Entrepreneurs knock back offers

Everyone wants a piece of this start-up but its founders are staying put, writes Kate Jones.

Everyone wants a piece of this start-up but its founders are staying put, writes Kate Jones.

Very few companies have the luxury of knocking back lucrative investment offers.

But successful digital goods company Envato is proudly privately owned, and chief executive Collis Ta'eed plans to keep it that way.

Melbourne's Envato is the start-up behind nine online marketplaces, including Themeforest, Codecanyon, Videohive and Graphicriver - all market leaders.

From its humble beginnings in a Sydney garage in 2006, when Envato was founded by Ta'eed, his wife, Cyan, and best mate Jun Rung, the company employs 80 staff in Australia and another 70 internationally.

"We've certainly come a long way," Ta'eed says.

"It took us three months for our revenue to reach $1000 a week, another year for it to get to the level where we were at $1 million a year. Now, seven years later, revenue is in excess of $10 million."

It's no wonder venture capitalists and growth equity companies regularly come knocking.

But Ta'eed and his Envato co-founders have resisted the lure of cash injections and rejected expressions of interest in acquisition.

"Lots of them come our way - they sense an opportunity," he says. "You never know what the future may hold, so I usually maintain a relationship with them, and generally speaking, you don't want to slam the door in anyone's face."

With the company growing at such a rapid pace - 12,500 people sell their products through Envato's network of sites - Ta'eed says it wouldn't make sense to accept any investment offers now.

He is also firm on the company remaining in Australia, rather than moving to Silicon Valley, where so many others have worked their way to fame and fortune.

"There's a lot of talent here in Melbourne and there's a start-up hub here, too," Ta'eed says. "We're proudly Australian."

Envato may have some of the oldest code, graphics and website theme marketplaces but its management team is youthful.

Ta'eed is 33, Cyan Ta'eed is 31, and Rung is 36. "Sometimes it feels very strange, I have to admit," Ta'eed says.

"Every now and then, especially when we have meetings, I look around and think, 'Where did all these people come from?"'

Flashden, which sold Adobe Flash products, was the company's first marketplace. It was renamed Activeden after Adobe complained Envato was infringing on its trademark.

Since the launch of Activeden in 2006, the company has gone on to release eight marketplaces, including Photodune in 2011.

Envato's most successful products have had the advantage of being the first to the market but Photodune went up against leading site iStockphoto, which has been around since 2000.

However, the ambitious launch by Envato paid off and Photodune is now one of its busiest sites, with nearly 3 million images for sale.

The company's latest offering is Microlancer, where freelance digital authors sell everything from logo designs to book covers.

Ta'eed says development of Microlancer was largely shaped by customer feedback.

"I always like to think of Activeden like the first space shuttle," he says.

"Back then, I thought you had to put a lot of features in but now, with MicroLancer, it's a lean start-up.

"We try to learn from the customers a lot more about what they need.

"Our mission statement is to help people learn, so wherever they are, whatever they do, they should be able to sell digital goods."

In addition to its marketplace sites, Envato also runs 14 tutorial or "tute" sites offering technology online tutorials, eBooks and courses on everything from web design to game development.

It is a certain bet Ta'eed's inventiveness will see Envato bringing even more products to its increasing stable of sites.

"I'm a person who really likes to start things - it's in my nature," he says.

In the meantime, Ta'eed says he is focused on harnessing the company's growth and building a happily productive workforce.

"We're very excited about growing the company; passionate about building a great company with a focus on culture and getting people motivated," Ta'eed says.

He says he was influenced by a 2009 TED talk by career analyst Dan Pink, who examines the science behind employee motivation.

"We try to give our staff autonomy and the space to develop so they don't feel like they're being micromanaged," he says.

"As a company, we also have to be careful and cautious. I'm always reading about companies that became too comfortable, so we need to stay grounded."

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