Aaron Epstein

Josh Pigford on October 05, 2016

Table of Contents


Founder Chats is brought to you by Baremetrics: zero-setup subscription analytics & insights for Stripe, Recurly, Braintree and any other subscription company!

Like this episode? A rating and a review on iTunes would go a long way!

This week, I chat with Aaron Epstein, founder of Creative Market, which is a online marketplace for design assets (icons, photography, illustrations, etc). In this episode we talk about Creative Market’s origin, growth and acquisition, building communities, Y Combinator, design and more!

Aaron: Hey, Josh.

Josh: Aaron, how’s it going, man?

Aaron: It’s going well.

Josh: Right on. Right on. How are things? Are you in California?

Aaron: I am in California.

Josh: Where in California?

Aaron: I’m an east-coaster, but following the acquisition of Creative Market, moved out to San Francisco a little over two years ago now.

Josh: Nice. How do you like it?

Aaron: It’s good. We did Y Combinator out here at the beginning of 2010. I’d probably back and forth every six weeks or so after that until I moved out. Moving out here really was just like I booked a flight without a return ticket for the first time.

Josh: That’s cool. What part of San Francisco are you in?

Aaron: We work near the Ferry Building, is where the Creative Market offices are. I live up in Russian Hill, so a couple hills away.

Josh: Cool. How are things at Creative Market?

Aaron: Things are great. We’re about two and half years into the acquisition buy Autodesk. I always tell the team and I always want for myself, I call it the Sunday night test, which is like you’re going to bed Sunday night, are you like, “Tomorrow’s Monday. I got to start the week,” or are you like, “Yeah, I can’t wait to get in.” For me, I’m still going to bed Sunday night excited to come in, and keep building the product, and working with the team. Just love the team that I work with. I’ve always told people … I don’t know if you probably feel the same way, but one of the best things about being a founder is you get to pick the people that you work with. That’s one of the things that just makes my day to day really, really enjoyable.

Josh: Yep. It’s funny you mentioned the Sunday night test thing, because I’m very much the same way where by Sunday night I’m itching to get started on the week. With my family at dinner, one of our rituals is to ask … Everybody goes around the table and says what were you highs and lows for the day. There’s a lot of days where I have trouble pinpointing it. My high is just like, “Man, work was great today. All the things.” I do think that’s a great test really for any job that you’ve got.

Aaron: Yep. Working at Autodesk now since we’ve been acquired is the first time I’ve ever had a boss, and I’m almost thirty-five years old. I think you’re probably the same way, right? You always built a lot projects yourself and worked for yourself. It’s great to be able to come in and love what you do every day, and I think us as founders that haven’t really worked for a lot of people don’t have a ton of experience with that, or working big companies or other startups, or whatever the case may be. It’s hard to have that perspective sometimes, and I think it’s easy to fall into this trap and take for granted how much you actually enjoy working every day.

Josh: Yep. What’s that transition been like? You’re a couple of years in. I would say a lot of founders who go through an acquisition, really probably the two-year mark is either an actual legal “my shares have vested” kind of thing or they just get the itch to move on. Over two years in now, how has that transition been? Has it been way different than you thought? What’s it been like?

Aaron: I have a lot of founder friends that they’ve been acquired and I’ve heard just tons of horror stories. Ours has just been an awesome experience. Part of that … We actually had two offers that we got on the same day, actually, Halloween of 2013. When trying to decide, “Do we want to take any of these or do we want to keep going as an independent startup,” it was a really tough decision, but one of the main reasons we chose Autodesk is because we felt like it was a really great cultural fit. Even getting in here, and now it’s been over two and a half years, my boss always said, “Just keep growing,” and gave resources to do that. We have continued to grow really quickly, so I feel like it’s been an awesome experience, but I also recognize that’s not everybody’s experience.

My boss when I came here, he had acquired a bunch of companies in the past and, I think, had learned from some of those experiences that the best way to keep the magic and keep the founders engaged and everything like that, keep the team engaged, is really to just let them keep doing what they’re doing. It’s really nice from my perspective as the founder because I don’t have to worry about fundraising. I don’t have to worry about, “If I hire this person, it cuts our runway by X months.” I can just make the best decisions for growing the business without having to spend time on a lot of that other stuff, which has been pretty awesome.

