freelance, but inside things like ODesk and freelancer.com and elance and whatnot. So, instead we built a subscription system so the freelancer would pay a subscription to access the contact details on a job ad. So, it was free to post the jobs. So, if you had a job, which was the thing where you really wanted, it was free and if you wanted to get those jobs you had to pay us $7 a month to access them and I guess that kind of weeded out some of the people.

It was kind of cool. It’s still working today. It doesn’t make a whole lot of revenue. I think it’s something like, although I don’t normally give out revenue numbers, since it’s so small it’s OK. It’s maybe like $8,000 or $10,000 a month, which it’s not bad, but certainly I would never scoff at $10,000 a month or anything. Don’t get me wrong, but I guess I look at some of those sites that I was, like, no freelance bidding sites. They suck. Elance and whatnot and they’re all like $60 million a year. Here we are with our $8,500 a month. I don’t know. Maybe I got it wrong, but we built a little nice niche job board and it certainly supported the blog and helped us to grow.

Andrew: As you say $7 a month. It seems small to me and I laughed earlier. I paid $8 for a landing page. I would have paid $80 easily for the landing page that I bought from ThemeForest. I wonder how do you come up with your pricing? I mean, forget that. How do you come up with your pricing on this website?

Collis: On Freelance [??]?

Andrew: How did you know that $7 was a magic number and not $20 for people who are looking for work?

Collis: I think that’s, I’ve always been a fan of things being really cheap so they’re accessible to as many people as possible. I’d love to say that I had this awesome model of how I generated prices, but, frankly, a lot of our prices are just kind of, I suppose, on one you could say plucked out of the air and on the other maybe you could say, oh, maybe there some intuition gained by some years of experience as an entrepreneur, but, yeah, a lot of it, a little bit of it is, like, guesstimated. Seven dollars sound nice, sounds like not too much, not too little. Sounds a little bit nicer than 6. It’s a prime number. You know, what the hell.

Andrew: I love the way you work. Were you not doing the AB testing. You’re not testing at all. You’re just putting it out there.

Collis: Historically, yes, we haven’t done a whole lot of AB testing. It’s one of those things on my to-do list. It’s been on my to-do list for four years. I’m like, yeah, we really should test this a lot better. Probably we’ve left a whole lot of money on the table, I guess, in the sense of, yeah, as you say, you’d pay $20 for that landing page, maybe we should have charged you $20 what the market will bear. I guess our strategy has often been start low, go for volume and over time we can refine the prices. It’s much easier to slowly increment the prices up little bit than to start to slashing prices on our producers. So, in the case of the marketplace, there have been a few instances where we’ve slowly raised the price just a little, just as we raised the commissions for the authors as we’ve grown, as we’ve gotten volume.

Andrew: Those themes, I mean, we’ll get to the theme sites, but those themes are like dirt cheap and I’m looking at them and they’re good themes. We forget the landing page. Landing page themes, if you buy them and they do well they’re going to be worth way more than $8 or $100 or whatever you pay for them.

Collis: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: But website themes look so good I almost want to buy a new theme every day and switch my site, you know, and just give it another skin.

Collis: I guess part of the attraction all you see is iStockphoto for a long, although they’re incrementally getting more expensive until they passed the point where they passed the point where I was like oh, this is a bit too expensive now. For a long time when I joined back whenever it was, 2005 or whenever they launched, their photos were like 50 cents I loved about them as a designer was I would just buy photos regardless of whether I was going to use them. I was like 50 cents, whatever, it’s going to a good home anyways. For some struggling photographer I’ll give him 50 cents and I might use it and I might not. Who cares and I would just buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy and I guess I liked that model that, yeah, you’re going after the volume. So, as you say, you might buy a new WordPress theme every week. Why don’t you? I totally invite you, Andrew, [??].

Andrew: I don’t have the kind of patience that it takes to adjust it, but we’ll get to that because I also admire how the designers of the themes are so, they’re tweeting about the themes, they’re giving customer service, we’re going to get to that, right? Take it a little about at a time. We talked about freelanceswitch and you then said, I think there was another site, I forget what was the next one.

Collis: Actually, the next one was Psdtuts.

Andrew: Psdtuts. You start that off. You imagine you’re going to do ads. It doesn’t do so well. What was then?

