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Creative Business

Kelly Jepsen on Starting Small, Iterating Often, and Putting Yourself Out There

This week on the Brand Your Passion podcast, I was joined by graphic designer, product designer, content creator and Twitch streamer, Kelly Jepsen, a.k.a. FPS_Kelly. 

A designer by day and streamer by night, Kelly is a perfect example of not only building a career out of your passion, but building it into your hobbies and side-hustles too. Kelly takes his experience and knowledge of design and balances it with his love of gaming to create his Twitch and YouTube channels that are an amazing combination of both.

In this amazing episode, we talk about the process of starting small and iteratively growing your brand, using design principles to approach your brand, how putting yourself out there can pay off, and so much more!


Hey everybody and welcome back to this week’s episode of Brand Your Passion. I am very excited to be joined by Kelly Jepsen today. Welcome to the show!

We know each other on Twitter and have been connected online, but I don’t really know a bunch about your story and a lot of the people listening potentially won’t either. Do you want to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do? 

Sure! So I’m Kelly and currently I work at Shopify. For those people who don’t know what Shopify is, they are basically an e-commerce platform for people to get set up and start selling things online. They’re one of the more successful platforms in that space, and obviously it’s a pretty growing space right now because of COVID and all of the global changes in 2020. I’ve been at Shopify for 3 years in total. I spent 2 years working for Shopify in Canada and now I’m back in New Zealand working remotely with people all across the world. 

Way before that, I studied graphic design at University of Waikato and I came out of university thinking I wanted to be a branding and marketing designer. But lo and behold, no one really wants to hire those people in Hamilton or Waikato, so I quickly stumbled my way into UI/UX design and web design and my career just grew from there. 

On the side, I also dabbled in YouTube and I’m now dabbling in Twitch streaming and stuff like that. 

Amazing. So you said that you have done branding design, you do product design now, and you’ve also been doing content creation and streaming. Have you always been a creative person even before you studied design, like as a child or in your teenage years? 

It’s so romanticised to say yes, but absolutely not. All the way through school, I wasn’t considered very creative - I was into my math and science. My brother was always the creative one of the family, he was an illustrator and still is. It wasn’t until 7th form when I joined art and design class at high school that I thought, “I kind of like this”. That grew into the thought that maybe I could keep doing this at university, and then that grew into falling in love with the whole function-first approach to design. So I wouldn’t say I’m a super creative person, I don’t fall into that trope. 

I wouldn’t say I’m a super creative person, I don’t fall into that trope. 

That’s really interesting because, like you said, it is the romantic answer to say, “Yes, I’ve been creative my whole life, I was born creative”. All these born creative geniuses are talked about, but I’m sure there are many people out there who are just like you, who wouldn’t have ever felt like they were creative growing up or they had that sibling who was the creative one. 

You discovered your creativity later on in life, which is amazing. Since you discovered design, how have you gotten into now working for Shopify and being a product designer from there? 

Looking back, that journey just feels awfully lucky and serendipitous at many points along the way. I’ve always been relatively interested in computers. I remember my family had a family computer growing up, which we were quite lucky to have. I got into gaming, and with gaming on PC, you need to know things about how the internet works, how drivers work and you need to be a little bit technologically savvy. So I did have an appreciation and attraction to technology and could combine that with a base understanding of graphic design and design principles. 

I had an appreciation and attraction to technology and could combine that with a base understanding of graphic design and design principles.

As I said, I struggled to find any work straight out of university and a lot of my classmates did as well. I got introduced to a friend of a friend who was running a little technology shop in Hamilton and very thankfully they took me under their wing and gave me some odd jobs to do that were nothing to do with design, but they were in that kind of space - once a week, I would make a business card for a client or tweak something in HTML or CSS. But as that grew, it grew into more and more of that type of work, and they carved out a role for me at that company. I stayed there for 4 years and by the end of my tenure, I was doing what you would call UI/UX design during the early days. 

