Vested Capital
Vested Capital

Episode 25 · 1 year ago

(EP25): Collis Ta-eed Co-founder Of Envato (Themeforest, Audiojungle, Videohive), Aussie Tech Unicorn That Stayed Private And Bootstrapped


Collis Ta'eed with his wife Cyan started out with an idea -- they wanted to create a marketplace where digital media producers could sell their creations to customers.

They began with the then popular Flash file format and later expanded into things like WordPress themes, music, video and code. Each type of media had a marketplace, including Themeforest for Wordpress and Audiojungle for music files.

As is typical for the marketplace model, they took a small fee from each transaction.

All these marketplaces would later be combined together under the company name Envato

Today Envato is still a privately held company having been bootstrapped from day one. Because they are private, we don't have any public numbers about how much money they generate, but based on what journalists in Australia have written, the company does about $300 Million a year in revenue.

Collis, at the time he stepped down as CEO of Envato in 2020, reported that they had crossed the major milestone of $1 Billion in creator earnings. 81,000 creators have earned through Envato since the company was founded.

The Early Days

I connected with Collis back when we were both part of the Australian blogging community around 2010.

Back then, Collis was the creator of a blog called Freelance Switch, supporting freelancers with advice and tutorials for growing their business.

That was early days for his marketplaces, but signs were already showing that he had a business that was scaling rapidly.

A few years later I was producing a new interview series as a subscription product for my education business and invited Collis to do a bonus interview for the program.

At the time Envato was already a multi-million dollar business selling a digital item every ten seconds.

Collis and I recorded this interview at a great time. They were successful, but they had yet to reach the point where he and his wife were appearing on the 'young rich list' in Australia, which immediately boosted their public profile significantly (making it a lot harder to get in touch with Collis!).

During the interview, Collis shared the entire foundation story of Envato, from going into $100,000 in debt and living with his inlaws, how they built their marketplaces and attracted creators and buyers and why they never took on investment finance and stayed bootstrapped the entire way.

A New-Old Interview

Although this interview is not brand new, it's never been released to the public before. Only members of my membership site had access until now.

I'm releasing it here on Vested Capital because it's a story of an Australian tech unicorn (not officially, but the numbers would justify the valuation if they ever did an IPO or raised finance privately) and shares how the company was started.

Marketplaces are still an amazing business model to go after today, so I know this interview will prove inspiring and insightful.

Enjoy the podcast.




Hi there, this is Yarrow and welcome to vested capital, Episode Number Twenty four, featuring my guest Callus tied, the cofounder of Invato. Vested capital is a podcast about how people make money and put that capital to work. I interview start up founders, Angel investors, venture capitalist, Crypto and Stock Traders, real estate investors and leaders in technology. Today I'm actually re releasing an episode I released only two members of a membership site. Now, like a couple of previous episodes, I've released episodes that were on my old podcast and also in my membership site. The most recent one was a Tim Ferris trilogy. You can go back a few episodes to have a listen to that. One of the episodes in that special trilogy episode I released was an episode with Tim, an interview I recorded only for members of a community I run called the laptop lifestyle academy. The one I'm going to share with you today, with Collus to you, is also one of those exclusive interviews. I called them. Actually sold this as a standalone subscription product. Well, so many years ago now, probably a decade ago, back when I was very much focused on selling education products, teaching products, and was my first ever subscription site, sure subscription site, where I was basically releasing two episodes or two interviews with experts every month and also included a breakdown of what I thought were their leverage points these reports I wrote to go with them. So callis was invited to be one of my guest experts on that series primarily because he had experienced huge success with some market places he had created. So this is a really interesting interview. I of course, like I've done in previous times, I've rea listened to this. It is a little old. We record this I think two thousand and twelve, two dozen thirteen. Amazingly enough, the company that he grew in Vato. It's kind of like the umbrella brand for all the websites and market places and blogs and things under it. It was a ready super successful back when I record this interview with college. So we covered pretty much the growth from absolutely nothing to the point where they had a hundred staff. I think they were doing well over a million dollars month at that point in sales across the entire market place. So is at least a multiple seven figures business, maybe eight figures at the time. And what makes this especially exciting for me to share with you was okay, fast forward, many, many years forward from that first interview with him. I'm maybe two or three years ago, probably about that. I'm reading up on what is commonly released in Australia, like the Rich List, which you know we have in the states as well, and probably having every country that releases some kind of like Forbes or entrepreneur or whatever, most successful the billionaires, and in this case it was the Australian tech billionaire. I've maybe not. I've been tech. I think it was TEC. The tech billionaire list in like a top ten richest people, and I'm scrolling down and I'm seeing, you know, the founders of at last see in, and then I'm seeing, I think, Canava, melon, me and hurt too. Cofounders were their Melly Perkins. And then as I hit to like number eight or nine, I see Collis and his wife San Tad listed amongst this top ten in all of Australia and I'm like, oh my Gosh, how big did INVATO group become? How big do they get? Well, just as I record this they've had their one billion dollar in return of revenue to their community. So basically, just to clarify exactly what all this is. In vado was an umbrella company name for a series of market places that call us and his team released over many years. Obviously hear the start of that in this interview. One of the most famous ones is them forest, which is wordpress themes. Audio jungles another one. That's the one I've actually used. Some of my very early podcast episodes had intro music and outro music. I got that music from audio jungle, which is call us his site. There's a few other early ones, like flashed and later changed to active den, which was a market place for flash design files. There was PSD, toots and other kind of photoshop design site. And you know, since then it's become like this market place for all kinds of video, audio and wordpress themes and graphic design. And when I say market place, creators come to the site, they list their design files for sale. Then people come to the site search for files by whatever they need. Most of the money goes back to the creator, but in Vato, and obviously call us his company takes a slice of that transaction. So it's a true market place for digital media and call us and his wife and team just rode the wave of the internet unlocking these global size market places to the tune of I'm not exactly sure of the numbers because, amazingly enough, the entire time call us was growing this company, it was bootstraft. Never raised funding, never did an IPO. It was very deliberate. I did a bit of research before releasing this to you guys, because I want to make sure I knew as much as I could about the current state of INVATO. Can't quote me on this. I can't hundred percent verify it because it is a private companies. They don't don't release these numbers,...

