Collis is the CEO of a thriving (and massive) online marketplace, and he has a discussion with Brian Balfour that will definitely inspire you.
Brian: Everyone. I’m Brian Belfour. I’m the VP of Growth at HubSpot. I’m here doing a guest interview with Carlos, who’s the CEO of Envato. Welcome. How are you doing today?
Collis: Thanks. Yeah, pretty good. It’s it’s pretty early over here at Melbourne, but good time to chat.
Brian: That’s right. You guys are all in Australia, correct?
Collis: Yeah, that’s right. Right down the south, southernmost tip. There’s Tasmania just below us and then the Arctic.
Brian: Great. Well, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about Envato? I have a feeling people haven’t heard of that company name, but I guarantee you they probably ended up on one of your products or sites if they’ve looked about anything about design or development.
Collis: Yeah, that’s right. So we we run a bit of we think of it as an ecosystem of a set of sites where if you need to build a website or do some marketing, our sites will help you accomplish these goals. And we do them in a few different ways. So if you want to learn how to make a website or learn how to design, we have a test plus network and tutorials, video courses and stuff. We wanted to hire someone to do one of those things where you run a studio where you can hire freelancers to design logos or make videos. And if you’re somewhere in the middle DIY but not quite like learning from scratch, we run involve Marcus, which is our largest set of marketplaces, includes the Rainforest Video Hive and a bunch of others. And you can buy WordPress themes after effects, templates, music, photos, the lot.
Brian: Great. And so give us a little history about the company. Like, when did you guys when did you guys start? You know, how fast approximately have you grown since then? And kind of like where you guys are at today?
Collis: Yeah, absolutely. So we started in 2006. That was three of us, three co-founders, me and my wife and my best friend. Later we got my brother to join. We completely bootstrapped and so we kind of did out of savings and credit cards and whatnot. And back in 2006, the first thing we launched was Flash ten, which is a marketplace for flash struck flash. And back then that was kind of awesome. These days it’s like 1/50 the size it was at its peak, it was as a real like go up and straight back down was Steve Jobs and the iPhone five and all that. So stuff happens. But back in 2006, Flash is still kind of cool. I’ve been selling Flash elsewhere. We launched the Flash Marketplace and by IS we launched August 2006. By like December on day one it was $10. Day one was a $10 sale was great. Which actually in retrospect, I’m like, that was a really good that’s good value really on day one. But at the time I was so disappointed. I think, you know, as much as getting your head that when I launched this thing, just buckets of money will flow in and users and but instead it was $10 sale by like December, we were $1,000 a week of sales happening. So that was pretty good. And then in 2007, we grew maybe 20 fold. The following year was five fold and that was four fold. And it kind of drops off, though we’re still growing pretty quick. And these days one of the metrics we give out is how much money we’ve paid out to all the contributors on the sites. And we’re just recently, like a month ago, passed 200 million. That’s been paid all time to freelancers, designers, developers using the sites.
Brian: And is that total or is that in the last year?
Collis: Total. Yeah, total.
Brian: Cool. And so have you guys kept the company bootstrapped the entire time?
Collis: Yes. So still proudly bootstrap. Still no. Investors don’t know anything about venture capital or any of those topics. I know lots about, like, doing stuff on a shoestring and living with your in-laws. Sure. I mean.
Brian: So in the context of growth, because I’m sure there’s a lot of entrepreneurs watching and kind of facing a similar decision about should I raise money or should I not? But in the context of the subject of growth, have you guys ever felt like bootstrapping the company has held you back on the growth side or maybe limited your growth? And and if so, why did you you know, why did you decide to, like, stay bootstrapped and kind of not try to go go faster?
Collis: Yeah. Look, I think it’s been I’ve never felt that we were held back, but I think because my trajectory of me understanding business kind of matches investors growth. So I feel like if we’d had more money, I probably just would have screwed it up a bit more and just wrong places. Or whatever. In a way, it’s like I’m a big fan of having constraints on things, and having no money in the early years meant that we were much more careful with AD spends, much more with thought, think through things, a lot more innovative. So we didn’t really have much money for advertising, so we spent a lot of our time just trying out different types of growth activities. We we experimented a lot in those first couple of years trying just all sorts of different stuff because we were running a flash marketplace, our most successful thing that we ever did in 2006 and the thing that got us from $10 to $1000 a week was actually not ads and not any of the things that probably would work for anyone else. But for us, we wanted to build out of flash makers and there was lots of these flash design galleries back then. So we we custom built a showroom, we called it out of stuff we were selling, and we just submitted all these galleries and it got picked up and it didn’t cost us any dollars because when I was a flash guy, I just made it myself. And that was actually way more successful than the ads we bought or the anything I think we might have spent money on.
