My name is Amy Balliett and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Killer Visual Strategies, an industry-leading visual communication agency that designs and executes communication and content marketing solutions across a diverse array of media, including infographics, motion graphics, augmented reality, and interactive experiences. I’m also an established public speaker on visual communication who has appeared at more than 175 conferences around the world, including SXSW, SMX Advanced, and Adobe MAX.
Killer’s custom-designed campaigns help clients speak visually to the audiences who matter most. We have designed and executed successful visual strategies for a number of Fortune 1000 companies, including Amazon, Boeing, the Discovery Channel, Edwards Lifesciences Corporation, and Microsoft. Killer has been named an Inc 5000 company for the last four years, making it one of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and was the owner and founder of several companies before Killer Visual Strategies took off in 2010.
Keep an open mind so that you can find creative ways to get past roadblocks and recognize opportunities to take your business in a new direction.
I actually owned my first company when I was only 17 years old. It was an ice cream parlor and candy store at a vacation resort in my home state of Ohio. I spent about 80 hours a week operating the business during the summers of my junior and senior years of high school, then sold the business back to the resort.
The proceeds from that company helped fund my college education. I studied film and marketing, then moved to Seattle, where I pursued a career in the film until the opportunity to pursue my next venture presented itself. I had the idea to create a new social network centered around artists — something that could compete with the then-popular MySpace. I launched Ourtbeat.com in December of 2006.
That business was ultimately short-lived, but I learned a few very important lessons. In the process of creating visual marketing materials to promote Ourtbeat, I realized that marketing — not film — was what I was truly passionate about. I also discovered just how powerful visual, as opposed to text-based, content was when it came to promoting a company. Both of these realizations would ultimately drive me to found Killer.
I pursued a career in SEO and online marketing for several years to continue developing my skills before, in 2009, I left to start a lead-generation–based company. I created infographics to promote the startup, and suddenly, people were starting to ask me to make infographics to promote their businesses. Again, I saw the huge potential in visual content — and I saw an opportunity. In 2010, we pivoted our business model entirely, starting what was then called Killer Infographics.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Killer Infographics was a self-funded startup that began with just a $750 personal investment. At the time, in 2010, the demand for infographics was huge and growing exponentially, and as a result, Killer grew quickly, too. We soon had our first office, and we’ve moved about five times since because our team kept growing and growing.
Within two years, we had branched out to offer a wider variety of visual communication services beyond infographics. Today, we can build full visual campaigns, and develop any kind of visual content our clients may need to achieve their goals and reach their audience, from motion graphics to visual reports and ebooks to interactive and augmented reality experiences.
We grew our team steadily, but I had no intention of building a large company. I always wanted to keep the business small, for a few reasons: first, I didn’t want to cultivate a “corporate” culture that lost the sense of community and partnership that makes small companies so much better to work for. I didn’t want to create a highly hierarchical business structure where non-managers wouldn’t have direct access to me as CEO. And finally, I wanted our team to be all in-house and all in one place to facilitate creativity and collaboration. Our creativity is our bread and butter, and our ability to bring every single person who’s working on a project into one room to brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions for our clients is what makes us different from our competitors.
Killer is now a multimillion-dollar company that has seen growth every year and has been one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States for the last four years. We are the leading visual communication company in the world and have won more than 30 awards for visual communication.
This year saw a lot of exciting changes for Killer. In January, we were acquired by LRW Group and we now operate under Kelton Global, a strategic consultancy, as a member company of LRW. This is a fantastic opportunity for our clients, because Kelton is the best insights engine in the business, helping its clients solve marketing communications, branding, and innovation challenges. Killer develops visual strategies that will help our clients achieve their goals and reach their target audiences, and now we can offer them a way to gain powerful insights on their audiences that will inform and drive the visual strategies we develop.
In June of 2019, we changed our name from Killer Infographics to Killer Visual Strategies. This shift was, we felt, long overdue. We’d been offering much more than infographics for years, and our old name confused some clients and potential clients who didn’t realize the full breadth of our services. Our new name finally reflects who we are as a company and all we have to offer.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re committed to the steady and continued growth of our business in partnership with Kelton and other members of the LRW Group. We’re really excited about where this will take us as a company.
Meanwhile, as CEO, I’m working on stepping back from day-to-day management of the company so I can focus on achieving our long-term goals. I’m working to develop new opportunities in my role as a corporate and public speaker on visual communication. I don’t just speak at conferences and events — I also provide internal presentations and training on how businesses can implement visual communication solutions across their organizations. Companies that put visual design first and prioritize it at the executive level see their annual revenue growth triple, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. I’m also writing a book.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As an entrepreneur and CEO, I truly feel like I learn something new almost every day. Running a startup requires a willingness to wear many hats. In fact, my first title with the company was Chief Swiss Army Knife.
Still, while I was willing to jump in and help with design or content or any other needs in our early days as a company, the most essential thing I learned was the importance of building an incredible team.
I have a team of hugely talented designers, content writers, project managers, developers, animators, and marketers, and each of them is a great resource for the company. They drive so much of our creativity, growth, and innovation. That can’t just come from the top — any healthy company needs to build a great team and then listen to their suggestions because they’re the key to the future of the company.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As a visual communication agency, we obviously couldn’t live without the Adobe Suite. Our marketing team has been using Zoho as our CRM platform, but we’re in the process of switching to HubSpot, which we’re very excited about. It a very robust tool that will help us gather more data and be more productive and efficient in our marketing efforts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I think the most important trait for any entrepreneur to cultivate is a willingness to keep learning. There’s no way you can anticipate every obstacle or opportunity that will come your way. What’s important is that you keep an open mind, so that you can find creative ways to get past roadblocks and recognize opportunities to take your business in a new direction.
I didn’t set out to start a visual communication agency, but when I saw that there was more potential there than in the business I was running, I changed my whole business model. It was the best choice I ever made.
All of this also means being open to other peoples’ ideas. Ask for advice from experts in your industry. Seek out useful resources. And listen to your employees — more often than not, they can point you in the right direction.
Where can we go to learn more?
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