We talked about TemplateMonster, web design, industry trends, entrepreneurship, business, management, Weblium, and his other projects with David Braun.
If you needed a ready-made website template at some point in your life, you probably have heard TemplateMonster brand at least once. For those who have never heard, TemplateMonster is one of the leading providers of website templates for multiple CMS and eCommerce platforms. Their inventory includes themes for all types of business niches. The company serves millions of customers from all over the world.
Our guest today is David Braun from New York City, NY, USA / Kiev, Ukraine. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of TemplateMonster. He is a well-known serial IT entrepreneur. He has launched numerous IT projects and invested in multiple projects. He is also a passionate social activist in the development of the local small businesses.
Welcome to Worth Of Web Academy!
Please tell our readers about yourself. We would like to learn more about your background and your life before starting a web design studio.
I was born in Georgia. When I was 11, my family had to leave the hometown because of the war in Abkhazia. So, we moved to Ukraine where I finished my academic studies in the beginning of 2001. When I was studying at the university, I met an entrepreneur from the US, who later on became the co-founder of TemplateMonster. Back then, he was looking for a team of young and talented specialists who would be able to handle web projects for the US customers. I agreed to become part of the team with a couple of friends of mine. The first project that we launched was priced at $7,000, which was a huge sum of money for those times.
In 1998, you started a small local web design studio. There you faced the problem: you were unable to please all the customers, as they all wanted a custom design for an affordable price. With the limited team you have, you could not reduce the prices. That was the point where the idea of creating and selling ready-made templates was born. What were your first steps to execute that idea? How were initial reactions from your team and clients when you first mentioned the idea? Do you remember your first client who used your templates?
Once I saw a designer from our team working with some kind of ready-made elements, which he later on used in his projects. I noticed that doing so he automated his workflow to a great degree, managing to produce a number of designs at the same time. As we were very busy with the huge number of orders but lacked time and resources, we decided to apply the same approach to the process of the site creation. That was the time when we launched our first website template. That was Microsoft FrontPage template that was downloaded for more than 10,000 times. Compared to the modern-day designs, it looked simple and too basic. Still, we were proud of it since it met the demands of the audience well enough.
May 2002. Elon Musk just founded SpaceX. No iPhone. No Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. WordPress, Joomla, Magento were not founded. Imagine a tech scene without Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Skype and countless others that we take for granted today. Yet the official website of TemplateMonster has gone from beta to launch on May 24, 2002. Was that the perfect time to start your company? How was your mindset back then? Could you imagine that 15+ years later you will be still around and one of the leaders of the market?
I believe yes. We were probably the first company that started producing templates for websites. We introduced the community to PSD themes and Flash-based templates, which (I think) have revolutionized the web people who craft web designs. Back in 2002, I felt very enthusiastic about the things that we were doing. We started as a team of 10. I couldn’t have even imagined that we would grow that big! Still, I felt confident that our products would be in demand in many consecutive years.
How many people work for TemplateMonster now? Where are your offices located? How is a typical working day for you and your team? Please tell more about your company culture.
There are more than 200 people in our team. We have offices located in three large cities of Ukraine. Most of us work 8 hours per day, with a couple of breaks for rest and dinner included. We have a very rich and fun corporate culture. TemplateMonster family participates in the sports events, contests, quests, etc. We also have a good tradition to celebrate holidays together.
Hundreds of people who speak different languages, live in different time zones, have different backgrounds. How to hire, train and manage the staff so that everyone can have your company mindset? Are you applying any special management and training techniques?
Every new member of our team is more than just an employee who comes to work 9 to 5. No matter if a person works in the office or remotely, we try to create a friendly environment where people can focus on the growth, development, and realization of their creative ideas. Since the launch of TemplateMonster, we have managed to create our own corporate style and ethics. We are a big family, where you can dream big and aim higher. We support one another. We are always ready to come for help and share skills/experiences with new colleagues. In the big TemplateMonster family, one can always find support whenever needed.
When you first started, you were selling PSD templates only. But in those days, you had little to no competition. You sailed from that “blue ocean” to today’s “red ocean”. How does your company compete with others? How do you set prices for your products and services compared to your competitors?
TemplateMonster is proud to have one of the most numerous collections of ready-made designs on the web. It’s hardly possible to find other theme providers selling themes for every CMS and eCommerce platform imaginable. Every theme that we sell is due to the detailed review before it goes live. Moreover, TemplateMonster has recently become a marketplace and we welcome all creative and skilled designers and web design agencies to sell their products on our platform also. We set the cost of each individual item based on the functionality that it stores under the hood. Products of the higher quality are priced higher. Moreover, our themes also include custom extensions, niche skins, and other additional features at no cost. So, by downloading a website template you attain more than just a pure ready-made design but a full-fledged web solution that is ready to go live with some minor adjustments.