Brian: So let me let me make sure I understand this. So like you would create basically these flash assets yourself. And there were all these sites that had like galleries of different flash assets out there. You put them on those galleries and there I’m sure there was like some kind of link back or something back to your to flash.
Collis: Dan Yeah, basically. So our marketplace, it’s actually assets sold by many different people so that today there’s like 30,000 people selling stuff. So the assets, individual assets were made by other people and I wanted to show what we could, what you could do, like the power of the stuff we were doing. And so we created a site out of just assets from our marketplace. And there’s still around these days, there’s lots of design galleries you can submit a site design to. Even today they get a reasonable amount of traffic. But because we were targeting that literal demographic of people who go to design galleries, when we submitted a flash showroom built entirely out of stock assets, it was a good draw card. And as I say, it was it was very I mean, the lesson is not particularly useful for most other businesses unless you happen to also be making something in the design space. But I think for me, it’s much more about the fact that it wasn’t a thing that cost money. It was much more about just thinking through, Well, who buys this stuff? Where do those people go? How can we get in front of them? And in this case, it was like, Well, why don’t we try building a showroom?
Brian: Yeah, I mean, I think the other important lesson there, I mean, I get I get questions all the time from people trying to build communities or two sided marketplaces. Right. And they always face this chicken or the egg problem. Yes. And I think, you know, I typically typically my my response is you got to do one of two things. And in either one, you’ve got to, like manually force one side of the market, like do the work yourself, which is kind of sounds like the path that you took. Right? Kind of just really I just do it yourself. Or the second thing is, you know, you build, you know, some product that is only interesting to one side of the market. It provides some sort of value to them without needing the other side of the market. And you kind of get it. You kind of get it going that way. Yeah. And I’m trying to of course, now I’m thinking of examples of people.
Collis: But yeah, definitely, you’re right. You need to kind of jumpstart. It’s like that. It’s like a circle. I often think you need the thing to sell and the seller is in need of the buyers and they kind of depend on each other and you need to jumpstart one or both. And we kind of tried to jumpstart both actually. So the content before we even launched the marketplace, we went out and commissioned content and made it look like it was from an individual seller, but we’d actually paid this person, Hey, can you make this stuff new? Can you put it in there? And then we the first buyer wasn’t actual actual buyer, but in those first months and even actually for a few years, we always starting new categories. I would often go and buy things and just make the seller feel like, Oh hey, I’m getting sales, let’s start making more stuff. Your library would get bigger. That kind of helps. The other thing that we did to stimulate purchases was that we we did it like a credit giveaway. So the marketplaces work on credit. And at the time that we launched, we used to actually take a very substantial portion of 75% of every sale we were taking that the seller would make 25% these days. That as almost flipped over. Back then it meant that giving a. The way money didn’t cost as much cause, you know, we would end up taking a big part of that back in. So around the same time that we did the showroom, we also did a like a $10,000 of credit give away, which cost us two grand. But it meant that it was basically a way to get buyers to actually use the system and to pay the sellers who then made more content. And it kind of got that loop going. But that, as you say, that is that chicken and egg problem is the problem with marketplaces.
Brian: Yeah, but it sounds like not only did you sort of manually jump start the supply or the inventory of the assets, but you even manually, you know, basically forced the feedback loops when you did get somebody in there and they did list something to make them feel good and get them to come back, right? Like you, like you bought their stuff for it kind of manually force that kind of stuff, which seems really smart as well.
