Interview with David Braun, Founder and CEO of TemplateMonster.com
TemplateMonster is by far the biggest and most well-known website template marketplace, probably because they literally invented the market for it.
We met with the company founder and CEO David Braun to learn what challenges they are facing today and why, despite the fact that he is friends with Omer Shai (Wix Website-Builder, VP Marketing), he still recommends most website owners to stick to using WordPress.
HostAdvice: You started your company in 2002 at the age of 23 while Yahoo was the dominant search engine and Mark Zuckerberg was still dreaming about going to Harvard. What do you think of the opportunities that exist today to young people who want to open a business?
I’ve just read a story about the beginning of the computer era. Back then, someone in Microsoft said “...everything that was worth inventing in computers has been invented by now”… I think there is always room for new things no matter how advanced you think things are already.
Nowadays it is actually easier for young people to start a business. Online business requires no manufacturing or heavy investment. If you have a strong vision and can create something, you can get investors or even use crowdfunding tools and create anything you wish. This is the golden age for entrepreneurs to experiment with new startups.
Looking at technologies that is available right now, if we wanted to begin the same business, it would have been much easier today. Today there are a lot of open source technologies, platforms you can use and build from. On the other hand, competition today is 10 times stronger so it is harder to stand out. When we started the company, we didn’t even know the word “Template” existed. We actually searched in Yahoo (the main search engine at the time) and we found the definition on some website and so we decided to use it. However, we’ve created the market and paved the way for competition. Nowadays we have 500 competitors in the same niche, as well as substitute competitors like website builders that answer the need for a website with a different solution.
Template Monster – Homepage 2002-2016
HostAdvice: Looking at the goals you mentioned 10 years ago in interviews, I see you reached them all (55,000 templates, when you aimed for 50,000 for example). Do you also have regrets about things you didn’t do?
I think we were not good in acquisitions. The only good project we acquired was a flash website builder “FlashMoto” that was renamed to “MotoCMS” after Flash-technology died have became less popular. We got return of investments in just three months after its launch.
Nevertheless, I think we moved too slowly with it. The production of the site builder took 2 years longer than expected and it was launched shortly before Steve Jobs declared war against Flash (a war that was won A.H).
MotoCMS - a platform for creating websites – returned the investments after 3 months
HostAdvice: Why should users turn to Templatemonster and not alternative market places?
There are three kinds of competitors I consider:
- “App Store-like platforms” like Envato, CreativeMarket or Mojo Market Place
- “Template clubs” that charge you one fee and you get all resources for life.
- Indirect competitors like website builders such as Wix and Weebly.
We see ourselves as a producer of web-design templates. We do this with the highest standard. 50% of our audiences are SMBs and private people that want to build a website for themselves - the end-user clients. The other 50% are web developers and web studios that use our service and ready-to-make high quality templates to save time, budget and shorten the development process.
With Template Monster, you can visualize the end product right away. We have many clients that say “we need a website tomorrow”, and they can use any of our templates and look super professional the next day. Websites created with website builders are ugly! Sorry to say that. This is because website owners who create them on site builders are not professionals. Sure, there are good examples as well, but generally, the sites you see created with site builders suffer from poor design, the result of someone experimenting with the builder himself and making mistakes a professional designer would never allow.
On top of that, site builders have no one to help you with your needs or issues. We provide 24/7 support by real people, not forums or tutorials. We are a service-oriented business. We think a website creating is a journey and we are there to help people or the businesses to sail all the way. Many times, we recognise that business require the service, we do not provide, but we can refer the client to the right tools he or she needs.
While other marketplaces have a variety of templates that are not powered by the same standards or follow the same guidelines, we build all our products based on identical high-level production standards. This means that if you are a developer that starts to build websites for clients, you know you always need to do the same trick you did last time, with the new template. This is not like at Envato marketplace, where every author has his own way of building a website and you can order 2 templates and they will be so different from one another that you will need to repeat the learning curve again. We’ve found that for web developers who require more than a one-time template, this is very important and saves them a lot of time.
HostAdvice: What are the benefits for affiliates joining your program?
Our affiliate program used to be the second most popular affiliate program after Amazon. This was before Google AdSense was launched. You can remember that back in 2006 there were not a lot of honest ways to make affiliate money online. We were very popular then because we’ve provided white label services, and even served customers on behalf of the affiliates, (when people have been called and we have been answered over the phone as if we were that white label affiliate). Due to the changes in the way Google Algorithm works, affiliates started to see less traffic and after a while there were other means of making money online so we’ve evolved into working with bloggers and less with professional affiliate marketers. We have over 10,000 bloggers that work with us and enjoy a lifetime commission on every sale that comes from a client they refer to us. This means that they will get commission for the second and third templates someone buys from us as well, even if it happens years later.
We also have a “Partner Program” where web developers who buy a lot from us get special discounts and can reduce their costs.
HostAdvice: What should webmasters that visit HostAdvice know about Templatemonster that they might not be aware of?
We don’t only sell templates. We try to be a one-stop shop for website needs. If you have a good add-on product or service, contact us. We may find a way to promote you among our users.
TemplateMonster Halloween Party – “Not just Templates”
HostAdvice: What is the rarest template you were surprised to see existed?
There is actually a funny story about that. We had a Funeral Agency Template that was very successful and we couldn’t understand why. I mean, there are not so many businesses that offer funeral arrangements. When we dug into this, we’ve found out that many people liked the dark mood that template had, and didn’t actually use it for Funeral sites, but rather for heavy metal bands for example. It was actually one of our best sellers for 2-3 years.
HostAdvice: What are the three things a small business should pay attention to when selecting a good template?