...but they have about six hundred employees now, based in Melbourne, Mexico and La. They do about three hundred million a year in revenue and it's an amazing success story. Obviously you can't tendally call it a Unicorn and you can't even tendally call call us a billionaire, although by all metrics that I know of as an angel investor, it is definitely a Unicorn and they are definitely billionaires because I'm assuming they own a hundred percent of the company across the family ownership of Vato. So this is a Unicorn Story. This is a billion dollar founders story, and what I'm especially excited to give you this today is it covers the first growth to a hundred employees. So from the point of this interview onwards, they x fat. They grew to six hundred employees and probably, you know, more than six x there their revenue. But we hear from zero, literally going into a hundred thousand dollars in debt in the story and how they started their first market places. You know how they got their first customers. And why do they invest so much money? They actually moved in with science parents for the first year or two. It's a real traditional you know, working in your garage, putting in sweat equity and every single penny you can make. No venture capital, no investors besides, you know, family sweat equity. So impressive story and I'm really excited to share with you. In fact, we even go earlier than that story because I know Callus from his days as a blogger, which very much connects to what he does with the market places at in Vato. Callis and I through the blogging space that we were both in around sort of two thousand and six, seven eight, we connected. We met at an event. I think we were both speakers at Darren rouse's pro blogger event. I don't know how many years ago. That was, two thousand and nine maybe, and he was running up a blog called freelance switch. Before that he also had a network, I think it was part of, called north by east. So I found him through those two blogs connected with them as a fellow Azi. For those who don't know, I actually grew up in Brisbane, Australia. You can listen to invested capital episode zero to hear that story, and we just hit it off, as most bloggers doing. Shared Stories and talked about producing content and growing audiences and things like that, and we kept in touch and then I saw him kind of switch gears into these market places and I was like that that's a smart thing to do, and clearly it was, because he went on to make him a billionaire. Today call us and his wife actually live in our when Australia, and he stepped down a CEO of invado group two years ago, I think it was maybe a year and a half ago, depending on when you're listening to this, and he's kind of focusing on looks like investing and charity based work. So that's great and and Vattro continues to grow and is now being run by a CEO, and he's lived the full life cycle from start up, hustling, bootstrapping and clearly exiting at the top. So an amazing story and so excited to release his interview with you because, frankly, it's never been heard by the public before, only when few members have listened to it, and it's probably one of the only audio interviews Callus did during that time frame. He wasn't the most prolific on podcast kind of guy and I'm really glad that he got to share the origin story of these market places because, you know, that is really the the sweet spot. It obviously grew from the point where we finished this recording. Okay, that is a super huge long intro to this one. Like I said, it is a re release of something I only had from my members. Please share it, obviously, if you find this useful, will love you to share with anyone who you think would benefit from hearing about this story. And don't forget to subscribe to vested capital. Click the plus, the subscribe, the Follow Button get this podcast on your APPs. My Gosh, I have some amazing guests coming up. I've had some amazing guests already in the past, in the previous twenty three issue episodes we've done so far just this year, not to mention the fifty plus of my best episodes I put on the feed. If you subscribe, that's the best way to get them. And Yeah, I can't wait to hear your feedback when this one so press play. I'll press play on the interview right now. Love to hear your feedback. Twitter's the best way to send a message at Yarrow Stark or just havetag vested capital. After you listen to this one, share it on twitter. Two. I'd really appreciate that. Okay, enough for me. Here's the interview with Callus Ti'ed, the cofounder of INVATO. Before I sort of jump back in time, you just tell me, like, how big is this business? Can you sort of highlight the whole what it is having people you employ, how much money you make, all those sorts of things? Yeah, sure, I can give a bit of view. So we're at the moment we have a little over a hundred staff, a hundred twenty or so, most of whom are in here in Melviourn and Australia, and then a good portion are also just working remote from different locations around the world, depending on what their tasks are and whatnot. The network as a whole has about a million visits a day. A million visitors a day to all the various property. So so I'm mare who plays a tutorial sides, are APP, store network, everything all combined. Then our market places are selling an item every ten seconds. It's a little more than that actually. So in terms of volumes, as a lot of a lot of throughputs these days. Yeah, those a hundred, hundred twenty employees, like employees,...

