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“Whatever it is you stand for as a person, incorporate that in some capacity within your business” With Johnathan Grzybowski

More businesses need to be socially conscious, but the key is not do something that isn’t authentic to what you believe in. Social missions can come off gimmicky and people can tell you don’t believe in your mission


I’d say more businesses need to be socially conscious. We care greatly about our community. We hire inner city youth and residents in hopes that they can take what they learn from working with us and apply it to their future.

Whatever it is you stand for as a person, incorporate that in some capacity within your business. But the key is not do something that isn’t authentic to what you believe in. Social missions can come off gimmicky and people can tell you don’t believe in your mission


I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnathan Grzybowski, a rogue risk taker turned serial entrepreneur. He is the Co-founder of Penji, an online design service that offers unlimited graphic design at one flat monthly rate. Johnathan is also the host of the podcast, Blind Entrepreneurship, with a mission to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs by telling the story of startup leaders across the country.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My entrepreneurial career started similarly to other young men trying to make money, which was mowing lawns at 14.

I grew up in a particularly rough area of North East Philadelphia and had to work for every single penny I’ve ever earned. (Still true to this day) My parents have blue collar jobs and neither of them are entrepreneurial. Over time, I felt guilty asking the question, “Hey mom, can I borrow a dollar for ice cream?” Knowing they worked their butts off to make sure their three kids lived a comfortable life. I knew I needed to do something for myself, I started mowing lawns around my neighborhood right before my family decided to leave Philadelphia for the suburbs in Cherry Hill, NJ.

When I first moved, there wasn’t much for me to do. I didn’t know anyone and because of my brief experience in mowing lawns in Philadelphia, I saw all of this land as opportunity. Mowing lawns taught me two things:

1. The value of a dollar and how hard you have to work in order to obtain that dollar. When I wanted to buy something, I would always equate things to the amount of lawns I had to mow in order to get whatever it was I wanted to purchase. If I wanted a video game, I knew I had to mow 3–5 lawns to buy that game. I had internal dialogues to determine if the game was worth the amount of lawns mowed.

2. Hard work. We would work tirelessly for hours in the heat with water and sandwich breaks in between. We would start at 8am and not finish until 5pm. Working with your hands and being outside taught me the tireless work ethic I possess today.

After my first entrepreneurial experience, I caught the bug. In 2013 I started a digital marketing agency and during that time period, I was having a difficult time finding reliable graphic design talent. I went on freelance websites, interviewed students, and even outsourced our graphic design jobs. But none of these solutions made sense for the business. This was a common problem in the industry and I was determined to fix it. This led me to later co-found Penji in 2017. Penji is an unlimited graphic design service created to supplement a creative team when they are overloaded with design tasks. I am excited to be a part of changing the landscape of graphic design as we know it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Camden. Not a lot of people know WHY we started Penji. My co-founder Khai Tran and I both worked in Camden for a number of years and saw an opportunity to make a real difference if we were to run a successful startup together. That startup would enable me to solve a major business problem and revolutionize the graphic design industry. Penji would enable him to provide jobs and opportunities to students and prove tech startups can thrive in Camden. We came together because we shared a path. But neither one of us could have predicted how fast Penji would grow. Within 3 months of launching Penji, the startup made more than both of our individual businesses combined and by the 4th month, we decided it’s time to work on Penji full time.

The second story involved the name around Penji. There are only 3 people in the entire world know what Penji means. If you think you know what it means, or want to guess how we came up with the name, there are clues hidden throughout the website.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started Penji, we used a lot of unconventional ways to grow our company. There was no real marketing funnel in the first 6 months.

We used the better half of our year in business to further understand our customers and their reasoning behind why they chose us over our competition.

The initial foundation may have been a mistake, but it’s gotten us to where we are. Sometimes businesses wait until they have the perfect sales funnel and all the right tools in order to be successful. We didn’t care about the lack of resources, but the one thing we did have was grit.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have a unique service that offers unlimited graphic design. But if I had to pick one thing that makes us stand out, it’s our people.

We have an incredible team that is essentially one large family. We work hard, but we also like to have fun. To get a better idea of how we operate, at 2pm every day, we eat lunch together. No questions. 2pm hits, computers go to sleep, and we share meals and stories as a team.


Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our team has worked hard on fundamentally reshaping the current structure of Penji. What you see Penji as today, will not be what Penji is tomorrow. There are many updates we are about to release that will make our customers happy. Updates that they’ve been asking for and will make their lives even easier. And if I could give a hint, it involves mobile. 🙂

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

I remember this day vividly. The tipping point came, where we obtained our highest gross sales in one day. (at that time). It was a day where everyone on the team was hard at work, focused on their tasks. We were all making moves and communicating non-verbally. The energy was contagious.

