Tips for Turning Your Side Hustle Into a Thriving Full-Time Business

The story of my company, White Spider, began when I rented out the guest bedroom of my San Francisco apartment. I initially did it to make some quick cash to buy a used bike, but that weekend turned into many, and the bedroom became a mainstay on Airbnb. Eventually, I quit my high-paying job as a salesperson, and my side hustle grew into a successful design and guest management firm for vacation rental properties.

We manage hundreds of properties across multiple destination cities in the country. Today, we have the best team in the business made up of 95 percent women (this company didn’t build itself!). We chose to keep our operations completely in the U.S., instead of outsourcing to call centers. This means we pay our team members better than any of our competitors (one of the perks of being self-funded). We create wealth and new income opportunities for our clients. And, yes, it all started as a side hustle.

Below, I’m sharing a few pieces of advice that contributed to our success in the early days, helping to grow our company into the business it is today, in the hopes that these tips will help you to do the same.

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Customer experience is everything

Even in the very beginning, and arguably especially in the very beginning, creating a memorable customer experience is truly everything when building a new business.

Even when I had just a single bedroom listed on Airbnb, customer experience was a top priority. For example, considering each and every item that a guest may want and need during their stay to be comfortable—like Q-tips, tampons or makeup remover wipes. This might seem insignificant to the big picture, but in actuality, they are the big picture. Going the extra mile with details that some might consider a “nice to have” can take the customer experience from mediocre to truly memorable.

Experience is what builds your reputation, creates word-of-mouth momentum, drives referrals and keeps customers coming back for more. Further, with excellent customer service as the north star of the business, it became what we’re known for in the industry today. In fact, the clients who hire us often do so because they have the same commitment to service and know we will truly take care of the guests who stay in their homes.

Related: How to Choose a Side Hustle That Matches Your Personality

Capitalize on the skills you have and surround yourself with people who have the rest

Early on, many side hustlers get burnt out because they try to do everything inside of the business. Work in your zone of genius to get your spark of an idea off the ground, then surround yourself with people who are even better than you in the areas where you are not so strong.

For example, my background was in sales, so to get started, I leveraged the skills I’d developed in my career to help build the business, such as creating relationships, communicating the value of a service and the art of follow-up and follow through.

You too likely have a few key skills that can serve as the foundation for getting started. Use those skills to create your initial success, then when you’ve built a little momentum, surround yourself with great people and help them succeed in the areas where they excel.

I promise, no one gets to the top without an incredible team of people around them (no matter what they say), so don’t feel the need to try and do everything.

Use your early successes to leapfrog

Going from one bedroom on Airbnb to managing hundreds of homes across the country, of course, didn’t happen overnight. We got there by treating every win like valuable capital that could be reinvested into the business.

Now, the most obvious form of capital is cold hard cash. While, yes, cash is important for any business, it’s not the only form of currency that can help you turn a side hustle into a full-time business.

For example, spending the time to gather customer testimonials and turning them into case studies builds your credibility. Additionally, an investment in your customer relationships compounds into repeat clients and referrals. When you’re aiming to build momentum in the beginning, no win is too small to leverage for more success.

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Dare to be different

One common mistake that budding entrepreneurs often make is focusing too much on their competitors. Many spend a lot of effort on how they’ll compete with others in their industry and not enough on how they’re going to be truly different.

As a company, this has been one of our winning strategies since day one. We never wanted to compete with design firms that were creating pretty, but cookie cutter, spaces. Our approach is being bold and unique, and it has paid off in spades. Airbnb even recreated one of our designs in their corporate headquarters. The space caught their attention because we dared to be different.

Get creative to uncover how you can be truly unique in your side hustle. Perhaps there’s something that your competitors are ignoring, or you have humor on your side in an industry that’s typically very buttoned up. Whatever it is, figuring out how to be in a category of one versus how to be three percent better than your competitors will help you carve out your place in the market more easily and quickly.