...or is that a mix of contractors, employees, contractions and employee? So that's like editors and things at his reviewers. So every item that's on our market places gets reviewed by our review team. So they are a team of thirty five, I think, and they're all around the world. Then there's lots of developers and whatnot who been here in the headquarter office. So how many people are with you in the office on a day to day basis? Sixty. Okay, so it's a yeah, yeah, it's not a one man show anymore or white's husband and wife team. Yeah, that's right. I'm sorry, yeah, it's right. Keep at happy that we're very natural here. Because so let's go back in time to that start. But was it actually just a husband and wife team to begin with? All this the very beginning. Myself, my wife's an we together want to start a business at my best friend Jin and it also been talking to you for age about we should do sell you together. So we wrote him and initially he was more of a guess, an investory put it in basically a bit of his savings and then gradually started taking over things like support and whatnot. Wants we actually launched. So Dian and I did a lot of the early building work. We hired a contractor a contract developer. So from the very beginning those a few people. One of the benefits of having co founders as you have some cheap labor sources. On. Yeah, Mysa and and Jin, we did have a single contract staff for about a year and we managed to wrote my brother in as well. So it quickly started. Family business was what was it your first business? What was the day for this to begin with? So this is back in two thousand and six actually, a year and a half before that, saying and I've been freelancing together. So that was our technically our first business and we'd even had an employee at one point during our freelancing. We were very though, I have to admit, overall, it was the source of many articles on freelance which, though, although various mistakes and things we've learned along the way, free lancing. So by the beginning of two thousand and six we decide to start an online business. I and wanted to travel. Was One of the early reasons we were doing it to travel, and I was like, yeah, well, we have a business we can do from our laptops anywhere in the world. That would work free Lancing, was it? So, were you two working jobs like I want to go even further back. I guess Callus like from the very start here, you and entrepreneur, or did you get a degree and then get a job and do that sort of path? Well, I got a degree in math and then I got a job in a cafe. Not sure if that's where all that graduates. became a Barista making coffee and then decided I really wanted to web design. At join my best friend was a web designer and so he taught me some of the basics and I learned a lot online from tutorials and things. I'm a managed to score us a job a very small little wells. It was me and my boss. Basically it was too man agency doing web design and then I got one other job for another year and then I decided to start freelancing. I enjoyed working for people but ultimately I think, I guess. I. Yeah, I guess I wanted to be my own boss, be an entrepreneur. Then got into freelancing with Sayn and then from freelancing into in Vado. When did you meet Tom Oh? She better not, is it is? I can remember. I think that's of course I memorize my anniversary day. I'm sure it would be about ten years, so I'm gonna say two thousand and two. You remember how you met that? I assume I remember how that was at a design made up. Here in Australia we have the Australian graphic designers association and they were starting a little student buddy. Once I got my first job as web designer, I'd taken the night course in interactive multi media, so I'd when joined the student buddy partially to meet to make women and said I need right on worked. I met Sayands that that was good. Okay. So, because science a big part of what you do, you're a two man team, aren't you? Sort of from the beginning? Yeah, that's right. So I'm actually all. I would say both Sayan and I, but also juin and my brother, valued, and these says my father as well. The five of us together and family get togethers, it's pretty bad. The five quest just end up business, business, business, right the car. But I guess saying myself. Okay, so let's jump into the how this all start? So you you were freelancing. You said you weren't good at it. So you, I'm Assen, you were just doing website design and that sort of work for people. Yeah, we did everything from graphic to web to branding. We did a lot of different types clin. So we did some local government, we did some small business, we did some multinational business, we did all sorts of things. The reason I say we were very good at it was that we worked insane hours. I think we tended to under charge most of the time. It was really stressful, like he's work all weekends. Wasn't that? We weren't getting work. So wasn't that kind of...

...not good at it? It was the kind of not good where it's not a very healthy lifestyle and or profitable business, if that makes sense right, type of not good. So was that what stimulated the desire to have a different type of business? Yeah, I think we really wanted to get away from client work. We were doing a lot of lastminute jobs, a lot of deadlines, a lot of jobs which had gone wrong, and this became not very profitable at the end. Yeah, it was a bit of a stressful business and, as I say, say I'm wanted to travel and we're felt really locked down to Sydney. We're really used to live in Sydney back then because that's where our clients were. So we had this idea that we could start an online business which we could do from a laptop anywhere in the world and it would be a marketplace and, you know, we wouldn't have clients we need to go visit or anything like that, and it would be this new holy grail business. We did eventually travel for a year, but during that time the business grew so much that we had to come home. So didn't quite pan out the way we thought. Right end out well, so it shouldn't sound like nothing to complain about. It does sound you've never had a problem with, I guess, the acquisition of clients and being busy with work. It's the type of work you've wanted to do. As been the problem? Yeah, it's true, at no volume. Okay, I'd love to even spend a bunch of time talking about how you got clients back in the day plus, but I probably we don't have time. I really want to get onto the invado group because that's a obviously a lot of different websites there. So when you guys decided it's time to switch? Yeah, good choice of words there. For what was the first project you were thinking of starting, and then that you brought these partners on. Yeah, so at that time, even while we're freelancing, I used to sell stuff online. I guess I was interested in passive income and other ways to make money other than client works. I used to sell Flash, mostly market place called a stock photo and which is obviously famous for photos, but even to this day I believe they still have a flash category somewhere in there. There wasn't a really good way to sell Flash, to be honest, and the site was old geared towards photographers, but even so there were sales at that time. I knew that you could sell flash. I knew there was a way to sell it, but it wasn't a good way for selling flash. That had some experience and had made some flash files that were worth selling. We kind of decided, well, why do we make the equivalent sort of market place, but everything would be geared towards selling flash and we would be a flash marketplace and the forums would all be about flash instead about photography. Get the previews would be geared towards Flash, and you know, so and so forth, and so that was the sight we launched with. It took US six months to construct, which was a lot longer than that expected. We hard this contract of the Elper Ryan, who eventually became our first employee. He and I used to do the front end work and design and he did the back end code and we built what, in retrospect, if I looked back at it now, is probably a bit of a ghetto website, but at the time I was like this is amazing, it's got every feature you can imagine. But that now I look back, the Oh wow, okay, it was. It was so quick to market, sort of side I suppose, and so we got that out in August two thousand and six and did it work. It works all a well. It had a single sale on the first day of ten dollars. At the time I was very depressed. Not sure if everyone else has this experience, but for me, when you're building something like building a products I think you have it in your head that the world is going to be so super duper excited when you launch it that they'll all just be queuing up to you that. Of course, the reality is you have to do a lot of hard work to market website and actually, in retrospect, the fact we had a sale on the first day is amazing. I know I was going to say like where that person find? You have the kind and looking back at it is quite staggering what we did on the on day one. The reason we had some traffic was we use design galleries. They used to be design galleries both for like a sistill our, for general websites, but also for flash websites. We were mostly it because it wasn't although as a market place for Flash, it wasn't a flash website. So this was mostly traffic from other general design galleries, which was very targeted for this particular products because it's a product for kind of web design signers. So getting an audience of Web designers from a Web designed dollery made a lot of sense. Doesn't make sense for every business, obviously, but it did for that one. And the design, I guess, was good enough to get into a few different galleries and we immediately started getting traffic and obviously one of one person that I should really look up who that person was, actually one person, gave us our first ten dollars. Yeah, because we're appreciation award right there. So you know, you have four people, five people, already working here. One sale doesn't cover the cost. How was it all going to work? Yes, so we had put in our savings, basically, says I am myself and Jim. We'd all put in our savings. We basically kept doing freelance work for about a year and how we actually take a salary for almost two years. I think we would count our hours so that we could get the company to pay US eventually backfacet,...