“One of the most popular mistakes that many businesses make at the launch of their web project is building sites and writing texts for machines rather than real people. Whenever a person reaches your site, he/she shouldn’t get lost in the complicated structure of the pages and strange words or phrases that you use in every piece of your site. Instead, make them feel like home when they reach your site. Make your texts simple and easy-to-follow.”
– David Braun
How important is customer support for you? How much of your resources are used for it?
Free 24/7 support – this is one of the top reasons why customers choose our themes. It’s highly important for us to make sure that people manage to install and manage our digital products perfectly well. You should know that TemplateMonster became a marketplace in August 2017. From now on, we are proud to have 20+ skilled professionals working in the 24/7 Marketplace Customer Service team.
There was a point where most of your revenue was from selling templates for Flash-based websites. However, switch from Adobe’s Flash to HTML was inevitable. In 2010, Steve Jobs announced that Flash technology was dying out with his “Thoughts on Flash” letter. It only increased the speed of this dying process. I believe it was a painful major change for your company. How and when did you handle this issue?
Those were tough times for TemplateMonster. At that moment, the total number of sales generated from Flash-based themes made up 80% of the total revenue. This meant that we were about to lose our company unless we went for any kind of changes.
That was the moment when we had to decide whether to hire a new team or train our own staff. We chose the latter. The biggest part of the team stayed with us and started mastering new skills. It took us 2 years to re-educate the team, that’s an impressively long period of time for a company working in the web design industry. We lost millions of dollars, that’s true. However, I do not regret this decision. I kept the loyal team with me, which paid off in the long run.
You experienced frauds, DDoS attacks, blackmailing, piracy. You even faced a $100 million lawsuit over copyright infringement. What has been the greatest challenge in your business life?
We’ve faced so many challenges indeed. The lawsuit that you’ve mentioned probably was one of the most complex issues that we’ve ever faced. Back then, we didn’t have a qualified lawyer in our team, so we once made a mistake and signed an agreement with a provider of stock images who turned out to be an unreliable one. That was the time when TemplateMonster almost lost its domain name. As you understand, for a web design company losing its name equals to death. Luckily, we managed to settle down everything and keep our domain name. Now, our lawyer checks every agreement carefully before it’s signed.
All the things we discussed above, I am amazed. I think what German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche said: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” but even in ideal conditions only one of these problems can kill a company. In your case, you built your business again and again and again, and you are still one of the top players in the industry. What is your secret?
I am passionate about the things that I do. My personal philosophy is to do your job with love and passion or quit it. Only by following such a scenario you will be able to achieve a success.
If you could borrow the DeLorean from Doc Brown and make a journey to May 24, 2002, what advice would you give to younger David?
If I could turn back time, I would recommend the younger David to listen to the industry leaders and trendsetters more carefully. For example, the moment when Steve Jobs announced that Flash would be dead soon, we didn’t pay too much attention to his words. However, if we started to re-think our strategy and re-educate the team earlier, we could have started to release new and competitive products earlier than we did.
I would also give myself an obvious yet pretty useful advice to work with the smart people and keep them in the team whatever it takes you.
“TemplateMonster has never dealt with outsourcing. I watched the experience of other companies working in the web design industry and I realized that in my company I need to feel confident that a designer from a WordPress team (for example) who creates dozens of cool and popular projects monthly won’t leave for a competitor all of a sudden. It’s a good quality to be reasonably lazy: instead of IT outsourcing, one should better count on creating a breakthrough mass product.”
– David Braun
What is popular now on TemplateMonster? Which CMS and eCommerce products are on the rise? What are current trends in web design industry?
WordPress themes are in the biggest demand among our audience. However, Joomla-based web design doesn’t lag behind either. As per eCommerce designs, those are Shopify and WooCommerce themes that are on the rise.
One of the most popular tendencies on the contemporary web is building websites with the help of visual composers. The multipurpose design is on the rise as well. Both of these techniques can be found in the top-selling themes from TemplateMonster.
What do you think about the future of the internet, web design and web templates? How can developments in machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc., change the landscape of your industry?
There is a growing trend of automation and simplification. More and more often we can come across ready-made themes that are integrated with drag-and-drop page builders. In fact, the number of such solutions also grows in the gallery of TemplateMonster. There is no need to be a coder or a designer to create your own web projects. All this can be achieved intuitively as you simply work in the visual page editor.
As per the virtual reality, there are already a number of cool web design projects that make a visitor feel like he is a part of the scene that he sees on the screen. I believe that we will see more cool and innovative approaches to the website creation being presented in the near future.
What is next for you and for TemplateMonster? Any new ideas or projects to pursue? Will TemplateMonster invest more in a marketplace model? Will we see more of multipurpose themes?
You have probably heard the news that TemplateMonster has become a marketplace. We welcome all creative designers and web design agencies to become part of the growing community of the web developers and start earning up to 70% commission from each digital product sold at templatemonster.com. We also plan to expand the inventory with new types of products, as well as continue releasing more of the feature-rich multipurpose website templates compatible with the most popular web platforms. We also keep a hand on the pulse of the latest web innovations and won’t miss a chance to try something new.