Last, but certainly not least, there is one bonus piece of advice I’d like to share for anyone who is working on a side hustle right now. This year could objectively be called a dumpster fire. When times are particularly difficult, it’s important to attach the “why” for your business to what’s truly important to you.

The big why for White Spider is using our business to have a meaningful impact in the world, giving back to underserved communities, fighting social justice issues and creating opportunities for those who deserve them but might be overlooked by mainstream society. I urge you to do the same in your business. When times are tough, it will inspire you to keep moving forward.

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A Web Designer Turned His Side Project Into a $700m/year Revenue Business — Without VC Money

The 20-year journey of Ben Chestnut, founder of MailChimp

Entrepreneur's Handbook – Medium

Damage Control: How to Handle Negative Reviews and Turn Your Critics into Fans

Every entrepreneur will face a poor customer review at some point, whether the critique is fair or not. When it happens, it stings. You and your team work hard every day to ensure your customers get the best of your products and services. Yet, despite your best efforts, things are bound to go wrong sometimes. And with social media a ubiquitous presence, it’s easy for a small issue to grow and get amplified quickly.

Fast action on your part can help to stem the tide, as handling customer complaints well can quickly de-escalate the situation effectively. What’s more, customers are more likely to remember the quick resolution rather than the issue. You have a chance to correct the problem, connect with the customer, and maybe even earn a new fan.

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When confronted with an unhappy customer or negative online review, you have two main objectives:

  1. Prevent the situation from escalating and generating a false narrative about your business
  2. Resolve the customer’s issue to retain his or her business

Preparation is the key to managing unhappy customers and containing negative reviews, and developing a game plan makes it easier to respond when customer issues pop up. A predetermined approach lets you act fast and having a plan in place makes it easier to respond in a way that’s more likely to result in positive resolution.

Here’s a list of steps you can take to prepare for potential problems and action items to take when negative reviews occur that will help you respond effectively:

Before complaints happen

When customer complaints come in, it’s normal to feel frustrated, angry or embarrassed. That’s not the best state for you to be in when responding to the complaint. Doing some legwork ahead of time makes it easier to respond quickly, professionally and politely.

Draft base responses

Whether complaints come in via Twitter, Yelp, email, or Facebook, you’ll need a written response ready to go quickly. A template library of base responses is an integral part of your arsenal. Having pre-drafted reactions that you edit as needed can make responding to complaints faster and easier.

Your response should do four things:

  1. Establish your credibility to address the problem
  2. Acknowledge that you saw the feedback and appreciate it
  3. Own up to the issue and apologize without going into excessive detail
  4. Move the conversation offline to avoid a public spectacle

Here’s an example of how your base response might read:

“@JaneSmith I’m the (title) at/of (insert business name). Thank you for your feedback about our service. We continually look for opportunities to improve, and your insight helps. We are so sorry that XYZ happened to you. We always try to provide ABC, and I’m disappointed to learn that we missed the mark. Please call or DM me so that I can help resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

Related: 4 Ways the Crisis is Changing Customer Engagement for Online Businesses

Develop a process to learn from the complaint

Receiving a negative review is challenging, but it also offers a silver lining of growth and improvement. Developing a systematic review process for each complaint will position you to harvest the feedback disguised as a complaint. The best time to develop the review process is before complaints arrive. Write down five questions to consider after each escalated customer interaction, in order for you to evaluate them all consistently.

Here are some sample questions you might review in each case:

  1. How/where did our process break down?
  2. How can we adjust our process?
  3. Did we handle the complaint based on our guidelines?
  4. What might we change in the future to avoid similar situations?
  5. What opportunities do we have to improve?

Even though you create the review process now, don’t use it until after the issue is resolved and the dust is settled. It’s easier to take in feedback after the passion has ebbed.

