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An Inside Look Into Camden’s Newest Startup: Penji

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Within the developing City of Camden, there are gems popping up in their business district. We sat down with Penji’s co-founder, Johnathan Grzybowski. In this conversation, we learned about the problem with design and what Penji is doing to resolve it.

Penji is a dependable on-demand design service that helps marketing teams receive custom design at an affordable monthly cost.

How did you come up with the idea of Penji?

It’s the culmination of our journey as a design agency and our desire provide jobs for students in Camden. Penji is a product we built from the ground up to give our customers a better experience working with a designer, meanwhile we focus on training and hiring students in Camden.

We believe our platform can give customers high quality design at a set monthly cost while giving internships, jobs, and opportunities to students within our community.

What does Penji mean?

Let’s just say that there are a lot of hints out there in the digital universe and we will leave it up to you to decide what you think Penji means.

What is the problem with design today?

The main problem with design is the “pick two” stigma in business. Typically, clients want affordability, quality, and speed, but never have all three.

For example, if you’re a startup looking to expand your marketing strategies, you’re stuck scouring the internet to find a high quality and affordable designer. So then you hire that designer, but you get your affordable and quality design delivered…late. In this instance, the problem is speed.

If you’re an established company, you’ll likely hire an expensive agency to deliver high quality design on time, however you’ll be paying an arm and a leg for it. The problem here is cost.

We believe that we are in an age where we can build just about anything we put our minds to, but the greatest differentiator we have in business is design. We shatter the pick two stigma by helping marketing teams to obtain cost-effective, quality design, on time – every time.

What is your mission?

We strive to be a community-conscious design platform that delivers an exceptional service while providing learning and job opportunities for students in underprivileged communities.

We’ve been in Camden for almost three years and have seen a complete transformation throughout the city. New businesses are coming into the city and are now opening their headquarters here in Camden. We want to set the precedent as one of the first community-conscious tech startups to relocate to the city and pave the way for others to follow.

We also believe greatly in the entrepreneurship and business community as a whole. We set out to develop a product that entrepreneurs, business professionals, and marketing teams want to use.

Finding a quality designer is hard, but at Penji, we believe there are great designers hidden within our community. That’s why we provide design internships, workshops, and learning opportunities to help students learn about design and further hone their design skills.

We are allocating our resources by focusing on the future of design and it begins here in Camden. By giving resources to educate students and professionals about design, it will allow for a smarter workforce, paid internship opportunities, and help grow the local economy.

Can you describe your team?

One of the hardest things to do in a business is to find a reliable team that sees our vision and believes in our mission.

It starts with our core team:

Jie is the glue that brings everyone together. She’s that fiery outgoing personality that is an absolute joy to be around. She’s the person you first want to meet at a networking event, because she will set the tone of incredible people you’ll meet during the rest of your event.

Then there’s Liam, we call him our “Damn Good Designer.” Well, actually, he calls himself that, but that’s a different story. Liam first started as a young and talented designer, now he’s head of design, and sets the tone for everything that’s delivered to our clients. Liam has thorough process and focus on our quality control to make sure that when we design an item for a client, it’s met with the highest quality.

Our dark horse is Steven. The quietest person in the room and the individual with the biggest brain. He’s our problem solver and is dedicated to providing a memorable experience to our customers. What makes Steven so amazing is his ability to do all of his tasks, with little involvement from the founders.

One of the hardest workers on our team is our sales manager, Andria. If you’ve received a phone call, a cold email, or an ask for a guest post or podcast interview, it more than likely came from the focused mind of Andria. With her efforts, we’ve had the opportunity to grow as quickly as we have.

I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the efforts of our outreach specialists, Thomas. He’s the slider of all sliders of DM’s. He’s handling an exceptional campaign for cold outreach and has the ability to execute the most difficulty of tasks. Our interns are also a major asset to our success. The willingness of our team to take these individuals in as our own, and have the ability to constantly teach, is the foundation to who we are today, and the community conscious platform Penji is.

Lastly, my cofounder is the ying to my yang. We are the perfect balance and level each other out. During the entire process of creating Penji, we stuck to each other’s strengths and maintained focus. I couldn’t have done it without him.

I am grateful and honored to have such an inspiring team.

Who is your ideal customer?

Our ideal customers are marketing teams seeking to improve the overall quality of their marketing materials, having designs done on time – every time, and to lower their overhead.

Our clients consist of Rutgers University here in Camden, Camden County College, Cooper’s Ferry, Hardenbergh Insurance Group, Boomerang Office Furniture, just to name a few. These are organizations with large marketing/sales teams that have integrated Penji into their business with ease to better their digital products.

Then you have startups and other small businesses like Only Good Things that just started their business and need help to brand their digital imprint. Level5Wealth that has been in business for years. They are absolutely killing it, but their previous designer left a lot to be desired. Waterfront Lab that’s doing incredibly awesome things for the city of Camden. They have an event every week that needs a graphic for promotion on their social and email channels. These organizations are using Penji to help get their time back, so they can spend more time on their business.

Finally you have non-profits and other economic development organizations like Cathedral Kitchen, Kingsway Learning Center, and Waterfront Ventures. We are so proud to have these organizations as clients because we are artistically telling their story through our digital design efforts.

What differentiates Penji from your competitors?

We’re a monthly subscription service that starts at $349/m for 15 hours of design. Penji is a project management service that allows you and your entire marketing team to work seamlessly and efficiently with our designers and project managers. Gone are the days of going back and forth with emails and poorly marked revisions.

We wanted to make a product that is so simple and easy for our customers to use. Every piece to our backend was done with purpose. Khai, our internal design team, and our development team did a brilliant job.

As soon as you sign up you are met with a screen that allows us to understand your brand. It takes less than five minutes to complete. As soon as you’re complete with that task, you’re set to begin submitting your projects.

Once projects are submitted, your project manager and design team begins working. In under 24-48 hours you will receive the first draft of your design.  If a revision is needed, Penji’s project management service is intuitive enough for you to easily communicate your changes. A simple click of the mouse will unlock an edit section on that design for you to submit your request.

We also transparent to our clients. We bill on recurring monthly basis, which makes using Penji predictable. You’ll never have to wonder if a design is going to go over your budget. Our clients will always know the status of their project, which team member approved what, or who on their team submitted which revisions. Penji provides both transparency and control for marketing teams of all sizes.

What are some challenges that you faced with Penji?

Well, our first challenge was to prove that we have a viable product with a good product/market fit. We introduced the idea to our closest friends, networking groups, and cold called close to 400 local businesses to see if what we were building is a product that marketing teams want. We received a ton of feedback making it difficult at first to understand what each person wanted from the product. We continued this process for about three to four months before designing a single aspect of Penji.

Although this challenge was rather tedious, it did two things for our business:

  1. It allowed us to get feedback to create a better product.
  2. It allowed us the opportunity to get initial interest and beta users before the product launched.

Having general interests in our product was a huge lifesaver because we didn’t have to go far to get our first initial customers. We brought our contacts into our sales process. We told them what we were doing, how we were doing it, and what they needed to know about the product itself. We used things like email newsletter, blogging techniques, and even vlogging to document our process and the production of what Penji is today.

How do you plan on scaling?

In the beginning we needed to solve two huge issues within our business; sales and delivering design in a cost efficient and timely manner. To scale design, i’ll leave that up to my cofounder to discuss in more detail. What has made us so successful is sticking to our roles and not straying away or butting into one another’s process.

So then, how were you able to scale sales and get your first 100 customers?

We’re not at 100 yet, but we’re getting there! It started with documenting every single process, number, and interaction that we had with a prospect (Cold lead). We became a numbers and analytics company. Salesforce and other CRM were not cutting it for us, so we developed an internal CRM that allowed our sales team to be more efficient while allowing us to see the data in real time.