Collis: So, we launched Psdtuts. Once again, a lot of these were kind of side projects, I guess. Psdtuts I was just like, oh, well, I bombed the flippa purchase and it’s not really bringing in much AdSense. I guess I kind of realized that moment that I wasn’t very good at cleaning up something kind of crappy. Still came out crappy, again. I mean, you can put some polish on it, but it’s still what it is. So, we just scrapped the whole thing. Dumped all the old [??]. They were pretty crappy and I wrote some fresh ones. Some [??] I would like to read myself as a Photoshopper and post that up and that one just started getting traffic like bananas. Like nothing we’d every seen before. At first it wasn’t even a WordPress. It was just this, like, hasty website and it started getting some at Digg a lot and back then, Digg used to drive tons of traffic. Probably still does. I don’t know. It’s been a long time since we got dug, but, yeah, I think within two weeks it was on Digg maybe six times. So the traffic spikes were just enormous and even AdSense was making money and that’s how much traffic was pouring in at the time and I guess I figured oh, this much traffic, people must really be interested this and we really turned it into that blog format, but it into WordPress and it started taking off. Once again, we tried advertising. Once again, advertising was doing OK. To this day we run ads on tuts and it does bring in a good amount of revenue, but once again I felt like we needed something to balance it out like something which is not, I guess maybe I really don’t understand advertising or never had ad sales team. Never really felt very confident that we were getting much money from advertising. I remember one time I had a coffee with another entrepreneur who was like your adverts are embarrassing. So maybe that’s where I get I’ve got it all wrong. Anyhow, so we figured we needed more money to produce more editorial content because, certainly, on that side of the business I guess our mission is really is to produce as much free learning content as possible so as many people can learn as much as of what they want online.

So, to do that you need money and look the marketplaces are busy making money, but it would be much nicer if it’s sustainable so that I wouldn’t feel like I accidently killed the nice business that making money by some side project. So, I had revenues coming and especially it was just psd type, so I thought OK maybe we can sell the source files that go with each tutorial because each tutorial is about a Photoshop [??] so, you know, it creates this flaming skull or whatever, I actually don’t think we’ve every had that one, but maybe we should. So, I was like oh, well, there’s a source file that goes with that psd file and for the viewer things are much easier if they could just download that source file and like follow along. So we started selling those a dollar, two dollars, again, very cheap using E-junkie, which you and your readers have no doubt heard of, which is this nice easy ridiculously cheap service to sell digital goods. I think they’re out of India. It’s a flash site. Anyways, so we started these psd files and it was pretty bad, actually. We didn’t really sell that much at all. I think we made $100 a month for the a couple months. So it was very low, but we did sell some and so that was like some people want this, but that value, I guess, price ratio was off. So, we [??] subscription and then sort of made a premium subscription and to kick it off I was like oh I’ll just place like a free bonus trial to premium subscription, which we did. In the long run that premium subscription has gong on to be much greater than the ad revenues. So, I think two-thirds of our revenue comes our premium subscription. Only one-third comes from advertising and the bulk of the premium subscription is actually the bonus tutorials. So, it’s kind of grown into, I guess, a pay wall with some extra more detailed content. So, like for a regular tutorial on tuts we’ll pay something like $200 and $300, I forget exactly, for premium trials. Sometimes we’ll pay up to like $800 or $1,000. Sometimes we get actual names people recognize and whatnot.

Andrew: I see. So, you get traffic with the free tutorials and the free tutorials are completely free forever. They never go behind a pay wall.

Collis: No.

Andrew: The premium you get, from what I saw, samples. People get to the beginning steps and if they want the rest they have to pay a subscription and, again, the man charges $7. I sound like I’m like a schilling for you or something, but I’m telling you, people who price things online to test will tell you that there’s room to charge much more. I’m not telling to do it differently. I’m just explaining to my audience why I’m so surprised. It’s not because I’m saying hey guys look at how cheap this is go buy it right now because I’m getting a cut, but they’re shocked. This is surprising.

Collis: Yeah, well, I guess with the subscription we’re actually up to $9 this time with the principle reason that I wanted to be able to differentiate the transactions in Paypal when they came in. So, like, wow, now that one seems like a good amount. With this one, I guess, it was our educational stuff we really come from this standpoint that a lot learning tools should be free mostly and when they’re not free they should at least be the realms of accessibility. I guess is my premise. Although I know there’s plenty of courses which are super expensive, especially, I guess, as you get into more professional courses. It makes sense. You’ve got to spend some money. That’s OK. For learning Photoshop, I would love it if there was no premium program, that we just publish the whole thing for free, frankly, but, unfortunately, that’s not a good way to make more content. So, we make people pay. It’s OK. And you get discounts if you subscribe to multiple months. So, I guess, it’s gets a lot cheaper than $9 a month.

