Startup Advice

Five tips for building the perfect startup team from Envato founder Cyan Ta’eed

Dinushi Dias /

Envato co-founders Cyan and Collis Ta'eed. Source: Supplied

Before it became one of the world’s largest creative communities and Australia’s coolest tech company for women, Envato was a tiny online site operating out of a garage.

Founders Cyan and Collis Ta’eed put everything on the line to build the startup, with the pair living in Cyan’s parent’s basement to work on what people at the time called a “bizarre” idea.

Ten years later Envato is a multi-award winning tech company operating some of the most trafficked sites in the world and generating millions of dollars in sales for creative professionals around the world.

Both founders have remained with the company, and Ta’eed’s focus on diversity, empowerment and flexibility has led Envato to be named Australia’s coolest tech company for women.

Getting to this stage has taken a lot of education, learning and self-confidence, Ta’eed says.

“For a long time we felt we were imposters,” she tells StartupSmart. 

“It took us a long time to realise that this business is building because of the decisions we’re making.”

Ta’eed says there are five key principles that help Envato to excel at people management.

1. Hiring for the future

Ta’eed says one of the ways she keeps Envato ahead of the curve is by hiring people now to meet future needs.

“You’ve got your one year runway, your two year runway and your five year runway,” she says.

“It’s thinking that far ahead about what am I going to need.”

Thinking ahead when hiring and structuring their teams has helped Envato grow smoothly, Ta’eed says.

“We got better at this over time,” she says.

“Hiring the heavy-hitters before we actually needed them.”

2. Being truly flexible

When it comes to flexibility at work, Ta’eed says it’s not simply about workers with child caring needs.

“We’re a completely flexible, results-driven work environment,” she says.

“When they work doesn’t matter and where they are doesn’t matter, what matters are their skills, their entrepreneurialism and their eagerness.”

By offering workers the freedom to pursue interests out of work, she says Envato has built a highly engaged and happy workforce.

“We haven’t found that people take advantage of it at all,” she says.

“They get to have lives out of work. We understand they need flexibility because stuff comes up.”

This “stuff” could be anything, Ta’eed says, from pursuing a sporting hobby and needing to go on tour through to taking the day off because your sewage pipes exploded.

“We’re living big lives, I personally want to hire people who are doing a lot of stuff,” she says.

But creating a flexible work environment that is highly functional takes strong leadership.

“People need active management and support especially at the size that we’re at,” she says.

3. Proactively learning how to manage people

Bringing the best out of people takes skill and experience, and to help her become a strong leader, Ta’eed undertook formal training to help her wrap her head around what it takes to empower people to thrive and be their best.

“Being a manager in and of itself is a really complex, high level thing to excel at,” she says.

“That’s taken years.”

4. Putting purpose at heart

The Envato leadership team actively tries to engage every employee in the Envato story.

“Our goal is quite simple, it’s to help as many people in the world earn as much money doing the things that they love,” she says.

“People who really get that and are really excited about that are the people we want to hire.

“It’s more about purpose than about profit, then you’ve got people that are really excited to go the extra mile.”

In today’s world, Ta’eed says it’s incredibly important to formally integrate “giving back” and purpose into the business.

“Give them a reason to get excited and get up in the morning,” she says.

5. Leading by example

Ta’eed says she also takes her leadership outside Envato to inspire young girls and women about the possibilities in tech.

Speaking to about 900 school girls recently, Ta’eed said technology today enables people of all different backgrounds to create impact on a global level.

“You can start something out of your living room and it can reach an international audience,” she says.

“Starting in our garage and growing to 7 million members, that’s one in 1000 people in the world, that scale is unprecedented in the whole of human history.”

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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