Melbourne entrepreneur Collis Ta’eed laughs a lot. Even when recounting the early struggles of his startup Envato, his giggle punctuates the pauses.
Ta’eed and wife Cyan had only been married for four months when they co-founded the digital goods company with his best mate Jun Rung in 2006.
Today the online marketplace hub employs more than 250 people and has made millions in revenue. But it was a hard slog, Ta’eed says.
“We were young, working out of a garage and a little bit of a two-bit operation because we were just starting out and we were bootstrapped,” he says.
The biggest hurdle was creating the impression Envato was an established business customers could trust.
“So a lot of focus in the early days was about being successful before we were actually successful,” he says.
...a lot of focus in the early days was about being successful before we were actually successful.
“I think that’s something most businesses go through, especially online. You want to focus on having this great image and great brand, giving great service and looking professional even though under the surface it’s all Blu-Tack and sticky-tape.
“It’s the dilemma where you want to look big before you’re big.”
The Ta’eeds threw everything into looking big. They spent more than $60,000 in the six months before they launched, including some cash borrowed from Collis’ parents.
“I just worked my guts out and kept thinking I have to make this make sense,” he says.
I just worked my guts out and kept thinking I have to make this make sense.
“We never took investment, so a lot of the time we were trying to make ends meet while putting everything we could back into this business. We freelanced at night to pay the bills and put all our energy into the company.”
Despite his determination, Ta’eed says everything nearly fell apart before the company even got off the ground.
“Before we launched, there was a moment when I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it,” he says.
“Five months in I was like, ‘This thing’s never going to finish and we’ve just put all our money in and our credit cards are run up’.
“But you have a certain amount of pride and I thought, ‘I can’t crash and burn this early’.”
A slick website and customer incentives such as free trials helped ensure Envato’s launch was a success. Although Ta’eed won’t reveal the company’s current revenue, it had soared beyond $10 million by 2013 and has paid more than $300 million to its online sellers since it started.
Kate Jones writes for the business and money sections of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She also writes for The New Daily, TAC, RMIT and is a news writing tutor at Monash University.