Andrew: I saw that. I think it’s three, I don’t even want to get into it. People are going to say I’m schilling for you, but I’m honestly a customer. So, I’m happy that you guys are doing well and I’m a fan of the business.

So, the first thing that you offered in the premium package was just one premium tutorial?

Collis: One premium tutorial and its like, I think, it was probably at that time 40 or so source files. So, you got all the psd files for $9.

Andrew: Wow, man.

Collis: Yes and I thought that was key. Like, I was like, yes, source files is where it’s at. This bonus trial is just to help people over the line. I sure, like, you know, as they were thinking about it, [??] why not and I chose that bonus trial was where it was at and I guess that happens a lot in start-ups. You think you’re going down one path and something else comes along and you go, hey, what the hay, we’ll go with that one, thanks.

Andrew: Why do you think people would rather get the tutorial and walk themselves step by step than get the actual source files where they can see it done and they could manipulate and edit it themselves?

Collis: I don’t know. Journeying out of the destination. I’m sure there’s something zen in why they prefer to actually follow the trial. Personally, I would much prefer the source file, but I guess as advanced user of Photoshop the source file is like 2 minutes I look it up and oh, yeah, I can understand how they did this. But maybe if your new you like following along with each step, you look at the source file you just go, whoa, there’s a lot of layers in this Photoshop file or this aftereffects file makes no sense to me. Whereas, if you follow the steps you get there in the end. That’s my posit. Who knows if I’m just making stuff up here.

Andrew: Good point. Who knows. So, you offer one and now you’ve got a subscription and know you have to keep up with it. Did you make any promise to the audience about delivering a certain of these tutorials every month or every week?

Collis: We promise that we would provide all the source files for the tutorials and we had a pretty good schedule during those trials. With the bonus tutorials, though, no that was just something we started adding more and more over time. Later, we started launching other tut sites. So we had Psdtuts and then later it was going so good I was, like, we should have a web development version of this. Like people love web design, web development and it’s obviously a booming field. The Internet only getting bigger. There’s going to be more people wanting to learn how to make web stuff and why don’t we make one of those. That was another one that on Saturday morning I had the idea, but Monday we launched the site and by Wednesday I was having a little crisis about, oh, I forgot where I was going to get the content from. I need to produce it all now. So, I was producing content frantically for a little while until, luckily, for us this amazing talented editor walked up and just submitted some trials and became the editor and he’s still there, Jeffrey Way. He’s a fantastic guy. Anyhow, so we started another site. So Nettuts was another one and then Vectortuts and by the time we got to the fourth one, we started launching these premium programs for each of those, as well. So, Vectortuts you can join the Vectortuts premium or Psdtuts premium and get source files for each of them and a couple of bonus trials.

What we noticed was the [??] kind of sucked after the next ones. Like the value there just wasn’t high enough and the crossover is when we offered a deal where you could have one for $9 and the next one for $6 a month. [??] wasn’t very high. So it was two different pools of people. So we merged all of them together. I think at the time we had three premium programs and we just merged them altogether for $9 and so, all of a sudden, you’re getting source files from three of our sites and the bonus trials, which was starting to get more regular and we saw a massive spike in our, it was like all of a sudden it was actually worthwhile.

I must admit before that even I used to think I wouldn’t really subscribe to $9 a month thing. I mean $9 is not very much money, but I have better things to do with my $9. So, I guess it kind of make sense. It wasn’t a great value deal, but after that it became a much better value deal and since then, I guess, every time we launch another tut site, every time we launch another premium program, it just becomes better and better value. Also, with the passage of time, all the source files and bonus trials and whatnot that are in there, I guess, all add up. So, today I think there’s something like 500 bonus trials and 1,000 source files or something like that. It’s still $9. You can still sign up for $9, download everything and you have a no questions asked, money back guarantee. So, you can even get your $9 back if you’re super cheap, I suppose. Don’t encourage it, of course, but.

Andrew: Interesting. So, someone could, pay you $9 quite legitimately, cancel at the end of the month, right, without saying I’m not happy and get their money back and in the 30 days download everything that you did up until then and then move and they will have so much value. The reason that their sticking with it is because they want to see what the next one is and the next one is?

