How To Pivot a Graphic Design Agency Into a Subscription Based Model With 1000+ Clients - Interview
Senthu Velnayagam is the Co-Founder and Director of Innovations at Kimp, a subscription-based graphic design service. He co-founded Kimp with his brother, Ven Velnayagam. Senthu is an entrepreneur, focused on developing agile graphic design services.
What's special about Kimp?
Kimp is a subscription based graphic design service, offered for a flat monthly fee of $389/mo. The service kicks off with a free 7-day trial and aims to make professional graphic design more accessible.
Through Kimp, clients get access to a dedicated team, and consistent turnarounds, on a month-to-month basis. So they can sign up for services as they need them, and cancel as they don’t. This allows them to scale their marketing up or down, quickly and easily.
Why did you start Kimp?
I recognized that the agency model comes with the limitations of only serving a few clients, with varying needs. A productized service, meanwhile allows you to serve many more clients, across industries, and to scale. With all this in mind, I co-founded Kimp in late 2018.
Through Kimp, my team and I have been able to make professional graphic design more accessible to startups, SMBs, agencies, and not-for-profit organizations around the world. And this in turn helps them get new ideas off the ground; or to scale in ways that they couldn’t before; or in the case of nonprofits, reach more people than ever with positive messages.
We’re also able to create meaningful employment opportunities for talented designers, eager to work on a wide range of projects.
How did you start it? Did you have any previous experience as an entrepreneur?
I’ve been an entrepreneur, delivering graphic design services since 2003 when I launched BannersMall in Toronto, Canada. BannersMall was the first service to specialize in web banner design for entrepreneurs and digital marketers.
Next, I started a design agency, named Doto, to serve clients who needed a wider range of services. And in 2018, I co-founded Kimp. I already had a great team in place. It was just a matter of working together to develop and implement our productized service.
How did you validate your idea?
For one thing, we knew that subscription based graphic design already existed in many forms. It’s a model that had already been validated at the time that Kimp was getting ready to launch. But when it came to knowing whether the specific tweaks we wanted to implement would work, there was only one way to find out.
We went to market with our ideas after a month of back to back sprints to develop and execute them. And then we kept rapidly testing and course correcting.
How did you finance your project?
Kimp was bootstrapped through revenue from BannersMall and Doto. And all of our initial earnings were reinvested to grow and develop our team and the business.
How did you market and promote Kimp when you were launching?
When we launched Kimp we used a combination of paid and word of mouth marketing. For our paid ads, we relied on a combination of Google Ads and social media - especially Facebook and Instagram. It was really eye-opening to realize that the ads that we thought would do really well, didn’t always. And the ones we tried out just for fun, would become our unexpected hits.
When it came to word of mouth marketing, we explored a couple different approaches. For one, we emailed and called our past clients introducing our new service, with a special offer, and invited them to share this with their network. We also tapped into the entrepreneurial hub we’re apart of in Markham, Ontario, called YSpace. Through YSpace we were able to get valuable feedback on our campaigns and sign up some clients too.
How long did it take you to start getting the first results and see you could create a viable business?
Within our first 2 months. I knew we had all the right pieces from the get-go. A great team. The logistics and operations. But once our marketing campaigns started taking off, and we started signing up clients from countries we’d never gotten traction from before, that’s when I knew we were on to something bigger than we’d realized.
What are the main ways in which you are able to monetize Kimp?
Our subscription model is the primary way we are able to monetize Kimp. Whereas other business models involve hourly or project-based pricing, and that too with hidden fees, our flat fee model works well for our clients and us.
With the monthly subscription fee, we’re both able to plan and predict our workflows, and budgets, better. And scale more easily.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
Within our first 3 months, Kimp became profitable. While we would continue heavily investing in our team members’ and the company’s development and growth, we were able to hit profitability in our first quarter.
And are now looking to continue to expand further into different markets, as far as where our clients are based, and also where our design teams are as well.
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
I’ve always wanted to carve out my own path. And being an entrepreneur allows me to do that while exploring new business ideas, and creating opportunities for others. I couldn’t find a more fulfilling combination in any other kind of role.
What has been your biggest challenge/failure as an entrepreneur?
One of the biggest challenges I faced with my past businesses was balancing innovation with growth. Growth in different forms, like increasing revenue, can trick you into believing that you’re growing your business.
But if you stop innovating, creating new streams of revenue, and getting ahead of the curve, you will have a much harder job to catch up. In my experience, this was made all that much more challenging by setting up operations in different countries, and constantly being on the move.
What are your business goals for this coming year?
Our business goals for the coming year include improving our user experience, building custom software to further support the design process for our clients, creating new roles for team members, and growing our team.
We’re also looking at expanding our presence in different regions as far as serving more clients, and creating opportunities for aspiring designers to be trained, and to work as designers, in regions that lack them. Design has played a transformative role in my life, and my team’s life, and we want to keep paying that forward.
How can an aspiring entrepreneur start building a business now ? What would be a good business type to start as a beginner?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to keep experimenting and validating their ideas, pivoting as needed. Don’t try to launch something that exists solely in your mind. Talk to your target audience, and get the advice of those with relevant insights to share.
As a beginner, I’d suggest starting a business that solves a pain point you’ve experienced, and couldn’t find an adequate solution for. Or one that you recognize in a particular niche. Do a thorough swot analysis, and research what’s currently available on the market, and how it falls short. It may even be the case that what’s currently on offer serves a large chunk of the target market just fine, but leaves a few segments that you can support.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
A habit of mine that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is waking up early and getting in a workout. This helps me clear my mind and get focused before I start calls or responding to emails.
What's your favourite quote?
A favourite quote of mine is from LinkedIn’s Co-Founder Reid Hoffman - “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.”
Any good book(s) to recommend to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Expert Secrets and Dotcom Secrets have great tips for scaling your business online. The Lean Startup emphasizes the need for constant innovation. And Looptail is an inspiring read about building a business without compromising your values.
Learn more about Kimp at www.kimp.io
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