Collis: Yeah. I mean, like I feel a little like maybe that’s slightly artificial sounding now, but I think it you know, I’ve been a seller elsewhere before and I knew that the power of seeing a sale, you know, when you’re you list something on eBay or whatever and you’re like, sell your first thing. You’re like, Holy smokes, yeah, it’s a goldmine or stuff. And for us, I think that like I’m, I’m a believer in so the growth engines getting like a certain set of things that works together going. And for us a big piece of it was SEO and the SEO came from, you know, you’ve got thousands of people making thousands of files. They they make a title or a description. They basically produce a targeted page about whatever. Back in the flash days it would be like XML site templates. And they will often those guys would be kind of optimizing their pages naturally because they’re all kind of entrepreneurial people selling on the marketplace. So the more content we had, the more likelihood we had of being found, which led to the buyers, and that became a virtuous loop. Later we threw in an affiliate program, which helps a lot, and because in the early days we had such a big margin, we made the affiliate program something like 50% of the first sale. Eventually it dropped down to 30%. But that has been today as well. It’s still a big growth driver. We pay a couple of million dollars a year out and affiliate referrals. Yeah.
Brian: What if? What if so? It sounds like SEO has been a big part of of your growth engine. What else would you sort of label as, like big or key important pieces of that engine?
Collis: Yeah, sure. So I think I’m definitely the ASEAN affiliates. I think we’re probably the two biggest pieces of growing the market. The other one I think is is a bit more soft but around branding. So we and it was almost unintentional in 2007. So about a year after we launched the first marketplace, I just kind of got into blogging a little bit and on the side started a blog about freelancing called Freelance Switch, which became quite popular back then that used to hit the Digg home page. Digg used to have a home page which had stuff. These days it’s become a kind of braided magazine.
Brian: But Digg sounds like ancient or something like that.
Collis: Yeah, those are the days I always remember being like Reddit’s Reddit was like the also red shirt. But yeah, so freelance. Which then led me to just starting tuts where I started publishing Photoshop tutorials. And that actually became for for quite a long time all of our traffic, our biggest traffic was on the blogs and our biggest revenue is in the marketplaces. And we sort of unintentionally, I think, built up a bit of brand through these sort of free educational sites. So we would funnel traffic back into the market. So we would periodically advertise and we had our own audience, a captive audience, and did all kinds of stuff. So we would like when we launched new, we launched thing first years later. Yeah, not that many years. Like 2008 we launched Steam Forest, which is WordPress themes and we ran Web Design Week. So you have to remember that time persistence was already quite substantial. I can’t remember what the traffic numbers would have been at that time. I think maybe four or 5 million pages a month was quite big and it was similar demographic. And you know, every day we would basically have advertorial during that week and funneling people back of course to the blogs, lost money generally speaking, that were a bit of money and time sync. I used to just write a lot of content myself, so that helped. Yeah.
Brian: So you had it sounds like these blogs were they were separate properties from Yes. For us. And so why did you not do like that blogging. In what everybody would probably now call content marketing on the marketplaces themselves.
Collis: Yeah. Didn’t occur to me that this is the is the short answer, but I actually think it was maybe a stronger thing in the sense that people grew to be fans of those brands. And just sort of over time realize these brands are affiliated with these other ones. I don’t know this I don’t believe that a blog, which is under a big product’s name is has as much chance of getting traction. So we’ve for example, we have a market blog and at times we’ve we’ve put the same sort of editorial standards in there, never quite gets the same sort of pick up, I think, because where we end up putting stuff which is a bit more transactional, like, oh, we have a product announcement or some other stuff. Whereas with free speech shortcuts, it was literally just about freelancing or Photoshop or web development. We would get the most like we get very high standard, very professional writers who wants to be affiliated with a strong audience. And yeah, I think it kind of builds up off its own steam, and I’m sure it’s doable. Okay, I’m sure you could build a blog really big. You know, like the Airbnb blog could be huge, I guess. I just don’t think it’ll ever be as big as a dedicated travel, accommodation, whatever sort of site.
Brian: Yeah. Interesting to you. So, I mean, probably the most common question I get about this content marketing is like, how do you scale it? Because it sounds like you started out by writing a lot of the content yourself. Yeah, I imagine that didn’t work forever. No.
Collis: So very quickly, we brought in an editor. Oh, really?
Collis: So each of our I mean, we grew at one point to 15 different blogs and 15 editors, 15 writing teams.
Brian: 15 different blog, 15 different sites.