...but we didn't actually take any money. We just kept freelancing. Use at all our savings, use at our credit cards, moved in with science parents or my parents. It was a little bit stressful. Actually, it sounds like a gamble to like that's a lot of what sounds like a lot of money. I don't know if you remember sort of the vicinity of how much went into something like that. It was I think in total we came too close to a hundred thousand dollars. By the time we'd gotten some months into actual operations. We've spent a little over a hundred thousand. That's huge. What if it didn't work like that? Yeah, it's funny now, you know, looking at the company, it feels like well, you know, of course it was a good idea, but at that time I was pretty damn stressful. I definitely recall that period of my life as being one of the more strengthful signs of my life. Used to spend a lot of time worrying about money and there was a period just before we launched the mart place where I didn't actually think we're going to manage to finish the site. Build been dragging on for a while, some stuff wasn't working and I was like, Oh crap, I screwed up. We really blew this. We should have stuck to freelancing. But then we managed to get a sign out. Some sales came in by December that year. We could see that was just enough sales to know that they would kind of onto something. I think the fact that we had had experience actually selling flash before was a good sign. It wasn't a made up idea. That makes sense, think of something none of us had any experience with. It was actually something we had tested the market for in a way. So I think that was probably one source of reassurance. But yes, at the time it was scary. I mean nowadays no one would suggest go spend a hundred grand build a website and it'll be okay. They'll say no, no, just a small website, a few hundred dollars and you know, build from that. Yeah, true, what was wrong with you? Cause it's all I can say. Like, but again, well, in a lot of ways, but hey, you know it works, so maybe you can keep moving us forward through the process of what happened next? So we launched website and then I guess the next few months was a big process of improved in the side and marketing. So we were still spending some of that hundred grain after we built the website. So some of that was content production, because you know when with a market place you need stuff to sell, can just have an empty marketplace. Market places have that real classic chicken and egg problem. All kinds of market places, whether it's a job board or classifiedes or whatever it is, you need stuff to sell and people to buy and neither is interested unless the other ones there. So the way we address the problems with we seed in the market with content. Some of it was stuff I'd made, but we also commissioned a bunch of content. Some of that went into the early days and then a lot of the other effort was into marketing. A lot of our time was spend building our user base when we did that in a ton of different ways. So we pretty much tried every single thing we could possibly think of. We didn't have much money. We did spend a little bit of money on advertising, but we weren't a venture funded company or anything like that, so that was pretty limited advertising. I mentioned design galleries. That was a good source of early traffic. We used to go into forums a lot and talk to people, like just individual people, convincing people to come and sell in our market place. We did lots of giveaways and things like that. A few months in I started getting into blogging as a way to guess, start building traffic, but also just even do things like run competitions and stuff. I wanted to have this section of our website where we would run competitions and things like that, and our developer, who was Ryan, who was like over worked, was like no, I refuse to build this, just go get a blog. There's this thing called wordpress. Go try it out. And best thing he ever said to be, because that was the start of a long blogging word breast infatuation which took me so all sorts of places, but yet so blogging was one of the kind of early, I guess, ways we built some audience. Email marketing, lots of networking with other people in the industry. Yeah, all kinds of things. My, I guess, philosophy on marketing. It's really that you just have to try every single thing you can think of and so optimize that you can't. There's no one magic bullet, there's no one solution, one size fits all kind of solution. You just kind of have to try things, especially when you have no money. I suppose we have a lot of money. You could just throw it at some advertising or something. So I've never tried that approach. So when did it reach a point where you I guess we're cash flow neutral, where you could actually cover everyone's salaries, and you know how a business that was functioning cash flow neutral. We launched in August. By in November we did one massive promotion where we gave away tenzero dollars of credits. So there goes another portion of that seed money, and that brought in a lot more traffic. So by December's there's only like three or four months in, and we were doing about a thousand dollars a week in sales, which was quite amazing. Actually, now I look back, thousand dollars a week. That's not casually neutral. Obviously that before people working on a side, but... was enough to go. Well, in four months we could get to a thousand dollars a week. That's pretty good sign. The subsequent year we revenue jumped by twenty four. So by the end of the year we've got to Twentyzero a week. So that was the end of two thousand and seven, which is a big molester and for us, because twenty thousand a week is is about a million dollars a year. I remember being feeling like this was unbelievable. And you have to remember that our business the mark place. Yet portion of every sale goes to the author of the item. So this is gross revenue. At that point we were still not casual, a neutral more or less, for a good two years, I would say. Every time we made in roads into how much sales we had, we would just invested all back into the business. It was a close to two years before we paid ourselves salary. So I would say about the two year Mark I would classify as neutral. Right, so two years of living with your parents and eating eating noodles for dinner is that? I was pretty bad. We with my most for the whole two years. Then, goodness, had six months in managed to get it together to move into a little apartment and but yeah, that was a lot of new to leading there for a while. Dedication. So when did this start to explode into the stupid number of website you have, like the blogging thing. Then turned to freelance, which, or was that still? I had a blog called north by east, where that one? See? Yeah, that's right, that was right at the beginning, where I used to give advice about blogging and business, which is really the stupidest thing because I hadnamly just gotten into both of this thing. I don't know I had very much value added either domains, but in any case I use my little soap box and I built a very small audience. I think I managed to get to four hundred are assess readers during that time. It was over cost about three months and then that was hard work. I think that was probably the hardest readership I've ever had to build. From that I had a single post on that side which was about freelancing, and it was the first post that had some social media traction. So back then it was the site delicious Coom, which is I don't it's delicious even still running. Maybe it was. It was taken down. I think it is. Like there was listeners who don't remembers website that was really awesome and could send quite a lot of traffic if you got into the popular page, and this post made on the popular page. So that weekend I came up with the idea that we should have a free whole blog dedicated freelancing. Because I was a web designer, I designed it and built it more or less that weekend. By like the Tuesday, I think we launched it and it immediately hit lots of traffic. I guess it was the fact that that post made to the popular page was an indication that there was an interested market and freelancing. Once we launched the side, it got a lot more social media traction as well. It very quickly got the same amount of traffic it roughly has today. Years later. It's been very stable, like it was a weird side in the sense that it grew very quick and then it stands stable for years. Minds a bit a bit like that too. Actually, it's like it's I don't know. It does it that means its saturated the market? I'm not sure. It's hard to say. I do find interesting. You your idea there where, you know, you start a blog on something, one article happens to go really well and then you go, you know what, let's do a new blog focus only on this niche at this article did well, and that works because you could have just kept writing about the same choptics on the existing blog that you decided to know, let's change the branding, that's change the message and that's probably a smart thing to do. Well, I know it's a good point. Actually, it didn't even occur to me that I could have kept the first blog. There's some decisions that you will find sound like wise decisions, but we're just didn't not occur to me that as actually done something different. Yeah, I mean the benefit of going fens, which was it was a targeted brand. The whole site was built around the idea of for that thing. I did research the niche a little bit after that post and discovered those one other blog which is dedicated for that scene. This woman started and she'd written a few good posts and then totally dropped off and hadn't kept it up. was just so unfortunate. It's like our post were good and obviously the niche was interesting and I think that's that's one of those classic blogging advice pieces of you know, it's a marathon the end of the day. A lot of people just don't keep going. I guess now what was the plan here, because you were doing a marketplace for Flash, sort of troy buying and selling, basically. Note. No. Well, it makes sense to me to start a freelance blog as a marketing tool because you bringing in people who like create flash and also want to buy flash for their own products. They do for client work. So it is a good synergy there. But were you looking? Maybe you made this up as you go in a long callus. I don't know a bit. Are You thinking? For you that s which was a vehicle for bringing customers for your flashlight, which, by the way, was the name of it. is called flashtend back then. Almost actually, adobe made us change the name, so it's now called active tend. Okay, Active Day. Yes, yeah, that sounds very sensible. Let's go with that reason, call it's... of the things I love about what you do business is you sort of build stuff because you want to, and it seems to work more