Ask Collis Anything: 11 Questions With the CEO of Envato

by Josh Janssen, Writer, Photographer, Social Guy.

We recorded video responses to eleven awesome questions from the Envato community. The man behind the camera? Collis Ta'eed, CEO and Co-Founder of Envato.

In these videos, Collis answers tough questions like: "What's the hardest thing about being a CEO?", "If you could change one thing about Envato, what would it be?", and "If you could meet any community member in the world, who would you meet and why?"

The format was 'Ask Me Anything' (AMA), first popularized by Reddit. Past AMAs have included President Barack Obama, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bryan Cranston, Jerry Seinfeld and Tilda Swinton. Of course, our AMA answers come to you in the form of YouTube videos rather than Reddit comments. But we think this format is even better.

We'll be doing more installments of these videos. If you have a question for Collis please leave it in the comments!


In which Collis says hello and that he will be doing an AMA.

Founding a Tech Company in Australia Now vs. When Envato Started?

"AWS didn't exist when Envato started. Bandwidth was a lot more expensive. Hosting was a lot more expensive. There are a lot more building blocks now."

  • Much emptier landscape in 2006 (way less competition)
  • It'd be harder to start a successful startup now
  • On the plus-side, lots more resources and services
  • AWS didn't even exist back in 2006!
  • Now some VCs and incubators in Australia, more tech talent
  • But more expectations of tech companies now
  • Overall, there's a lot more competition now, which makes it tougher

What's One Thing You'd Change at Envato if Resources Weren't a Concern?

"As probably happens with any software application, you're living with the choices you made in the past. It's like life, actually."

  • The Marketplaces app is 8 years old
  • Some past choices have made changes today harder
  • For example, 80x80 thumbnails are a weird size
  • Foundational assumptions in the app make some new features difficult
  • If I could do anything, it would be revising some of the basic assumptions in the app to make changes much easier

Do You Ever Regret Bootstrapping?

"We could have been more aggressive. I look back on 2006 and think; Wow, it really was greenfields of opportunity on the internet back in 2006. But maybe we would have blown it all on fast cars and good chairs."

  • Bootstrapping means never having taken external funding
  • Bootstrapping gives you a lot more control
  • A lot less pressure to do things for someone else's aims
  • But we could have been more aggressive early on with more funding
  • There was massive opportunity back in 2006 compared to today
  • But maybe we would have blown all the extra funding on Aeron chairs

What's the Hardest Thing About Basing Your Startup in Australia?

"By and large, I'm actually pretty happy we started in Australia. There's a lot of positives to it as well. We're out of the bubble around Silicon Valley. It's a bit quieter here, you can focus more on what you're doing. There's less pressure, I think that's a big thing."

  • Really far away from stuff, except the Lord of the Rings set
  • Trips to the US are really epic!
  • Attending conferences can be a big ordeal
  • People say there's a talent shortage, but this is probably true everywhere
  • Further away from Silicon Valley and the center of action
  • But the world is pretty connected now
  • I'm pretty happy we started in Australia
  • We're not trapped in a bubble, you can focus more here
  • There's less pressure and expectation
  • Overall, I'm happy we started the company here

What Do You Do Badly?

"I tell myself I'm going to focus more and focus the company more, and yet I'm really not very good at it. There are so many exciting things to do!"

  • Focusing the company!
  • We already have three business units, and would be so many more if possible
  • A more focused Envato would be much more effective in the spaces it's in

How Do You Stay Productive?

"I will add more and more things until I can just cope and I feel a high sense of pressure, and that makes me really productive. I don't know if I'd recommend this. I'm pretty sure Cyan (my wife) will tell me off for making this seem like a good idea."

  • At the moment, I have a 6 month old
  • I sometimes wake up at 4:00am
  • That's really early, I type emails in the dark
  • I like to live at the edge of my abilities and what I can cope with
  • The pressure and stress brings out productivity
  • When there's less to do I just make new things to work on
  • This wouldn't work for everyone
  • Cyan (my wife) will tell me off for making this seem like a good idea

What's The Most Important Component of the Culture at Envato?

"Culture is like a virus, it spreads. And Patient Zero is the founding team."

  • Culture is like a virus, it spreads
  • It starts spreading from the founding team
  • It's shaped by who you hire, how you integrate them
  • The bigger you get, the more the virus evolves
  • The culture today is different to what it was years ago
  • Today there are 200-odd people at Envato
  • The most important thing is friendliness
  • You could describe everyone at Envato as a friendly person

What's the Hardest Thing About Being CEO?

"You'll go from something incredibly small like 'Hey, that door over there is broken, I need to get someone to fix that door' through to 'What is the three year strategy for this business?' to 'What is the tax situation for that country way over there?' I think that kind of context switching is really challenging, but also quite exciting and quite fun."

  • Being a CEO today is completely different to when Envato had 20 staff
  • You need to be able to think and speak about virtually any part of the business
  • The most difficult part is constant context switching: from small minutiae (broken doors) to the grand vision (three year plan)
  • You're responsible at some level for everything
  • Another difficult thing is that only the hardest problems make it up to the CEO
  • If something's easy, someone will just do it!
  • If it's really hard, it's more likely to make it to you
  • But if you enjoy a challenge, that's pretty fun

If You Could Meet Any Community Member, Who Would It Be, and Why?

"We faked a couple of accounts in order to chat to him. I think he thought he was chatting to 3 or 4 people but it was actually 1 or 2 people."

  • I'd go to the UK to meet Butters
  • Butters was our very first community member
  • He used to sell Flash and was the first guy on the forums
  • We actually faked a couple of accounts in order to chat to him

How Do You Stay Motivated to Continue to Improve Envato?

"I always feel very passionately that at the end of the day we're doing this for our community and for our staff. It's also not wanting to let people down. We want to give our community the best experience there is, we want our staff to be really happy with the way our company is. I think that's a big driver as well."

  • I don't think I could not constantly think about improving Envato
  • It bugs me that it's not more awesome
  • As a designer, I'd immediately hate every design I finished
  • I feel a strong push to keep making things better
  • It helps that the business is growing of its own momentum to some extent
  • A lot of the time it feels like we're hanging on to a rocket
  • We also don't want to let our community and staff down

Tips For Australians That Want to Get Started With a Startup

"Can you win an incubator? I think I would try to win it."

  • If I was getting started again I think I'd join an incubator
  • There's nothing like being with other people who are starting startups
  • Surround yourself with other people who are starting something
  • The social pressure can be a good motivator!
  • I think I would try to win an incubator
  • At the very least, I'd join one

Wrap Up

In which Collis says "Thanks everyone!" and please leave further questions in the comments or tweet @collis on Twitter :)

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