You are delivering affordable templates which are optimized for SEO and performance. You have made the first part easy for everyone with your products and services. However, the hardest part comes right after installing the template to the website; the need for visitors, leads, and sales. You probably have talked to thousands of online business owners. What are the common mistakes that you frequently observe? What are your suggestions for our readers at this stage?
One of the most popular mistakes that many businesses make at the launch of their web project is building sites and writing texts for machines rather than real people. Whenever a person reaches your site, he/she shouldn’t get lost in the complicated structure of the pages and strange words or phrases that you use in every piece of your site. Instead, make them feel like home when they reach your site. Make your texts simple and easy-to-follow. Also, do not forget to use the right tools and keywords to optimize the pages of your site and make them more findable in the World Wide Web. Those business owners who do not know how to get started or simply do not have time for the learning curve can always rely on the help of TM Service Center. A team of skilled web design experts will help you install and customize the chosen theme in less than 24 hours.
You have used affiliate programs to develop your businesses. What do you recommend to both sides involved in affiliate marketing? What are the best practices if you want to create an affiliate program or if you want to be an affiliate marketer?
Affiliate marketing is a great way to earn money while re-selling or simply promoting products & services developed by other companies. As a developer of ready-made themes, TemplateMonster provides lucrative money-making opportunities to the affiliate partners. In fact, becoming a TemplateMonster affiliate, you are provided with everything needed to introduce your audience to our products, promote themes, and start earning revenue from each sale. TemplateMonster Affiliate program offers a progressive commission plan, which means that the more themes you sell the more revenue you will earn.
Speaking about the recommendations to those people who want to join affiliate marketing programs, look through the terms and conditions carefully before you decide to partner with any company. Pay attention to the products/services that you will promote. Are those made of the highest quality? Will your customers regret choosing the promoting items? How honest can you be with your clients? And finally, will you be able to earn enough becoming their affiliate partner? Simply keep these questions in mind when choosing a company with which you’d like to partner.
“That was the moment when we had to decide whether to hire a new team or train our own staff. We chose the latter. The biggest part of the team stayed with us and started mastering new skills. It took us 2 years to re-educate the team, that’s an impressively long period of time for a company working in the web design industry. We lost millions of dollars, that’s true. However, I do not regret this decision. I kept the loyal team with me, which paid off in the long run.”
– David Braun
What is your approach to outsourcing?
TemplateMonster has never dealt with outsourcing. I watched the experience of other companies working in the web design industry and I realized that in my company I need to feel confident that a designer from a WordPress team (for example) who creates dozens of cool and popular projects monthly won’t leave for a competitor all of a sudden. It’s a good quality to be “reasonably lazy”: instead of IT outsourcing, one should better count on creating a “breakthrough” mass product. Our team is made up of 200+ full-time contractors working in our offices in Ukraine.
You were away from your business for a while, but nevertheless, TemplateMonster continued to grow. How automated your systems are? Have you experienced any difficulties managing the company remotely? Have you worked on any projects overseas during this period?
Since the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, I was away from the business. I was really worried about my own relatives and friends and all the other people who live in Ukraine, so I joined forces with other entrepreneurs, and built one of the most successful volunteer platforms that raised over $10 million during 1 year. Back then, I didn’t even check in the office. I didn’t check my business email either. I forwarded all of my duties to one of my associate who managed to take control of the things within the company perfectly well.
You have a new business venture: Weblium. Could you tell us about this project? What is your growth plan for Weblium? Will it operate in line with TemplateMonster?
Weblium is one of the most innovative page builders from TemplateMonster. This is more than just a web template. This is a website concept that will help you get the most out of your online resource. We have already started to release Weblium website concepts that come loaded with everything needed to build a full-fledged web resource and even more. Such themes also include hosting, storage, domain name, and a rich collection of images are included for free. Absolutely simple and intuitive to tweak even for the non-techies. 14-day free trials and 24/7 support are included. The collection of such templates already includes a dozen of ready-made digital products suited for different purposes. We will continue expanding it with new concepts alongside with other themes from TemplateMonster.
Demetrio Fortman, a New-York based web developer and entrepreneur, is the COO of TemplateMonster and Founder of MotoCMS. You have invested in his project MotoCMS and other projects like Photodoto, Site2you, Designfloat. While wearing the investor hat, have you missed any opportunities? Any regrets? What do you wish you had done differently?
No way. I’ve never regretted being an investor of such projects MotoCMS, Photodoto, Site2you, and other. I have a strong belief that a good businessman should be focused on running projects that belong to one niche and help other businesses to develop.
Is there a book, movie, event, workshop, etc. that changed your life? Any suggestions? Do you have mentors, idols or role models?
That’s the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos who inspires and motivates me. When he was only starting his career, he also launched a startup and started to look for investors, and communicated the craziest ideas in a way that everyone listened to him and believed in what he was talking about.