The world is filled with endless stories about new ways to achieve your goals. Modern books, fashion magazines, personal blogs and popular web pages are filled with encouraging articles and motivating stuff. But how can you differentiate true experience from lies? The best way is to ask a real person, who has already walked through this path to the top of the world! And one such person is David Braun, the creator, and man behind TemplateMonster. David Braun is the co-founder of the worldwide known company TemplateMonster and is a native of Ukraine. Through his sound technical expertise and hard work, he has been able to raise a successful company.
About Template Monster
This company was founded in 2002 and since its inception around 14 years ago, it has become one of the world leaders in the web templates selling business. As a matter of fact, Ilya Kenigstein estimates the cost of the start-up in $ 100 million. Moreover, it’s hard to find people who would not have heard about this project among experienced web developers. The number of templates sold is estimated at millions, and the monthly attendance of the site exceeds 5 million people from around the world.
TemplateMonster is considered to be one of the most popular theme providers all over the world, but earlier it was hidden. For a long time, only “dedicated” knew that this company was created by Ukrainians and in Ukraine. However, the whole business was built in the US, and most of the customers were not from the countries of the former USSR. Now, TemplateMonster expands its local divisions and opens a full-fledged office in Kiev. The history of the growth of this company was told to us by its co-founder and CEO David Braun, known to many Ukrainians as the creator of the crowd-hosting platform for Volunteer projects ‘People’s Project’. Recently, our team at Business Alligators got a chance to interview David Braun. Below are some excerpts from the interview.
Que- David, what actually made you get into the Template Business?
David- As you can know, we started in one of the most police cities in the country – Mykolaiv. And the main task for our IT specialists was there – not to let know that they are from Mykolaiv. Initially, we were a pretty successful web design studio. And I was not even its founder. Fairly speaking, I knew very little about Internet business. In the studio, we had popular customers, but this business could not be scaled. So, we decided to sell some sort of packaged factory product and propel our business to a brand new level. But we had no ideas, which particular type of product.
One of our designers used in Photoshop his own hand-drawn library of drawing elements, which allowed him to quickly sketch the layouts. And we did not even know that it was called “a template” – for the first time we faced this term from the directory on Yahoo, as Google was not popular yet. However, at that time our level of English was low.
In 2002, we decided to try to sell these templates as Photoshop files. It turned out that we did have one competitor – 4emplates.com, but they sold low-quality designs. Literally, our designer drew much better. He created templates, and we divided them into three categories: “bronze”, “silver” and “gold”, quickly launched the website and posted on the Internet. We were just five people at the time. That was the very beginning.
Que- Why did you decide to choose the name ‘TemplateMonster’?
David- Actually, one of our web-designers was crazy about the concept of a monster. He always drew various cute and terrible monstrous creatures, so we decided to use his idea. Also, we could name it the ‘MonsterTemplate’, but the company was already in progress, so we left the name.
Que- Can you describe the company in numbers?
David- Of course. In fact, hundreds of thousands of ready-made themes have been turned into flourishing websites which exist nowadays. By this time we had served more than a million website owners and web-developers. Taking into account that we were established in 2004 as a company providing pre-made website templates, this number may seem large, but we plan to achieve even greater stages. At this very moment, we have several hundred people working in TemplateMonster.
Also, we have more than one thousand WordPress responsive templates, almost 2,000 templates MotoCMS HTML5, more than a thousand Joomla templates and hundreds of topics Drupal, Magento, JigoShop, OpenCart, WooCommerce, and Shopify. Besides, we provide our clients with a great number of profitable subscription plans and other special offers. And this list is not complete.
Que- Which marketing tools helped you to improve your business and how has TemplateMonster changed in 15 years?
David- We started with a really clumsy marketing, which, however, worked. Due to the fact that there was no good Internet, employees went through Internet directories and manually collected various businesses and their email addresses.
In the evening, it was all sent by mail to The Bat via Dial-up. The message was in the spirit: “Hello, we found your site massage parlor, and its design leaves much to be desired. Come to us, we have 30 design options.” And, surprisingly, it really worked! Thus, we reached self-sufficiency. But really strong growth has given a start of the partner program.
At that time, site owners had very limited opportunities in monetization: either to sell banners, or participate in gray programs (casino or adult) or Amazon, but there was very low interest.
The thought came: why not let anyone open their ‘TemplateMonster’ under their own brand? We did all the operations: they called on his behalf, confirmed payments, sent products, etc., and website owners received a percentage. Any person is always closer to the idea of his or her own business, so it worked. For three years we have accumulated over 270 thousand affiliate-partners around the world. As a result, on Google request “templates” or “web-templates” the first three pages consisted of us or our affiliates. And we did ourselves all the topics. In fact, for 3 years our business has grown 30 times. It was the year 2007.
Que- Were there any troubles on your way? Or everything was smooth sailing? How did you manage a lawsuit of $100 million and tackled such a huge financial loss?