What to do when customer complaints happen

Step 1: Remain calm

It’s tough to receive negative feedback about your business. Give yourself a few minutes to recover from the sting before you respond. Although you may want to fire off the first response that comes to mind, replying immediately may lead to repercussions that can make the matter worse. Taking a short walk or talking with a friend or co-worker can help you decompress before responding.

After you’ve had a minute to process your feelings, consider the feedback.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this feedback actionable?
  • Is the complaint reasonable?
  • What helpful insight can I gather from this situation?
  • Is there an involved team member I can talk with to get a fuller picture of what happened?

With facts gathered and nerves calmed, you are ready to respond. While responding too quickly can backfire, waiting too long to answer can also exacerbate the issue. Online comments move quickly, so try to respond within a few hours. This lets you intervene before the situation spirals to a new level. Pulling from your base response materials will make this step much more straightforward.

Step 2: Respond 

Pull a template from your library and start to edit a response. Put the first draft into an email or a document instead of the platform where you will ultimately post it, so you can think and edit freely without the worry of someone seeing a version that’s not final.

As you edit, avoid common mistakes by following this list of don’ts when you respond:

  • Don’t attack the person who provided the feedback by questioning their motives or asking if the interaction was real. Remember, this is not a personal attack, even if it feels like it.
  • Don’t recount the reviewers’ actions during the interaction that led to the complaint. For example, don’t say: “You were rude” or dispute what happened.
  • Don’t suggest that the reviewer is wrong or minimize his or her complaint. For example, avoid saying, “I’m sorry you didn’t like that product, but everyone else does.”
  • Don’t make comments that could be viewed as defensive. Avoid: “You are wrong. We ALWAYS do XYZ, we never do ABC, like this review states.”
  • Don’t ignore the review. While it may be tempting to ignore a bad review, doing so can make you look out of touch. It’s better to address it constructively.

Once you have a draft, ask someone less involved to review it for tone, accuracy and clarity. Finally, post your response.

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Step 3: Follow up

If possible, proactively call or send a direct message to the customer to establish a connection. Connecting at this point is when you are most likely to turn a critic of your business into a fan.

When you reach your customer, listen to the complaint and offer a sincere apology. Express empathy for the situation so your customer feels heard and understood. It’s OK to explain your perspective but tread lightly, so you don’t sound defensive or angry. Most importantly, discuss possible resolution options. End by thanking the customer for his or her business and explain that you appreciate the honest feedback and opportunity to learn and improve. Be sure to follow through on any promised resolution.

Step 4: Move on quickly

You pour your heart and soul into your business and it’s never fun to get a negative review. But, it happens to everyone, and it’s important not to dwell on the negative feedback. In a few days, pull out your after-action review plans and assess the situation for learning. Until then, hold your head high, follow the tips outlined here, and get back to doing what you do best: serving your customers.

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Scale AI hits $3.5B valuation as its turns the AI boom into a venture bonanza

Scale AI, the four-year-old data labeling startup, has discovered that selling the picks and shovels needed to develop and apply artificial intelligence is big business.

The company, which created a visual data labeling platform that uses software and people to label image, text, voice and video data for companies building machine learning algorithms, has raised another $ 155 million. The funding round, led by Tiger Global, pushes Scale’s post-money valuation to more than $ 3.5 billion. 

Importantly, Scale is now a “break even” business and is set up to continue to add employees and expand into new markets in a sustainable way, Scale’s CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch. Scale will use the funds to grow its workforce from 200 people to about 350 by the end of next year. (Those employee numbers don’t include the tens of thousands contractors it uses to label data) It’s also focused on new markets and adding products and platform capabilities.

Scale got its start by supplying autonomous vehicle companies with the labeled data needed to train machine learning models to develop and deploy robotaxis, self-driving trucks and automated bots used in warehouses and on-demand delivery. Legacy automakers such as General Motors and Toyota, chipmaker Nvidia and a slew of AV startups, including Nuro and Zoox have used its platform.