From there, I realised I really liked doing this and it seemed like it was a growing industry. I applied for a job with MYOB, the accounting software up in Auckland. I applied on a whim and luckily got the job. I put myself out there and it ended up paying off. So we moved to Auckland and I worked there for a couple of years before leaving to join a little startup doing software design for a while, then moved to Melbourne and went back to MYOB. 

My career just grew from there. Very similarly, I applied for Shopify on a whim and thought there was no way in hell a global company would want to relocate someone from Australia to Canada, but they said yes. It shocked me, but here I am today. 

I put myself out there and it ended up paying off.

I love that. It seems like a theme for you so far has been - I’m just gonna try, I’m gonna throw my hat in the ring and give it a go and you never know what will happen, but you’ve got to be in it to win it. 

Exactly. 

Now you’ve been doing product design for a while. When did the Twitch streaming and YouTube start to come into play? 

Good question. It’s hard thinking back to when YouTube actually started. I watch a lot of YouTube, it’s probably where I get most of my learning content these days and certainly early on in my career. I also leveraged Medium when that was a brand new platform. A lot of designers were writing on Medium and I started also joining in their conversation at the time to share my experiences. I was very junior at the time, but I thought that maybe I had something unique to share, so I’ll try. 

I thought that maybe I had something unique to share, so I’ll try.

Some things stuck and some things didn’t. Basically, I looked up to a lot of creators on YouTube, saw the quality of content that they were putting out and how much they were leveraging their voice and the platform, and again thought that maybe I had something that I could share here too. 

After building a career in product design, Kelly felt that he had his own experience that he could share on YouTube and Twitch.

I had dreams of being a YouTube creator or a Twitch streamer and all of that jazz, and as we’ve been taught through design, you’ve got to start at an idea and prototype, test and validate. So I took the same approach with my content - I basically thought, “Look, I’m just going to get started and see what happens”. I still have my early YouTube content on my YouTube channel and it is really abysmal. The only reason it’s there is to remind me of how far my craft has come in that space. 

I still have my early YouTube content on my YouTube channel and it is really abysmal. The only reason it’s there is to remind me of how far my craft has come in that space.

Really, you have to start lean and validate. I started doing a whole bunch of different content. It was the design-related content that was getting the most hits, so I focused on that for the next couple of months or years. I have some videos that do pretty well just organically, but I’ve pivoted away from that now. 

Start lean and validate.

I also have my old stuff on there, like old vlogs that I found and videos that I filmed about my experience at design school. I watch them now and I’m just like, oh wow. But you’re right, it’s such a good reminder to still have it there to show that you started doing something. To even start doing the thing is amazing. I’ve learned and grown a heap since then. So it’s definitely a good, if embarrassing reminder. 

You said you’ve pivoted because now your YouTube channel focuses primarily on your gaming content. Tell me a little bit about your Twitch streaming and gaming on YouTube. 

If I wanted to make a go of it, this was probably the wrong call to make. What I found with my design content was that I was exhausting the upper limits of what I wanted to talk about and what I could talk about with some experience and knowledge to back it up. I started struggling and putting out content that I wasn’t proud of anymore. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to keep doing this and keep putting in the effort. It got to the point where I thought, you know, there’s only so much that I can talk about design and at this point, I’m not faking it but I’m forcing it. It’s not easy anymore and it’s not fun anymore. Am I really adding anything to the conversation? There are lots of other successful design channels so if I'm being honest, probably not. 

So I stopped that for a while. But I did want to connect with people and share my perspective and views. I’ve always loved gaming, it’s something that just comes naturally to me. I have a love and passion for it so I can talk about it and do it all day, every day, so I pivoted to that. 

I’ve always loved gaming, it’s something that just comes naturally to me. I have a love and passion for it.