When you are able to focus 100% on your job and cut out all of the things that don’t matter, true success will quickly follow. It’s hard not to get distracted, but the lesson here is if you’re truly able to focus on ONE thing you know will move your company forward…do it!

Stop entertaining new ideas, stop being distracted by unwanted emails or meetings. Drop clients giving you problems. Just continue moving forward the best way you know how.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

I am a huge stickler when it comes to my schedule. Everything I do in a day is located on my calendar. Every single second is accounted to do something productive, but productivity doesn’t necessarily mean work. Create a schedule and add time for yourself. Make sure you give yourself time.

Do what makes you happy. For me it’s working out and sweating. I love working out and being healthy. It’s fun and helps me think clearly. I also like to cook and read. Whatever it is for you, stop making excuses, and make time for yourself.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

Marketing to me means getting your name out there in a creative way. When someone mentions your “keyword/phrase” they think of you and your business.

With the amount of content and noise in the world today, it’s hard to seperate yourself from others. Marketing, advertising, and content creation can help you separate yourself. The most critical part to this is maintaining consistency.

Think about your favorite fast food joint. Why are they all successful? Because they have a formula that works and has worked repeatedly. You need to go out there and find your marketing formula.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Right before we started Penji, I created a podcast. To date, I’ve interviewed over 200 of the top entrepreneurs and business professionals in the world.

Giving people a platform to speak has been one of the most incredible accomplishments I’ve ever achieved. The 200 people I’ve interviewed have individually taught me something different about myself and in business. I’d recommend to anyone reading this, to create a platform that allows you to learn. Books will ultimately put the pieces of the puzzle together, but there is nothing better than talking your problems out to someone in real time.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?

This answer may be controversial, but most small business owners have this “shiny objective syndrome” where they need tools for every little thing to help scale their business.

Tools are a great resource for sure, but they can’t fix a poorly run business. Before you focus your energy on tools and technology, you have to understand the fundamentals of how your business works and what your brand stands for.

What are your “5 Non-Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Locality matters more than you think. When most businesses start, they immediately think their solution can help people worldwide. And for the most part, they may be right. However, should that be your business’ focus? It takes a ton of discipline to tell yourself and your team to NOT expand your company to the world right away. I’d encourage more businesses to stay local first. Do as much as you can to capture your local region. Grow as much as you possibly can within your 30+ mile radius. Then, whatever processes you create from this, do the same for other cities you plan to launch your product/service to.
  2. Stop doing the things you’re not good at. You don’t have to be good at everything and it’s something you need to accept. Far too often do entrepreneurs or business professionals do “busy work” just to say they’ve accomplished something for that day of work. Regardless of your position in the company, focus more on the things you are good at vs the things you’re not.
  3. Spend money on advertising, even if you can’t afford it. One of the scariest things to do in business is to spend your money. You’ve worked your tail off to obtain it and you have every right to keep it. But spending more money than you’re comfortable with unlocks a level of fear/uncertainty. That fear will allow you to hold yourself accountable for making the right decision for your business you work for. It’s essentially a reality check and the motivation you need that will almost guarantee you get it right the first time.
  4. Stop focusing on scaling in the beginning. Scaling a company takes time and far too often do I hear businesses trying to find the ultimate process that generates millions of dollars. Sometime people can get it right the first time, but if you’re like us at Penji, it takes a lot of trial and error. For the first 6+ months, we obtained our customers using unscalable sales tactics. We worked hard to gain trust within the marketplace, but it was by no means perfect.
  5. Track everything. Literally, every detail in your business. The reason our marketing/ was successful was because of our tracking. Although the perfect sales process is still being fine tuned and tweaked, our initial investment in data allowed us to make smarter business decisions. Now, when I say investment, this doesn’t mean we spent a lot of money to obtain this research. We just looked at out analytics, spoke to our customers to find out where they came from, and asked them why they became a customer of Penji. We later used the data for future marketing efforts that helped us get more customers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d say more businesses need to be socially conscious. At Penji, we care greatly about our community. We hire inner city youth and residents in hopes that they can take what they learn from working with us and apply it to their future.

Whatever it is you stand for as a person, incorporate that in some capacity within your business. But the key is not do something that isn’t authentic to what you believe in. Social missions can come off gimmicky and people can tell you don’t believe in your mission

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

Throughout my entire life I’ve always took the road less traveled. It’s a constant theme. Every time I saw the easier path to success, I took the longer road on purpose because I knew it would be more rewarding in the end.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow Penji on your favorite social platform at @dotpenji or honestly, just head over to our website. www.penji.co

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Originally published at medium.com

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