Introduce yourself and tell us about Creative Tim?
My name is Alex Paduraru and I’m one of the 2 co-founders of Creative Tim. Creative Tim is a platform where web developers can find UI Kits and Templates for their next project. In the future, Creative Tim will be a community where developers and web designers will collaborate to create UI Kits & Templates.
What difficulties did you face when starting and how did you overcome them?
In the beginning, it was difficult, we just graduated and were dependent on our parents. We didn’t have a job or an investment from somebody. So we started, as an agency, to do some web projects for different acquaintances in order to obtain some cash.
Then we saw that there were some web components (like login models, landing pages areas, date pickers, etc) which are repetitive for every project that we created and we thought that if we will share those elements, other web developers will use them too. So this is how Creative Tim started.
Getting the first users: It was hard because we did not have any Twitter Followers, Facebook Fans or Subscribers.
We started posting a lot of stuff about our web elements on different design forums. Nobody really understood what is the value that we can provide in order to improve their business,
We created a more complex product that will make people understand what we were doing. We launched Get Shit Done Kit, a UI Kit created on Bootstrap 3.
It appeared on Designer News and it was very popular for that period of time. We’ve got over 11.000 users coming from that source. That was a huge spike to our business. Then in 2 weeks, we appeared on Product Hunt. That gave us another spike with over 5.000 users. Then the situation was stable, we switched from 0 users/week to 2-3.000 constant users/week.
Why did you start Creative Tim?
I wanted to start an agency business because I didn’t want to be an employee. It’s great to have control over what I do and when I do it. My co-founder shared the same vision as I did which was great. After working as an agency we started Creative Tim which in the end became our full-time job.
How is Creative Tim different from the competition?
As a quick view, we are in the “market place business”, we sell UI Kits and templates and we also give free items. Compared to other markets all Creative Tim products are designed and created by our team.
Besides that, we have room for collaborators, who can join the game (compared to regular sellers from different markets). They can take a product made by us and translate it to a different framework or a different design. For example, we create the HTML of a UI Kit, then 1 collaborator is creating the Sketch version, one is creating the Photoshop version another one is creating the Ruby on Rails version, etc. Then they get a percentage of the transaction from the item that they contributed to.
That makes us have control over all the items and overall our products because we know that a new product that will be released on our market will be a Good and Powerful product because it started from a group of elements that we already created. We also try to follow the Lean Startup principle by creating a Minimal Viable Product which has just a couple of elements (Like an Admin Dashboard Template).
If the demand for it is high, we create a Premium version for it. If there is high demand for the Pro version we talk with the collaborators to start working on different versions of that product. In this way, we know when a product will be successful and when a product should remain in the “freebie zone”.
How does it feel to be an entrepreneur versus an employee?
I don’t really know how it is to be an employee, but I can imagine it is something like working as an agency for somebody. People tell you what they want and you make it for them, except you are not free to do it when you want because you don’t generate your own revenue.
That was something that I didn’t like because we spent a huge amount of time creating different components for our clients and then they came with a lot of changes that “they thought would be cool to have”. Having your own startup is very different because you create a product, then you talk with the users who are actually using your product and see what you can improve to make their life easier.
Working as an employee means you have one job, you create a design or you work as a backend developer or you are on sales, etc. Working in a startup is very different and difficult, one day you are creating a web design, one day you are working for the backend, one day you are doing accountant stuff, every day you do customer support, etc. This is a big challenge and it is a very interesting experience.
The future goal for Creative Tim?
We want to become a big community and a “trendsetter” in the web design market. We want to give our users the best and the most beautiful UI Kits and Templates.
What are the three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Never Stop Learning: in order to be successful, you have to read all the time. Changes in the business world, how to talk to people, how to create solutions to existing problems. Making your customers happy using your products and how to design a good product.
Basic knowledge of UI/UX: if you found a problem and you created a solution you have to present it in a way that will make your customer understand what is the value that you give to him. Most successful startups are design-driven and customers appreciate a well-designed product.
Listen and present ideas: it is important to know how to present new ideas to your team in a way that they will enjoy working on them. Also, it is equally important to pay 100% attention to the new ideas that the people from your team are proposing.
There will be always strong thoughts and ideas that will be different from what you are thinking and it is very important to know that there is nothing personal in those ideas, they just want to make the startup grow. Don’t say a direct “NO” to a new idea because that person will never come with new ideas to you, and you will miss some relevant information.
What is your marketing strategy?
We started using social media and forums as the first traffic engine. (currently, this became the ~7% of our traffic) We appear in different famous blogs (including our blog) and lists for web developers and web designers (currently this is ~25% of our traffic).
We paid some newsletters (only 2 of 8-9 were successful and generated profit) (less than ~1% of the traffic). We appear in the most keywords combinations used by web developers on Google in the first positions (~23% of our traffic is organic) People are just coming back to see what is new (~35% of our traffic).
I think the most efficient way is to create a great product and to talk with trusted blogs and influencers from your field if they will post your product you will get a lot of attention. Then it’s your job to make sure those guys who use a free version of your product would upgrade to the Premium version.
How do you build a successful customer base?
You have to create value for your customers. This is not like in high school when you cheat to get a better mark. If you give value to your customers they will stay with you and come back for more value. If you cheat them with different tricks to get their emails for spam, you will not be successful. You always have to keep in touch with them because they are giving you the hints for your next move.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I didn’t find somebody who can satisfy all my points of view, in order to consider him my greatest inspiration. I have some people who I really appreciate. Their experiences fascinated me on how they found solutions to problems in the world.
Peter Thiel for his incredible capacity to explain complex concepts about life in the easiest way possible.
Elon Musk for trying to save the Earth from pollution and finding a solution for humanity to leave the Earth.
Steve Jobs for his obsessive attention to details and the way he changed how we interact with computers.
Jony Ive for his simple and minimal design products and ideas.
Napoleon Hill for the great books that he wrote about how to become a successful person.
Dale Carnegie for his awesome book “How to win friends and influence people”.
Eric Ries for presenting the step by step guide to create a business that is resolving a problem for somebody.