often than not. So I want to keep going with your story. But since I've just said that, why do you think it works? Like? What are you doing? More right, you need to these cases as we go through them. All the reason we got friends, which was really purely just because I thought it was interesting to do. I think the reason that it's worked for us has been that I usually look for things that I think are interesting, which means that I guess I would have some knowledge of a space. So I don't really believe in trying to build a business and something you don't know anything about. It's been dangerous. It sounds silly, but lots of people do it. Like you know, I hear there's a lot of money on the Internet. I better go make an Internet business. It's not such a crazy thing to say. The must fail and you U seem to work. You make it work over and over again. Yeah, so I think I'm having an interest means that you know a bit about that area. So I think that's the first thing, and then the other thing, I guess, is it is looking for trends and looking for signs that there's a market or growth or so with flashed in. As I said before, I've actually sold flash before. So I had some inkland that there was a market with freelance, which I'd had a post that have been really successful. So I guess I knew there was some interest in freelancing and did a survey of the market before starting the side later. The next time we started was psctens, which is a photoshops Turile side, and with that one I guess I knew a lot about photoshop and before we actually made it a full blown blog about photoshop, it was first just a little collection of tutorials, like just hastie multitorials on a single domain, so it wasn't a lot to it and a couple of those turials, two of the first four we put up, made it to the dig home page. So I guess once again it was like well, there's obviously a market here, let's do more. HMM. Now I remember watching you because I was following you from the north by east days when you know, your first blog and then freelance, which and I remember. I guess it wasn't a flashed in because I wasn't interested in flash so much. But one thing I noticed about you was your incredible ability to launch projects when you ready have a huge workplate. Like you were writing one blog then you sort of realized, you know what, this is not going to work because I can't write for a freelance blog as well as around the business. And then you're opening up PSD toots and it's another market place. So you have a great strategy for growth, or at least you seem to have executed one where you, I don't know what, you bring in people at the right time and find good a players. Like. How have you managed growth so well? Yeah, so I think the first thing is realizing that you have to not try to do everything yourself. Like I think that that is one area that's surprisingly easy to get stuck on, feeling like well, it needs to be me. So I used to review all the files on flashed and my first started, for example, and I resisted getting a reviewer for ages because I was like, nobody can review files quite the way that I do, which is total crap review the way better that could have ever done. And eventually I was forced to do it because I was so excited about doing other things, like I really wanted to start blogging, I really wanted to do later on freelance fish and later on I really wanted to do whatever it was that I really wanted to do. I guess forced my hands. Said delegates like those just no way you could do everything. So I was always like, damn it, I have to give this to somebody else. And then I suppose the in terms of finding people, but it was a bit hidden Miss Sometimes we get people who worked out really well, not always. Any time you learn a bit more. So we've had some editors and freelancers and employees and whatnots who are better than others. I think we've been blessed to have a lot of good people. I wouldn't say it was a hundred percent success right or anything like that. How do you find them? A mix of things. So for contractors and freelances we often use the sites themselves. So for freelance, which I think we found our first editor or probably all of our editors through the site, so people who are either typically with our blogs. We would get people to write for the block. So would put a little ad on the side saying if you want to write for this site, we pay whatever it is. Think when we first start in the side of sixty an article, we would pay and then we would pick someone who seemed like a very organized writer and then ask them if they could do more editing work and then, if they were doing well at that, maybe they could become the editor. So sourcing through the community is a good way to do it. We also just post job ads. This obviously lots of online job oars is localized ones here to Straad in this sink. That's, I guess, for more full time plays. But yeah, I find going through the site to be cut a good way of finding people who already understand what you're doing and understand your context. So, like for a blog, when you want to get another editor, you really want them to understand the sites and like the voice of the site. So having someone who's already a reader really helps rather than someone who's coming in cold and just trying to emulate you from reading a few posts. Now I could not afford to... sixty an hour a sorry, an article from a rider. Is there like a cash cow that you had that was sort of keeping all this growth working as a sort of stable? Was it them the flash down, or active in? Yeah, so active in by that point, by the time we launched freelances, should be about April two seven. It would have gone for it in think, maybe eight months, and it had enough income that we could use that income to fund freelance fish. Plus, a lot of the early writing was actually me ands, I an. I even made some pseudonyms for myself so we would look like we had a bigger writing team. That's interesting because most people like having a personal brand that one one or two people you know behind it. You deliberately try to make yourselves look bigger. Is that? Yeah, I guess I wanted us to look like a real magazine and to attract other riders and attract other riders. I was like, well, you know, they won't want to just see the same old name popping up, so make up some soon. That's interesting, very counterintuitive to this sort of traditional yeah, it is. Actually now the saying that I can see where you're thinking is behind that. You're looking company. You know, thinking absolutely brand, you're thinking company. So that's an attitude there. That's true. And as I was scared to tie our sides too much, too, I'm generally scared to tie the company too much to because it means that it's hard to replace yourself in the sense that, you know, with a blog, the readers expect to hear like you know, if you go to cosset Ad Acom and that was a blog you'd expect to see caused a posting. I couldn't go off and do something else, so your get kind of stuck to it. So I suppose in that sense, having a writing team seem like a natural thing to do in order to keep yourself free. Right, and I'm in the same situation. I writing as my thing and they expect it from Yarrow. So, you know, it's a great point. Like, you know, horses, of course, as you wanted to build a company and continue to get really large. So and I've sort of stepped in that direction, but realize that no, I like the simplicity of a small operation. So I think like I could never work as hard as you do. Calls to be absolutely true. If, though, I think also for base, it's partially wanting it to be larger, it also partially just I get bored really easily. I want to start something else, like ad' Sabalgi. I like she's, which is when I was going I used like baking cakes, but my mom wouldn't allow me to bake cakes unless I washed up after myself. And I always think that, like I'm not allowed to start new sites unless I have a system for running the old side already. HMM, that's like the clean up after it. And early on that I guess I realized this. And so by the time we were launching for that switch, it was because we've built a system to keep burning the other one. Unfortunately, this leads to having a large company. But you know what take us through that call. So you set up active den to run itself, you set up for that switch to run itself, you set up PSD to run itself. Is that how this progressed and where we have two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine. That's right. So and with each one, I guess. The other aspect we touched on earlier about like delegating and whatnot. In the other aspect, I think so, it is to have a very organized understanding of what it takes to run a particular side. So very early on we would codify things. So when we wanted to find our first reviewer for a flashed and we had to codify, like right out in detail what it takes to review and essentially make a manual of this is how you review files, and I would do that since I and our team, I guess, would do that for all the different roles we had. So when it was editing a blog, I would do it for a while and then I write a manual of what I've been doing and find someone to kind of run the site off that manual, and of course those people would inevitably improve the process in the system and improve the manual. So today, for example, for all a touch network, we have a manual for what it takes to edit a particular blog and simply for reviewing and whatnot. And so that you try to take the person out a little bit and it becomes more systematic, a systematic way of doing things. And so we, I guess, did that all along the way and introduced roles like site managers for the market places. I can't even remember when it was, I think around two thousand and eight, decide we need to site manager of each market place. By a two thousand and eight would, I think, we've launched audio journal, which is the second market place. Those first two years that while Ryan and then later on we hired another couple of developers were working very hard to take the system we'd built, which was for a single market place, and turn that application into an APP that could generate multiple market places, which is what we have today. So there's a single application. It runs I think nine market places now they just spread over different domains, but it's essentially it's actually the same marketplace engine. But yeah, and so for each market place we need the site manager, and each site manager had a manual about how to run a review team and how to manage the forums and how to do this that, and they would all talk to each other and a systems for how to invoice us and how to do this and how to do that. So I think if you want to grow a business and grow a staff to run that business, it helps to have this very systematic way of thinking about jobs and tasks and breaking them down and trying to