More recently, Scale’s customers have spilled over into government, e-commerce, enterprise automation and robotics. Airbnb, OpenAI, DoorDash and Pinterest are some of its customers. That pace of expansion has accelerated in 2020, according to Wang. 

“One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang said. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

Part of that preparation means evolving beyond being just a data labeler. Earlier this year, the company quietly launched Nucleus, an AI development platform that Wang describes as the “Google Photos for machine learning datasets.” Nucleus provides customers a way to organize, curate and manage massive datasets, giving companies a means to test their models and measure performance among other tasks.

“Nucleus is the first product of our future, I would say,” Wang said. “We definitely we see that the next biggest bottleneck for a lot of our customers is, ‘how are they going to have the suite of tools and suite of infrastructure that exists today for building out software? None of that exists for machine learning.”

The plan is to continue to build out Nucleus into a fully integrated platform that helps more companies be able to do AI, Wang said.

Scale made its first acquisition to support Nucleus with the purchase of a four-person startup called Helia. The team, which has expertise in real-time video and neural network training, will support Nucleus.

“The one thing that we were noticing across our whole customer base was that more and more customers, even beyond just the self drive folks were wanting to do AI on real-time video. And so it was becoming this expertise that we knew just wasn’t going to go away.”

Startups – TechCrunch

[CyberMDX in Security Boulevard] CyberMDX Announces Partnership with Philips to Integrate CyberMDX into Newly Announced Integrated Cybersecurity Services

CyberMDX, a leading healthcare cybersecurity provider delivering visibility and threat prevention for medical devices and clinical networks, today announced a partnership Royal Philips, a global leader in health technology, to integrate CyberMDX’s Healthcare Security Suite into the newly introduced integrated Cybersecurity Services offered by Philips.

Read more here.

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Finnish productivity startup, Flowrite, raises €550K pre-launch for product that converts thoughts into written content

Finnish startup Flowrite, which is building an AI-powered writing tool on OpenAI’s GPT-3, has closed a pre-seed funding round of €550K from Europe’s leading early-stage investors Lifeline Ventures and Seedcamp, joined by angel investors including Unity founder David Helgason. Flowrite is among the first companies globally to launch and raise funding for a product built…

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6 Reasons To Ease Into The Entrepreneur Startup Dream

browsing-business-cafe-computerThere has long been a big debate about the best approach to starting a new business. Some argue the only way to start is to drop everything and jump in with both feet, while others recommend an overlapped approach to the lifestyle, including not quitting your day job until you have revenue and a proven business model. I’m definitely a proponent of this latter approach.

Billionaire entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” co-host Mark Cuban is an outspoken proponent of the all-in early approach in a video interview, and made it clear that he gives no credibility and low odds to founders seeking funding who have not fully committed their time and efforts to their cause. Obviously his approach of absolute focus, getting up early, staying up late has worked for him.

On the other hand, I just finished a classic book, “The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job,” by Patrick J. McGinnis, a well-known venture capitalist and private equity investor. He makes some good points in the book for the overlapped entrepreneur approach that I espouse:

  1. One job is not enough these days. The smartest people I know these days always have several things going concurrently – and more in the queue. With the rapid pace of change and all the unknowns in the world, everyone should be working on multiple options, including a conventional paying job as well as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
  1. The early entrepreneur lifestyle is not much fun. Even with high passion and a good cause, early startup efforts are stressful, lonely, and things always take longer than expected. I see no reason not to balance these frustrations with the satisfaction of more conventional work accomplishments and the people relationships we all need to thrive.
  1. Startups cost money but don’t pay a salary before revenue. Most entrepreneurs don’t get the satisfaction of a salary for the first couple of years, even if their startup is well funded by investors. Living off credit cards and borrowed money, instead of other work income, can ruin your personal finances and kill your startup motivation far too early.
  1. Maintain the status and affirmation of an existing job. Not all friends and family will see your entrepreneurial efforts as visionary and prestigious. You can choose to keep your startup efforts “below the radar” to keep peace in the family until your business has the momentum and visibility to overcome the qualms of skeptics important to you.
  1. Make sure you have the right idea before risking all. I very much respect the passion and enthusiasm of a new entrepreneur, but I’m seen enough as a startup advisor to know that more time and effort is often required as a reality check. Reality checks are best before you have put everything on the line, essentially eliminating the ability to back out.
  1. Odds are you are going to fail before you succeed. Historical and current statistics still show the chances of failure on any given startup are better than even. The good news is that you can learn from that failure, improving future odds. Having another job is more good news, since it improves the financial, emotional, and social ability to try again.