Collis: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So I think our editorial actually, we know we even had an app store which we later closed so close, close to 20. So our our publishing, I think maybe went beyond what a typical growth person would be thinking about in terms of because like we didn’t see them as a growth engine. They were just another product of envato. They run advertising at times plus these days, sells premium content, is a is a multimillion dollar business all on its own. But yeah, so they had each site would have an editor. The editor would then have a, not a staff writing team, but like a hire, a regular writers and then just occasional guest writers. And they were run as commercial blogs.
Brian: Yeah. Interesting. So you got you had an editor for each blog? Did. And so was most of the content contributions from other people. And that editor was mostly managing those contributors. Or were did you also have internal content creators or how did that work?
Collis: It was almost exclusively external contributors. Often the editor would be a bit of a write on themselves and they would add content. So if I think about a freelance, which because that was our very first blog, in essence, I was the first editor and Cyan and myself would write the content. We quickly brought on a couple of friends stories, including one who went on to be overseeing the blogs and habits, which is quite a substantial plug. Leo But it was one of our early writers. We hired a couple of writers like Leo, who had just produced stuff about productivity or freelancing, and then, as you say, quickly became slightly unsustainable. I mean, I actually like working a lot for a while, but I just like more work to do. But after a while, even for me, it was like this is just way too out of control. And so we brought on an editor there who then would manage those writers, and we had a little submission box on the side when we would pay $150 to anything we published. And so we were just start getting random submissions. And if that we saw a couple of good submissions would turn that person into a regular writer.
Collis: Did the same formula for Tess and then later for App Store, which was all about like Mac apps and things.
Brian: Yeah. So. So it sounds like you guys at one point in like 20 different blogs, where have you guys scaled that back down? Or like what? What is that technique at now?
Collis: Yeah, right. But we’ve we’ve merged freelance switch into into touch. So Touch was always the biggest set of blogs and it was all about teaching. We published free tutorials. Eventually we like for for educational content, a blog format. I don’t know if it’s actually great because a lot of stuff gets buried and then eventually we move to what touch is now, which is a bit more of a plus. All driven by search and marshall of France which content into a sort of business channel. We got off WordPress eventually because it was we hadn’t built it in as in a very optimal way for WordPress because it was from 2007. So it was 15 WordPress instances and we moved to a single Ruby CMS instance and we closed them down. So we had this network of blogs about app reviews and things and the reason we started at the time was this is back before the Mac App Store was like, what other marketplaces could we make? What if we made a marketplace for Mac apps? And so my thinking at that time was first thing to do is to build the audience. So we built an app store and launched a blog, got an editor, start reviewing apps. It grew quite big to about 3 million visits a month and we scale it out by iPhone, iPad, etc. But eventually, along the way, the Mac App Store launched. We never managed to figure out a way to actually monetize App Store. And so, like last year, no, January, I think we just closed it down.
Brian: Interesting. So what? So going back to like that question about kind of that growth engine, so Echo was a big piece. I mean, you’re getting all of these content submissions, rate and tutorials and stuff like that that makes total sense. Sounds like this kind of blogging or content marketing strategy was sort of a key piece. What else? Anything else that kind of you saw as the key piece of that engine?
Collis: I think those are probably the main key items. In the first few years. We did a lot of campaigns though as well. So we will. And this has become less of a thing now, though, as we’ve gotten bigger, it’s harder to turn. Let me explain what I mean by campaigns, actually.
Collis: We would like, I guess, come up with ideas. So I mentioned the showroom idea that we had and it took a week to build a showroom and then we just submitted it all over the place and then got a, you know, a few thousand visits. And at that time that was a big deal. Later, we would occasionally would do this cross posting thing with the Touch Network where for a week we would do roundups of interesting items and just publish them to the audience, and that would make a big spike. All of a sudden we did like just all kinds of weird stuff. Some of it was a total flop. Like we made a wallpaper competition and gallery for an audio marketplace. I don’t know why it didn’t work. Took me two weeks, got a little bit of traffic in, but not much. So we would just do a lot of like ideas like let’s make this this super in-depth content for free on the market blog or let’s try to get and we did stumble upon campaigns and okay, remember StumbleUpon, they’re still around I think. But back then you could buy traffic really cheaply.
Brian: Yeah, they jacked up the prices quite a bit out there. Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s it they use. You used to be able to get like you saw like for like couple cents, a few cents and now a minimum of like 25, $0.30. It doesn’t it doesn’t even make sense anymore. Wow.