Josh: Are you guys in an Autodesk, in one of their offices, or did you have your own Creative Market building thing?

Aaron: It’s kind of a mix of both. When we were acquired, we had a tiny little office. It was an old Pilates studio that we converted into an office in Potrero Hill in San Francisco, and we moved into … It’s Pier Nine out here in San Francisco, which it’s this big Autodesk maker space. It’s an amazing office. There’s 3D printers and a wood shop and robotics lab. It’s like a Creative Maker playground, which was really awesome. We were there for probably a year and a half after the acquisition, and it just got really crowded there. There were never any meeting rooms available. There were always tours coming through because it’s such a cool spot, so we would always say we’re like circus animals. Everybody’s always coming through. There’s a swing conference table that we’d have meetings on, and people would tell us to swing to show people that were coming through, so we had to do tricks.

Josh: Perform, perform.

Aaron: Exactly. It’s was an awesome space, but it wasn’t the best environment to actually get work done. A little over a year ago we opened up a space right across the street from there. It’s technically an Autodesk space, but we’re one of the only teams that’s here, and so it feels, for the most part, like we have this building to ourselves. It’s really stereotypical startup space, with exposed brick walls. It was actually one of the only buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake. It used to be an old seed factory. It’s a really cool space to work out of. That’s another thing that’s really nice that I don’t have to worry about, is we made that move and I just showed up. There’s facilities people that take care of all this stuff. We didn’t even have to lift a laptop or anything.

Josh: Right, right.

Aaron: That kind of stuff is nice.

Josh: Man, I remember … I don’t know. It’s probably been a couple years. Maybe not two years, but some time in the past year or something, you posted some … You mentioned the whole maker’s space thing, and I remember you posted … I don’t know if it was some CNC machine or something had cut out the Creative Market logo or something, and I was thinking, “I would love to have an office is some legit maker’s space.”

Aaron: Yeah. We have laser cutters and these 3D printers that look like refrigerators because …

Josh: That’s so crazy.

Aaron: … they’re so massive and super expensive, too. It’s the cutting edge of a lot of that stuff is … There’s a lot of really cool things going on here. If you’re ever out in San Francisco, come stop by and we’ll get your logo laser cut out.

Josh: Legit. We’ve turned one room in our house into a miniature maker space, so we have a 3D printer and then just lots of electronic stuff.

Aaron: Nice.

Josh: I’m attempting, trying to get my kids to have that stuff accessible, not force them to make stuff like a little sweatshop or something, but to have these resources available. To me, it encourages making things because the barrier to entry of making an idea become a reality is much lower. To me, that is a goal, is how do I equip my kids to not think, “I have this idea, but I can’t make it happen.”

Aaron: Right. That’s so funny that you mentioned that, because that totally resonates with me of why I got into making websites and the internet. I remember I was thirteen years old. It was probably ’93, ’94. It was just the dawning of the internet, and I was learning how to make websites and coding it in notepad and everything like that. I remember the coolest thing was I could make a website as good as Coke, but I couldn’t make a car as good as Ford. It was something just by myself, sitting down, taking the time, because I was in the forefront of learning just like everybody else in the world was. It’s something you could do all by yourself and have this finished product. That was the number one thing that always drew me to learning how to make stuff for the web. I don’t know if you were the same …

Josh: Exactly the same way. I was the Geocities, and Angelfire, and Tripod and all these sits, just staying up all night and hacking junk because you could. It was accessible.

Aaron: I still remember how hard it was to get hosting back then.

Josh: Oh man, it was insane. Domains were like $100. That’s crazy.

Aaron: Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a credit card or something like that, but I feel like everybody used the Geocities, and the Angelfires, and the Tripods and all those because it was a way to get free hosting and be able to share the things that you were making with the world.

Josh: Exactly. Bandwidth and the internet connection speeds were so low. I remember VBulletin used to be huge, where you’d just create some community or something like that, and I remember it was Christmas Eve and I was going over … We were about to go over to my grandmother’s house, and I’m holding up my parents. I’m like, “Wait, I’ve got to start this five megabyte download because it’s going to take the next few hours to download this file,” so I could get my VBulletin community up and running. Man, those are the good old days. I feel like the hardware side of things … You mentioned you could make a website but you couldn’t make a car like Ford. Now the hardware side of things seems … There’s so many tools and things like 3D printers, and CNC machines, and laser cutters and all this stuff, that are making that stuff in itself much more accessible, like the hardware side of things.