In my view, entrepreneurship is an endurance sport, rather than a quick dash to success. When you are starting a new venture, raising capital, and landing those initial customers, the obstacles keep coming, so you need all the flexibility and resilience you can muster. It pays to be able to step into a more familiar role from time to time to clear you mind and hone your strategy.

Over time, I do find that the entrepreneurial lifestyle is more addictive and usually more fulfilling than more conventional business roles. As a result, I know many successful entrepreneurs, including Mark Cuban, who can’t resist starting or investing in a second or third business concurrently, or even hundreds. That’s another variation of a part-time entrepreneur.

As a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I often advise them to start with another alternative, of working for an existing startup, before or while starting their own. I recognize that everyone is unique, with different levels of risk tolerance, energy, and motivation. Thus I encourage you to take a hard look in the mirror, and you’ll know when you are ready to be a full-time entrepreneur.

Marty Zwilling

Startup Professionals Musings

[Beyond Meat in Fortune] Why Beyond Meat’s CEO chose to fight climate change by going into business

Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life when he was in college. But after a conversation with his dad, he realized that the biggest problem facing the world was climate change, and that the contributions made by a musician or doctor in an environmentally unstable world would be weakened.

Read more here.

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The Big Score: why the pandemic won’t stop VCs from reaching into their pockets

The Big Score: Fortino en Smartfin interview

COVID-19 brought a lot of uncertainty in the markets. Generally, investors are not too fond of uncertain results. At the European-focussed funds of Smartfin Capital and Fortino, experience and a bit of luck get them through the pandemic quite nicely. Both VCs are present on the VC-track of The Big Score, to scout the next big thing in B2B startups.

VC-nominated startups pitching for investors

At The Big Score, high growth startups have the opportunity to score funding or sales. The event, organised by, brings B2B startups in close contact with large corporations looking for innovation and ‘deep pocket’ VCs ready to invest. 

The 2019 edition of The Big Score resulted in some big numbers. 400 international VCs and corporate ‘buyers’ were present for over 1400 one-on-one meetings with 75 European startups. The second and third day of the event is all about meeting the VCs. During the two days VC-track, nominated startups and scaleups are pitching their solutions to international tech investors and corporate sourcing profiles.

Two of the VCs that are scouring the event for startups ready to make an impact are Belgian Fortino and Smartfin, both with an international portfolio that is ready for expansion. But with the ‘new normal’ caused by the pandemic, a lot of uncertainty surrounds the future. How willing are investors still to stick their necks out and write a cheque?

‘Sometimes you need a bit of luck’

“We mostly focus on B2B software startups. In that area, there has never been a lot of uncertainty,” says Jurgen Ingels. He is founding partner of SmartFin, a private equity fund with a strong focus on emerging B2B platform companies in fintech, telecom and infrastructure. Their portfolio consists of companies from the Benelux and the Nordics, including Roamler, Divitel and EyeSee. 

As a sign that B2B software startups are generally fairing well, Ingels only has to look at his portfolio. “Generally the cashflow is good. And these are creative entrepreneurs, they can adjust very quickly.” In some cases, they even got lucky and business boomed. Ingels: “One of our companies offers a platform for takeaway food. With restaurants closed, they are doing really well. Sometimes you need a bit of luck in this business, as you can’t predict everything all the time.”