Collis: I mean, even a few cents, it sometimes didn’t really make the traffic. It was often very transitory. But yeah, so we would do lots of campaigns and I just had this mindset that especially as we were still trying to figure out our growth engine, that it was important. We tried everything we could, just sort of measured the results from each thing. So, you know, whether it was just we visited every flash forum and would chat to people that was, you know, got a few people in not very scalable. Yeah, I’ve tried networking with bloggers that was a bit more effective, not as effective as the fact that on the side we’d launch our own blog so that we’d start focusing more on that. We started doing different types of competitions, trying to experiment with those. So I none of them became one of the big key things I think we did, but especially for years, like one, two and three. I’d say the aggregate of doing many, many small campaigns trying out like bundles and, you know, discounts and whatevers, I think kind of brought in overall a fair dose of traffic. And I think because that growth engine relied on a kickstart that was helpful, we had to somehow get content to get SEO started and get affiliates started.
Brian: Yeah, interesting. So what do you mean? Kind of what do you where do you see kind of the promising areas for for growth today? Is it is it still really focused on those new areas? Are you guys looking at other new opportunities? Kind of how do you how do you look at kind of the president and and sort of the new in the future?
Collis: Yeah yeah. Look I think the said the size of our now. I find myself thinking more about new content types. So maybe two years ago we started pushing into what we call the media contents of photos, footage, music. We traditionally it comes from website templates, after effects templates, graphics, print templates. So a bit more the, the stuff that might have media items inside of its website might have photos with kind of slowly over time been moving into what are actually much broader bigger categories but a lot more competitive. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how do you enter that sort of market where there’s, you know, Getty and Shutterstock and some really substantial companies out there with huge libraries. How do we leverage our audience? That’s, I think, one big space. The other space that I find myself thinking about is how do we get the things like most of our especially about a market which is our key product is targeted at, you know, freelancers, marketers, people who come in and know what they’re doing. I always think of it as a from like sort of DIY regular person through to professionals. Yeah, but my mum would have trouble with a WordPress theme. It’s not that simple. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s better than what used to be forward for us, but it still takes a bit of complexity. So I often think about how do we take what we currently have and reach what is obviously a much more substantial audience of everybody. If we’ve got that sort of professional segments, what what else can we sell to that segment? And then what? How do we grow the segment to a larger one, I think are the two sort of key things and they’re sort of a balance.
Brian: So it sounds like, you know, you guys have kind of figured out this recipe, this growth engine that combines kind of SEO affiliates, some of this content marketing among, you know, certain types of marketplaces. And and you kind of take an ad engine and gone from flash to then to theme for us to like new sort of categories your assets and have been growing kind of the company that way and and you kind of see opportunities for additional growth for keep expanding that way. Yeah how does that compare to like how you think about growth in like taking one of those things like theme forest and you know, going just deeper there are growing like that that one thing because it seems like your company can grow in both. Yes, that’s right.
Collis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think our early strategy was to get to the sort of one stop shop marketplace. And and although we’re focusing on media at the moment broadly, I think we have the the full gamut. Like I often sit around trying to think of what other new content things do we not sell. And the in this specific space of sort of creative marketing design development, I’m sorry, a share in this space where I think we’re mostly maxed out with we sell most things that top audience but one I think we could do a better job of some of them. And so our our focus in the market team at the moment lets you in advance. All right.
Brian: I’ve had bad timing.
Collis: Of the leaks that didn’t get the camera. And yeah, our focus at the moment in Envato is is diving deeper in some ways. So where we’ve been working on some other specific issues for themes like support and stuff that would make theme selling awesome and same thing for media, I think that makes sense. And, and to some extent the diving deeper happens a bit from a content contributors. So even the time that we were busy going horizontal, our contributors saying WordPress themes were going deeper like the WordPress themes in 2008 when it started versus the WordPress themes that you can see on theme for us today are just like miles apart. They’ve they’ve really drilled into all the different types of things you can do with a WordPress theme, all the different categories of WordPress themes, add ons, all kinds of stuff. They’re super complex. When we first launched, I always used to say I could make a WordPress theme sell here these days. Like I got no chance there. And like the each. And the reason that happens is that that sort of market dynamic there’s like the top theme author has made over $4 million. So there are legitimate businesses in and of themselves.
