How to Scale from Failing to 1,000 Clients in 12 Months

Most people, if they had zero clients, would throw in the towel.

A very, very few would decide that it’s time to massively scale.

Scaling a business is one of the largest challenges faced by executives today.

Today we’re joined by Johnathan Grzybowski, CMO and Co-Founder of Penji, an on-demand graphic design service, as he talks about how he turned his failing business around in a little over a year.

When you’re scaling, how do you cross the normal revenue hurdles as well as ensure that process and structure can scale without restricting growth or creativity or innovation?

“I’m really excited to be able to share the story of how we were able to get there because it’s a story of grit and determination,” Johnathan said.

“A lot of people are trying to scale without truly understanding their business.”

Johnathan Grzybowski, Co-Founder of Penji

Taking Stock

You’ve got to do an honest assessment of where you are.

Johnathan’s agency of about 10 employees kept getting the same feedback: Love your graphic design.

“That was a light bulb moment,” Johnathan said. “If people love that portion of it, let’s explore that a little bit further.”

Penji was created by an accident when they tested out that service within a select group of people. Fast forward, now it has 50 employees and over 1,000 clients.

“During the transition phase, we asked a lot of questions about ourselves,” Johnathan said.

  • Who are our clients?
  • Why do they want to choose us?
  • What are the problems that we’re solving?
  • How do we get them to refer us?
  • What are our values?

Besides answering those questions, Johnathan made sure that Penji exemplified these three qualities.

“One of our mottos is we want to help those who help others. And that goes beyond just saying it.”

Johnathan Grzybowski, Co-Founder of Penji

1) Empathy

So you’ve got three graphic designers, and they each come back with slightly different variations because their personality comes through in the naturally unpredictable creative element.

Managing that at scale is not about controlling it. “It’s an eagerness and a willingness to get it right,” Johnathan said.

“We tell our graphic designers that you’re never going to get fired by creating something that isn’t good–so be adventurous, be creative,” he said.

If that isn’t exactly what the client wants, then it’s a matter of communication and understanding how to deliver on the client’s goals.

Which takes deep, deep empathy with the client.

“For us, it’s part technology and part really understanding the person,” Johnathan said.

Making sure a client wants to keep working with you is also a matter of empathy. “If you work with someone who’s nice and understanding and they’re curious to learn more about who you are? Your level of frustration might diminish a little bit more,” he added.

2) Community Ties

Penji works really closely with its Camden, New Jersey, community.

Specifically, it partners with Hopeworks, an organization that trains youth for potential tech jobs. “They prime these individuals to just walk in and be able to work with us. That was one of the best things that could’ve happened to us,” Johnathan said.

Penji also offers about 25 nonprofits per year its unlimited services for $1 per month.

“A lot of nonprofits need graphic design more than anybody else, but they just don’t have the resources,” Johnathan said.

That approach of giving back to the community has earned Penji the opportunity to get in publications and meetings and to grow a local reputation.

“One of our mottos is we want to help those who help others. And that goes beyond just saying it,” he said.

“It’s the most powerful thing to treat another human like another human.”

Johnathan Grzybowski, Co-Founder of Penji

3) Customer Connection

“A lot of people are trying to scale without truly understanding their business,” Johnathan said.

Having 1,000 customers might make it difficult to keep connected to the human element. To avoid looking at the clients as mere numbers.

“Our success rates are going to be higher because of how specific we are to that person. We’re talking to that person,” he said.

Penji uses SEO advertising targeting techniques, sales funnels (demos, ebooks, discounts), and email campaigns. “Any way you can get your message out there creatively is incredibly important,” Johnathan said.

If new clients report they found Penji through Facebook ads, more money goes into Facebook ads next month.

Local partners. Client referrals. Why pick just one method to connect with customers?

As long as the connection is based on empathy and community, it’s going to be a strong one.

How to Keep Scaling:

“Not being stagnant,” Johnathan said. “We’re constantly trying to switch it up. Even if it’s just a word in an email.”

Constantly changing is a strong argument for continuing to scale. People have to continually evolve, after all.

Bottom line, it’s the human element.

“It’s the most powerful thing to treat another human like another human,” Johnathan said.

To learn more about Johnathan and Penji, visit

This post is based on a podcast interview with Johnathan Grzybowski from Penji.To hear this episode and many more like it, subscribe to the B2B Revenue Executive Experience.

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