Penji is officially 1 year old. We’ve survived and thrived against all odds. This year we grew from a team of 4 to 35 people.
We’ve endured some of the darkest days and loneliest nights to be here. Today isn’t just a day where we celebrate the company’s success. Today, we celebrate one another.
On today’s episode, I’d like to share some of the things that we have learned throughout the course of our one year. But before we get into all of that, we have to explain how we even got here in the first place.
Johnathan’s Back Story
At the age of 23, I quit my comfortable job at Apple. I was making good money, but absolutely hated where my life was going. I was working an unfulfilling 9 to 5 job and everyday I went into work, I wanted it to end, before it even started.
Directly after I quit my job, I started a digital marketing agency that specialized in developing and designing digital assets for large organizations and brands. We did everything from developing (coding) websites and apps to SEO and online advertising. It’s safe to say that we were a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
When I started the the digital marketing agency, I had ZERO background in graphic design. On paper, I was the least qualified person on the planet to run a company where it’s sole purpose is to help others feel more comfortable with their graphic designs.
I needed to create a team and I needed to create a team fast. I went on popular freelance websites, tried to hire students, and even considered outsourcing our design. Unfortunately, none of these options were the right fit for us.
Throughout the course of several years in business we grew moderately. But we lacked a key component to our business, which was communication. We didn’t know how to communicate with one another, nor did we know how to communicate with our clients.
We originally used primitive ways to communicate with our clients. We used email and even popular SAAS tools, but these still didn’t fit.
And if you know anything about a design revision email chain, you know exactly what I am talking about here.
We eventually created this tool for ourselves to communicate within our own company. Something that was specific to us and our needs. Overtime, that tool became what Penji is today.
Khai’s Back Story
Khai is a serial entrepreneur. We went to high school together, but never really were friends. Khai started an online publication called Owners Magazine. Owners Magazine is a digital publication that shares the stories of business and entrepreneurship in underserved communities across the nation.
He also has started the first ever Coworking facility in Camden called Waterfront Lab. And most importantly created an economic development organization called Waterfront Ventures. An organization that I have the honor to being a board member of.
Waterfront Venture’s mission is to bring 100+ Tech Companies to the city of Camden as a part of an initiative to transform Camden into a Tech Hub on the East coast along with Philadelphia.
As quoted on the website: We’re a group of people who wants to make Camden a better place. Each of our member have ties and connections to Camden and have their own reason for joining Waterfront Ventures. At our core, we believe that a thriving city is filled with fun, innovation, and connections. It’s a city that you and I would want to live in. It’s a city that we’d want our children to grow up in. And it’s a city that’s been a dream for many residents in Camden for decades.
Why we came together
We moved our businesses to Camden in 2015. After the largest tech event in Camden’s history, Camden Catalyst back on October 20th, 2018. Khai and I were asked questions about the future of Camden and our involvement to the future of job creation for our city.
The very next day, we decided to launch that tool we created, into a business that challenges the foundation of how we all think about graphic design by offering unlimited graphic design, at one flat monthly rate, all while hiring inner city youth, residents, and students in Camden.
Here is my personal reflection of our first year at Penji. My goal in writing this is to help future startups with the core fundamentals they need in order to succeed:
Find your story
I personally believe a lot of startups don’t focus on this enough and when they do, it feels rushed. If you’re having an issue finding your story, think about the development and creation of your business.
- Why was it started?
- What are the backgrounds of the founders?
- What are your goals?
Once written down, you might be able to get a general idea of what you can piece meal together to form your story. It doesn’t have to be sexy, it just has to be you.
Our story of Camden and all of the things we want to do for our city is us. It’s real, it’s raw. It’s who we are.
Find a good team
As mentioned in the beginning, we started as a team of 4 people and to date, we have a team of 35 people. We are incredibly grateful for each and every person that risks their livelihood to work for a startup. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to work for a startup you can listen to the podcast episode released on the 23rd of October or check out the show notes below.
Something that I love about our team is the culture that we stumbled upon. We are an extremely tight knit family. I personally believe that’s a huge reason for our success is how close we actually are. The respect that we have in the office and how we communicate with one another.
Before we add an additional team member on our team, we always ask the same two questions:
- What are your dreams and goals?
