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Hi, I'm Collis, CEO/Cofounder of Envato, Ask Me Anything!

Nov. 17, 2015

Hello! I'm Collis, in 2006 I cofounded Envato, the company behind ThemeForest, CodeCanyon, and Tuts+. I got into WordPress in 2007 shortly after we launched the company because I wanted to start a blog. I soon got into theming (being a web designer) and even cowrote a book on theming (a long time ago, it's not a very relevant book now!) These days most of my time is just running Envato, but I still work with WordPress for my personal projects, and am really excited to be here to do an AMA!

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34 votes   Flag
Pippin Williamson

Hi Collis!

I love, love, love everything you've done with Envato over the years. Your company is very largely responsible for helping me get to where I am today.

As a fellow founder and business owner (though a much smaller one), I'd love to hear about some of your primary difficulties in scaling your company. You famously started Envato with just a few people in an old men's bathroom. Now it's a huge company. What were some of the challenges you faced in growing from 1 or 2 to 50+ employees?

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Collis

:-) Thanks Pippin!! I'm certain you would have been very successful with or without us, but I'm super proud that we got to have a hand in it. Two of the biggest challenges I can think of have been:

(1) Having to learn all the stuff which wasn't anything to do with making web products.

Like probably most founders, I was working on Envato because I liked making web things - blogs, marketplaces, products! For quite a while, probably too long, I just pretended most of the other parts of running a business didn't really exist. A few years in when our team was really starting to grow past like 20 odd people, I started to realize that I needed to grok things like managing people, finances, legals, communications and the like. I made SO many mistakes in these areas, and some of them just take time to really understand. And what's most challenging I think is that you're kind of doing it all while also still worrying about the product and most importantly about growth.

(2) Learning to delegate
And on a related note, over time I've realized the only way to scale is to delegate and bring in great people who understand their areas. Even this has been challenging to learn (for me!) For a long time I still wanted to be in the details of things, and would worry that someone else wouldn't be able to do it as well. I remember delaying getting our very first reviewer because I was adamant that nobody would review items as well as me. Turns out, literally the first person we brought in was way better.

Even so, learning to create a great team and rely on them is one of the biggest challenges I think. The mix of letting go, plus learning how to set clear expectations, plus being able to find good people, plus giving feedback when it doesn't go to plan, plus helping them grow in their careers, plus, plus, plus. It's pretty complicated. I guess people are pretty complicated :-)





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Pippin Williamson

Awesome, thanks!

If you're ever in the U.S. again (or I'm down under), I'd be honored to buy you dinner sometime.

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Collis

That would be awesome!!

Please do come down! You'll love Australia :-) Though come in summer .. Melbourne's winter is not its most glamorous time.

I'm not sure when I'll be back in the US, but hopefully not too long. Travel with children (as you know) is a lot more challenging than it used to be!

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Vladimir Prelovac

Hi Collis

Thanks for taking time for this AMA.

I am curious do you remember what were Envatos biggest hurdles and how you overcame them going from 3 to 30 employees; same for from 30 to 300.

Do you use remote workesrs and what is your general stance on that?

What excites and what scares you the most about WordPress future?



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Collis

Great questions Vladimir!

(1) Really interesting lines to draw. I think they're apt. From 3-30 I feel like the most important thing to be getting right is the product-market fit. While I personally struggled having to learn all the *other* parts of running a business, this was one thing I feel we got right. And ultimately if you don't have a product that suits the market and that people want - then some of the other things are less relevant. When you go 30-300 then it's about scaling that market-product fit, growing the team, and creating your strategy to keep growing. I can't emphasize how different the two phases felt to me.

I think the biggest tool that I applied in overcoming the challenges along the way was being very determined to make it work. I had to put in a lot of hours, lots of stress and worrying, lots of trying my best to learn from everyone who joined the team and to understand different things, lots of mistakes and learning from them, and so on. I don't think I could have done it without being determined that I wanted things to succeed. Where you get your motivation from varies, for me it's in making something useful and new ideas. I just *love* making new things and then figuring out how to make them go well. And that was enough to sustain me. I think it's important to figure out what sustains you, because growing a business needs a lot of sustenance :-)

(2) We do have quite a lot of remote team, and in general I love the idea of remote work. It is not without its challenges and that's something we've learned over the years with Envato. It's much more difficult than I ever thought to provide employment in many places at once (just logisitically/administratively difficult), it's difficult to run a team that's partially remote and partially not. Those are probably the two biggest. We're still working on both of those!

(3) I'm most excited about figuring out how to make WordPress simpler and more accessible. I think that's the big challenge for WordPress in the coming years because alternatives are getting much simpler and faster to get started with. The changes coming in the rest api, and with hosting companies figuring out how to make installs/setups faster and smoother, are going to be both big contributors. There's still lots of the web to conquer, and it needs an experience that is a lot simpler than it sometimes currently is.






