Starting An Agency with Kelly Vaughn
Sam Jarman 👨🏼💻 Jul 7
This is a article from my "Dev Chats" series where I speak to an awesome developer or techie every week or so. You can read more here. Let me know in the comments if you find these useful to you!
Introduce yourself! Who are you? Where do you work?
My name is Kelly and I’m the founder of and lead developer for The Taproom Agency, an agency that specializes in building online stores using Shopify. I’m a developer by trade, but running an agency means I wear many hats. Some days I’m doing more sales, some days I’m doing more business management, some days are primarily spent coding, and most days I’m drinking as much coffee as I possibly can. I live in beautiful (and currently pollen-coated) Atlanta, GA.
Who or what got you into programming?
Like many millennials I know, I got my start on Neopets. I was 11 and wanted to create my own guild, which is essentially a community centered around any given topic. You can customize the guild to look however you want, but you needed development knowledge to achieve most customizations.
So my dad bought me this HTML Goodies book and I got to work. I was 14 when I built my first website for a client. It was a beautiful site for a family friend filled with tables and frames and I was paid a t-shirt. Good deal as a kid! I stuck around and continued to hone my frontend development skills over the next decade and change. 15 or so years later and here I am, still coding!
Throughout college I freelanced to help pay my tuition. (It covered a very small part of it.) I went to grad school to get my Master’s in Public Health and Master’s in Social Work because I was convinced I’d grow to hate coding if I turned it into a full-time job. My other passion was childhood health (specifically childhood obesity prevention), so that’s what I studied throughout school. Turns out I never actually started hating development, even as I took on more and more projects.
When I graduated from grad school, I accepted a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control here in Atlanta. They wanted somebody with their Master’s in Public Health who could also code. Surprise, I was the only applicant! Turns out the fellowship I had taken on was probably 90% development and 10% public health. I was still taking on freelance projects while I was in this fellowship program, and after speaking with multiple people there, they convinced me to leave the fellowship program and start my own full-time business as a freelance developer.
So when my husband and I got married (I’m not saying I married him for the health insurance, but I did need health insurance while running my own business), I left the fellowship program and Kelly Vaughn Creative was officially born.
How did The Taproom start? What excites you about the business?
The Taproom started about two years after I officially became a full-time freelancer. I was working alongside a freelance designer and another developer customizing Shopify stores and eventually helping businesses launch their own from the ground up. Partnerships with the designer and other developer eventually ended over time and as I was bringing on more people to help launch these Shopify stores, I realized the name Kelly Vaughn Creative would no longer cut it. Leads were coming to me thinking I was a one-woman team and that was far from the truth.
It took approximately 9 full months to finally settle on a name, build up the agency’s website, and officially relaunch as The Taproom Agency, which happened in October 2017. I am so incredibly proud of how far the agency has already come in the short six month it’s been around. The Taproom now consists of 7 talented women (being an all-female team wasn’t intentional, but I love it!) making entrepreneurial dreams come to life. We’re taking on larger and larger projects and we’re putting out some really great work.
What is the tech scene like in Atlanta?
The tech scene in Atlanta is incredible. Constantly being ranked highly as the best tech hubs in the US, best cities for startups, and “Tomorrow’s Tech Mecca”, working in tech in Atlanta is a dream. There are loads of startup hubs around the city and the networking events are endless. I swear I meet at least one new person every week who works in tech. If you’re looking for a tech job, come to Atlanta! Our summers may be miserable, but we have great job opportunities, excellent food, and there’s always something fun to do.
What has been the most surprising part of being a business owner?
Sometimes I sit back and look at the work I created, or read through my call notes and feedback I’ve left a client and wonder, how the hell do I know all of this? Where did this all come from? Impostor syndrome is a constant demon I battle, especially when I find myself giving clients advice on how they should be running their business. I didn’t go to school for any of this. It really goes to show how much you can learn just from experience. I’m proud of where I am as a business owner today and can’t wait to see where I am in 5 years.
What has been your toughest lesson to learn in your software career so far?
Managing my workload has been the biggest struggle. As any freelancer will tell you, work comes and goes totally irregularly. One day you’ll be wondering how you’re going to pay the bills and the next you’re wondering how you’re going to get all of your work done. I used to say yes to every project that would come my way and then panic because I was missing deadlines. I like to think I’ve gotten much better at managing my workload, but I still need my husband to remind me that everything will be okay and the work will be there when I inevitably start panicking once a month.
What would be your number one piece of advice for a successful software career?
If you don’t know, ask. If you do know, teach. We grow as a tech community by sharing. We all started out not knowing how to do what we do today. There’s no shame in asking for help if you’re unsure of how a certain script works or how to achieve a specific software-related goal. And if you see somebody struggling, offer to help. You’ll reaffirm what you know and you’re making sure somebody else can excel in their own career.
Have you got any hobbies outside of your job? Do you think they help your tech career in any way?
My absolute favorite thing to do is travel. I try to get to Europe about twice a year. My most recent trip was to New Zealand for a full two weeks (longest vacation I’ve ever taken!), and my next vacation will be to Portugal. One day I’ll make it to South America and Asia.
I’m also really into wine. I can’t say I’m a wine connoisseur by any means, but I love visiting new wineries and learning more about wine. My knowledge is pretty limited right now, but you have to start somewhere!
Lastly, I love exploring Atlanta. It’s so difficult being a tourist in your own city, so it’s something I make a point of doing. Every day there’s some kind of event happening, so there’s always something new to do!
What books/resources would you recommend?
My favorite books are either business management related or finance related. The Corner Office by Adam Bryant was a great read, and I recently really enjoyed The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. I haven’t read a Michael Lewis book I didn’t like. I can give all of the business management resources and none of the development resources.