Our cold call and cold email strategies are not revolutionary by any means. We did the work that others didn’t want to do and continued to refine the process over time. If you’re curious how we are doing it, we’ve documented every single strategy and step on my personal vlog/blog. All of our scripts, templates, and internal processes are all there for the taking.

Once we had our process down, we then created a workflow and then hired accordingly. We knew who to hire and how to hire based off of our numbers. We knew that if we wanted to grow by 25% we needed to increase our efforts by hiring two additional people doing x. Because of the numbers we knew what they needed to do, how they needed to do it, and were plugged into the process.

Along the same lines of documenting, we also put an emphasis on content marketing. The vlog did an incredible job bringing more people together. It’s funny, sometimes you may not get the comments or the “likes” directly within a social media post, but people are always watching. Get your information and message out to your audience, whatever way that works best for you. Stop thinking, stop waiting, stop believing that you need this huge and expensive set up, because you don’t. I recorded every vlog on my iPhone 7 Plus. I edited on my Macbook Pro using Final Cut and occasionally used my DJI Mavic Pro for b-roll. Other than that, that’s about it. I focused all of my energy on the story.

Where do you see Penji five 5 years from now?

I’ll revert back to our mission, we strive to be a community conscious design platform that delivers while providing learning and job opportunities for students in underprivileged communities.

It starts right here in Camden. In five years, as our organization grows, we will expand our efforts to other cities. For us, success means that we are able to give back to our community, provide learning opportunities for others to succeed, and allow businesses  to differentiate themselves through quality design from Penji.

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The 8 Sexiest SaaS Companies of 2022 (So Far…)

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Did someone say, Sexy as a Service? No? Too bad. Because here at Owners’ Magazine, we think SaaS are some of the sexiest services out there right now. The deeper society dives into the online world, the hotter SaaS gets. You can think of SaaS as a new kind of infrastructure, like roads and power, but on the internet. 

Companies that are developing their own SaaS technology are building our future one digital brick at a time. To celebrate some of these companies, here is our list of the 8 Sexiest SaaS Companies of 2022. 

So far… 😉

ProtonVPN

Nothing is sexier than quality VPN. This VPN service was founded in 2016 by the Swiss company Proton Technologies (the company behind ProtonMail). They tout a heightened focus on security, a free, no-ad version of their VPN, and a much faster speed as differentiators. In a September 2019 TechRadar review:

ProtonVPN’s network is small, and we had some performance issues during testing. Still, speeds are generally better than average, the apps are well-designed and we have to applaud any genuine VPN which offers a free, unlimited bandwidth plan.” 

ProtonVPN currently has 1,529 servers in 61 countries. They are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. 

Linktree

You know what’s not sexy? Not having all of your social media links in one place. Thanks to Linktree, that’s no longer an annoyance. This freemium social media reference landing page was inspired by that very annoyance. It was reportedly created in six hours and had 3,000 users overnight. 

In 2019, Linktree was included on CNBC’s ‘Upstart 100’ list of “brightest, most intriguing, young startups promising to become the great companies of tomorrow.” 

Printify

You ever have a sexy tshirt idea but don’t know where you can get it printed? Worry no more. Printify, founded in 2015, is a freemium printing platform for artists, entrepreneurs, and more who need to produce their designs on any material – apparel, wall art, home decor, accessories, tshirts, even tablecloths. 

Tablecloths? That’s ridiculous. Sign me up. 

Tripactions

Sexy as it is, traveling is a real pain in the ass, no? Tripactions is a software-based solution to those ever-so-troublesome travel management issues. It’s a cloud-based, one-stop-shop for business travel that allows companies to book hotels, flights, and accommodations with zero hassle. 

Book trips, file receipts, modify reservations, track travel itineraries, chat with travel support agents, and reconcile expenses. Only thing that’s missing is a selfie for the haters. 