Aaron: Yeah. It seems like the game is changing as far as hardware, but it’s still kind of in the early days.

Josh: Right. It’s like the early web days to me.

Aaron: Right. Yep, totally. That was the interesting thing to me. When we were acquired by Autodesk and I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the 3D printing world, my personal vision for where it seemed like it would be based on what I had heard was maybe in ten years … It’s your regular 2D ink printer. You pick out a file, and you push a button, and then it pops out, and it’s like The Jetsons or something like that. Being in here, and I’m sure you see this with your kids, too, there’s so much more that goes into it. Prints don’t come out right, and some of it’s toxic and needs to be cleaned off. Build time is measured in hours if not days sometimes, rather than seconds. You see all these different issues, and so you can see that future that’s, I don’t know how long, maybe a decade down the line that’s like, “Okay, maybe you can get to that future where you just push the button,” and people work out new ways to print faster and more reliably and without using toxic materials and all these other things. It’ll be interesting to watch the evolution.

Josh: I think that one of the really important things when it comes to teaching future generations, I guess, is the way that the web … I wish that I could’ve had the foresight to know how big the web would become. I was always just poking around for fun, but there were so many things that I could’ve done if I just thought through the possibilities, which just was not poking around in my brain as a ten year old. Now I feel like with kids the important part of that is saying, “Hey, right now will take a long time.” You mentioned the build times, like, “We’re going to print out this box and it’s going to take four hours.” In the future, it won’t take that long, and you can move through your ideas a whole lot faster. Yeah, the whole future of the merging of software and hardware is super interesting to me.

Aaron: I don’t have any kids yet, but being somebody who as a kid, I was always knocking on neighbors’ doors and trying to hit them up to pay me five bucks to shovel their driveways or rake their leaves, or selling baseball cards, and all these other things. I think, and I’m curious if you do this with your kids at all, I would just love getting my kids into that kind of stuff and helping them learn about business and starting things at such a young age. Is that something that you actively do with your kids?

Josh: Yeah, for sure. They do it a lot between themselves now. They’re trying to broker deals like, “Hey, I just got this box of gummy bears. I’ll sell them to you for five cents a piece,” kind of thing. It’s funny. We had a yard sale this past weekend in our neighborhood, and so all my kids had amassed all the junk that they didn’t want anymore. I would refuse to tell them how to price things, like, “If somebody comes up and asks you how much something is, try to sell it to them. Start high and work your way down. Don’t just be like, ‘Oh, that’s a penny.’” It’s fun to see them working that gland.

Aaron: Are they just naturally interested, or do you do things to push them towards that?

Josh: Right now, I probably do more pushing them towards the Creative Making stuff side of things and less on the salesman, “Let’s learn how to sell stuff.” I think eventually, once … I would love for them to … One of my kids is super, really, really talented with art. I look forward to her getting to merge the art side of things with, “Hey, you know what? You could potentially turn this into some sort of business thing, too,” which I don’t want everything to be this business venture, but I think there’s a balance there.

Aaron: Yeah. My wife was a art and marketing double major, so she …

Josh: That’s a good combo.

Aaron: Yeah. You got a little bit of the business side so you’re not just a staving artist out there, but gets to follow her passion in the way, too.

Josh: Yeah, that’s super cool. You’ve founded a number of other things, and I think our paths probably first crossed when you were doing ColorSchemer, which is this color-picking software for Mac. That’s dumbing it down a lot. At the time, I started this tech publication called the Apple Blog, and I don’t know if I reached out to ask for a review copy or something like that. I don’t know. I’m curious. What’s the timeline from ColorSchemer … This might have been, I don’t know, early 2000s, up to now, 2016.

Aaron: Yeah. I’ll take you through it real quick.

Josh: Cool.