Brian: How much that individual makers submit.
Collis: As the top sales are over 4 million there. There’s like 15, maybe closer to 20 people if. Passed $1,000,000 in sales? Pretty substantially. And you can see that there’s a lot of incentive to compete and figure out how to do better, more pack, more value and just kind of cool. And so that is a nice side effect of a marketplace dynamic is you you have more locally optimizing points. So, you know, each person on the marketplace is trying to be an entrepreneur and optimize their part of the market. And if you’re concentrating on the overall market, it’s quite, quite a powerful effect. Mm hmm.
Brian: Interesting. So you when you guys look at optimizing growth, do you guys focus on, like, a few key metrics or. And if so, like, what are those metrics? And do they differ from one property to another? Or what’s kind of your view on kind of analytics and metrics?
Collis: Yeah, so I I’ve always believed in having some level of metrics, though I’m generally more of an intuit. So I am I go a lot more on gut feel while having a, a general grasp of how things are going. So I don’t get me wrong, I look at sales and pricing and whatnot more or less daily. So are daily sales broken categories and the average price for getting the total revenue? All those kinds of things I look at more or less every day. I look at traffic less than I used to in the early years. I looked a lot of traffic conversion rates, how we’re getting from different sources of traffic. So, you know, what was search versus paid ads versus whatnot? These days, they’re most of those channels are owned by somebody. So, you know, the the marketing team has an email team in and a guy who’s in charge of SEO and another guy who’s in charge of the sort of blog content marketing of invert market. And so each of those guys or girls will be thinking about those specific metrics. For me, I tend to focus on revenue still, but at the same time, I’m a big believer in just kind of gut feel. I just think that gut feel comes from lots of experience and in the background, lots of numbers. But that sort of moment of intuition I think happens without. Yeah. I don’t know. Like, it’s like a B tests, right? I have this feeling like a B test will only ever get to you to a, like a local maximum. At some point, you need some intuition to jump into something completely different, and sometimes a completely different will be much better. But if you your AB test is mostly going to optimize within a certain space or segment. So I’m sort of a believer in both metrics, but with a bit of space for intuition.
Brian: Yeah, it’s interesting. Like I, I think there’s sites and you kind of see this in the debate on some of the blogs too. Like I think there’s very extreme extremes of thinking like pure, pure quantitative or qualitative. It’s like is, is, it is, is growth about being, you know, creative or being a scientist. And yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I mean, I, you know, I something I start with my team is like it’s it’s it’s neither one or the other. Like, you can you can get really trapped into some really hard negatives if you go too far in one direction. And it’s really about balancing those two things very like how do you how do you use the data to make informed, smart decisions by using kind of that qualitative feedback, that intuition that got about knowing your customer, knowing your channel to take smart risks and smart chances and and, you know, to do things that the data is not necessarily going to show you.
Collis: So, yeah, that’s so true. And I think that I often think that the less time you spend with the product, the more you need the data. So if you’re if you haven’t had that much exposure to the product in that sort of visceral way, having spoken to that, many people haven’t had time to get the things that you’re going to need for some of the more intuitive leaps. Then you need a more data and you need like when we get new people coming into the business, I often feel like I need to stress more, prove this thing to me, show me the numbers that back up your assertions. Often this like details in there but I think also with data. The other thing that I often think is that it’s complete data should be perfect in theory. However, there’s so many ways you can get it wrong. Oh yeah, you can make even whether it’s broken assumptions, correlation versus causation, or whether you just mis, you know, like sometimes it’s it’s as the other day we had this long debate about some metrics and support and operations. Turns out someone along the way had chosen the wrong column, like, you know, just some random spreadsheet. It wasn’t even like an important fail or anything. It was just like, you know, day to day, sometimes you miss something. And I think in those instances, no matter how much data you have, you don’t have that sort of intuition for a second and some cross-check like, you know, to just go, Well, wait a second, let’s actually make sense. You know, why would buyers want that thing? I think you’re you’re prone to making more database errors unless you’re, you know, data from Star Trek, which most of us aren’t.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, just just managing the data and making sure you’ve got clean good data to to make good analysis is just it’s a beast in itself. I remember a few weeks ago at the 500 Startups Growth Conference, so I believe it was James Currier from Google Labs who’s done a lot of marketplace stuff, a lot of social games. He’s kind of like a master in virality. And and he was really interesting. He said, like, especially in the early days, half of your engineering effort should go to data. And I was like, wow, like that’s, you know, there’s not too many people out there. You know, everybody talks about like really wanting to be able to collect this data and, you know, be data driven or data informed, like whatever your philosophy is. But I found very few people who have actually put the effort in the work into it to like really to really make it happen. So it was interesting that he came out and, and actually they gave like a ratio of time. Yeah.