codify them so that someone else can come in as switching how post like you're talking about what I think is one of the most boring things for a creative to do, which is systems, and it sounds like you did both. You were creative... a writing capacity, in a design capacity and a flash capacity, and then you're going down writing systems, like how do you manage to find everything? I know you're interesting, but you managed to do it all. Yeah, I don't know if I find everything interesting, but I guess so. I love work right like. I suspect that comes across, but if in case, it doesn't. I enjoy working, but I don't classify all work as the same. For me, that's like fun work and then there's like work work, where you you really just have to do it, and for me I'm always trying my best to make more time so I can do fun work, which is thinking of new ideas, doing creative work, planning new websites, launching new things. But in order to do that as a lot of work. Work needs to be done, and I guess I sort of just realize this. Unless I do the bit that I don't really like, I don't get to do the bit that I do like. So I just force myself. I guess it's it's mildly depressing sound again. Yeah, perhaps the reality for all entrepreneurs. There are parts you have to force yourself to do. So can you maybe just fill the gaps to bringing us up today? What websites do you have and what do you spend personal time now on? What are you doing right now? As the company grew it, I guess every year. For me, so I'm the CEO and Bodo. Yeah, and every year that jump changes in my mind. Early on it was I guess I was an entrepreneur, really starting a business. These days it's much more running a company. One of the lessons I've had over the years is realizing that running a company and starting business have nothing to do with each other. They're really quite different, and so each year that that role has changed. Early on it was about it was a very product driven roll, thinking about products, launching them, very marketing role as well. So I would spend a lot of time JAK marketing. Around the sort of two thousand and nine, two thousand and ten, two thousand and eleven period. I was starting to learn more about management and business, I suppose, building teams, how to manage teams. Where you have started our Melbourne office in I think, was two thousand and nine. So there's things like office culture, the work environments, all that kind of stuff. And Finance. Had to go do some finance courses so I could teach myself what a balance sheet is and how to read a profit last statement and stuff like that. And then today, with the team, go into the size it is. I spend a lot of my time on things like PR communications with the team, meetings, lots and lots and lots and meetings. So most of my days are just meeting after meeting, after meeting after meeting, which is a little bit scary. It's not what I had imagined I would be doing, but at the same time that it's good and bad to it, so that that is obviously I have a meeting after beating after meeting. The good too, it is that you get to meet with all these interesting people and your company doing interesting stuff and hear about all the different parts and put in your two cents and think about things and they do stuff you've never thought of doing, and so in that sense it's really amazing. But there is some some little parts of me that kind of wishes I could go back to doing the design work, doing the front end work, the grassroots marketing and stuff. But it's changed a lot. And how long are your days? Are You doing normal? Nine hundred and twenty five? No, I didn't think you ever. Gets do not survive, but I don't do too bad. In the early days I used to work very hard when during that period, but we had no money and a lot of debt. Would work months and months without a day off. Of Long Ten twelve our days. These days that I work a good solid work week of sort of ten our days every day. The weekends will have what I classify as fun work, which is that I usually on my weekends I spend a few hours here and there thinking about things and planning for the future and whatnot. Have a twenty month old son, so I kind of wipes out a lot of your chance to just work like a crazy person. Right. Yes, so what is the sort of future thinking here. Do you want to do that, this sort of lifestyle? Wherever? Are you hoping to sell out one day and switch completely and sort of, you know, relax and have big about of money in your bank account? Like? But what do you think about? I think for me it's been years now and I've I guess I've always thought this way, but I just concentrate on how the company's growing. There's been new challenges every year. So at the moment I still feel like I'm constantly pushed. I think if I was constantly doing the same thing, I'd start thinking about like, okay, how do we get out and how do I go do something else? But every year my job changes, right, like every year I'm doing new types of things as new challenges. The company's grown. I think the last year we've doubled the staff size. So it's just like a whole raft of new things to deal with. So in that sense, my focus is really about where the company's going and how we're growing our missions. Our mission is to help people learn and learn, which is the learning side comes from uch turial network touts, and learning side from our mark. This is and so I just found a lot of my time thinking about how do we grow that, like how do we help more people earn money on our market place and how do we teach more people stuff on the test network? One day, I imagine how want to do something other than butter and I suspect it will... something like painting or drawing in a small room with no people. So I'd like to maybe, just as we're getting close towards the end of this interview here, for the people who are listening to this now, I think the biggest takeaway for what you've achieved is the attitude of getting a large company behind what really starts one website and a small group. If we could sort of highlights what you think allowed you to get as big as you did, because I know it'd be difficult where I'm at right now, without getting some investment money and then getting a second website targeting something different, sort of start this path towards getting as large as you have and obviously putting in fifteen, sixteen hour days as well. I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, the model you chose, the business model of market places in very, very hot online subjects of design and flash and everything that people need to do what they do online really like from a technical standpoint. So that's that's a huge growing market over the years right there. That's a constantly grown so's you can't underestimate how strong the marketplace model is in the Internet. I think it's very I mean just the number of market places you see appearing and all different sectors, everything from like Airbnb, which you know you can think of as a marketplace for vacation rentals, through to the APP store, itunes and whatnot. They're all market places. It's a very suited model to the Internet, I think, connecting people from around the world, and it's one that's probably it wasn't possible for me Intet, certainly not in this model, that this form. In any case, as you say, it's been growing. We were first to market in a whole number of areas. Theme First was the first place for wordpress themes and wordpresses, you know, has grown enormously, and similarly in lots of other areas. We managed to be the first and the largest in after EFFEX templates and print templates and a whole bunch of different spaces. I think that has been a big part of why the company has been able to grow. So we bootstrapped it right like it. It's mentioned one path to growth is using venture capital and to be honest, we didn't use venture capital, not because that's not a good idea, but just because didn't even occur to me. Could it's kind of probably, I think I'm very happy with boost as like I think back at probably still do it the same way. But yeah, I think the marketplace models suited boots trapping as well because it's it was a model that had income early on, and this it wasn't like a twitter model where you like, let's grow really large and hope we can figure out a way to monetize later. The marketplace model is much more hours type. So if there's a person listening to this and they want to replicate your success, you would suggest marketplace model. And what else would be like your one or two most important tips? I think that we were committed to like I always like the idea. I think this is where beachheads right, you know, and like a battle, when they need to like take a particular position, they try to establish a beachhead. I assume this comes from World War II when they were invading Europe, they had to capture the beaches and from that they could capture further inland. That they could capture even further inland. I always think of business in the same way, at least in boots trapping, that you know you can't just go for everything all at once when you don't have any resources. You have to try to take a foothold and use that to get the next bit. And so if you think about the way that in bodos grown, it's all been in that sense. So we built one thing, used it to get some revenue, took all the money we had and all the revenue were getting from that one thing and then use that to get more things. Invested all our time, as much time as we had, more time than we probably should have invested, didn't really take any money out and just kept reinvesting. To a grow there's a bit painful and it's risky, but it's not as risky as just, I guess, trying to overextend. So yeah, I think that's probably would be one of the main keys, I suppose, with establishing a beachhead and reinvesting and being trying to be sensible and make make sure that it's sustainable. So once we've gotten the company to be self sufficient. Every time we'd have a new business area, I would always work to try to make that one self sustainable on its own two feet and, you know, try to get revenue into freelance which or build a premium program for touch, whatever it was, whatever the case may be, not letting them be any big although not all of them are completely profitable, but it's on the whole try sustainable. One of the things that I know is about the invaded group websites is design is really taught. Like you have a very nice, elegant, simple design for all your sites. Has that been a specific branding strategy in any kind of way, or just because you like design yourself? I have a web designer, so I love the early designs. I'm still some of them are from me and I guess it was some of its personal taste bas was also as a web designer, I understand that there's a lot of power and good design like it establishes credibility. It positions you're in a good way.