David- Surely, we had some problems, and as you can see we managed to deal with them. For example, one day a man came to us in AOL Messenger and asked to call “someone of the main”. He said he represents the hacker group Asian Dub Foundation and demanded an unlimited access to our website. Surely, we refused. For this, they received the so-called DDoS-Jihad. And one of the largest providers in the world, specializing in protection from DDoS, refused to work with us. No matter how hard we tried, we could not fight back.
In the end, we received an offer from a Moroccan guy who said: “Guys, come and stay with us, and everything will be fine.” We went over to him – and everything disappeared. Three years later, the FBI came to the data center with him, after which we found out that they were also DDoS-or, stimulating demand. In point of fact, we paid them about $ 30-40 thousand a month for DDoS-protection.
After that, in 2010, 85% of our revenue generated products based on Flash. And then Steve Jobs decided that Flash no longer needed to appear on the market. We did not take it seriously at first. But for half a year, sales have almost disappeared – our revenues fell by 75%, and 80% of products were irrelevant for the market. Can you imagine that situation? At that time, we already had more than 200 employees, most of them in production, and most of them are Flash-specialists. To solve this problem, we decided that since we raised all these people, we will not fire them, but we will retrain them into HTML coders.
Frankly speaking, it required a lot of time and performance and quality of the templates have dropped. De facto, we lost almost a year and market positions. We decided that it seems that business is coming to an end. It was one of the most difficult periods of the company’s existence, but we overcame it. E ultimately regrouped, changed the focus and product strategy. Now, we have a great experience on how to deal with obstacles and keep doing our best.
Que- As can be seen, TemplateMonster was stable. How did you come to the decision to sell your template company?
David- A little earlier we managed to strike a deal with WordPress and become its official vendor. I went to Matt Mullenweg, we agreed with him, but later we had to stop cooperation because they decided to work only with the providers of templates for the GPL-license. And for us, it was unacceptable because of the forced inheritance of licensing conditions for commercial photobanks, which we used.
Then we began to expand to other platforms, and first of all opensource: Magento, Prestashop, ZenCart, OS Commerce, Joomla, etc. In other words, we became a multi-platform provider of ready-made templates. We analyzed Google trends, watched what was growing, and jumped in there. After that, we began to tighten the competition. At first, there were about seven small competitors, but then for 3 years, there were about 700. The market really went crazy. We did not even have enough time to follow them. Each week there appeared two or three new competitors.
At that time we had about 35-45 thousand templates, and competitors made 10 templates but gave the unlimited subscription to their products. We were opposed to this model of subscription work because it devalued the product itself. Talking about these earnings patterns is similar to the discussion around iTunes or the sale of books by subscription. At the same time, the senior partner of the project fell seriously ill, and we all got distracted by his treatment. Then the Maidan began.
Therefore, in 2013 we decided to sell the company to the American private equity fund. We have signed a seven-year management contract with them. That is, I have to work 7 years from the date of sale.
Que- Which of TemplateMonster’s themes you can name the best ones? Are there any bestsellers or top-rated products in the peculiar categories?
David- As you can notice, we provide high-quality responsive themes both for website owners directly and for web-developers. So, we have perfectly designed templates for all famous CMS. Actually, TemplateMonster offers a wide range of eCommerce themes, PSD templates etc. During the last time, we focused on universal and multifunctional templates, which will please all customers. As an example, I can name Monstroid for WordPress,
Eveprest for PrestaShop,
Jumerix for Joomla and so on.
Que- Also, you have announced that TemplateMonster has already become an open digital marketplace. What was the reason?
David- All this time we did the templates ourselves and did not want to go into the marketplace model. ThemeForest was our affiliate, and they had a freelance exchange Freelance Switch. They made a templates store there. And after a few months, they launched their own marketplace, the themes for which freelancers did. In the end, now they are market leaders, and we are right behind them. But, at the same time, there is a significant difference between us: standardization and support 24/7 and a lifetime warranty, which they cannot boast of.
Nevertheless, the modern market forced us to change, and in 2017 we became an open marketplace. In addition, we have gone to 43 countries with localizations. Our investors did not want to include Ukraine in this list, but due to the fact that we are in Ukraine, we practice with the help of blackmail forced the founders to change their minds. In fact, their analysts do not see the market here, because, from their point of view, the Ukrainian market is very small. Therefore, we agreed that we are funding the creation of a unit in Ukraine ourselves. First, we want to prove that there is potential here. Secondly, we want to show that Ukraine is a separate market with separate consumer tastes and preferences. Because it was previously thought that TemplateMonster.ru is the whole of the CIS.
Que- What plans you have for the future? What will be your next step to succeed?
David- First of all, we will make a website, support, and dispatch in Ukrainian. The second stage will be the localization of the topics themselves. The third stage – maybe we will find the Ukrainian software engine, under which it will make sense to make a separate product.
Half of our customers are web developers who make sites on order, and the other half are users who make websites for themselves. Our total cumulative rate: over 15 years we have provided our products to more than 1.5 million customers.
Now we are starting to open up to third-party developers and designers and accept templates made not only from us. So far this is a system only invited. We will have a certain quality index of developers’ products and its support. In the future, we want to accept templates from all, but they will be ranked by this index, and the user will decide whether to buy a template from this developer or not.