Cyan Ta’eed is the co-founder of Envato, one of Australia’s most successful tech startups, and someone I’ve followed as a leader in tech for a number of years.
So when I heard earlier this year that she was starting a new social enterprise selling chocolate, I wanted to find out first hand why she was doing it, and how she was going to make it work.
Hey Tiger is now out there in the market and getting plenty of attention, having been featured widely across the media and racking up an impressively original and eye-catching presence on social media. It’s vegan, ethically sourced, with flavours made and tested personally by Cyan. I can also attest to the fact that the chocolate tastes very, very good — and makes an excellent thank you delivery to the people in your life you wish to express some gratitude to. It’s much better and more eatable than flowers.
I recently caught up with Cyan at the Envato office in Melbourne, just prior to the official launch of Hey Tiger. The conversation was recorded for the Women’s Agenda podcast.
We discussed everything from time management to working effectively, automation, the future of work, the few fucks we have to give in any single day, juggling work with two young boys, and why she’d move to launch a second major startup when her first is doing so well. Listen below, and check out some of the highlights further down the page.
From hard work to smart work
Thirteen year ago, Cyan started Envato with her partner Collis Ta’eed, while travelling around the world. They later ended up in Melbourne where they scaled the business into what the AFR once described as “one of the most profitable startups you’ve never heard of“.
But for Collis and Cyan that meant years of working really long hours.
Having their first child provided a wake-up call.
“Two months before our first child was born we were in an apartment, which was a five minute walk from where we worked,” says Cyan. “We literally just had a mattress on the floor, a TV, a couch and a turned over milk crate as a coffee table and that was it.
“There was no other indication that we were functioning adults, aside from our business.”
Having children made them actively decide to work smart, over working hard.
“We realised this can’t be an all consuming thing anymore, it has to be something that’s balanced with caring and being present for our kids.
“I think that was good training to help us wrap our heads around this work smart, maximise impact, type of philosophy.”
For Cyan, that meant rethinking the number of hours she had in a week to work and learning to allocate them carefully. She hired an assistant to help manage her calendar, and found she ended up learning a lot from her regarding how the time she was spending was affecting her performance in all areas of her life.
And a little later on, Cyan read The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck, which she also credits as being helpful in learning what she should and should not be prioritising.
“That was an incredible book for me in offering this concept that you only have so many fucks to give in your day, so what are you going to give them to? I realised I was spending a lot of time prioritising what other people needed, as opposed to what I needed.”
Deciding on something new
An eye-injury in 2016 forced Cyan into a tech detox for a period of time, given she was unable to look at screens.
And that also led to her finding the time and space to consider what next she wanted to do with her career.
“During that period, I didn’t have the input that one usually has,” Cyan says on not being able to use her phone or laptop. “With the technology we have available to use, it is possible to spend every waking moment receiving inputs. I think that periods of time where you don’t have those inputs is what really causes significant output.”
Cyan believes that having screen-free time helps you think, make major decisions and solve complex problems.
And her own lengthy stint of involuntary ‘no input’ time turned out to be more life-changing than expected. She realised that she loved the feeling of starting something new and wanted to put her energy into a different business from Envato. She also started researching social enterprises, and saw a space to get involved in one of her ultimate loves, chocolate, in an ethical way.
Cyan had been testing different chocolate flavours at home, and taking them into the Envato office for staff to try — without mentioning that she’d made them herself. She also travelled internationally to see how chocolate was being marketed in other countries, and saw an opening to specifically market chocolate to women in Australia.
Cyan stepped out of an operational role at Envato in order to focus on her new social enterprise, hiring a small team and office to ramp up production in Melbourne. Hey Tiger launched in March with 22 flavours.
Cyan says she uses a number of strategies to stay effective, including rolling to-do lists, and intentionally taking herself to a cafe or out of a team environment in order to spend a couple of hours on deep work.
“Random stuff just comes up all the time. I think you need to remove yourself from it, otherwise it’s really easy to be busy all day long without actually getting closer to your goals,” she says.
Cyan also has an app on her phone that reminds her five times a day that she’s going to die. Having experienced a life-threatening blood clot in her lung shortly after her second child was born, Cyan says it made her realise just how short life is — and so she likes receiving the frequent mortality reminders.
“You really need to appreciate what you’ve got right now and maximise your time. If there’s stuff you want to do, you can’t hold off. It gives me a great sense of perspective about work life balance,” she says.
It also helps in dealing with imposter syndrome, pushing her to accept the mantra that life’s short and who actually cares what other people think?
“If you really want to do something, go and do these things!”
Cyan offers plenty of great tips and ideas in our conversation. Listen below, and subscribe to the Women’s Agenda podcast on iTunes.