On Developing An On-Demand Graphic Design Platform

Published: November 17th, 2019
Johnathan Grzybowski
Founder, Penji
from Camden, New Jersey, USA
started October 2017
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Howdy Starter Story community! My name is Johnathan Grzybowski and I am the co-founder and CMO of Penji. Penji is a platform that gives you on-demand access to the top two percent of designers in the world. You can submit as many projects as you want, get your completed designs back in under 48 hours and only pay a flat monthly rate.

Our flagship service is our on-demand graphic design service. If you’re a marketer, whether you work for a large company or are a startup founder, there’s always that decision of designing the elements yourself or finding a reliable design resource. With Penji, you don’t need to on-board, talk to HR, or even interview your prospective team. With Penji, you understand the quality and process that will help you obtain the graphic design you need for your brand. Simply log into Penji and ask!

In 2019, Penji was awarded #1006 on the Inc 5000 list. You can learn more about that here: Profile


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

My entrepreneurship career started very similarly to most. I mowed lawns at a young age and shoveled snow. As I grew older, I realized that the opportunity and risk-taker mentality was a part of my DNA. I never tried to seek entrepreneurship, it’s just who I am.

I’ve only had one job in my life that was of value and that was when I worked for Apple. Outside of that Penji is all I’ve ever known.

Success will come, but the degree of success that you will obtain is the level of success you set out for.

Prior to Penji, we started a digital marketing agency. The digital marketing agency started with a $500 deposit into the bank. The company offered services like web design/development, social media marketing, SEO, and so many more general web services. It was a great experience for sure, but there came a point in time where it didn’t become all the awarding. We weren’t making an impact on the caliber that we all know we wanted to.


One of the largest problems we had as an agency was finding reliable graphic design talent. We used different approaches to hiring that didn’t work well for us. We tried to hire students, freelancers and even went on websites to find the best talent.

Eventually, we got the whole hiring thing down and then began to survey our closest friends and family. We asked them simple questions about their daily struggles in business and what took up the most amount of time. Finding reliable design talent became the overwhelming majority of the problem that most marketers were having. We accidentally stumbled across the idea of helping marketing teams and developed technology to make the whole process more efficient.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

The man I am today isn’t the man I was in the beginning. I have experienced a ton of failure and rejection. A lot of which molded me into the strong and gritty individual that I needed to become to help grow the business to where it is today.

But a lot of entrepreneurs have experienced this. So the story here isn’t anything different. But what is different is how it’s processed. A lot of times we become complacent and live a life of rose-tinted glasses.

At the beginning of my personal career I was doing things without many purposes. As I continued to graduate my personal and career development, I began to realize what is important.

Setting a list of values and goals that you work towards is incredibly powerful. Every day, I look at my goals (oftentimes write them down) and every major decision I make is then based on the values I’ve made for myself. These core principles allow me to think clearly and make smart/strategic decisions to help the business grow.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The future has an upward trend to it. We are a profitable and cash-flow positive business. We have never received an ounce of funding and more than likely will never seek such.

We do plan to expand and explore more in the realm of productized services, but it needs to make sense. The market needs to want it and they need to want to keep it.

For Penji currently, we are constantly looking at the numbers and data points that we know are important. We look at these on a weekly basis and find ways to improve.

Looking at numbers has allowed us to think more clearly and less on emotion. Sometimes the emotional decision is never the right decision to make the business more profitable.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Three of the most important things I’ve learned are as follows. These are in no way in a specific order, but all should be addressed appropriately:

  1. Check your ego at the door and make sure you’re taking care of your people first.
  2. Make smarter decisions by acquiring as much data as possible that you know will make your business successful. React-based off of what these numbers are telling you and not on the emotional reaction you naturally want to give.
  3. Make sure your head is screwed on right. Entrepreneurship can be a very dark hole. At times, you may not be able to get out of it. Do whatever it takes to allow yourself to think clearly. This could be from meditating, working out, talking to people on the phone. Whatever it takes, do it and do all of it.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

You won’t like this answer, but we don’t really have these silver bullet services that allow us to be the company we are today. We utilize Google sheets in the best way possible. We use sheets to accumulate prospects/data and use docs to explain processes.

Outside of that Snov.io is a great tool to find new leads. Yesware tracks all of the emails we send. Trello is used for campaign-related projects. Slack is used for all communication.

Nothing too crazy, but just don’t need that next new amazing SAAS products. We are in a rhythm and it’s going to be hard to have a tool break us away from that rhythm.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

A relationship that means a lot to me is with my friend Scott Gerber. He’s a great mentor of mine. The first book I ever read about business was his book Never Get a Real Job.

I ended up having him on my podcast Blind Entrepreneurship and we began a cool relationship.

The thing I’d like you to learn from this answer is that if you read a book and it leaves an impact, email the person. Let them know. You never know what could come out of it.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

There was an image of two workers that were mining for diamonds. One of them stopped working because they got tired and the other kept working, regardless of being tired, even though they had no idea what was on the other end.

Although the image has now become viral, I keep this image relatively close to the front of my mind.

Entrepreneurship and business are hard. Like incredibly hard. There will be good days and other days that may force you to go two steps back. Just remember there are a lot of people that need what you are building. As long as you understand your market, find a team that you believe in and in turn believe in you, it’s only a matter of time before things will go your way.

Success will come, but the degree of success that you will obtain is the level of success you set out for. So think about your purpose. What do you want out of life? What is it all for? Does this struggle/success bring you joy?

If not, change it. If yes, don’t stop mining.

Where can we go to learn more?