It tells the user that your reputable sort of service. Even though you're small, if you have a great design you can look a bit bigger. Magical thing about the incident is it's kind of hard to figure out just how big a particular side is. Is that element of it as well? So as a new blogger, you can kind of quickly establish yourself as and if you think about friendance, which we talked about before, that I was writing, I was making pseudonyms, things I was interested in trying to look the size that I wanted us to be. That makes sense. Yeah, that's that's unusual. Call Itson and counting to it. To the whole, I want US build a personal brand with a small group of followers who just love what I do, and that's how I have my business, which is kind of like what I've done in a lot of bloggers to but you've you've sort of added blogging to a different business model as a way to get an audience. But you still want to have, I guess, a big company brand rather than an individual brand, which is absolupletely different way of thinking, and maybe in your case it's one of the main reasons why you are as big as you are. Yeah, I said, that's interesting question. Actually, I never really thought about as a different way of doing things. That just at that times like Oh, we know we need to look like this awesome freelance magazine. We should have lots of writers. And Yeah, it's just like thinking big. You know, they say it all starts with how you think. Right, and if you thought it sounds like even the way you started this company. A hundred thousand dollars, five people all in that's thinking bigger than all this. Put together word press blog. Throw some articles out there and see how I go. Yeah, what's different about you? Know what's wrong with you guys? I have no idea. Yeah, I mean early on, before we started flash and had written a business plan. It wasn't a very good business and I got a business plan book and I read it and it's like up to the bit about finances, which I wasn't I didn't manage to make it all the way through that section, but I wrote a little business plan about our market places and I suppose even from that realized all this is going to be a lot of work, we'll need a lot of yeah, as you know, I suppose, as you say, maybe just thinking big. It wasn't something conscious. I think it was more just natural way of thinking, I suppose. Okay, well, speaking of being conscious, I'm contact of the time. So you do have to run off about now for something else. I guess the best way to wrap it up for us a call us. You have so many websites I don't know where to direct people too. If they want to check out what you do like, where do you suggest they go? The best place to guys invotedcom. You got links it off to the market places and to the text plus network and tap storm and create an all our different properties. We're actually in the middle of a redesign, although we've been in this middle of this redesign for about a year and a half. So hopefully by the time people are listening to this it'll be complete and ready to go. And even if it's not, you can see all the websites in Vato NBA teocom. That's the parent company behind it all. Callus. Thank you. There's been I mean it's a huge story and I'd love to go into every little detail of every single website you built. We'd probably be here for about five hours to do that. I'm pretty sure you could do that with me too. I think you would enjoy talking about it that also. But I think it's in great takeaways here and how to think big, how to get big, how to choose a good business model and team building. Lots of things that you've done that in hindsight very smart, perhaps without realizing that the time, I guess calls accidental. Any last comments for people listening in now. Thank you so much for having me and yeah, hopefully another time in the future will do the five hour marathon one. Yeah, it would be fun to do a follow on. But thank you, call us, and good luck with the ongoing empire building. Thanks so much. There you go my interview with Callus tied, the cofounder of Invato, which was a re release from my membership side, so it is not current. Call US might be very surprised if you go and approach him and tell him as an interview about him that just came out. He may even forgot he did this interview, but I was very excited to release it to you because I think it's a great little origin story there of what is one of Australia's Unicorn six test stories, which there are not many today. We certainly hear a lot about it. Last in and CANVA. I think that by far the biggest too, maybe after pay is another one you might have heard of because it was acquired by square quite recently and call us and Invato, and you know, the team in the family just grew this company privately, so of course it doesn't get nearly as much press. In fact, they recently also turned Vatto to a certified B Corp, which I did not know much about. It had to do a quick bit of research and into what a B Corp is this some other companies that are also certified be corps include kickstarter, Ben and Jerry's, Patagonia and culture amp. And essentially this means they're realigning their goals to not just be about profit but also purpose. I think what that purpose is is their choice to define it. It's pretty clear with invoto that includes their employees. They're distributing twenty percent of profits back to their employees. That was about six thousand dollars each...

