How We Started a
Subscription-Based Design Company
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Ven Velnaya and I’m the Co-Founder and Sales Director of Kimp.io. Kimp is a subscription-based design company that provides graphic design and marketing video subscriptions. We offer our subscriptions for a flat monthly fee, on a month-to-month basis, making professional design more accessible to entrepreneurs, companies and brands around the world.
Kimp actually started off as an unlimited graphic design company, but we soon realized that our clients also needed help with marketing videos. So we’ve expanded our suite of services to incorporate this as well.
We’re always on the lookout for how we can expand Kimp to better meet the needs of our clients. We’ve got an incredible team and clients who help drive these efforts forward. And we’re grateful for this as the pandemic has really thrown everyone into uncharted territory.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
While my experiences have mostly been in the world of design and marketing services, I actually studied Computer Engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto. Having come to Canada with my family because of a civil war and seeking better opportunities, entrepreneurship wasn’t high on my list of career options at first. Not because I didn’t want the opportunity to build something of my own, or to work for myself. That was always a dream. But because it felt like so much was at stake, after everything my family had come through. And choosing anything but a more “stable” career didn’t feel like a realistic option.
Except that it was. After I finished my degree, and started job hunting, those “stable” careers were hard to come by. So I launched my own design startup “Banner Junky” and helped my brother with the sales and operations of the banner design startup he’d launched a few years back – “BannersMall”. At the time, in the early 2000s banner designs were in high demand as digital marketing ramped up. But there weren’t too many designers focusing on it. So while eventually, I did spend a few years as a Network Analyst, doing graphic design on the side, I was able to quit the job and move forward with running a design agency with my brother, and Co-Founder, Senthu.
In 2010 we launched Doto Studio, to tackle all the design projects that our clients had been requesting for years. We’d been unsure about branching out at first, as our focus on banner design was going well. But our clients kept asking for more, and we were able to find the right designers and team members to continue our banner design services, alongside running an agency.
Pretty soon we were tackling everything from motion graphics to web design projects. And things were going well, until they weren’t. While we were initially serving clients from across a wide range of industries, by 2017 we were primarily working with those in real estate and development in Canada. And so when the market dipped, we felt the pains of relying on a few accounts with big budgets, when they had to downsize. The agency model can make you really vulnerable to fluctuations in the niches you focus on. And as we were spread thin across clients, and all that we were trying to offer, we weren’t able to innovate to keep up with our competitors on the banner design front.
By 2018 we were in a do-or-die situation. Our businesses were bleeding money. But we had a great team of designers and still served clients from a wide range of industries. It just wasn’t enough to cover our costs. So we started doing the equivalent of design sprints with business models. Conceptualizing, building, and running with ideas to see what would take off.
As we went through one by one, with pressure mounting, we finally came back to a model we had come across in 2015. Subscription-based graphic design. It would allow us to narrow the scope of our service, but still serve clients across different niches. Many of whom we were previously turning away because we were too swamped. And we had proof of concept. By this time there were several services successfully executing the model.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
It’s one thing to launch a new business or product when that’s your primary focus. And that’s a huge challenge in and of itself. But in our case, we were trying to keep things going with our existing business models and clients, while pivoting into Kimp. There were projects we had already committed to, that needed to be completed. And all the while we were trying to develop our new branding, website, operations and launch. To say finances were strained is an understatement. At times we were scraping through one month, only to start trying to figure out how to make it through the next. The stress and strain were unbelievable as we all did our best to hold on through everything we had to juggle.
Fortunately, we did launch and Kimp took off within a couple of months. All of a sudden we had a new set of challenges and opportunities to tackle. Our processes were breaking as fast as we were building them as we started getting an influx of clients. Clients from around the world, who needed support in their respective time zones. That first quarter especially was filled with so much growth because we were constantly being challenged to come up with creative solutions to the limits we were faced with. For instance, there were roles we didn’t realize we needed to hire for in order to make sure internal processes were moving along efficiently. And it was only while we were each trying to wear 10 too many hats that we’d realize this. Looking back on it now, I feel even more grateful for how far we’ve come.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is very broad. We serve any individual or organization that needs support with graphic design or marketing videos. This can range from entrepreneurs, to nonprofit organizations, to SMBs and global brands. What’s been very interesting for us is to see how our clients use the service.
For instance, we’ll have a new brand that’s preparing to launch signing up for a month to get their brand assets sorted. Or we’ll have a company or agency sign up to get ongoing support with their design projects. And others who will sign up on a regular basis whenever they have a busy period for their marketing campaigns.
The common threads tend to be that our clients are looking for a cost-effective and efficient solution for getting their design projects done. Since working with Kimp allows them to work with the same team on an ongoing basis, for a flat monthly fee, we’ve been able to provide them to them.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We market Kimp through a few different channels. Primarily social media and Google Ads, as well as affiliate marketing and referral marketing these days. When we first got started we relied on referrals and email marketing quite a bit as we reached out to our past clients from BannersMall, Banner Junky and Doto Studio.
Over time, as we built up a more steady base of recurring clients, and had testimonials and reviews from them to speak to their experiences, we were able to use them to create more impactful paid campaigns.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
One of the things that we’ve found most effective in client retention is customer service. From the time that a client signs up to start a subscription we do proactive check-ins with clients to make sure that they are enjoying their experience, or to find out how we can improve it. If a client is running into issues with the design team they’ve been assigned, we’ll assess whether that team can make the changes required in the workflow, or we’ll assign a team better suited to the client’s needs. And so on.