Aaron: I actually started ColorSchemer in my dorm room in my freshman year, in 1999. I had this web design company with some friends, and clients kept coming to us and saying, “Hey, can you make us a website. Here’s our logo,” and that was the only creative that they had. Their logo typically had one color, maybe two. I defined these harmonious colors that would go with their logo colors. I’d do this guess and check thing in Photoshop, like probably everybody else does a lot of the time, to see what would go well. I was like, “There’s got to be a tool out there where I can just give it a color and it’ll tell me what colors go with that color.” This was ’99. I couldn’t find anybody had build anything like that, so I did the research behind it on color theory and some of the color conversion stuff for colors on the web using Javascript, and I was able to build this tool called ColorSchemer that was just free online. Give it a color, and it gives you a digital color wheel.

After doing that, I started getting thousands of people coming to the website because it solved that problem for myself and apparently a bunch of other people, too. I realized that I could make a downloadable desktop version with more features and I could charge people for it. I did that, and I released the downloadable version. By the time I graduated college in 2003, I was making fourteen hundred bucks a month as a college student and never had to hit up my parents for money. I was like, “All right, this is awesome. I’m going to see what I can do with this.” I just did that full-time where I was doing everything for it basically, design, development, any kind of partnerships, marketing, customer support, all that stuff. I did that for a number of years.

In 2004, 2005, Darius, who became my cofounder, started COLOURlovers.com, which was a community for people to create and share color palettes and patterns and stuff. He brought our third cofounder, Chris, who’s our CTO on board to help build COLOURlovers. It’s probably 2007. We had known about each other. Darius said … They were on the west coast. They were from Portland, Oregon. I grew up in the DC area. Darius shot me an email 2007. He said, “Hey, I’m going to be up in Boston. Do you want to meet up?” It turned out I was actually going to be up there that same weekend for a wedding. We got together, and we were trying to figure out how to make a partnership work. He had this community and was just interested in growing his community, and I had this software and was just interested in selling more software.

I also had this community component so my software people could share the color palettes and stuff. He wanted me to remove that and link to COLOURlovers instead, and I was like, “Well, it’s kind of a competitive advantage for my software.” We left, and we were like, “Uh.” Neither of us really wanted to budge to make it work. We both just went back to doing what we were doing. A little over a year later, Darius went to work at Microsoft in Live Labs on Photosynth. He was there about a year. As he was leaving, he hit me up again and he was like, “Hey, are you still doing ColorSchemer.”

By that time, I had been doing this probably eight years by myself. I felt like I was making money and it was a good business and all this other stuff. I could work whenever I wanted. It was your dream ideal passive income job, but I just got bored because I had been doing it for so long and felt like I wasn’t really growing personally, professionally. I was doing the same stuff and it was so automated. We got back together and in a weekend just hammered out a deal to merge up our two businesses.

Shortly after that, this was probably mid-2009 at this point, Darius sends me a text, and he’s like, “Hey, if we could do Y Combinator, would you want to do it?” I was like, “Oh man, I’m … “ We bought this townhouse in the DC area, and we had to rent it out because my wife just got a job at the Food Network up in New York City, so we were in the middle of a move, and we had to find a place to live in New York City. I was like, “Let’s do it,” because these types of opportunities don’t come around all the time. I moved my wife into our apartment in New York and spent a week up there with her following the holidays and then flew out to San Francisco to live with Darius and Chris and do Y Combinator. While we were doing YC, we were trying to figure out how to build this business that we already had that was generating money, probably a couple hundred thousand dollars a year …

Josh: This is for COLOURlovers, right?

Aaron: It’s COLOURlovers and ColorSchemer. We were making ad revenue on COLOURlovers. We probably had one to two million members at that point, and then ColorSchemer was making money as well selling software for Mac, PC. We came out with an iOS version during YC. We were trying to figure out how to build this into a big, scalable business. During that time, we had these two paths. One that we were looking at was kind of being like a Pantone. Pantone, if you’re familiar with them, it’s like a panel of experts, which I use in air quotes. Get into a room, and they’re like, “The color of the year next year will be fuschia.” They put out these trend reports, and then everybody in fashion industries and all these other industries get those trend reports and then they’re like, “Oh, the color of the year’s fuschia. We should make our stuff in fuschia,” and then it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy.

