Clementine Paddleford said “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” Whenever I need some encouragement or I’m feeling tired, I have a wishbone necklace that I wear to remind me that “if it is to be, it is up to me!” I always remembered Richard Branson saying that when he feels overwhelmed or things aren’t going right, he doesn’t give up, he just rests. That advice has helped me find the right path many times. Generally if you go take a break, you recharge and rethink. My father always told me that old Woody Allen quote “80% of success is showing up.” It drove me nuts as a teenager, but I think there’s so much to be said for just plugging away, day after day. I meet a lot of startup entrepreneurs these days, at every stage of their business journey, and the ones who really excel at entrepreneurship are just tenacious. Tenacity is key.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Cyan Ta’eed, co-founder of Envato, the world’s largest design marketplace, and Hey Tiger, an Australian social enterprise chocolate company. Cyan started Envato in 2006 from her parents garage with her co-founder and husband Collis Ta’eed, and these days splits her time between that and Hey Tiger, a chocolate social enterprise funding community development projects in West Africa.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Why did you found your company?
I was born in New York but moved to Sydney, Australia when I was three. I never knew what I wanted to do with my life but I came from a very creative family so I trained and started working as a graphic designer. I lasted three months in that role before I left to do my own freelance design work. After a couple of years, at 26, I decided to start a creative digital marketplace with my husband, Collis. We set up in my parents’ garage and thought, at best case, it would pay for us to do a bit more traveling. Today, Envato employs over 400 people and has helped our community of creatives earn over $700 million. I launched Hey Tiger this year because I wanted to see a chocolate company that truly fulfilled women’s chocolate dreams. I had been obsessed with chocolate for a long time and made it a hobby, and when I discovered what a destructive industry it actually is for most of the cocoa farmers that grow it, I realized what a broken industry it actually is. It felt so wrong that something that gives me and every woman I know so much pleasure is responsible for so much hardship and injustice in West Africa. So I decided to launch a chocolate social enterprise — despite having no idea how to do it!
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We launched Envato thinking we’d be the “little guy” — our stock photography competitors were taking up to 90% of the proceeds of each photo sold, leaving 10% for the photographer who actually took the photo. As the daughter of a photographer, this seemed so unfair. As Envato grew we lowered our cut per sale as often as we could, and I believe it created real pressure on the rest of the stock industry. These days, Envato sellers earn up to 80% of each sale, and the rest of the industry has moved for the better, happily. As an employer we were the first tech company in Australia to release our gender diversity statistics, and were leaders in projects to get more women into tech. We were one of the first tech companies to go 100% flexible, and are known for diversity and inclusion in Australia. We have a fully paid apprentice developer program where women can take on fully paid roles working with a full time mentor to learn on the job and become developers. We realized if the pipeline was a major problem for tech companies we wanted to develop ways of impacting that.
Hey Tiger’s chocolate is completely ethically sourced, and each bar sold funds community development projects in Ghana. Up to 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, and most farmers are living under the poverty line. This is a multi-billion dollar industry which relies on exploiting farmers. Forced child labour is a reality of the cocoa trade, as is farmers unable to feed their families. We’re a social enterprise which means we’re owned by a charitable trust and I don’t take any kind of salary. We’re four months since launch and have already donated $25,000 to vital projects like early childhood education, sustainable farming practices, immunizations, and micro loans.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
My father has been a key mentor in my life. He decided he wanted to be a photographer when he was 6 and pursued it with a focus and joy that you rarely see. He worked at Time and Fortune before switching to corporate photography when my family moved to Australia. He always gives me great advice — mostly revolving around being brave and doing the hard things!
I have a peer mentoring group made up of some of the most successful businesswomen in Australia, and I find them invaluable. Generally one or more of them have done the thing I’m grappling with and will be able to give great advice. They’re wonderful people and have each other’s back.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Honestly, just getting Hey Tiger to scale the way I want it to scale, and have the impact I want it to have will be the work of years!! I want Hey Tiger to be a force for good in the chocolate industry — but that’s going to take a while!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Clementine Paddleford said “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” Whenever I need some encouragement or I’m feeling tired, I have a wishbone necklace that I wear to remind me that “if it is to be, it is up to me!”
I always remembered Richard Branson saying that when he feels overwhelmed or things aren’t going right, he doesn’t give up, he just rests. That advice has helped me find the right path many times. Generally if you go take a break, you recharge and rethink.
My father always told me that old Woody Allen quote “80% of success is showing up.” It drove me nuts as a teenager, but I think there’s so much to be said for just plugging away, day after day. I meet a lot of startup entrepreneurs these days, at every stage of their business journey, and the ones who really excel at entrepreneurship are just tenacious. Tenacity is key.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
I read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight on a plane and spent the whole time going through my life inch by inch to figure out where I was shifting the dial for me and where I wasn’t. I am a “people pleaser”, and this book really helped me to focus on what made life meaningful for me and how I could spend my time being more effective in that pursuit.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Richard Branson. He has effortlessly moved between industries and the spirit with which he does business resonates with me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m at cyan.taeed on Instagram and @cyantaeed on Twitter!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!