Collis: Yeah, I guess so and I guess I think a lot of them want to support the sites. I mean the vast majority of content we put out is free and our mission is to provide free content. So, 80% to 90% of everything is free and then 10% is pay. So, this is quite different, I guess, from, you know, having 80% pay you’ve got 10% just to entice the readers. It’s not quite like that. Like, it’s more like we’ve got this huge community where we’re pushing as much free content as out and then on a small portion of our readers who are very loyal and want to learn a little bit more tend to subsidize a lot of the content for the masses. If you really wanted to, though, you could just go get RapidShare and pretty much everything RapidShare [??]. So, I think at the end of the day you kind of have to think, well, there are different groups of people out there. Those are the groups that are going to pay and there’s groups you’re never going to get money out of. So, there’s really no point worrying too much about them. We just focus on serving the people that are actually interested in using your products and want to support your site.

Andrew: Are you going to ask me at the end of this interview to rip off or edit out the RapidShare portion of this interview.

Collis: RapidShare?

Andrew: Because you just told people how they could get your stuff for free or they could pirate it.

Collis: I think anyone with some basic understanding is going to manage to work that out and if you’ve got a Google, pretty much any of our products the second, so you type in our product name and Google auto suggest going torrents, did you mean torrents, did you mean RapidShare? [laughs] Really. Where’s the site. Hey, here, here it is. I mean, fair enough, I guess that’s the probably the most comment things. Just like you put a celebrity name in and then it will go nude, did you want them nude? No. [laughs]

Andrew: Dude, I’m loving this interview. I love this. All right. So, here’s what I got circled so far. We have marketplaces, right? You got content sites like the blogs. We got tutorials. We talked about the revenue for the marketplace. We talked about the revenue for the tutorials. The content sites we haven’t talked about and here’s what I see, books, both ebooks and digital and paper books. Is that the way that you’re monetizing content sites? They all seem to have on the upper right an opportunity to buy the book.

Collis: So, you mean like on our tut sites, FreelanceSwitch.

Andrew: They all have [??], for example or not affiliate switch, I mean FreelanceSwitch.

Collis: Yes, books have been slowly growing. They are a minor, minor portion of our revenue, but they’re profitable. It’s a profitable part of business. So we break the company into whole sequence. Like in our accounting there’s lots of different tabs in Excel, if you like, of each one and so you could see which ones are abysmally performing, which ones are carrying other ones.

The good thing about the ebooks is that it’s overall profitable. Not super profitable, but I can see that over time we keep layering these ebooks, one on top of the other, and they just keep creating sort of long tails, streams of revenue and then that’s one of the ways we’re planning on, or we are, I guess, monetizing tuts. So, a lot of our work is fine ways to make more free tutorials and we spend a lot of time thinking about how we could make more free learning content and that will usually come down to subsidizing it, whether it’s advertising, premium programs or ebooks and print books, I guess. They’re another form of premium content. They’re doing OK. It’s kind of cool. It started, actually, I just wanted to write a book about freelancing. Then, I roped my wife into writing some of the chapters because I was getting a big burned out from writing the book. Have you ever written a book before?

It’s worth doing at least once. It’s way harder than it seems. You start off, you write the table of contents, you know, this books is going to be awesome. It’s going to take no time at all and then about two chapters you’ve go why did I take this project on? This is terrible. It’s going to take forever, but then when you get to the end, I don’t know, it’s like giving birth or something. You just feel like ah it’s a tremendous sense of relief and then it’s out there and it’s done. So, yeah, it started like that and then we started making other ebooks. Other people wanted to write for us.

Andrew: I mentioned in the beginning that all these ideas started off in a notebook. I think I read somewhere that you just sketch it out in a moleskin notebook, I know I’m mispronouncing moleskin, but that’s the way most people pronounce it and it turns into a business and that seems like magic. When you sit down at that notebook, what are you thinking of? Are you just thinking of layout and design or are you thinking how many writers at X dollars per article to I have to hire and where do I get the traffic. What are you sketching out there?

Collis: Before I answer, how are you supposed to pronounce moleskin? It’s not moleskin?

Andrew: It’s mole skine or something?

Collis: Mole skine.

Andrew: But there’s a woman who did work with them who I interviewed who pronounced it properly and I kept getting emails from people saying she’s mispronouncing, mispronouncing. But it’s not a moleskin.

Collis: Oh, OK. Well, very good.

Andrew: Mole skine of something like.

Collis: Mole skine. Well, I love mold skine notebooks. I’ve started branching out because they’re all black and, lately, I guess other people started to cut me onto hey, we can make a lot of money making notebooks and producing different colors. So, these days I’ve branched out to other color notebooks, which is nice.