We were like, “Huh. We have all these people interacting around colors and palettes. We could actually identify real time trends for marketers based on certain demographics that could become a lot more valuable than what Pantone’s doing.” We had this color data idea, or there’s this marketplace idea where here’s people that are just having fun spending a lot of their free time just creating creative content. It’s actually really valuable for businesses. Met Life actually reached out to us later that year because they wanted to buy a pattern that a member had made on COLOURlovers for two hundred and fifty bucks to use on this big Thanksgiving Day wrap on their building across from Bryant Park in New York City.

We took that two hundred and fifty bucks. We gave it to the member, and we’re like, “This is it. How do we do this in a big scalable way?” We started building a marketplace on top of the COLOURlovers community, and then we realized it’s actually much bigger than COLOURlovers. There’s fonts, and Photoshop files, and stock photos, and graphics, and all these other things that go into a creative project. That’s why we decided to create Creative Market as its own separate site and use the COLOURlovers community to help market a lot of people over there and kick off the marketplace.

Josh: That’s super interesting. I knew about Creative Market coming out of COLOURlovers but didn’t … That’s interesting that you can pinpoint it all the way back to a single pattern and transaction that spurs it off. When you guys started working on launching Creative Market, I specifically remember the invite system that you guys had done. I guess to me, I don’t recall that being a super common thing then.

Aaron: Yeah. It wasn’t super common, but we saw what some companies were doing, and Fab.com was a big one at the time. They grew really quickly, and part of it was based on this invite program that they had to get people to invite their friends and earn extra dollars or whatever, credits or whatever. We sort of modeled ours after Fab. They were a really hot company in the design space at the time, and it worked out really well. For anybody who hasn’t seen it that may be listening to this, the program was basically you come, you enter your email into our teaser page. This was before we had launched the marketplace. Actually, let me back up really quick. One of the most difficult things with launching a marketplace is this chicken and egg problem. Nobody’s going to want to come and sell products on your marketplace if you don’t have any customers, but nobody’s going to want to come and buy if you don’t have any products available for sale.

You have to figure out how to scale both of those at the same time. What we came up with was this invite program where if you come to our teaser page before we launch and you put in your email address, we give you $5 in free credit that you could spend once we actually launched. Once you would put in your email and you’d gotten that $5 in free credits, we’d show this progress bar and gave you tools to invite friends over email or social, and if you invited friends and they came and they signed up to get their free $5 credit using your referral link, then if you invited five more people then you got an extra $10 to spend, and thirty people, you got an extra $50. Fifty people that you invited was the highest tier, and you’d get like $200 to spend when we launched.

We saw tons of people that were sharing, and a lot of people actually hit that fifty referral milestone, which was really awesome. We put together this free goods page where you could come and download free products that were available for a limited time until we actually launched but you had to sign up in order to download those, between those two things, the viral referral program and the free goods, by the time we launched maybe eight months later, we had, I think, over seventy thousand people had signed up.

Josh: Crazy. How do you get the content part? You mentioned the chicken and the egg thing. How did you guys convince people to produce content?

Aaron: It was a couple different ways. When you’re small, you had different advantages than a larger company, and so we were competing with the ShutterStocks and Envatos, and all these other people that are out there. You can list products there and you can get a lot of sales, but those, because they were larger, one of our advantages was we didn’t have as many people selling on the platform and so there wasn’t as much competition for people to get noticed and get exposure. That was one angle that we pitched to a lot of people. I do have a lot of outreach to people that were either selling on other platforms or were just really great designers in general to try to get them on board.

We’d tell them, “Hey, because it’s brand new, we can get you a lot more exposure. You won’t have as much competition in certain categories,” and things like that. We tried to use that to our advantage. We also told people that would give away a product for free that we’d feature them a little more prominently, their paid products, once we actually did launch the marketplace. That worked out well, too. For the seller side, it was really just a lot of manual outreach and getting people excited about it. Once we had a lot of people signing up through the viral referral program, we could go to people and be like, “Hey, we’ve got fifty thousand people signed up, all with $5 in free credits, at least, to spend when we launch. Do you want to be a part of that?” That became an easier sell.

Josh: How did you guys handle the money side of that, cash flow and the credit system?