- How can we help you achieve your dream?
The answers to these questions are the foundation to our relationship with that person. We promote entrepreneurship and are completely comfortable with that person saying that they want to come here just to learn from us. We are also completely ok with them coming to us and saying that they want to have a career and grow within our organization. Either are acceptable answers, but the core takeaway we want them all to have is for them to know that we care and we want them to succeed.
Build a company culture
It’s hard to build a company culture when you’re first starting out. You can invest all the money you want into building the proper company culture but I’d challenge those who may be struggling with this.
- Take a step back and look around you:
- What do you value?
- What does your existing team love to do?
- What do they constantly talk about?
For us at Penji, we primarily talk about food, YouTube drama, Music, Cultural and political events, and more. It’s hard to make a culture out of just those things, but we also all care about one another, our personal/professional lives, and all have this undying support for one another.
Regardless of your companies size, do what works for you and make it your own.
Invest in quality relationships
Friends are hard to come by. In a digital world such as the one we live in today, we are constantly inundated with distractions and notifications from social media.
The way we grew Penji and the success of our company stems from the relationships we’ve built over the past 5 plus years of owning a business. We’ve gone to events
- Threw events ourselves
- Interviewed over 200 people on a podcast
- Spent thousands of dollars on lunch/coffee meetings
Everything you do today, will come back to you someday tomorrow. Keep that in mind as you make consistent investments within your organization.
Focus only on the things that matter and move the company forward
This is by far one of the hardest things you can do for yourself and your business.
This is one of those things that only you can truly commit too. Think about all of the things you do in your life and in your day to day activities as a professional.
If you believe that you are spending your time on useless things that ARE NOT moving your business forward. Cut it out IMMEDIATELY. If the things you’re doing in your business are not meant to increase your sales or build a future pipeline for your business, stoping doing it.
Some of the things that take up a lot of time are:
- Designing digital assets for yourself
- Spending too much time on accounting and payroll
- Doing taxes
- Coding your product, service, or web assets
The reason why your favorite entrepreneur is successful is because that person is paid to think and make the business better. That person is constantly trying to find ways to make the company better, looking at numbers, and talking to the people that will push the business forward.
Deliver on the service you promise
This is simple. You can have the coolest business and the coolest service, but if your business isn’t able to deliver, why be in business in the first place?
You have to deliver on the promises you have made to your customers.
Do what you can to make sure all of your customers are happy and if not, find out why. Don’t be afraid to get on the phone and find out why.
Always be curious!
Don’t take light of the power behind analytics. This means your website, but:
- How you received your customers
- How many emails it takes to get a sales
- How long your customers are saying
- Why they chose you over your competition
- Areas of your website that convert better than others (heat map)
- Financials per month/per year
Don’t be afraid to spend money, when you can
Your business is going to grow and as it grows, expenses will grow. Don’t be reckless, but find a way to spend money as you see fit. One of the best decisions we’ve made as a business is to spend more money on advertising when we probably shouldn’t have. It was a costly risk, but a risk that panned out in the end.
The point here is that the more you take risks in your business, the higher the probability you have in order to get something right.
That constant push to uncertainty has led us to where we are today. That extra spending of money sparked a fire under our butts to make sure we got it right. Because in a months time you’re going to spend X amount of money and at the end of the month you’re going to have to look in the mirror and ask yourself the question: Was it worth it?
Then you’re gonna have to look at your team in the eye and tell them whether your investment was worth while or not.
That pressure personally drives me to get it right and I’m proud we took that risk.
Rinse and repeat
I’m going to make an analogy to the best of my ability. Think of your favorite fast-food place. You go to that spot that you haven’t been to in months. You order your go to, and it tastes the same and the process is exactly the way you remember it.
That happens in businesses too.
Create a process and stick to it. In fact, do it every single day until you get it right. Every business has a formula. Find out what your formula is.
Find time for yourself and do the things that make you truly happy
Last but certainly not least is your own personal development. You can’t work 24/7. You have to take time for yourself.
Throughout the journey, do the things you love and make sure you find time for yourself. Whether you’re a morning or night person, just create the time and do the things that bring a smile to your face. Have fun!