The things that I write in them, I guess, not so much layout and design, actually, as a designer I’ve always stuck with pencil on sketches and things. What I plan in my notebook is just, like, ideas for things like what if we did this and then, like, ah, maybe this many people would sign up and we would make this much money then like here’s the revenue for the last three months and I can see and I’ll admit the most of the stuff in my notebooks is wildly optimistic about what’s going to happen. Yeah, a million people are going to join this program and reality, of course, it not quite like that, but, yeah, I tend to usually map out sort of plans, ideas. Let’s say we’re launching a content site. Back in the day I would sit down and write out a whole bunch of link-bait type articles I thought could bring in the traffic, early traffic, or some marketing plan or my goals for the business for the year or how we were going to turn a site around or, yeah, just kind of like plans. I’m an epic planner. Love planning. Love lists. I have lists for everything. I very much love tea. Tea, plus lists, plus notebook is like my dream. Most of the time I’d say with [??] building business, the fun for me is planning stuff. The reality of actually building and running all this is not quite as fun as planning, but I recognize that to do that I have to actually then run it.

When I was a kid I used to love baking cakes and my mum one day say, well, you can make as many cakes as you want as long as you clean up and I hated cleaning up, but I realized if I want to bake more cakes I had to clean up. So, I guess, in some sense, running a business is like that for me. I love planning new sites. I love looking at them when they’re made. Building them actually, running them sometimes is a little laborious, but that’s OK. You’ve got to do that bit. You can’s just have all the fun bits.

Andrew: Did you say plans, plus checklist, plus teams or tea we drink?

Collis: Tea, tea, tea, the drink.

Andrew: You sit there, you’re drinking tea and you’re thinking out and you’re saying all right, yeah, I need to have this many articles for this new site and this many will be free that I give away and that’s what it’s going to cost me this many and I have enough premiums.

Collis: Every single weekend, every weekend I go to a tea shop, a Starbucks, what have you, anything and just spend some time taking up room in their café, writing out plans for my world domination and education for everybody plans.

Andrew: I love this. I love this business. By the way the reference to tea, people are going to wonder that plus your accent where you’re from and where are you right.

Collis: Oh, OK. I’m half English, half Iranian, grew up in Papua New Guinea and I’m in Melbourne right now where I live these days. Australian.

Andrew: OK. And, actually, let me divert a little bit for a moment. You’re religion is Baha’i.

Collis: Yes.

Andrew: Is that inappropriate for me to bring up in this interview?

Collis: No.

Andrew: Is it too personal? No, I don’t think it is.

Collis: No. I mean, generally, with religion you always have to wary in the sense that it’s certainly in some cultures, anyhow, if you bring it up people can feel like, oh, hey, are you going to try to convert me here. So, in that sense, yes, I’m sure your viewers are not going to be too intimidated, though.

Andrew: Plus, I feel like no one in the Baha’l faith is that intimidating because nobody dislikes you and you love everybody. You believe in both the Jewish God and Mohammad and Jesus, right. Am I right about this sutff?

Collis: Yeah, that’s right. So, as Baha’is we believe that God sends periodic messengers in a sort of order and to bring a different message for a different time and place and so. Maybe 2,000 years ago Christianity was the right time and place at that moment and then later Islam was the right thing and each one is progressively more and more teachings coming out. So, we believe that in the 1800’s the Baha’l faith began and this has got certain messages about global governance and social good around the world and the unity of mankind and whatnot and which there may be more of it, but at the core all these religions, I mean, all religions love everybody like I challenge you to find a religion which not like show love to everyone.

Andrew: Well, there you go. That’s why there are no people who dislike the Baha’i. OK, let’s see, I’ve got notes here from what I wanted to ask you about before. Netsetter. Why did you close Netsetter? I want to understand why you close some sites.

Collis: The main thing is in recent times, I’ve started to realize that there is a finite limit on how many things I can do at the same time. I’ve started to worry that doing too many things maybe I’m not always giving the existing things the attention and time they deserve. Earlier on maybe our limits weren’t stretched and but recent times I’ve started thinking maybe, hey, there’s a few too many projects. So, for example, recently, like yesterday, we sold off a couple of sites. We sold a blog called WorkAwesome, just on [??]. Not for a whole lot of money, but it’s gone to a good home and it streamlines our business down a little bit. So, at the moment, I guess I feel like we’ve reached the point where if I want to add something new I’m going to need to make sure that one of the lesser things is out of the picture or, at least, has not got a good plan to it.