Shapr3D

The feeling of designing the perfect design is one of the sexiest feelings out there. Shapr3D is a modeling app for iPad Pro that’s way hotter than the competition. It’s a free app – all modeling tools are included within the app itself. It’s perfect for engineers, industrial designers, jewelry makers, 3D hobbyists, architects, and doodlers regardless of their experience in design. 

The Computer-aided design (CAD) industry is expected to blow up in the next few years. So, might want to hop on the Shapr3D train. 

Lokalise

If you want your work team to be at their sexiest, you might want to get ahold of Lokalise. This cloud-based localization and translation management system was designed primarily “for tech-driven teams managing iOS, Android apps, web, games, IoT or digital content, and software in general.

Lokalise is recognized for its “web-based collaborative editor, cross-platform projects and localization options, and plugins.” This hot little app streamlines the translation and localization process and collaboration among developers, designers, translators, and project managers.

Hopin

Zoom may be overdoing it, but Hopin is making video teleconferencing sexy again. Hopin has hosted over 80K events, working with organizers like United Nations, NATO, and Unilever. 

There are customizable rooms and user experiences. That means that hosts can create a number of creative programming. You can hop from room to room like one would at a live exposition. 

Not only that, but hosts will have access to a full suite of analytics to understand which events worked and which did not. 

Recorded Future

You can’t get much sexier than some serious security, right? Recorded Future is an intelligence platform designed to provide active recommendations around security. They specialize in the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of threat intelligence. 

By using their special patented machine learning and natural language processing methods to continuously collect and organize data from open web, dark web, and technical sources. These are the security kids you want on your side. 

What do you think are the sexiest SaaS companies of 2022? Is there anyone we didn’t include that you think you should have? Comment below and tell who you think should be included in our list of the Sexiest SaaS Companies of 2022.

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Helix-Tower: Amazon’s New Virginia’ HQ2′

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Here’s the other Amazon forest! The multinational online shopping firm will build a helix-shaped tower dubbed Amazon Virginia HQ2. The proposed infrastructure is complete with tree-lined “mountain” visitors can visit during the weekends. Arlington officials recently approved the construction of the tall building. 

According to a Daily Mail report, Amazon’s second headquarters in Virginia will sit in the middle of the company’s new $2.5-billion campus just across the River Potomac from Washington DC.  

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the construction of the 350-foot-tall building. The NBBJ designed the building. NBBJ is an American global architecture, planning, and design firm with offices worldwide. 

Amazon Virginia HQ2 Will Dominate the Region’s Skyline

amazon helix

There’s a law that prohibits skyscrapers within the District of Columbia. The Height of Buildings Act of 1910 was approved by the 61st United States Congress on June 1, 1910, to limit the heights of buildings in DC. It generally bans building heights along residential streets to 90 feet and along commercial corridors to the width of the street’s right-of-way or avenue on which a building fronts, or a maximum of 130 feet, whichever is shorter.

The Amazon building will be one of the tallest structures in neighboring Arlington County. The Helix will dominate the region’s skyline from some vantage points like no building other than the Washington Monument. The structure generally features a spiral hike around its exterior, lined with trees, allowing visitors to follow an encircling outdoor ramp around the edge of the building to its summit. 

The proposed building was first launched by Amazon in February 2021 and is one of many large offices that the web giant on the site will construct.

It will be completed by 2025 and will welcome around 25,000 workers. Once fully operational, the campus will also include a separate park, a community high school, and multiple shops. 

Amazon has claimed that the Helix will have its artist in residence and meeting space for the staff. 

The online shopping leader’s global headquarters is in Washington, with Virginia now set to become its second-most-important US base. 

It spent years searching for a possible second headquarters, with multiple cities setting out its stall across the US.

Some even confirmed recommending amendments to local laws to simplify Amazon to settle and start doing business in the area. They did so, hoping that its presence would beef up their economies. 

Why New York City?