It’s a hugely competitive, saturated market, so I am under no false illusions that I’m going to break it and be a streamer, but it’s something that I really enjoy. Gaming culture can be relatively toxic, especially in the types of games that I play, so the unique perspective I want to bring is a level of maturity, care and consciousness to that realm and share that with people. 

I have a few avid followers now and people who check out my streams regularly. I like to think that I’m positively influencing them and therefore positively influencing gaming culture, and that maybe it will turn into something eventually. 

The unique perspective I want to bring is a level of maturity, care and consciousness to that realm and share that with people.
As both a gamer and a streamer, Kelly aims to bring maturity, care and consciousness into gaming culture.

Yeah, I love that. My partner streams his gaming on Twitch and I have a few artist friends who do too. I think the cool thing about it is that even though there are people on there who have incredibly large followings and get paid a lot of money to stream on Twitch, the small communities are also amazing. They’re very engaged and everyone is so supportive of each other. Even if maybe you’re not going to reach the level of these crazy million-follower people, it’s still a really amazing place to be. Would you agree about that kind of community? 

Totally. That is the one motivating factor that keeps me doing it now. 

I’ve been doing it for maybe 10-11 months now and starting off was really rough. There were no viewers and no engagement whatsoever for weeks and weeks and weeks. Then you get lucky that some people stumble across what you’re doing and you’re comfortable enough that you can chat to them, and then you start building some regular followers like I have. I probably have 5-6 really regular people who watch me every single night that I stream. It’s awesome, it’s just like catching up with friends. I’m a bit older than them, so I probably have a kind of mentorship role with them - they’re in software and they’re interested in what I do professionally as well as in the game, so we just chat. It’s a really awesome little relationship and community that we have going on. 

I agree, there are the multi-mega stars that do this for a living, but they kind of lose that sense of that close-knit community because they’re chatting with 50,000-60,000 people at once. You just can’t get that kind of connection. 

I wish I was a bit bigger and could do more of this, but I like where I’m at right now. 

Yeah, totally. I’ve watched some massive streams before and you can’t even reply to the comments, it’s going so fast. I can imagine it’s very difficult to have those conversations on those channels. 

You just play one game, Valorant, and that’s your focus. Was that an intentional decision where you decided you were going to have this niche and just play this one game that people know you play, or was it just because that’s the game you want to play all the time? Or a bit of both? 

A bit of both. If you read anything about how to start streaming and how to grow on Twitch, the main tip is that you should find your niche. It’s really competitive and hard for variety streamers or people who just do general content. The number one thing is to find a niche, find a game, stick to it and try to build a brand and following around that. 

The lucky thing was that I was dabbling in this stuff and making YouTube videos of Fortnite and all the popular games. Nothing was really sticking, then Valorant was announced as this brand new game. For people who know gaming, it’s so similar to an older game called Counter-Strike that I grew up playing and have enough transferable skills to be pretty adequate at Valorant. So I’m in the upper percentile of skill, which gives my content some validity and people can watch my content and get better at the game, so that’s a drawcard. 

The number one thing is to find a niche, find a game, stick to it and try to build a brand and following around that.

Awesome. You said that you had read some advice about starting a Twitch channel - was there a lot of that out there? Were there people that taught you how to grow your brand on Twitch? How did you learn how to do all this? 

I don’t know if I exactly went to Google and searched how to do it, but I certainly stumbled across the content. One of the things you have to be doing if you want to be a content creator is networking with other content creators. Doing that has highlighted a lot of useful resources that get shared amongst the community. 

There’s a somewhat successful streaming community called Pipeline where you actually pay to be part of it. They are basically a learning platform and network for people to be streamers. I paid for just one month and dabbled in that for a little while. But again, you hear all the same kind of tropes and advice so it just sinks in after a while. 

One of the things you have to be doing if you want to be a content creator is networking with other content creators.

After seeing my partner and my friends build their Twitch streams, there are a lot of assets graphically that a Twitch stream needs. There’s a lot that goes into it - banners, alerts, emotes, intros, outros and videos that play while you go grab a drink.