So, at any one time, there’s usually a couple of projects floating around which no one really in the company cares about except for me and maybe the person that I manage to assign to working there. As they grow, they kind of get meshed into the rest of the company. The accounts team starts going, hey, there’s actually money coming from this area? It’s not just a big black hole that Collis is throwing me into. Then people at the board starts going, hey, let’s pay attention to this thing and but, so, the Netsetter was just like a little, you know, side project. I was like I’m going to write about start-ups. I love start-ups. I’ll just write stuff and then that was pretty good for a little while until I started running out of steam and I thought, I’ll bring in an editor and then I discovered that, well, actually, it’s kind of hard to find writers who know a lot about start-ups, who aren’t just writing for their own little blog and who wants, you know, whatever we’re paying, which wasn’t a whole lot of money. So, yeah, it just didn’t really seem to pan out. I’m sure they could have been successful, though, but they needed a lot more time and effort. So, I was like if I can’t do it well, just maybe we shouldn’t do it.

Andrew: I mean do you have a lot projects that you do them all at once and, you know what, from what we’ve said so far it seems like you’re an octopus. Like your octopus-like in the sense that you have all these hands and you’re doing all a lot, but anyone who goes over to your website will see that there’s tons of people working at the company. It’s you and your wife, who you mentioned, to other co-founders, you mentioned [??]. How many people in the business?

Collis: We have about 50 staff or so. Half are here in Melbourne where we have our little HQ office and the other half are remote staff, a remote team. I guess they’re contractors mostly. Kind of bleeds a little bit. So, like, we have contractors where some are on retainer who do something like site management where they keep working on the site and, then, also we have reviewers and writers and whatnot. Once you get out to that pool, it gets pretty large. I’m not sure where that number ends, but in terms of sort of regular people working on the team we have about 50 I think. Yeah, it’s quite cool. A lot of them, for a long time, we’d never seen the people who were remote. It was quite bizarre. You know you work with people you’ve never seen. I’m not a big fan of telephones, generally, or video calls. So, I would always avoid that. We’d just talk on email. I like email. I like meeting people. Anything between I usually would avoid. We have this team of half people who we’d never seen before. It’s quite bizarre and they’d never seen each other. Last year we finally had this one big meet-up in Chicago where a few of the guys here from Melbourne came and all the remote staff came and we had maybe 20 or 30 or whatever it was all together and it was pretty surreal seeing all these people you work with for years and then meeting them and not recognizing them sometimes. We were in the hotel where I knew everyone was going to be there and someone smiled at me in the elevator and I was felt like saying do you work for me? [laughs] But, they didn’t so, thank god I didn’t open my stupid mouth.

Andrew: Now I’m going to get a little tactical here and I know we’ve gone over time and I promise I won’t take up much more time than this.

Collis: No worries.

Andrew: With ActiveDen and ThemeForest, they’re all the marketplace sites where people can buy digital goods from you. What I notice is I can’t just go and shell out $8 I don’t think and buy it. I think I have to go and buy credits and then I buy, with the credits, I buy the stock. Am I right?

Collis: No, actually, these days you can actually our buy now [??]. You will save $2, though, if you use credits.

Andrew: Why is that?

Collis: You don’t have to sign up. We have no way of getting you to actually the items without creating an account. Although that has been in the works for a long, long time. One day we’ll have it. The reason we started with credits is because everything was so cheap. So, with $2 flash items we can’t really get your deposit of $2 because Paypal would take whatever it is, I don’t know, 40 cents or something and then the margins it would then give 70% and it would be a net loss. Anyhow, micro payments, apparently that’s going to solved from what I read on tech [??], so, any day now. In the meantime, living with reality of what’s out there, we would offer a deposit system where you use Paypal or whatnot and you deposit, like, $30 and then you go, well, I’m buying everything. Over time, though, we started introducing, say, theme [??] where the items are $30. So, it kind of makes no sense to one page, deposit some money and then go back and spend that exact same amount.

There are benefits to having people deposit though because they have cash in the system. It’s really good for us. I guess it’s good for cash flow, as well. Although we can’t really touch money because it’s owed, it belongs to someone else, but it’s nice having cash going through the systems, but importantly, it’s good for us to know their probably going to end up spending it somewhere on the site and if they don’t, there is a time limit, I forget one or two years, where eventually it will expire and they can renew it if they wish, but if they’ve just vaporized and we can’t really just hold that money forever. So, there is benefits so we offer a $2 discount. It’s not a huge discount, but you can actually buy now and we’re hoping over time we’ll make that more and more seamless. You don’t even need an account, but, you know, all things take time. I can imagine these things and let’s say way faster than we can build them.

