Our 15-Year-Old Web Company Is Practically a Dinosaur in Internet Years. Here's How We Lasted So Long.
I hope that the lessons that I learned during my own career can help other startups achieve better results in what they do.
This summer, we celebrated the 15th anniversary of TemplateMonster. That is a really long term for a web development business. Over more than a decade of our history, we have seen both ups and downs. The strategies and techniques that we developed based on our own experience can teach others how to build their own brand identity, create a powerful team and secure the business from any type of fraud.
Every startup makes certain mistakes at the beginning, learns from those mistakes and keeps on making progress as a more experienced company develops. As the CEO of TemplateMonster, I saw how the company was launched and how it started becoming more popular and powerful. Here is what I have learned.
1. Automate and innovate.
TemplateMonster started as a small custom web design studio made up of three guys, along with a marketing specialist from the U.S., whose task was to find new clients and expand the customer reach. Our first web project brought us $70,000, which was an impressive sum of money back in the early 2000s. As we started to receive more orders, we noticed that it was really time- and effort-consuming to create web designs the way we did it back then. We spent too much time working on the enhancement of the projects, getting in touch with the clients over and over again. So, we started to think about other ways to automate and speed up the working process.
That's when our designer started working on pre-built elements for projects. Those were the first templates in the history of our company. At that moment, I thought that if a designer used those kind of pre-designed elements in his work, why not create something bigger out of it and give the web audience what they wanted? That's when TemplateMonster really started.
2. Don't celebrate success until it’s certain.
When we launched our startup, we had about 30 templates in our inventory. At that moment, we thought that we had done everything that we could in order to make the web community fall in love with us. So, we launched TemplateMonster and expected to receive a huge number of orders straight away. But nothing happened for about a week. Then all of a sudden we started receiving an incredible number of orders.
This was totally unexpected yet appreciated by our team that had just entered the market. However, as it turned out later on, we became subject to a fraud (more on that below). We had to rethink our security and learned a valuable lesson never to celebrate success until it’s certain.
3. Never outsource your strategic competency.
Gone are the days when there were only three members on our team. Today, there are more than 400 expert designers, coders, customer care and marketing specialists working at TemplateMonster. As we grew over time, the team became more numerous and skilled.
We learned from our own mistakes and successful accomplishments, but we never outsourced our strategic competency. There is a good saying that teaches us to learn from mistakes committed by other people. We saw other brands facing the problem of outsourcing and relied on our own internal resources heavily.
4. Always keep a loyal team with you.
TemplateMonster is a company that values every employee. During the first five years after its launch, TemplateMonster was focused mainly on releasing Flash-based websites, with sales of those products making up 87 percent of the overall revenue. However, the world of the web was changing rapidly. In 2007, the web community was impacted by the switch from Flash to HTML, which meant that we had to face major changes in our business strategy and the products we produced.
We had to make an important yet tough decision. We had a team of skilled pros specializing in Flash, but their skills were becoming useless. One possibility was to hire another team of HTML pros who would start developing HTML-based themes straight away. Ultimately, the decision was made to keep the former team and re-train them to accommodate the new technology. It took us more than a year to teach the team new skills, which also resulted in a loss in revenue. Still, the old team managed to handle the new skills, and once they were working at full strength they produced HTML templates that rivaled anything out there.
Moreover, those guys saw how Flash was evolving and how everything started, which helped us enhance our HTML template with cool animation effects that were done properly. Only people who worked with Flash could achieve this well.
5. Always have a good lawyer on the team.
Things did not go well all the time. At one point, we were at risk of our business collapsing. When we had only just started working in the web design industry and had begun making money with our templates, we were approached by a guy who was distributing pictures for web projects. He offered us a deal to include low-cost licenses to download his images into our themes, so that our clients could make use of them on their own sites. We agreed and made a deal. Our biggest mistake was not asking a lawyer to check if everything was OK with the agreement and the images.
As it turned out, that guy sold us images from another photo bank, which made exclusive photos for specific purposes. The photo bank found some images in our themes and filed a lawsuit, as part of which we had to pay more than $100 million for the illegal use of its licensed images in our themes. Thank God, we managed to settle everything and keep the company up and running. That’s when I learned to always have a good lawyer on the team.
6. Listen more, speak less.
This is the lesson that I learned when the web switched from Flash to HTML. At the time when Steve Jobs announced in public that Flash technology was dying out, we didn't pay too much attention. Though, in retrospect, we should, at that moment have made a decision straight away. As a result, we lost two years re-educating our staff.
7. Whatever you do, do it with passion.
Being an entrepreneur means being ready to face risks and knowing no limits. Unless you feel passionate about the things you do, you cannot concentrate on building a good business plan and a profitable marketing campaign. If you have faith in the things that you do, you may be certain that you have found your key to success.
8. Do not search for new ideas outside the company.
It is strictly the TemplateMonster team that generates new marketing ideas, approaches to building and distributing web promotion, etc. It’s better to let the team communicate internally and suggest new ideas based on the knowledge of the brand’s products and the possibilities of their further development. Generate game-changing ideas through discussion within your team and success will follow.
9. Go with your gut feeling.
There was one occasion where I messed up with what could have been a game-changing decision for TemplateMonster and our growth in general. If I could take that back, I would have done some things differently. However, no matter what decision I have ever made, I always followed my gut feeling.
10. Keep on developing all the time.
Never stop when a goal is achieved. As soon as you’ve reached a new high, keep looking for another one. The success that you experienced yesterday is already in the past. In order to stay as successful as you were yesterday and you are today, never stop developing and winning the hearts of the audience over and over again.
I hope that the lessons that I learned during my own career can help other startups achieve better results in what they do. Whatever industry you belong to, follow the example of the industry leaders, build your own strategies based on their example, be persistent in what you do, and success will follow.
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