“The philosophy of our fund is to save companies time. We can do that through technology, by investing in startups that help other businesses safe time. During COVID, that has been an increasingly important factor,” explains Ingels. “Formula One driver Ayrton Senna once said that he prefers to drive in bad weather. That’s when he can overtake more easily. There is always something you can’t foresee, but despite COVID, we also go full steam ahead.”

‘Willingness to invest’

Some investors get lucky in these times, but they can’t fair blindly on luck alone though. What is apparent for Renaat Berckmoes, is that VCs are pooling their resources, especially in the Benelux. “Tickets of 4 million and higher are now rarer than before the pandemic. I think this is because they don’t want to take as much risk as they did previously. There is a willingness to invest, just for smaller amounts.” 

Berckmoes is a partner at Fortino. Venture activities take place from two separate funds, solely focussed on B2B software companies. The Belgium VC has startups from Northwestern Europe in its portfolio. Among them are Bloomon, FoodDesk and Teamleader. 

“Companies in our portfolio have come through largely unscathed,” says Berckmoes. All of them report growth, some faster than others. Many of them are right in the middle of the move to the cloud that enterprises are making. The move to working from home and remote access has pushed this whole movement forward. We do see that offering a plug and play solution is very important. A drawn-out implementation process has a negative impact.”

‘Watch the cash burn’

One of the reasons Berckmoes’ companies haven’t been suffering from the fallout of the pandemic, has been some solid advice: “we already considered 2020 to be a year of recession”, says Berckmoes. “So we urged our portfolio companies to watch their cash burn.” 

As soon as COVID-19 started to shut down Europe, they doubled down on this wisdom. “We told them to reduce costs and spend as little as possible. At many of these companies, a lot of money is being put in R&D. This is something you can control yourself. Cut everything you don’t need, bite the bullet.”

Berckmoes also told them to contact existing investors for interim funding. Some of them were able to think outside the box to salvage their revenue, like FoodDesk which shifted its business from Dubai to the Nordics overnight.

‘Every company has a dip’

At SmartFin, Ingels was also able to share his experience with the founders of companies in his portfolio. “We urged them not to give up. There is no company, not even Apple or Google, that hasn’t had a dip. Dare to cut costs, even if it is only for a couple of months.” Another important aspect of a business in rough weather is the people working in it. “Surround yourself with good people. A good team with a bad product can have success. It doesn’t work the other way around.”

What to look for at The Big Score?

Both SmartFin and Fortino are part of the VC-track of The Big Score, where VC nominated startups have the opportunity to pitch their business for an audience of investors. Berckmoes has a couple of points he’ll be paying attention to when deciding to continue doing business with a startup he meets at the virtual event. 

“The most important thing for me is; how good are the founders. They need to grow with the company. To scale up a business from 7 to 250 employees in two years is hard. You need to be an entrepreneur to start a business, but a manager to allow it to grow.”

Berckmoes will also be looking at how disruptive the product can be, while international ambitions are also important to gain his attention. Benelux is an interesting starting point. But with a small market and tricky language, Berckmoes wants startups to look beyond that: “I want them to think internationally from their day one, so a company can quickly outgrow Benelux. 

For Ingels, passion is the main driver of success. “I want entrepreneurs that wake up their spouses at 3.00 in the morning to explain an idea. Someone who reads everything there is to read about the market and business he’s in and who can tirelessly talk about it. An entrepreneur that doesn’t even know his main competitors, lacks that passion.”

Want to discover new tech? join The Big Score in December 

VCs and corporate buyers looking to connect with some of Europe’s most innovative startups should look no further. The Big Score takes place on 1st, 2nd and 3rd of December. On December 1st, 25 corporates live-stream pressing challenges towards startups. On December 2nd and 3rd, 50 VC selected scale-ups live-stream their pitch towards growth stage VCs and corporate sourcing profiles.

Startups – Silicon Canals