Andrew: You built out the software for that yourselves? The company?

Collis: Yes, it’s a custom Ruby on Rails app, which has just been growing and growing and growing over time. Must be one of the large [??] apps because it’s been around since the dawn of Rails.

Andrew: The membership software? Also, homemade, right?

Collis: No. Membership software is amember.com made by some outfit, I think, in eastern Europe, but judging by the English language used in the documentation, but not a very pretty piece of software from every developer I’ve ever put on it is like, oh, my god, this is terrible in here, but it works. It doesn’t break very often or at all. It’s pretty cheap. I think it’s like $200 to set up. I tried to set it up myself back in the day with tuts and totally botched it. So, they had a free service. They can come do it for you. I believe that these days there’s other packages out there, though, for adding a membership site to WordPress. So, there may be better solutions. It’s been a while. Once you’ve got something that works. You don’t really want to touch it. I think at some point we might try to redevelop it into a custom map. There’s certainly benefits to a custom map.

Andrew: For example, what would you do that you can’t do now?

Collis: It would be nice to be able to make the sites, It’s pretty hard to say, I guess, like a lot more interactive with how it’s used. Right now we’re kind of constrained to whatever future set any member happens to have in its. I’d like to start creating courses in there and just have tutors who log in and do more with the person’s membership accounts. Make it more of a courseware. I think courseware is a good way to go. It’s paid [??]. Something like that. Something we can’t do.

Andrew: Put it in a notebook. It’ll happen, man. It’ll happen.

Collis: Maybe. 50/50.

Andrew: All right. I think I’ve got all the questions that I wrote down. I’m looking at my notes and I’m a list maker, like you, and I cross everything off. So, how about we end with this, there was a point where you couldn’t start one company or where you hadn’t started a company and something got you to do it. What got you to do it and how can we get others who are in that position where they just haven’t launched something. How can we get them to do it, too?

Collis: Oh, OK. Well, I don’t know if this is replicable, but for me, my wife and I had our freelance business and, I guess, when we got married, we each had our dreams about what we wanted to do in life. Her dream was to travel. My dream was to work really hard and build awesome stuff. So, we freelanced for a while. It turned out that was working really hard. Pretty hard to travel when you’re a freelancer. If you’ve ever freelanced in your life, you’ll know that it’s very difficult to go away. At any moment now clients might call with some deadline. If you’re not there they’ll just go to some other provider and then you’re like oh, great.

So, actually, the reason we started Envato was very largely to do with the fact that I was, like, OK, well, a part of this marriage is I’m supposed to help us go traveling overseas. So, we need to create a business where we could be anywhere. Where we’re not fixed and we could just have a laptop and be wherever. So, that was kind of the impetus. So, we closed the freelance business down and started Envato and we did do the traveling. We went for a year and lived in Hong Kong and Canada and whatnot and [??] it turns out that when you work and travel, especially with a business that’s growing and there’s quite a lot of work, unfortunately, so it wasn’t the perfect travel experience. Later in life maybe we’ll do it again, but that was the impetus. I guess I had a promise to keep and some need to fulfill it.

Andrew: I see. And Envato. I should have asked you earlier. What does the name mean?

Collis: It means absolutely nothing. We initially, well, we started with FlashDen. That was our name, FlashDen, PTYLTD, which is the Australian version of LLC or what have you. So, yes, we started with FlashDen and then we’re like, OK, we want to make other sites. We need like a top level name and then so we bought the domain name eden.cc. We’re like Eden creative communities. Anyways, as it turns out it’s really hard to trademark something like Eden. Every man and his dog has some company with Eden in the name. So, then, we thought OK we need something totally made up and then we’ll have no problems whatsoever. So, we went to a site called brand buckets, brand-bucket.com, just Google it, you’ll find it and they sell like sort of made up words and I think it cost us something like $1,000. I can’t quite remember and it had no meaning. Apparently, envato or vato means dude or something in Spanish. That’s about the closest thing, but there’s no real meaning and we put our name on it.

Andrew: Thank you for doing this interview. As I said, I’ve gone overtime with you, but I’m really grateful to you for spending all this time. This is such a fun story. I feel like there’s so much more that I could have asked, but I love fun stories like this where it does to me feel like you’re an artist, just playing with your paint and seeing what comes up and enjoying it and other people happen to enjoy it and then it’s just a fun life.