How did you approach that? Obviously, you’re a designer yourself so you have experience doing branding and design, but what was the process that you went through to brand your channel? 

I don’t know how other designers who are listening to this feel self-branding, but I find it so hard. I kind of kick myself for not following the proper design process or treating myself like a client. 

I kick myself for not following the proper design process or treating myself like a client. 

Starting off, I knew I could lean into my design skill set and leverage that in certain ways. It can be a blessing and a curse in some ways - the idea that everything’s got to be perfect before you even start begins to creep in. 

Using my knowledge of starting on YouTube, I just started doing it with basically nothing. I was recording on my phone, it was shocking quality. There’s a bunch of free stuff out there, there are tons of free assets for streamers. Personally, I didn’t want to use anything like that. I wanted to develop it over time and learn how to do this stuff. I wanted to always keep a certain level of professionalism to my stream identity and that has just developed over time. 

I wanted to develop it over time and learn how to do this stuff.

I think the mistake that a lot of streamers make is that their logo and brand has to be perfect. You see this a lot and I just don’t subscribe to that mindset. With me and everyone else who’s small, we’re just so small that it doesn’t really matter at this stage - people are coming there to watch you and they are going to know you. 

I think the mistake that a lot of streamers make is that their logo and brand has to be perfect. You see this a lot and I just don’t subscribe to that mindset.

The biggest decision point I had to make was - what was my name going to be? That seems trivial but is probably the most important part of being a streamer. I was running with my own name, Kelly Jepsen, for a while because my gamertag was taken across everything and I just couldn’t find one that was available. I ran with my name for many months and then I noticed that lots of people were spelling it incorrectly or were even shouting me out and spelling it incorrectly. I thought, “Shit, no one’s gonna remember this if they just come across me once and want to remember how to get back to me”. So I actually changed my name to something a little more catchy - it’s FPS Kelly now. FPS is ‘first person shooter’, which is the type of game that I play, and then Kelly is my name. I figure it’s just a bit more sticky, a bit more memorable. Working all of that out was probably the hardest thing. 

Then I did a full redesign over the New Year/Christmas break, where I just had some better understanding of how the assets worked inside the streaming software. When I’m playing the game, I can switch my scene to a casting screen, which looks like I’m shoutcasting the match as I’m watching. I just made that up and can do some funky things like that. I had the skills to be able to do that and I have more ideas about things to do in that space. 

Using his design background, Kelly has been able to set up all elements of his stream and can cast different screens using the streaming software.

Like we said, there are a lot of things you can do on Twitch and people get very creative with those things. But just doing them one at a time and getting started is the key. 

If people were thinking about starting, what would you recommend as the number one thing you have to start with? Would you say it’s the name or something else, or just starting? 

Just starting. 

I mean, I’m in no position to really give advice, I wouldn’t say I’m successful yet. But certainly, once you start, you very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Just becoming proficient in the software is a whole skill on its own. You could spend months and years developing a streaming brand, but to be honest - and this will sound cutthroat and harsh - it doesn’t matter. Your brand will probably change over time anyway. 

I think just starting is the number one thing. Get a good quality mic and watch your own recordings back to make sure that things look and sound right, which is always something that people forget. Quite often, you’ll go to watch other streamers and they have really horrible echoing audio and they don’t realise it. You tell them and then they go off and fix it live, but they just need to be told, “Hey, your sound is not good quality, is something going wrong?” You can’t tell that when you’re streaming and you won’t know that until you start and then watch your own recordings to see where you might have screwed up. 

Once you start, you very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

I did a live stream for the first time in forever a while ago. Afterwards, my partner told me I’d had my audio set up twice so it was echoing. It was an hour and a half long video, the whole thing’s echoing! But that’s the thing - I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I did it, right? Now I know and I can improve it. 