Aaron: We didn’t know what to expect. We launched, and we had seventy thousand people signed up, all of which had $5 in free credits, and so it was both really exciting and really scary at the same time because we had raised maybe a $1,000,000 probably seven months before we actually launched. We had a team we were paying and all these other things. I was really excited on launch day to send that email to everybody and be like, “Hey, remember that free $5 we gave you? Now we’re launched. Come back and spend it.” Who wouldn’t take advantage of that, right?

Josh: Sure.

Aaron: We sent that email, but at the same time, it’s like, “If everybody spends the $5, that’s $350,000 that we’re on the hook for here.”

Josh: That’s substantial.

Aaron: Right, and it’s not like we’re swimming in money at this point. That was scary. We sent that email on launch day, and on launch day, I think we had something like $3,000 in total sales, of which maybe two thousand of it was credits and a thousand was actually cash.

Josh: So a non-issue?

Aaron: Non-issue, yeah. I didn’t know whether to be happy and relieved by that or disappointed that we just sent it out and we could’ve had three hundred and fifty thousand, but we only had three thousand. That was the beginning of it and the beginning of making the shops feel like, “Oh, people are actually spending money here, and it’s worth investing time in this platform.

Josh: Yep. All the stuff that you’ve done … You mentioned being in school. What did you go to school for?

Aaron: I went to University of Maryland. I was a business major.

Josh: Okay. You major in business but everything that you’ve done over the past ten plus year has had some sort of design focus, whether it’s the color side of things or what … Do you consider yourself a designer or it just all happened to work out that way?

Aaron: I’m kind of jack of all trades, master of none, as you may consider yourself and probably a lot of other … Especially solo founders, people that have done their own thing. I did my own thing for, I don’t know, nine years or something like that, before merging with Darius and Chris and growing a team and everything. You just get a lot of exposure with that stuff. Ever since I was designing websites, that was my first exposure to learning about design, and same thing with development and coding websites, coding in Visual Basic for ColorSchemer coding and Javascript, and PHP for the web, and then eventually taught myself Delphi Pascal on PC, and then Objective-C on Mac.

I’m a self-taught designer, self-taught developer. That’s one of the things that I didn’t really realize at the time, but I was picking up all these well-rounded skills versus somebody that maybe goes into a big company after college and they’re a designer, or they’re an engineer, or they’re whatever the role may be. They don’t get quite as much exposure doing all these other different skills. I found, especially as a founder and starting to grow a team, I could speak the language that the engineers spoke. I understand if we want to build this feature. Because I have a vague idea of how to do it myself or how I’d go about it, I can even help them think through how to design it and everything like that. I could give feedback to the designers in hopefully an intelligent way rather than somebody that doesn’t have as much experience in that world. Those skills really turned out to be huge assets for helping to grow the team and being able communicate with other people in different roles.

Josh: The common thread that I notice at least across lots of founders is the ability to teach yourself something in a relatively short amount of time and really to even enjoy the process of learning stuff. I think that’s not something that’s the case for everybody. Some people have a really hard time grasping new concepts or even finding the time to sit down and just figure something out. I’m curious how many … I wonder how many founders would be a jack of all trade type.

Aaron: I think it depends. Our CTO, Chris, he’s not interested in the design side or even the product side quite as much. He’s super into the tech side, and so for him, it was always like, “Just tell me what to build and I’ll build that.” Other people are different. I think it depends on the person, but I would bet that most founders are what you’re describing, just in general, in that they’re learning new things. They’re not scared to just dive right in and pick something up. It’s never like, “Oh, I don’t really have any experience on that, so I need to figure that out first.” It’s like, “We’re going for it, and if I suck then I’ll figure it out and I’ll learn over time, and hopefully I’ll be better six months from now than I am today.”

Josh: I remember when I was doing consulting stuff, especially early on, I would always … Some client or potential client would ask, “Hey, do you do this?” The answer was invariably yes, but 90% I didn’t have a clue … I wouldn’t even know what they were talking about. I’ll go figure it out real quick, just because it was fun to do, really.

Aaron: You make it work.

Josh: Right. Wrapping it up. Last thing to talk about would be building communities. You’ve got COLOURlovers. To some extent, I would assume you call Creative Market a community, at least in some form or fashion, right?