Collis: Feels that way. There’s lots of work, of course, as well, but there’s a lot of play, as well and it’s certainly the best job I could imagine. I couldn’t go back to doing anything else I don’t think.

Andrew: Well, congratulations on the business. Thank you for doing the interview.

Collis: Thank you. Thank you.

Andrew: Thank you all for watching.

  • I thought when listening to the podcast TODAY, I really wish there was one with Collis!!!

  • Fantastic, I wonder if this interview is happening because of my recommendation or everyone else’s also? lol. Finally looking forward to this one.

  • You are pumping out even great content these days Andrew and making my commute, I wish, longer! Keep up the great work.

  • Fantastic insight. I’ve always been a huge fan of Collis’ approach to pretty much everything online and it’s nice to see that he’s just as bright and fun in video too! It definitely for one of the more interesting Mixergy interviews yet.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this guy is freakin hilarious and full of great ideas, stories and info. This is one of the most enjoyable interviews of all time!

  • Love Envato. Get a great deal of music, video intro’s, scripts, and design elements from them. Great sites… Great interview Andrew. I’m always curious their “day to day” operations when starting up initially.

  • Love Envato. Get a great deal of music, video intro’s, scripts, and design elements from them. Great sites… Great interview Andrew. I’m always curious their “day to day” operations when starting up initially.

  • THAT was the best interview I’ve seen on Mixergy. Period. Keep up the good work

  • Anonymous

    Great Interview Andrew and Collis. I been expecting this one for a while because I have seen them grow exponentially from their early days. Tons of things to learn there and now it was time for the business side. Thank you!

  • Mahalo Andrew, this was a fantastic interview, it really helped boost my confidence in everything that’s going on with my studio. I can’t wait to apply any ideas that Collis had mentioned. Thank you again. A Hui Hou!

  • Mahalo Andrew, this was a fantastic interview, it really helped boost my confidence in everything that’s going on with my studio. I can’t wait to apply any ideas that Collis had mentioned. Thank you again. A Hui Hou!

  • Great story. This is the kind of interview I want to do more of.


  • Thanks. What’s the deal with all the Mahalo greetings here?

  • I never knew about the business behind those sites. Great to hear it.

  • Yeah. He had a great time in the interview, which made it fun for me too.

  • Thanks. Been loving them.

  • Thanks.

  • I didn’t realize how many fans he had till I started researching him for this interview. He has a great community of developers and entrepreneurs.

  • I didn’t realize how many fans he had. Thanks.

  • You were a big help.

  • I’m exhausting myself, but it’s worth it because the quality of the interviews is increasing.

  • That’s great interview! thanks for the sharing with us.

  • Mahalo in Hawaiian is “Thank You”

  • Yet another fantastic interview. Please keep cranking!


  • Collis has such a great attitude towards business. I love to hear about the non-cutthroat side and how it can be just as effective.

  • Awesome interview… No comment

  • kailoon

    Great interview! Collis & Cyan are both very nice.

  • Pingback: wpmag.com - WordPress News, Themes, Tutorials, Plugins, Questions, ...()

  • Cool, really wanted to now more about the world behind the amazing Envato. Works easy and a lot of people can benefit from the way envato setup the markets. The blogs are always good, so thanks for the interview guys, bought Mixergy and Envato.

  • Big fan of envato and mixergy here, it’s the perfect storm for me. Thanks so much!

  • Thanks for this great interview and look in the live of Envato and it’s founders! Both of you great job and a inspiration for my own company and projects.

    Looking forward to the next interview.

  • Thanks

  • It’s inspiring.

  • They produce high quality work.

    I’m still amazed by the low prices. I wonder if they’re leaving too much money on the table by not testing prices. But as a customer, I’m very happy that I can get a theme for 8 bucks.

  • Thanks

  • It’s a very happy approach to life.

  • I wonder why I’m seeing so much of it.


  • I’m surprised by what you said there. I’ve been following Envato ever since Flash Den :)

    They business has certainly grown bigger and bigger – the number of Tuts sites clearly shows that. :)

  • That’s true. They community loves the content the sites put out. I’ve used them myself a dozen times. The video tutorials on NETTUTS are pretty awesome.

  • Great interview! Quite motivating.

  • I LOVED this interview. It’s awesome to see how quickly he turns an idea into reality. That’s very inspirational. We tend to just sit back and think about what we COULD be doing. However, it’s all in the action.

    I also loved how he’s so passionate about giving away so much value for free, but is able to do it in a way that is obviously still bringing in a good income. Great stuff!

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