Exactly. It’s the same stuff you learn through design school and software development. You’ve got to put prototypes out there and you’ve got to test. When you’re a streamer, your prototype is just streaming - that’s the prototype. 

You’ve got to put prototypes out there and you’ve got to test.

Yeah, it just so happens to be live, but that’s all good. 

So you are doing this streaming and the YouTube channel alongside your day job, right? There are a lot of people who are creatives and are in a similar situation where they have a full-time job and then have these creative passions or side-hustles. How do you balance the two? How is that working for you? 

Good question. I also have two kids and a wife, so I’ve got that to balance as well. 

There’s no philosophical answer that I can really give you. I barely keep my own calendar up to date. One thing that I was always warned about is burnout and it’s something we talk about a lot. I’ve never been too worried about that or impacted by that because I’m pretty good at checking out, chilling and taking personal time. I’m not someone to give 110% all the time to everything. I work hard, I work funny hours, but let’s just say I work 9-5. I give work a good chunk of my energy and effort, and then I go from work to being a dad and I give my kids and my family a good chunk of effort, and then I spend time with my wife. Then in the evenings, after the kids are in bed and I’ve spent time with my partner, I go off and stream.

I’ve never been too worried about burnout because I’m pretty good at checking out, chilling and taking personal time.

I’ve been doing it consistently for nearly a year now and I’m just in such a good cadence that it works. I enjoy streaming, it’s a way for me to relax, play games, and then chat to people who come along and watch. It’s a good, relaxing thing for me to do, I don’t find it too stressful. But this is where I’m not juggling things well - I know that I should be spending more time on social media, on content creation, on making videos and all of that stuff. That stuff just falls between the cracks. That’s where I don’t pick up the slack. I know that I should be spending 2-3 nights a week making videos for YouTube and then pushing that content, but I just end up playing games and streaming. 

Those things may figure themselves out over time, but I think if you’re enjoying yourself, that’s the key for now. 

If you’re enjoying yourself, that’s the key for now. 

Obviously you’re doing design-related things for your channel, but do you think it helps that your side-hustle or your creative thing that you do outside of work is not design? You’re not doing design all day at work and then coming home to do more design. 

I kind of like that. I’ve definitely been through periods of my life where I have worked 9-5, come home, and then been building apps with friends or working on websites for family members and things like that. 

I’ve always worked at large corporate companies - Shopify has 10,000 people now, MYOB had 2,000 or so when I was there. They’re big companies and they work in fairly technical fields. There’s not a lot of creative juices flowing when I’m at work. There’s a lot of stakeholder management, a lot of people with really strong opinions and a lot of evidence-based design work going on at work. 

Going home and doing a side-hustle or side-project is very, very freeing, because you can own the decisions and you can own the outcomes. It’s a much quicker feedback loop. Working in software at large organisations is very slow. Your timeframe goes from being a couple of days to months and months, where you have an idea and then 6-12 months later you’ve actually released that idea and seen whether it has an impact or not. Whereas I find that working on the stream or YouTube content is therapeutic and relaxing, because I can just make the decision and there’s no real overhead here, there’s no real risk involved. 

If I was branding and working at an agency, would I want to come home and do more branding and more web design? Probably not. I can understand that. But I’m lucky that corporate life is a bit different to freelance life. 

Going home and doing a side-hustle or side-project is very, very freeing, because you can own the decisions and you can own the outcomes.
Kelly enjoys that the design work he does for his Twitch streaming is a completely different type of work to what he does at his 9-5.

Yeah, totally. That’s great! As you have been growing your own personal brand, first as a designer and now as a streamer and content creator, what advice would you give other creatives when it comes to branding their passion? 

One video comes to mind. It was a famous design agency, I can’t remember who, but it was like Saatchi & Saatchi or something. They asked how to price design work. Everyone in the room took guesses at how to price their design work really well and it was things like hourly or how much effort they gave the person. 