Aaron: Yeah. I describe Creative Market as 75% marketplace, 25% community.

Josh: Yeah, okay. I guess, what’s the hardest part of both starting a community and then also maintaining it, keeping it going and keeping it from turning into just the worst place on the internet?

Aaron: Right. I think people that run communities … I guess I’ll say on the whole communities are in the image of their creators and the people that run them. When we were doing COLOURlovers, we really wanted to make it an inclusive community and go above and beyond to make people feel welcome there. Sometimes that was almost a detriment to the community because some people would say something crazy or something like that, and it was like, “We want to be supportive of everybody here,” kind of thing. That resonated with a lot of people, so it was much more positive than it was negative, but there were always those incidents that would come up and would be difficult to deal with. It’s easier when you’re starting to build a community because just as an individual you just need to be active and let people see you.

You’re doing this now in the founder community and you do this with all the insights that you share through Baremetrics, and your writing, and doing this podcast, and everything like that. You’re building a community because you’re really visible, and at that scale, it easier to do that. People see you. They want to be a part of that. You have a brand that you’re portraying, and people that that resonates with, they’re the ones that are attracted to it. People that are not in that mold or into that would not be attracted to it. It gets shaped in your own image, and that’s easier when you’re smaller, too, and so as you start to scale, then it’s probably not enough … Creative Market’s two-point-almost-five million members at this point. It’s not realistic for any one person to be the community.

As we scale, we have to hire people that represent and embody the vision that we have for the community and the vision that the community has for itself. As the community starts to grow, it becomes less about one person setting the tone and more about the community of people that you’ve attracted from the early days. The community evolves and more people come join that are attracted to it. It becomes more about them trying to create the home that they always envisioned that this community could be. As us, as the keepers of the community, it’s really up to us to make sure that we have policies in place and are doing the things and engaging in a certain way that helps foster that kind of environment.

For Creative Market, that’s just a really inclusive supportive community, where we don’t tolerate things, people being offensive to each other or tearing down each other’s work or anything like that. We really want to be a place that really helps to support independent creators and where independent creators can feel like they can come and they can learn and they can earn. They can really feel like they’re a part of something that’s special. Everything that we do, we try to preserve that. There are certain things that happen where the community may be upset with something, and ultimately for us, it’s for us to determine did we make a mistake here.

There’s been plenty of instances where we’ve listened to the community and will go back on a policy or change the way we do things or something like that, because we realize, “You know what? They’re right.” Sometimes we have a longer-term vision where it’s like somebody gives you feedback for a product feature or something and you’re like, “Okay, I hear the specific thing you’re asking for, but reading between the lines, what I think you’re really looking for is this.” Sometimes you have to interpret that and make decisions that we think are ultimately in the best interest of the community given what we know they really care about.

Josh: Yep. That makes sense. Cool, man. I think that’s all that I’ve got. How can people get in touch or follow along?

Aaron: Check out CreativeMarket.com. Hit me up at Aaron@CreativeMarket, or on Twitter @Aaron_Epstein. I love doing these kinds of chats. If there’s any other founders out there that think this was interesting or want to ask questions or get advice or whatever, I love being able to give back and help other founders out. It’s something I’m super passionate about, so if there’s anybody out there that’s listening, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I would love to talk to you.

Josh: Right on. Aaron, it was good to finally have an actual phone call after years of crossing paths.

Aaron: Yeah, Josh.

Josh: Cool. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for hopping on the call.

Aaron: Awesome. Thanks, Josh.

Josh: Thanks, Aaron.

Josh Pigford

Josh is most famous as the founder of Baremetrics. However, long before Baremetrics and until today, Josh has been a maker, builder, and entrepreneur. His career set off in 2003 building a pair of link directories, ReallyDumbStuff and ReallyFunArcade. Before he sold those for profits, he had already started his next set of projects. As a design major, he began consulting on web design projects. That company eventually morphed into Sabotage Media, which has been the shell company for many of his projects since. Some of his biggest projects before Baremetrics were TrackThePack, Deck Foundry, PopSurvey, and Temper. The pain points he experienced as PopSurvey and Temper took off were the reason he created Baremetrics. Currently, he's dedicated to Maybe, the OS for your personal finances.