Today the Female Founder is Kristina Naruseviciute from Smartup Visuals. Kristina is clearly very creative from the moment you meet her and has such passion for her craft. It was inspiring to hear Kristina's journey from her first business to how she met her current co-founders and now how Smartup Visuals is growing.
SmartUp Visuals - The Journey
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background
My background is in art; painting, drawing, sketching. I’ve studied a bunch of creative courses at Central Saint Martins, but I never saw it as a business opportunity because I came from a country where art wasn’t exactly encouraged. People didn’t think it was a good career choice for me so I started in marketing and advertising. My first client randomly asked me to do some sketches for them, I did some sketches and cartoons for them. I was sketching in the kitchen and my boyfriend Nick came in and said ‘What are you doing?’ and I said ‘I’m sketching for this client that I have’. He’s very business minded and was really excited. He said if I could get one client, then it means I could get more. It was because of him I realised that I could actually sell my art in the business context. We would go to events, listen to the content and sketch the visual representation of that information.
Is that how you got started?
Initially I tried to form a business with the help of Nick (now my fiance). We called it Animate Business.
Then I worked with a different graphic facilitation startup. But only when I met two lovely ladies, Lina and Karina, who are actually from my home country, we clicked in two seconds, got a bottle of wine and said, ‘how can we make this work, shall we start a company?’. We worked as three freelancers for about a year and were trying to come up with a name and also work out how we should structure the business. Eventually, we named it SmartUp Visuals and registered the company. It’s now been two years since then.
So you’ve been going for more than a year as a company, how has it been going?
It’s going well. I am very happy with my job. I was making art all of my life, but the business side was really new to me. It was really difficult in the beginning because as I said, I wasn’t a business minded person so I was learning everything from scratch. I was going to networking events with my ears wide open. I was just soaking everything in. It was a little bit challenging at the beginning because there’s a lot to learn, but now I feel confident.
Did you ever think you would be running your own business?
Well my mum is a business person so she started her own business from scratch with no help so I think I had that but I hadn’t actively thought that I would be with my own business. It just kind of happened with abit of luck (and hard work of course).
Team & Mentors
Do you have any advice for people for when they look for their co-founders? Is there something that really made those two stand out as people you wanted to work with?
I was quite lucky with my team. Although I didn’t actually look strategically for certain skills or characteristics too much when choosing my partners. We actually managed to form a very diverse team. We like different things but at the same time we have a passion for one subject. Lina is very passionate about design and art and she’s an amazing designer. Karina has great communications skills; she has a background in film, and I have a business passion since I recognised it! If you have a choice and you can interview people and search for a perfect candidate that is great. But sometimes as much as technical skills matter, I feel there is a lot more to it. Sometimes people you meet feed you good energy and inspire you and that chemistry might be stronger than skills that you can learn.
Maybe, without too much commitment, work on one small project together to test the dynamics and see if it feels right, then think bigger!
As you’ve grown and as the company has grown, have you found that people are really supportive and want to help you out and identify different things that will help you grow?
Definitely. It’s amazing how much help you can get from people. We all like to give, we just want to make sure we are appreciated and that our help and effort is being put in good use.
I also learn and get help from my clients while working with them. We educate each other and we make better decisions next time we have similar issues. We take so much away from each project. I love building deeper relationships with the client beyond just the selling and buying. I really cherish my clients and make sure I follow up and I support them and their journey. On social media, for example, I would make sure I have them on my favourite list and check how they are doing, and give as much support as I can.
Have you had any mentors or advisors along the way that really helped you out?
We were in a programme called Fusion London which is a set of workshops with a competition at the end. We attended all of the workshops and they’ve been really helpful, it was free and we met a lot of people that we still keep connections with. That is where we met our now friend and one of the top UK business advisers Zulfiqar Deo. We’ve also worked on our strategy with SAWA partners, they’ve been amazing help
Achievements & Challenges
What would you say has been your biggest achievement in the past year, what’s the thing you are most proud of?
I think in general I’m quite proud of myself for getting into the business sector. I probably could have got a great job and happily worked for someone else. But thinking about my mum now, she passed away two years ago and I just feel like building my own business, when she had done it herself, would make her really proud. That feels good. My mum was never the one who pushed me into doing things. When I asked what I should be doing with my life or even what should I study, she always told me to explore, have fun, travel if you need to. Just do what you love and you’ll find it. And it took me a while, but I found it!
How was it giving up your job, how was that decisions to think right now I’m going to do this full time. What was the kind of switch that went off that was like now I can finally leave?
I had a lot of support from my partner, he said so many times, ‘if you feel like you’re drowning in tasks then just take a couple of months so you can focus full time. I’ll be there to support you and if you need some help financially I’m always here.’ That really really helped. But my other two co-founders didn’t have that so I think in some ways it was more difficult for them.
What’s been the most challenging moment in this year that you’re working through now – is there anything you’ve faced that you’ve found difficult?
I think the most challenging part is when you start but you don’t have enough revenue yet to survive. What we did is we still had jobs. We did it on the side, but you’re just running around like a headless chicken doing all these things and you run out of energy at the end of the day. You want to do something creative but you just have no energy.
Eventually we had to negotiate on some things and that was to give up the job with salary. Our lifestyles had to change. Going shopping, buying clothes, all of that had to wait. We were just going to live on bread and rice and make it work.
The financial aspect was really difficult because we didn’t get funding, we did it by ourselves.
Was it a sense of relief when you finally got to leave and take it full time?
It was amazing. When that happened I felt such a difference; at one point I just thought I really need to sit down and thank the universe for this opportunity. Juggling jobs wasn’t easy.
And now having little more time gives me the opportunity to take care of my health a little bit more, go to the gym, and just let it soak in and enjoy the process. This luxury also comes with the price- regular income (salary) gives you sense of security and peace of mind. Entrepreneurship is a hell of a ride! With it’s ups and downs..
The sort of attitude I have is: well if anything, I will get a job at the bar for a couple of hours to make the ends meet. I was never fussed at that. I was and am ready to make it work.
Advice & Final Thoughts
What do you think are the biggest lessons that you’ve learnt in the past year?
I think communication is the key to everything. Particularly in terms of relationships with people that you work with and people that you sell to. I had a couple of miscommunications between myself and my co-founders, sometimes just emailing each other gives so much space for interpretation. I remember we nearly got into an argument trying to figure everything over an email. Then we’ve met and the problem resolved after 10 minutes of honest conversation. Communication is King!
If someone wanted to set up a business tomorrow – what would your biggest piece of advice be to them?
Depending on what kind of business but definitely do a lot of research before you start making decisions. We’ve got a few domains that we don’t use and we still spend money paying for them. Do your research and talk to people and then make your decisions on buying, registering, selling.
What does the future hold for SmartUp Visuals?
We did the hard job already, we have a brand and and we have a great product. It’s time to accelerate sales and engage with more people, and to get the brand out there. You will see us at more events around London and Europe. We will be making outstanding live illustrations and engaging audiences with our visual content.
Also Illustration is such a wonderful medium, we’re thinking of all the things we can do with it.