When it comes to customer service our live chat really goes a long way. We’re available 7 days a week to our customers. And so they know that no matter where in the world they are, they’ll be able to reach a Kimp Team Member if they have questions or concerns.
With regards to our subscriptions themselves, we work really hard to make sure that we’re packing in as much added-value as we can for our clients. For instance, a Kimp Graphics subscription comes with the option to request custom illustrations and landing page designs. They aren’t extra add-ons to worry about. Knowing that they’re paying a flat fee, which doesn’t get increased on a regular basis, and getting a lot of value in that fee has played a huge role in customer retention.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our company culture has really evolved over the past couple of years. We started out pivoting into this business, under difficult circumstances. And then had to shift to being completely remote and scaling throughout the pandemic. Though we often think about how much we’ve been able to achieve in spite of different hurdles, our company culture was definitely created because of it.
Our team members have different designated roles, but there’s an open-door policy when it comes to hearing out new ideas or addressing challenges. We wouldn’t have been able to launch Kimp had it not been for Team Members tackling roles that went far beyond their job descriptions. And voicing their ideas and opinions on the best ways forward. We try to encourage that as much as possible. This includes standing meetings for each design team, meetings specifically to brainstorm ways we can enhance the service, and impromptu video calls to check-in to see how each Team Member is doing.
While these team-building methods have worked up to an extent, we’re very much looking forward to being able to have in-person events and working hubs set up again once we’re through the pandemic.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a combination of different software and tools to keep our workflows running smoothly. We’ve customized Trello as the dashboard through which clients can make and manage their design requests. For internal projects we use Basecamp.
Flock is our internal messaging software, and we use Crisp for our website’s live chat feature. We’ve also built a couple of proprietary tools as well. The first is our CRM to help manage client accounts and records. And the second is a hub that we use to help team members with time management and quality control.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If we started again today I’d say that I’d focus more so on 3 things. Content marketing and sales campaigns from the get-go. Fine-tuning processes as we went along. And creating more opportunities for interactions with prospective clients. When it comes to content marketing and sales, it can take a lot of trial and error to build momentum, zero in on the best marketing channels and campaigns, and also figure out who your customer personas are. The faster you can get these efforts going, the more insights you’ll have to work with. You don’t want to over plan and never launch. It’s the trial and error that gives you the clearest idea of how to move forward.
As far as fine-tuning processes, I’m talking about operational efficiencies here. Things always feel like they’re working just fine until they’re not. And of course, it’s not always possible to see a problem if it’s in your blind spot. But if you can earmark some time on a regular basis to evaluate how effective and efficient your processes are, then you’ll be able to get ahead of challenges before they arise. And this will also help you figure out where you need to add extra roles to your team.
When it comes to more interactions with customers – they are any business’ greatest source of learning. And so as much as you can create opportunities for feedback loops you’ll be better off. For us this has taken the form of the live chat, setting up calls, and reaching out with emails.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom that comes with it. Being able to try new things without the limits of having to follow someone else’s vision. With everything that we do there’s a lot of experimenting and learning. It feels impossible to plateau. There’s always a new goal to chase. And I think that comes from starting something from scratch, on your own. Building the right team to move it forward. And then pushing it as far as you can take it, together.
As an entrepreneur, there are a lot of constraints you face. But as much as that can feel tough at times, it really pushes you to be creative and come up with innovative solutions. You’re not always going to have all the pieces come together before you launch. Chances are you won’t even know what the pieces are. But if you show up and keep trying you’ll keep learning and you’ll build something beyond the initial idea that sparked it all.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Funny enough, it’s connected to my favorite aspect. With all that freedom comes a lot of responsibility and liability. When you start any entrepreneurial journey you’re going to be in for a rollercoaster ride. And you can’t let up. You might have a team depending on you, your family and others as well. And you’ve got a limited runway depending on your finances and other resources you have available.
This means getting stretched pretty thin and not being able to plan or anticipate things at times. It means dropping the ball in other areas of your life to make sure that your plans for your business keep going forward. Thankfully there are moments where you can feel things coming together, and you can see your vision being realized. And for me, that’s made the journey that much more rewarding.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
My top 3 right now would probably be Leveling Up with Eric Siu, Digital Marketer’s Perpetual Traffic, and Patrick Bet-David’s Valuetainment. These days I’m most preoccupied with strategies for scaling and I’ve found a lot of great insights across this content. With Eric Siu’s podcast, the really great thing is that you’re hearing success stories, yes. But it’s not just a highlight reel and vague ideas. You get actionable advice and insights to help you understand the road map to a particular business goal.
Perpetual Traffic is hosted by Ralph Burns (Tier 11) and Amanda Powell (DigitalMarketer). And I would honestly say that the value you get from their insights is much more than even paid courses offer. Just like Leveling Up you get a lot of actionable advice. If you’re looking for a resource for your Facebook Ads I’d highly recommend this one! And Valuetainment is just great for all-around motivational content. It features a lot of in-depth interviews with high-performers. And it can be a great motivational boost when you need a pick-me-up.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years from now, I see Kimp having a larger presence in the regions we currently serve. In our first couple of years we’ve seen that subscription-based design is still a relatively new concept for a lot of our clients. And so we’re focusing on raising brand awareness. As more potential clients become aware of how they can benefit from and utilize a subscription we’re looking forward to supporting more brands and businesses.
I’m also looking forward to being able to bring on more team members and to create hubs in the various regions in which they work. While we’ve gone fully remote through the pandemic, we’re looking forward to creating opportunities for, and spaces in which, team members can get together, whether it be for training or social gatherings. Our clients and team members are at the heart of everything we do, and so it’s exciting to be planning for ways in which we can better serve and support them.