The co-founder of tech giant Envato and two other fledgling businesses, Hey Tiger and Milkshake, shares her biggest lessons from building a major business and then starting again from scratch.
- Name: Cyan Ta’eed
- Business names: Envato; Hey Tiger; new venture Milkshake
- Industry: Technology, social enterprise
- Number of employees: Envato, 500–1,000; Hey Tiger, 17; Milkshake, 12
- Operating since: 2006, 2018 and 2019, respectively
What was your first paid job?
Working in a local chicken and chips shop — I am still very good at cutting up chickens, and am an expert at chip sampling!
What made you get into your current business?
I was always interested in starting a business. From Envato to Hey Tiger to my current project, Milkshake, I’ve started projects by following my gut about a business opportunity that I find interesting.
Generally, if I can find what I think is a hole in the market, and I have a vision in my head of what it could be like (that feels really exciting), then I know I might be on to something.
How did you get your very first customer?
We just put the product out into the world! We put the first Envato marketplace live, posted about it on some forums we were on and told people we knew… and we got our first $10 sale on the first day.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
Launching Hey Tiger to critical success. It was so different to what I’d done at Envato, and I was terrified.
Seeing people respond so quickly and positively to the brand gave me the confidence that Envato wasn’t a one-off success, that I could develop another business in a completely different space and it would resonate with people.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Not trusting my gut when it came to hiring people. While it’s important not to complicate unconscious bias with your gut, I used to sometimes take the “it all looks good on paper” approach over my instincts.
I’m a lot better at listening to it now and knowing what to look for in the people I’m going to work with.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
Really stretching yourself and genuinely finding what you’re capable of — and what you’re not. The ability to create something from scratch and be a part of guiding that business forward is a real privilege and something I’m always grateful for.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad would always say that the secret of success in life is to keep showing up, again and again. I think this is particularly useful advice when you’re dealing with failure; if you can keep picking yourself up, getting back out there and continuing with your purpose, you’ll outlast everyone else.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
Being able to flick between the big-picture thinking and the day-to-day of running a business can be difficult for me. I wish I could have a switch where I could just flick on (and off) the big-picture thinking whenever I wanted to.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
People who have really baked in the “why” to their business, especially when their why is related to the common good.
Richard Branson is a clichéd response, but I look up to the way he’s let his interests guide where he goes, and that often includes some component of “doing good”. It’s about being better and being people-centric — that’s the consistent theme of the people I find interesting.
What do you do to get away from work?
Lately, I’ve been really trying to spend more time in nature, particularly with my kids (and my husband and our two hyper puppies). I can’t ever switch my phone off when I’m away from the kids, but when we’re together, I put it away or switch it off as much as I can. It makes a lot of difference to all of us.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
I trained to be an opera singer until I was 18!
What is the funniest thing you have come across in business?
The first time we started doing staff engagement surveys at Envato, one of the biggest complaints from the team was that our toilets only had one-ply toilet paper. It came up repeatedly.
So when we presented back to the team at the all-company meeting, we introduced the “two-ply initiative” to a lot of excitement. Sometimes it’s the little things!
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.