Amazon ultimately announced it had chosen New York City as its site in late 2018. It said it was planning to open a vast new base on Long Island City in Queens, just across the East River from Midtown Manhattan.That sparked fury from the cities that had lost out, who were angry that a metropolis already replete with jobs had landed yet another multinational firm.

Many New Yorkers were also angry and feared Amazon’s presence would further gentrify a notorious city for its astronomical cost of living.

There were also fears from progressive lawmakers – including US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – that the new Amazon Virginia HQ2 would price out poorer locals.

On Valentine’s Day 2019, the firm announced it had withdrawn its bid for its New York headquarters and was instead concentrating on building its Arlington site, which was announced alongside the Long Island City deal.

Following the release of The Helix’s design, people on the internet poke fun at its unusual structure, suggesting it resembles everything from soft-serve ice cream to a poop emoji to a Christmas tree and a cartoon turd.

NBBJ previously designed giant orb-shaped greenhouses for Amazon’s US headquarters in Seattle.

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New CEO Suspends Starbucks Share Buyback Program

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starbucks coffee logo and store

Starbucks announced big plans to lavish its shareholders with new rewards. The company announced it was reinstating the Starbucks share buyback program, promoting a $20 billion commitment in the next few years.

“While Starbucks’ growth this year will not be linear, we are certain our strategy helps a profit-positive company today. And in the long run, it would create value for all stakeholders, partners, customers, and our shareholders,” said Chief Financial Officer Rachel Ruggeri.

However, that plan was thrown out of the window when Howard Schultz assumed office as interim CEO on Monday, taking the company’s reins for the third time.

Why Did CEO Howard Schultz Suspend The Starbucks Share Buyback Program?

Howard Schultz is suspending Starbucks’ share buyback program, announcing on the first day of his third term as the US coffee chain’s CEO. It means redirecting the capital to its stores and staff. The decision is a response to the growing unionization movement in Starbucks. Also, it could be attributed to the rising wage and commodity costs, potential threats due to its suspension of operations in Russia, and COVID- related lockdowns in China.

“This decision will help us invest more in our employees and our stores. It is the only way to create long-term value for all stakeholders,” Schultz said.

howard schultz

What happened? Share buybacks are under political observation after reaching an all-time high of $882 billion among S&P 500 companies in 2021. Giving cash to investors generally boosts share prices by reducing the number available. Still, critics say that money would be better spent on workers and other investments that can broaden the economy.

Last week, US President Joe Biden proposed new rules to curb the practice. However, a Starbucks spokesperson stated that the decision was not about the political climate. The decision to suspend Starbucks’ share buyback program was solely a company’s plan. 

The other significant factor, then, is workers. Since December 2021, several Starbucks stores have unionized despite the company’s plans. Schultz has tried to discourage workers from organizing unions, citing the importance of a “direct and shared relationship” with workers.

But at the height of the pandemic, employees who are fed up with long hours and health risks have more power than they used to. Job openings in the United States reached 11.3 million in February as companies struggled to hire and retain workers.

Last Friday, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York City, voted to create the first US union in the tech giant’s 27-year history.

In suspending the Starbucks share buyback program, Schultz hoped to set a different tone for his term. This would not be a company playing by Wall Street’s rules but by Main Street. Shareholders would not be the company’s primary stakeholders. Instead, Starbucks would work to make life better for its workers.

The statement was an apparent response to a growing unionization effort underway at almost 200 Starbucks stores around the country. It is part of an effort that has diminished its reputation as an employee-friendly company.

In this situation, generous share buybacks may be more challenging for management to defend, and boards like Starbucks may decide that money should go to staff instead. After all, stockholders had it pretty good during the pandemic.

Shares of Starbucks fell almost 3% in premarket trading on Monday. While they have dropped 22% so far this year, they gained 33% across 2020 and 2021. 

“If Starbucks can afford to spend $20 billion on stock buybacks and dividends, it can afford a unionized workforce,” Schultz said.

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