An Interview with: Justin French (Envato)

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I recently chatted with Justin French to ask him a few questions about his work at Envato on the Market team, and his previous roles elsewhere. Envato Market is part of the Envato network, supporting over 4,000,000 digital creatives worldwide with sites including ThemeForest, Tuts+ and Envato Studio. So, let’s get started!


– Hey Justin! Who are you, and what do you do?

Hey Sam! I’m a dad, husband, designer and software developer from Melbourne, Australia. Until very recently I was heading up the Envato Market UX & Design team, but I have a new role, which is pretty exciting! Envato loves experimenting with new ideas, and one of those ideas really grabbed my attention. One thing lead to another, and today is my first day building up a tiny new team.

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– Sounds exciting! Tell us about your new role.

It’s a little too early to go into detail, sorry! We’re still doing our research on the problem space, the team’s still transitioning out of their old roles and projects, we haven’t decided on a product name… it’s really early days, but I think we’ve uncovered some really interesting problems to solve that fit really well within the Envato community.

– What did you do pre-Envato?

I’ve had a few different design, engineering and team lead roles, mostly in start-ups. Before Envato I was at NZX (the New Zealand Stock Exchange). They acquired Clear (an online commodities trading platform) I’d been working with. Before that I was at RedBubble (another awesome Melbourne creative community and marketplace), Joyent (cloud computing and developer platforms) and an open-source friendly web host called TextDrive, which Joyent acquired. I love two-sided marketplaces and making things for designers and developers. Conveniently, Envato offers me both of these!

– How did you get your job at Envato?

Envato and RedBubble both started around the same time. We both chose Ruby on Rails as our web development framework, so I knew Ryan Allen, John Barton and most of the early Envato development team through the local Ruby community. About 3 years back, John approached me to introduce more user centred design practices into the development team’s daily work. There was a few rounds of interviews, I met a lot of the team and after a painfully long notice period, finally got started.

– What are some of the best projects you’ve worked on?

That’s a really hard question to answer.

With Envato, there’s a heap of great projects I’ve been involved in, but I think I’m most proud of the time I’ve invested in getting to know the Envato community — being active in the forums, listening carefully to feedback and feature requests, attending meet-ups, chatting over Skype and trying my best to understand their perspective. In terms of product changes or technical projects, the HTML5 video player projects were really challenging and successful (we converted the whole library from FLV to MP4, integrated a HTML5-compatible player for mobile devices, introduced mini-players in search results and improved a lot of key metrics in the process).

At NZX, we shipped a new version of the main securities website a few days before the global financial crisis, and it held up really well under enormous load as the whole world watched the first stock market open for trading. At Clear, we introduced a whole new way of trading into the grain industry as it was being deregulated. At RedBubble, we created a pretty amazing platform for artists to sell their work with a tiny team. At TextDrive, we built a really strong community around open source software and web hosting, as well as one of the first Ruby on Rails applications in production after Basecamp (it was profitable almost immediately, too!).

Outside of work, I maintain a pretty popular open source Rails plugin called Formtastic (you can read more about that on the Inside.Envato blog, and I’ll lose a very big bet with some of my Envato co-workers if I haven’t shipped a little side project of mine called TeeSetter before December 25th!

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It’s not all about big headline projects for me though. I get a lot of energy and satisfaction out of shipping frequent, small improvements too — removing a step in a process, tweaking some copy, improving documentation, fixing a bug, reviewing a pull request, optimising a particular workflow or generally trying to make stuff a little bit nicer.

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– Working with the Envato team, what were some of the best things you’ve learned?

More than anything, I think I’ve learned the importance of culture and values, especially in fast-growing teams. They obviously help provide clarity in decision making and prioritisation, and I think having them published publicly on our homepage has really helped us hire the right people with the right motivations.

– Have you ever worked directly with Collis or Cyan? If so, what are they like? They seem so nice!

They’re just like they seem in the videos! I think the personality of Collis, Cyan and the early team has played a crucial part. As I met different people during my interview process, the values of Envato became really clear to me (even though they were yet to be published), and it was a huge part of why I accepted the role.

The team has grown a lot since then, but Collis is still very approachable. It’s still pretty common for any of us to be working with him on major projects, especially in the early stages and close to launch, which is great. My new role reports directly to Collis, which is pretty exciting!

– Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for thinking of me Sam! I’ve really enjoyed working with the Envato over the last few years. It’s such a pleasure to be involved in such a passionate and thriving community.


We’d like to thanks Justin once again for his great answers! If you have any more questions you’d like to ask Justin, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to pass them on to him. For more info about Envato Market, visit ThemeForest.

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