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Vladimir Prelovac

Thanks Collis great answers! If I knew you were introvert I would have pushed you farther :)

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Ana Segota

Hi Collis,

we are non-exclusive author on ThemeForest and would like to know if ThemeForest will consider increasing non-exclusive rates?

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Collis

Hey Ana! It's not currently planned - though we've changed rates in the past. To be honest our focus is on creating a substantial library of exclusive themes because it makes ThemeForest more valuable to buyers.

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Ana Segota

Thank you for your reply. May I ask one more thing. What is required to get a special (higher) non-exclusive rates like some authors have?

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Collis

Hey Ana, good question. We sometimes do deals with authors for better rates on both exclusive or non-exclusive content, however it's intimately tied to the portfolio of content they are bringing over and what we're trying to expand into.

So for example when we first launched in photos, the early photographers who onboarded substantial portfolios, we offered better rates. Later when we had a lot of photographers we stopped doing it.

The short answer is it's been quite a while since we did anything like that in WordPress. But if you had a portfolio of very different, high potential, and a reasonable quantity, of content - then we'd totally be up for discussion. If it's theme content similar to what comes in every day, then we likely wouldn't get very far in the discussions.

I hope that makes sense!

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Brian Krogsgard

At times, the relationship between Envato and other parts of the WordPress world (WordCamps, theme best practices, licensing) has been fractious. It seems to be better now, but Envato properties do still feel a bit isolated from other parts of the WordPress "community". What changes could occur -- on both sides -- so that the Envato community (Envato employees, ThemeForest authors, etc) and influencers in the WordPress community have greater interaction?

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Collis

Great (and tough!) question Brian!

I've never totally understood how we ended up being a bit isolated - I think I've always thought we were a bit closer than maybe we were. In retrospect I think some of the contributors have been the fact that our core Envato infrastructure is all built in a completely different language, that we're a company run by an introvert!, and that I got some things wrong about how to approach licensing.

We've improved licensing and it's a community selection now which is good. I'm, unfortunately, still an introvert and so rarely go to things like meetups. And our app continues to be Ruby - so most of the open source contribution focus internally is on the Ruby community, ruby meetups, and conferences.

I'd love to see our author community more engaged in WP meetups and events, and we have some who really are -- though it's far from the majority. We're on the hunt for a new evangelist which I think would be helpful, and of course more movement on the quality dial is always something we're working on - but need to do more on.

That's not much of an answer, I think I'll have to chew on this more!!!

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Tom Harrigan

Hey :) Where can I get a cool avatar like yours designed?

What do you see as the biggest avenues for Envatos growth moving forward?

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Collis

Hey Tom! It's actually from one of the illustrators on Envato Studio - you can find them here: studio.envato.com/explore/social-media-design/701-personal-avatar !

Great question. We're currently very focused on making things on Envato more accessible. A great example is that VideoHive's after effects library does amazing things but is almost completely unusable unless you have After Effects or have a relationship with a freelancer. We're in early testing for an app that renders those templates in the background and makes them available to anybody through a simple web interface. I think exploring similar ideas across all the amazing content on Envato will be a very cool way to extend the reach of our author community to new buyer groups who may be less technically savvy but still want beautiful, amazing creative content!

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Ahmad Awais

Hey, Collis!

Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate what you have done, though, I only started following you like four years ago from the blog posts that you wrote at Freelance Switch. Being part of the WordPres core author team at Tuts+ and an author at Envato Market I owe a lot of what I have accomplished to your company.

Here are few questions

— (1) — Recent changes at Envato i.e. getting into the US has lead to a change in how one can withdraw funds, being a developer I had to only worry about design and development while Envato took care of Payroll, Payments, and marketing. Though, these changes will make it impossible to distribute funds. E.g. If I can only withdraw payments under my name then I cannot send payments to my designer in India, or my remote employees in Philippines, France, and such other countries. That also limits the kind of partnerships we can have at Envato. While I appreciate Envato getting into the US market, don't you think that it is possible to keep supporting us (developers) and devise a way for us to distribute payments into other Envato accounts (from where my partners or employees could withdraw them under their names)?

— (2) — I was very much excited about something *interesting* getting announced when Stephen Cronin tweeted the day before yesterday and Envato introduced Sites! While I don't know a lot about it and the underlying platforms or research/goals, I know one thing for sure that Envato Sites are not powered by WordPress. I was under the impression that WordPress would be an obvious choice since the major share of Envato's sales comes from those products which are made for WordPress. It made a lot of sense for Envato to create a hosted WP platform that could offer preconfigured themes and plugin add-ons helping theme/plugin authors build SaaS solutions while still being with Envato. What I'd like to ask is why is it not like that?

