Host of Hacker Noon Founder Interviews
Meet Rob Jelinski, founder of a multi-specialty design agency specializing in Branding, Logo Design, Advertising, Digital Marketing, Front-end Design, Packaging, Illustration, and Print Collateral
Davis Baer: Tell us a little about you and your company
Rob Jelinski: Hi there, my name is Rob Jelinski! I’m a Published Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Branding Strategist, and Art Director. I’ve been in the design industry for 15 years; since I graduated Art School back when I used to intern for an advertising/ tech agency called Liz Young, llc (now known as StudioLabs) right outside of New York City and run a small Art Department for a printing company full time and moonlight as a freelancer. Each opportunity and level (Jr. Designer, Production Artist, Manager, Art Director, Creative Director, Curator) built out a unique skillset of creativity, productivity, entrepreneurship, and leadership which I eventually kicked into high gear when I started my own design company, Rob Jelinski Studios, llc in 2009!
Rob Jelinski Studios is a multi-specialty design agency specializing in Branding, Logo Design, Advertising, Digital Marketing, Front-end Design (websites), Packaging, Illustration, and Print Collateral. Primarily we provide quality, creative services (at an affordable price) to entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. Over these past (almost) 10 years, I have seen R.J.S. grow from an army of one to a (small, but mighty) team of creatives who are happily helping each client successfully market their business. You can read an array of 5-star reviews on Google or Facebook if you’d like!
What are you working on currently?
October is packaging season for design studios everywhere as brands are going to market with new items and preparing for the holidays. We just finished designing a product line for a startup beauty brand in Brooklyn Heights, illustrated the book cover for The Hospitable Leader which released globally on October 2nd, (we also designed all of the ads and collateral) and designed some product manuals for As Seen On SharkTank® Products. We have a few other notable projects in the works, but we are not at liberty to drop their name at the moment.
Some of my new artwork will also be releasing soon (November 2018) in an art book independently published by Brooklyn Art Library. Since 2011, I have had the pleasure of coaching entrepreneurs on branding their businesses through Rising Tide Capital — a non-profit organization on a mission to assist struggling individuals and communities to build strong businesses which transform lives, strengthen families, and build sustainable communities which also translated to strong economies. I love this part of my work as I get to impact other founders in a meaningful way and help them on their journey.
What motivated you to start your own company?
I was highly motivated to start my own company after I got laid off from my role of Creative Director of a startup stationary design boutique. One day, they just closed their doors and I had to figure things out. Freelancing seemed to make the most sense as I had been doing it part-time consistently for 5 years.
The fact that I had built up a small client base without purposefully trying to seemed like a good validation for me, so I gave it a try. I designed a logo and built a website. The first website wasn’t perfect (not even close) but it did look pretty good. I started getting more leads which I was able to turn into sales steadily. I was only 25 at the time, but I was very comfortable talking with new clients as I had been a manager pretty much since I was 20. Clients would tell me that they were impressed with the way I carried myself and that I came off as a manager, not just a freelancer. I started to realize that this was a rare quality and tried to leverage my people skills whenever possible.
If I could start over, knowing what I know now, I would network more. I could have been more fearless of other people’s opinions.
What did your startup look like?
RJS 1.0 was literally me and my iMac in my home office designing logos and collateral for events and small businesses I was freelancing for. I would share my work on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger (old school) and making the most of every opportunity. It wasn’t as common to run your own business back then or even market yourself on social, so It took about a year for people to think of hiring or recommending me for work. I was persistent and consistent in building and sharing about my company and eventually more referrals and work started coming in.
As the days passed, our branding momentum grew which also led to new projects. (These days taught me the power of branding) I also started acquiring contract work with various agencies. One of them, Dempsey & Carroll, a design boutique on the Upper West Side, where I created luxury stationery for fashion designers and brands. Handling brands were right up my alley as I had prepped packaging for names like Calvin Klein, Starwars, Rugrats, Halo, and fragrances for stars like Celine Dion in the prepress days. It’s interesting how one skill and work experience leads into another.
How have you grown your company?
Over the years, we tried all traditional forms of marketing from cold calls and emails to social media marketing and direct mailers. Each effort brought in new sales. Some worked more than others. But we learned that our content-first strategy was the key to our success. Our focus was always on showing the quality of our services and we tried to position proven results accordingly. We understood that most new customers didn’t want to just give us a try and gamble with their marketing dollars. Just like anything else, they wanted to see recommendations and good reviews before they tried us out. So we used that knowledge to our advantage. Tip: It will boost sales for any company with the same core values.
What are your goals for the future?
The skillshare is already in the works, so that should be coming soon. The talks and awards are a bit tricky as they are typically awarded to larger agencies, but the studio’s good reputation (as well as my own) has been growing steadily, so I believe some of our upcoming projects will get the exposure we need for more opportunities like this to come our way.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
If I could start over, knowing what I know now, I would network more. I could have been more fearless of other people’s opinions. I thought they would look down on a 25-year-old running a startup who is trying to break into the industry. But surprisingly enough, the more I talked to new people, the more I realized that so many were supportive. Some even cheering me on since I was young.
I would also have explored joining competitions to win money, pitching to investors, or searching out a mentor. Entrepreneurship is a big conversation these days so there are many juried competitions where you can win funding or grants for your business. The Start Something Challenge is a state-wide business competition one in New Jersey and of course, there is SharkTank! As we see show by show, the right investors can change the path of a company. I didn’t understand this for my startup days, but hopefully, young founders will read this interview and watch these shows so they ponder these options. Even teenagers can start something and build a business if they are dedicated. One last reflection is finding a mentor. Having a mentor or coach in your career can feed your life experiences through their stories and advice. You don’t have to take all of the time to learn it on your own; you learn through them. Also as trust is built in the relationship, you can turn to them for advice in cross-road-situations so they can offer feedback in those critical moments of business and development. You can read more of my thoughts on mentorship in my recent interview with Communication Arts Magazine.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Two years after I founded my studio, I started collaborating with musicians and other artists on self-promotion projects and exhibiting my artwork. Many of the collaborations pulled in new work from the collaborators on the other side. I guess they could see my process first hand and they liked the end result. Art Exhibitions also opened a lot of doors for me as it and allowed me artistic license to create as I saw fit, rather then a client calling more of the shots. This in turn also led to new design work. Some new work came in purely because they were impressed that my art was touring across the US, London and Canada and I was hosting solo exhibits with big brands like Starbucks and Panera Bread Co. These two small beginnings really taught me that sometimes opportunities are just waiting for us to be passionate enough about our business to find them.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
For those just starting their journey, I would say:
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find samples of our work by visiting www.RobJelinskiStudios.com and I can also be found on social @robjelinskistudios or @robjelinski if you’d like to connect in that way. I would also love to hear your questions and feedback which can be left in the comment section below.
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