...last year. In Two thousand and twenty they have money going to charity. So I can tell the it's not just about squeezing every dollar they can, you know, out of their their industry and so on. And Yeah, hope you enjoyed that one before you go. Today's sponsor have not mentioned that yet. This episode is brought to you by Inbox donecom, a company which provides a virtual executive assistant that specializes in written communication, in particular managing and replying to your email, your social media messages, anywhere. You need superior written communication and someone who's not overseas, cheap labor that might have English as a second language, someone who's actually been trained to replicate you, to learn how to represent you as well as you could in your inbox when replying to your messages. Obviously, to work with someone who takes over something is important as private as your email. There is a careful process to help you delegate to your assistance your email and other tasks so you feel comfortable with the process. Not only do inbox done assistance to your email, they will schedule you a calendar. They will also do other executive of assistant tasks like data entry, basic research, basically anything technical, especially with the written word that you'd like to delegate to them. You can free up one, two three hours per day, depending on how much time you spend currently writing emails or responding to messages in your social scheduling your calendar and all those things that we have to do every day. Get them off your plate, hand them to an executive virtual assistant from inbox done and your life will be so much simpler. And, just so you know, you actually get to executive assistants as one of the special things that makes inbox done different from other executive assistant and virtual assistant companies online. You no matter when you sign up, you will get two people dedicated. This isn'ts assigned to you, because if you've ever had insistent you probably know this turnover is a pain when it comes to assistance, because you know you train them to do so many different things and then they leave you and then the next person you have to train all over again by training two people on everything you need help with. Even if one leaves, you've got the other one still in place who can train the replacement person, the second person. So it's a very redundant system. If you're interested of that sounds like something you would like in your business, in your life, if you're a founder and executive and manager, an entrepreneur, head to inbox DONECOM and book a discovery call today. That's in box donecom. Okay, that's it from me for today's episode of vest the capital. I hope you enjoyed it. My name is yarrow and I'll speak to you on the very next episode, by by.

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