Envato co-founder Collis Ta’eed is set to step down as chief executive of the startup he started 14 years ago, and as a parting gift, he’s dished out a record $3.75 million to employees through the startup’s 20% profit-sharing scheme.
During the business’ socially distant birthday celebrations, Ta’eed announced he will be stepping down at the end of 2020.
And, as if Melbourne’s strict stage four lockdowns haven’t given him enough family time, he’s now looking forward to joining his wife and Envato co-founder Cyan Ta’eed on her ethical chocolate venture Hey Tiger.
The Ta’eeds co-founded Envato back in 2006. Since then, it’s been bootstrapped and profitable since day one, and has grown into one of Melbourne’s most revered tech startups.
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It’s also consistently highly-ranked in lists of top Australian workplaces.
Despite accusations last year that the business was failing working mothers returning from maternity leave, in 2020, the startup made the 50 Best Places to Work list in 2020, for the seventh year running.
Making the decision to step down was not easy, Collis Ta’eed admits. But it’s also been a long time coming.
“I’ve been working on it for a super duper long time,” he tells SmartCompany.
“I think I told the business almost three years ago I was planning to leave.”
He’s taken his time because he wanted to get it right, “and not just rush into dropping the keys off with someone”, he adds.
“When you’ve been in a place for a very long time, there are a lot of things that end up being connected to you.”
Ta’eed’s been preparing to carefully hand over each role he holds, making sure all processes are properly documented and understood, and implementing a clear strategy for the future.
However, the co-founder knew the time was finally right as the business hit a milestone he’s been chasing for a while — $1 billion in community earnings.
“I thought we should be working towards closing that off, and then bringing in a new CEO who then starts off the next period,” he explains.
Unicorn or not?
This year also marks Envato’s biggest ever profit-sharing payout.
The startup first launched this scheme in 2016, when it distributed 5% of profits among staff members. That figure later increased to 10%. This year it’s been doubled again to 20%.
That equates to $3.75 million between about 600 people — approximately $6,000 each.
“Twenty per cent feels like the right number,” Ta’eed says.
For him, it’s a matter of fairness. As a bootstrapped, privately owned business with no exit on the horizon, there’s no employee share scheme to speak of.
“We want staff to feel like they share in the success the business generates — it’s effectively generated by them,” he explains.
“This year, particularly, we’re very fortunate to be in a position where the business is doing well at a time when a lot of people and a lot of businesses are struggling,” he adds.
Envato also donates 2% of its profits to charity. This year, “a chunk” of that has gone towards supporting people who have lost the jobs due to COVID-19, as well as international students and temporary visa holders who aren’t eligible for the government’s stimulus support.
“I’m mindful that this is a time when a lot of people were in a lot of uncertainty … I felt we were in a privileged position, and it was important that we followed through.”
It takes 10 seconds and an iPhone to calculate Envato’s $18.75 million operating profits for the 2019-20 financial year.
But, internally, Ta’eed says the team measures success by “impact metrics”, not dollars and cents. That is, how many customers it has, and the earnings of its community.
Although Envato is often dubbed an Aussie unicorn, Ta’eed says he couldn’t tell you the valuation of the business, even if he wanted to.
“Valuation metrics are driven by investment,” he says.
“Because there’s no need to raise funding and there’s no one buying or selling shares, it almost hasn’t mattered,” he explains.
“We just get to focus on the business fundamentals. Again, it’s a very privileged position to be in.”
When asked if, come the end of the year, he plans on taking some time out, perhaps having a holiday, Ta’eed laughs and agrees, “I really should”.
But, instead, he’s planning on joining his wife and long-time business partner Cyan to help out with Hey Tiger.
And, while the pair, like most Melbourne-based couples, have been seeing a lot of each other lately, he’s looking forward to working together again, too.
“I’ve long-envied that she’s been working on something where the product is physical and real and you can look at it,” he says.
“Envato sometimes is very challenging to explain,” he adds.
“But when you ask Cyan about Hey Tiger, she usually has a bar of chocolate in her handbag that she’ll pull out.”
The chocolate business has been scaling to a point where Collis’ analytical and financial mind could come in handy, he says.
And, at some point, lockdown is surely going to come to an end.
“It will be nice to know that we’ll still be hanging together,” he says.
“It’s not every couple’s dream to work together, but for us it is.”