— (3) — Envato and WordPress, where do you think we are headed? What's your take on WordPress, SaaS, and Envato? Is there an opportunity or gap to be filled here?

— (4) — What is your take about WordPress REST API? In ref to both WordPress as a platform and WordPress at Envato.

— (5) — What is your advice to WordPress developers who are new to the scene? What kind of development track or business decisions do you suggest?

Thanks,
Looking forward!

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Collis

Hi Ahmad! Great to hear from you, I was lucky enough to have a phone call with Saqib Sarwar a couple of weeks ago who I think you know! It was lovely to speak with him, and he spoke highly of you. OK here goes answers:

— (1) — We're working on some of these issues to try to find solutions, but the short answer is that it's far from simple. There are quite a few regulations that we need to adhere to, both in Australia and overseas, around how money is transferred.

— (2) — Great question. We're working on several things simultaneously. We've been going through many of our categories and trying to figure out how to make the things in them more accessible. So I gave an example earlier that we're launching a beta of Envato Videos which is a simple interface to render video templates. On ThemeForest we started with the simplest part which is the HTML site templates, and we've created Envato Sites. We're actively looking at how we do the same thing for WordPress - though it's a much more complex thing to achieve - more moving parts, more security things to consider, and so on.

— (3) — Envato and WordPress, where do you think we are headed? What's your take on WordPress, SaaS, and Envato? Is there an opportunity or gap to be filled here?

I think the big challenge for everyone in WordPress is to make it *easier*. A while back I had a non-technical friend starting a website for a small charity project and asking how to get going quickly. I found myself saying ... "try weebly" and thinking 'dammit, that's not good!' There's a definite opportunity in combining WP and SaaS to make a really simple solution, and it's something we (and others!) are exploring! But again, it's not a simple thing to do because you're not coming to it with a clean slate, but with an existing product which has both positives and negatives.

— (4) — What is your take about WordPress REST API? In ref to both WordPress as a platform and WordPress at Envato.

I'm too far from the technical end to give a really detailed answer, only that from what I know it seems like it's going to open up a huge amount of interesting possibilities both on the front and the back, and hopefully also attract new types of talent and thinking to the WordPress community. It feels like a pillar in getting the WP experience to a simpler place in the future.

— (5) — What is your advice to WordPress developers who are new to the scene? What kind of development track or business decisions do you suggest?

That's a big question! :-) My general advice on business is to do something you really, really love. Business is hard work, and it pays to be in an area where you just love doing the job even if it's taking longer than you hoped to find success.


Thanks Ahmad!

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Ahmad Awais

Thanks for all the answers.

That said, Yes, Saqib is a very good friend, both a mentor and a partner. I didn't know that he talked about me, that's really kind of him and you to remember.

(1) I know it's not simple, not even close, but just want you to know that Envato started with the concept of solving these issues for us and I'd love to see how it comes over it now and help make developers lives easier.

(3) That's great. I get it. BTW if you think about it, then coming towards a WP + SaaS setup is not possible for those who have a "clean slate", it will take someone who already knows what they are doing and have the resources i.e. an existing product.

Thanks for the advice :).

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Charlie Livingston

Hi Collis,

1) How will the theme market of 2016 differ from 2015? Will we see the continued domination of Avada, X and the other multipurpose themes?

2) I've noticed recently (the last couple of months) that a lot of new themes are failing to make even 100 sales. This seems to be a result of 2 things: 1) over-saturation - you are releasing something like 14 new themes a day, and that's a lot. 2) customers are tending to go for the already established themes with thousands of sales that claim to be able to do everything. This is a new trend so far as I can tell - it used to be the case that almost every theme would make at least 100 sales. This would seem to me to represent a maturation of the market. It is becoming harder for new sellers to establish themselves, while the top players move further ahead. Any thoughts on this and where it might lead?

3) Are you planning any changes to the affiliate program?

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Basilakis

hey Collis


Thanks a lot for your replies, we do appreciate them!

Would love to see where Envato Sites will go! Seems to me that with the insights you guys have, can easily make something really good! ;-)

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Zeshan Ahmed

Hi Collis,

Nice to see you here at MangeWP.

1. How do you stay up to day with the new (web) technologies?
2. Your favourite books? Especially related to to productivity and technology?
3. Do you have any tips for individuals aiming to start their own business in web line, specifically in WordPress?

Thanks a lot!
Zeshan

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Adi Gondo Hartono

Hi Collis, as fellow Australian, can you tell me what do you think of the Australian federal government's National Broadband Network policy? Do you think the current policy is a missed opportunity to give Australian startups and companies better ability to compete on the world level?

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Chris Jimenez

Do you look like Erlich Bachman of Aviato?

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Navin Poeran

Hello Collis,

I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk to you in “person”.

Will there be a feature in the near future which will allow to update themes and plugins more easily? Without having to re-download/re-upload etc everything everytime from scratch?

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