1. Know or just think about their website strategy for the next 2-3 years in regards of functionality. SMBs many times start with a “business card” site. But then they evolve and want to start accepting leads, and not just contact form submissions. Not every site needs an online store, but getting first order details like name, product and phone numbers is important to almost any website owner.
Other sites do evolve into online stores, which requires billing and other features they did not take into consideration at first.
If you know where you are heading, you should select the platform that will not limit you in the future. For example, WP is the standard for regular website building, while for online shops it is better to select Magento or PrestaShop. I suggest any website owner look at his competitors that are ahead of him, as this is where you will be in the near future.
2. Don’t ignore marketing tools. You are making a website for marketing purposes, right?. With a website you can promote your brand or a product in your city or country. You can get exposure for your services or products to a global audience, so don’t limit yourself to what you are used to do in the physical world. In addition, your site needs to feel alive, with an updated blog and content, because in Internet the competition is much higher.
3. Work with leads. Does not matter whether you are using a site builder or a template, lots of website owners disregard the leads. There are many lead generation techniques to use and not just “contact us” forms. You can find that your website is a good tool for lead generation and attracting new clients. Converting users to leads and leads to customers is what you should be focusing on.
HostAdvice: What is your tip for how to select a web hosting company?
Select the platform, then the company!
Once you’ve selected the platform, you can check which are the best hosting companies for that platform. Web hosting is the most competitive industry in the world, in my opinion. The choice for customers is limitless. I would select a company that specializes in the platform (WP platform, PrestaShop platform etc.). Magento, for example, is resource heavy so you need good CPU, RAM etc. and you can’t have just any company. Read online user reviews and select what other people recommended.
HostAdvice: To whom would you recommend using a website builder and to whom would you recommend using WordPress or another open platform?
I like to watch how website builders evolving, I still think they are not ready yet for serious website owners from a technology point of view.
Many people start a website like a business card built with site builders and then they have a trouble converting it into a serious WP site, for example. I think site builders are only relevant to people who are willing to build the sites themselves. Otherwise, I would find a good freelancer to build my site on a serious platform like WP and Magneto. It is like when you have electricity issues in your house. You can switch a lamp, but don’t try to fix serious electricity issues by yourself, for this you need an electrician.
Do you see SMBs that used to create a simple site settling for Facebook business page today?
Facebook have a major role in the relationship between a business and his clients. This role will expand because they build direct relationships with clients over the platform. At the same time, a website provides a lot of tools and technology to really give the presentation you want for your business. Facebook is for connecting with your customer base, more than acquiring new clients. I think eventually some hybrid model of a website and Facebook page as part of your online marketing strategy will come by.
HostAdvice: Looking at “WordPress themes” search trends, I see a big decline in the past 2 years. “Website templates” is actually crushing. How does this ecosystem influence you and what do you do to overcome the challenges?
There is a clear challenge to the template industry, but we had challenges before and we overcame them. Flash-technology going away is a good example, Joomla popularity is decreasing as well, and now even WP is going down a bit in favor of website builders that are spending a lot of money on advertising. Web design industry sees just another challenge.
Our job is to find the most popular ways for people to create websites, and offer them easy-to-use solution and the add-ons. If WP goes down, we will create templates for other platforms. We actually already sell Wix templates. Not so many, we still need to find the right business model with Wix. While Wix focus on their builder, they can’t create 50,000 templates like we can, so they also need our help.
There is a lot of talk in the hosting industry about Google entering it and changing the rules. What do you think a more dominant Google in the hosting market will do?
I don’t believe it. It has been a hot topic for 5 years now. They had their way with Google Sites and it failed. I don’t think they will make a big move soon.
What does globalization means to you?
We want to expand with local presence in many countries. We want to open local offices, local support, and localization of our products. For example, in Poland, Magento or PrestaShop are not the most popular ecommerce platforms instead they have local Polish player and we want to create templates for them as well.
Currently we have offices in Osaka, Japan, and we will open offices in China to research what are the needs there. We also plan to open representative offices for every notable country in Europe that has small number of English-speaking people to provide local support in the local language.
Tempaltemonster.com traffic share by country (Similarweb data 2015)
HostAdvice: Ukraine is becoming a strong power source for web developers today. Do you see it competing with Silicon Valley, similarly to the way Tel Aviv has a booming start-up scene, for example?
I don’t think that Ukraine will soon have a start-up ecosystem like the ones you mentioned. There is still a lot of corruption in the country and the rules of the game are not fair, which is something that frightens investors. At the same time, you can find a lot of talented people for a competitive price that's the main reason we have a large office in Ukraine. Many global companies open offices there, so it will definitely grow, but I don’t see it becoming a financial center for investing in start-ups, but rather outsourcing local talent elsewhere.
TemplateMonster office in Ukraine
HostAdvice: What challenges await your company?
The platforms are becoming more complex and are changing rapidly. Since we are dependent on platforms, the big challenge is to stay up to date. For example, we have 2500+ templates for Magento. However, they already announced a new version. All templates become incompatible in a single day. The efforts to convert old templates to new ones are equal to creating new templates. This happens all the time for us and this is a battle we need to win each time.
HostAdvice: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
I would encourage SMBs to experiment with website building process. We are still far away from the point that 90% of SMBs will be online. I am talking about moving operations online and not just having a business card site. This gives to any business a competitive advantage. You make your costs cheaper, use economies of scale to interact with clients far away from you, reutilize clients to upsell and cross sell, which generally really let your business grow.
I think every person who built a site 5 years ago needs to re-think what changed since then and what he can do to improve on his site. We still see many outdated sites from 2008 that need to be re-designed.