The person giving the talk told them that this is how he does it - what’s the cost of risk to the person who’s requesting the work? Let’s say, for example, that McDonald’s asked you to redesign their logo. Think about where their logo was being printed and displayed, and how much money is involved with updating the McDonald’s logo worldwide - it’d be massive. The risk that you get it wrong and they have to redo it or revert it back to the old logo is hundreds of millions of dollars, so you can charge them a lot of money to do that work. 

If someone came to me and said, “I want a website to sell cookies, can you give me a logo?” then the risk is pretty low - it’s probably going to be displayed on their website and maybe social media, and that’s it. The risk of me getting it wrong is maybe 15-20 minutes of updating some assets, so I probably shouldn’t charge them that much money. 

My advice is to take that same mindset. How much time you are going to spend on your personal brand should depend on how much risk is involved with you changing it, getting it wrong or updating it. These days, a lot of stuff is software, a lot of stuff is digital - digital stuff is super easy to refine, tweak and update. Nothing lives forever in digital, so you can get it wrong and just update it. 

How much time you are going to spend on your personal brand should depend on how much risk is involved with you changing it, getting it wrong or updating it.

I’m a software designer so this is second nature, but my approach is to just build, release, tweak and measure, and see what sticks. Get feedback where you can, tweak where you can, but the most important thing is that you don’t let that hold up whatever it is that you’re doing. It’s not as important as you think. I know in design school, we get taught that branding is super important, but we’re looking at Coca-Colas and Nikes here, not someone just starting out and trying to make a little name for themselves. 

My approach is to build, release, tweak and measure, and see what sticks. Get feedback where you can, but the most important thing is that you don’t let that hold up whatever it is that you’re doing.

I don’t know if that’s tangible, actionable advice, but just get started and iterate and move forward as you go. 

I love that. I think it’s an amazing way to think about it. Maybe we need to start doing version 1.0 and 1.2, like someone would do with an app release. We need different, iterative versions of our brands. When we do big rebrands, it’s like version 2.0 of the brand. 

Exactly. 

We’ve got all the little points in between that get us to different major points. I think that’s a really cool way of looking at it, I am 100% on board with you. That’s what I teach as well - I’d rather you just start. Use a photo or yourself for now, don’t stress about a logo or whatever, and then you can iteratively work on those things and improve them when you have the time. 

Well Kelly, thank you so much for joining me, this has been amazing. I know that for myself personally, I’m super interested in these new platforms of live streaming and using Twitch because so many people are doing that as gamer, but also as artists, makers and musicians. There’s a lot of creative stuff happening there, so it’s really cool to hear from someone who’s doing that. 

It’s also really cool to hear from someone in the middle of the process, not just someone who’s at the top and has made it. All the people who listen to this podcast are people who are in the middle of these processes as well, so it’s going to be really valuable for people to hear where you’re at and what you’re working on. 

Do you want to tell people where they can find you? Is there anything you want them to check out that you’re working on right now or that you’re excited about? 

My Twitch channel is where all my energy is going outside of work right now. FPS_Kelly is where you’ll find me on Twitch or Twitter, or whatever platform you use. 

It’s pretty niche, so I understand if people don’t want to watch someone play a shooting game online, but if there are any viewers out there that do like competitive shooting games or anything like that, then feel free to drop by - even if you want to chat about design. I would love it if some of my viewers came along and wanted to know what it’s like working at Shopify or what it’s like building software. I would love to have those conversations because I live and breathe that stuff. 

Anybody listening who is a designer, head over to Kelly’s stream and we’ll shake things up for you a little bit! 

Thank you so much to Kelly Jepsen for joining me on this episode of Brand Your Passion - I LOVED this conversation and I hope you did too. It was absolutely incredible to hear about his journey so far and I’m excited to see where he goes and grows from here!

You can find Kelly on Twitter or catch one of his streams over on Twitch!

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by hollie arnett

The brand coach for creatives, hand-lettering artist for herself, and cup of tea lover forever.

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