Collis: So well, in our early years we didn’t put a lot of time as data like the standard data tools, analytics tools and whatnot.
Brian: But I think back in 2006, like things like Mixpanel and stuff didn’t even exist, right?
Collis: Yeah. I mean Google Analytics was a bit of a novelty even like there’s still plenty people who used its predecessor is. Yeah the these days it’s obviously become a lot more serious and it we’ve now got a business intelligence team of analysts who help support data driven or sometimes just check whether you have so many people make mistakes with data and it’s it’s actually run by. My brother is a Ph.D. in physics and helps a lot, and I’m just making sure that you don’t give yourself false confidence. You’re not like, Yeah, look, we’ve looked through the data. This is an awesome plan as you run off the cliff. But in those early days, we went a lot more on intuition and just basic data. Like I think if you don’t have a lot of data, it’s better to go off of just less clever metrics so you know, just more standard various conversions and whatnot. Because I definitely think you can unless you’re very strong in analytics, in which case ignore everything I’m saying. If you’re like a regular person, I think you can easily fool yourself into things or make mistakes or yeah, yeah.
Brian: So so what, what, if any, would you give advice to other people watching this entrepreneurs? Are there other growth related people? Just any general tips, advice on on all things related to growth?
Collis: Yeah, I look, I only really have one major difference is just to try everything. I don’t think and I’m sure you know, more or less every guest on growth that has probably said this, but I don’t think there’s a silver bullet and it really varies depending on what the businesses do over time. Kind of run a few different small businesses have ended up experimenting a lot on a few different ones and they’re all quite different and growing tons plus, which was much more about social media and content marketing because it was, it was literally content and getting, getting it out that looks quite different to and growing a marketplace, which just looks quite different to growing our Envato studio when we’re now six years in and have a big traffic audience that’s quite a different sort of thing to being bootstrapped with nothing. So I think it’s it is much more about trying many things and measuring to some extent and trying to optimize depending on I don’t think there’s a, you know, AdWords is nothing for everybody or a thing for everybody. Yeah, I think I’m a big believer in investing time and literally sampling every marketing technique you can get your hands on. And these days with the web, there’s so much material out there, you can easily write up a list of like 200 things to try inbound dot org. I always find interesting stuff there.
Brian: It’s trucks that is a HubSpot product. Just a disclaimer that that was not that was not a plan to plug finance. But I sat there watching. Yeah, I mean, it can almost be overwhelming just given the number of options and the number of options are like the number of channels out there are increasing. So it’s that that’s good on one hand or, you know, bad on the other hand. It’s just it’s overwhelming.
Collis: And it’s like, you know, you see the the Alice Ice Bucket Challenge that recently just swept the world. And I sometimes think, you know, if there were charities out there who are like, no, no, the standard way to build charity is to do certain types of advertising, whatever. They’d potentially miss out on something that it turns out to be the most successful campaign of all time. We get back in 2007, we launched this thing called Blog Action Day that ran for a few years, and we would get bloggers around the world on a single day to talk about a single topics that the first year was the environment. And, you know, we had everything from the White House blog to the Google blog and all participating. And that one had a completely different, you know, growth pattern and plan that was all about getting a few big names on board and using them to leverage other big names and using their audiences to leverage other audiences. So like not at all related to why we didn’t invite invited markets. And I think, as I say, you just kind of need to experiment, I think.
Brian: Yeah, interesting. Well, thank you so much for my time. If anybody wants to reach out to you, how should they do that?
Collis: Oh, send an email. Tell us about it. It gets a little overwhelming sometimes, but I usually get back to most things.
Brian: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for the time. Best of luck on your continued growth path and I hope everybody learned something today.
Collis: So cool. It’s been a pleasure.
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