614
7 min 57 sec

Swipe Some Inspiration From This Sticky Side Hustle

After designing a laminated menu for a restaurant, this product design manager has “the write idea” to create reusable paper. She then sells it to brands like Airbnb, earning up to $10,000 a month.
B2B Manufacturing Product Unique Ideas

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What It's About

A side hustle success story that won't easily wipe away.

Business Model
Manufacturing
Skills Required
Design & Experimentation
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
Medium

Words of Wisdom

When we were talking to Caylee, she said something that really stood out to me: “Had I forced things along the way, I'm not sure I'd be where I am with it. I didn't put pressure on it to sustain me, and that's allowed it to grow in different ways.”

There's definitely a benefit in starting something as a side hustle because you don't need it to sustain you in any way, but finding time to dedicate to it can be a bit of a struggle. Do you feel guilty about not having enough time to work on your side hustle?

Fun Fact

You may be asking yourself, why did the whiteboard become such a huge success when we already had blackboards? The answer is “convenience.” Blackboards were hard to wipe clean and turned whitish after a little use. You had to wet-clean them frequently to keep the writing clear. In fact, the earlier versions of whiteboards also needed to be wiped with a wet cloth. It was for this reason that despite being invented as far back as the late 1950s, whiteboards did not become very popular until after the invention of dry erasable marker, aka whiteboard marker, in 1975.

Notes from Chris

Episode 614
Caylee Betts, an NYC-based product design manager at Buzzfeed, knows a thing or two about time management. She balances her day job with her blossoming side hustle, along with a penchant for photography, taking design commissions, and another side project that saw her build an app that connects recreational soccer players. Oh, and she mentors junior designers, too.

It seems we can thank one of her many side projects for being the catalyst for the latest dose of side hustle inspiration. She stumbled upon the idea almost by accident while designing restaurant menus from her design shop.

The restaurant asked Caylee to help them design a laminated menu because they wanted to cut down on the damage to their paper menus. Once the project was over, the rest of the laminated samples were still in Caylee’s office and she had an urge to write on them. She bought markers on Amazon and started using them for note-taking, illustrations, and to-do lists. And every time another designer saw her unofficial prototype in action, they asked about it.

When Caylee and her husband had some downtime after moving to New York from Seattle in 2016, she decided to see if she could earn any money from her lamination project. It took her about a year to go from prototype to sellable product. Most manufacturers she approached weren’t interested in working with her, and the core material was also unexpectedly expensive. Caylee invested $600 into her first production run, at a cost of $4-5 per sheet.

She described it as a reusable, durable, synthetic paper made for creative, productive people. They're designed to be used with wet-erase pens, allowing your work to stay put until rinsed with water. They're the perfect companion in the home and in the office, and they're called Swipies.

After launching her online shop, sales weren’t gangbusters, but it didn’t take long for a series of orders to start trickling in. That trickle became a flow, and now, 12 months later her monthly sales hovered between $700 and $800. She had a lot of revenue spikes, including a $10,000 month after she ran ads on a popular design podcast. That led to custom partnerships with companies that ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.

Her first partnership was with Moz, an inbound marketing service. Airbnb was her next partnership, and, more than anything, served as a sign that with consistent effort comes consistent sales.

By the sounds of it, she might not have to go back to the drawing board for new ideas anytime soon. Or if she did, she could just erase what she wrote and start over.

 
  MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Swipies: Make it easier to convey your ideas to others—learn more about Swipies over on Caylee's website!


SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Quote of the Day
"What's been great for me is I made something for myself that I love. I used a much less refined version of Swipies for about 3 years before productionizing the product. I think people should focus on the problems in their own lives, and if they can find a unique solution, they should naturally follow the path and see where it goes."
—Caylee Betts #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau