7 Lessons to Launch A Side Hustle from School or Work
Nick Martell is the Co-CEO of MarketSnacks, which he co-founded with Jack Kramer in 2011. On top of full time jobs and now MBA programs, they launched and manage a digestible daily newsletter that simplifies Wall Street. For their efforts, they have been featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30.
I’ve had beers before. Light ones. Dark ones. Frothy straight-out-of-the-frat basement ones. Fantastically obnoxious artisan Vermonty craft ones. But I’ll never forget that one – that foamy draft pale ale at a Union Square bar that Jack Kramer and I clanked together in late 2011. Frustrated first-year analysts at New York banks, we were tired of spreadsheet-packed days filled with endless financial jargon (“debt crisis” this and “EBITDA expectations” that). We wanted to build something new, creative, and impactful – while still getting a paycheck and growing our careers.
We stood, energized, at Old Town Bar, crafting what was both a business plan solving a critical market need we knew our peers would love, and a personal creative outlet we both craved. Boom – we had it: MarketSnacks would be the quick, clear, entertaining source of financial news for our generation through a daily email newsletter.
Jack and I have now scaled MarketSnacks into a media company with partnerships with major financial firms like Fidelity and Betterment, monthly TV appearances on CBS, an upcoming podcast, and references in Fortune, CNNMoney, and more. Every day we’re making Wall Street accessible to our generation through our unique voice and curated content. And testimonials from readers that MarketSnacks “got me that job at Goldman” or “finally makes me understand and love business news” make it all the more rewarding.
But I’ll never forget that beer – because we haven’t missed a day of covering stock market action in MarketSnacks since then…without quitting our day jobs. Now we’re at business school and still side hustling. And we recognize that Side hustles are a unique and growing form of entrepreneurship because it takes bold entrepreneurs who want to have the best of all worlds, growing their own meaningful career while building a creative new problem-solving product or service.
The personal and professional benefits are immense (I love how Patrick McGinnis covers them in his book “The 10% Entrepreneur”), but knowing step #1 after ideation isn’t obvious. Here are those 7 lessons to a side hustle launch.
1. “Find The (Other) One” – A Complementary Co-Founder: Quick — what’s your weakness? That annoying thing in the back-of-your mind in the job interview or a first date? Great – be cool with that “thing” and now find that person who doesn’t have it. Then make sure they’re someone you trust, who has time, is reliable, has similar standards as you. Now share your vision with them.
Co-Founders are critical to side hustles for both practical and personal reasons. As you grow a company outside your day job, you just won’t have the time to cover everything the young idea needs to grow. A partner with a complementary skillset can fill in the holes you find stressful, smoothing out an inevitably rocky launch process. Not really into financials? Get a girl who’s good with the books. Not paying attention to details? Team up with your lawyer buddy who loves finding the typos. You don’t have time to waste when you’re working full-time during the day, and accountability to a partner whose personality you respect and whose skillset you need will only motivate you further.
2. “Get Brand-Amped” – Create a Logo: Project “TBD” is a brutal name. Nothing creative there or worth fantasizing over. So take the second step into a plunge and design an image that’ll motivate you to come home and work on after a day of grinding in your full-time role. The adrenaline rush after conceptualizing an idea will only last so long, and staring at blank screens with name-less folders of your young company aren’t exactly motivating. Hire a cheap freelancer or friend-of-a-friend with graphic skills to build a logo and brand you’re proud of looking at when you’re side hustling all weekend long after work. It won’t be perfect (our first MarketSnacks logo was a bro-ey bull eating a sandwich with a jacked bicep), but you’ll change it as you scale, just like any brand (remember Apple’s awkward first logo? No.). But having something visual is a powerful tool build a deeper connection between you and your company, inspiring commitment.
3. “Own It (Literally)” – Buy the IP: You can’t afford not to. Seriously. Once you’ve got the name, designed the brand, and ensured the URL is available, you can lose it all if you don’t complete the simple tasks of registering your young Intellectual Property. Hustle yourself to a simple consultation with a lawyer, through a family member or friend. Since those fees add up, try to push your vision that, in the future when your side hustle has grown into a beast, you’ll be using that legal team that was with you when it just began. We made sure to snag the tagline “Digestible Financial News” and now competitors can’t – and we registered our name in China once we saw signs of copycats there.
4. “Routine, Routine, Routine” – You Won’t Survive Without One: Everyone’s time is a scarce, valuable resource – for side hustlers, it barely exists. Implementing strategic plans to ensure you dedicate consistent, quality attention to your side hustle that also doesn’t interfere with work, is critical. Since we’re in different cities, we’ve developed a variety of methods that gave us time to grow MarketSnacks, enjoy our jobs, and maintain a positive frictionless team culture.
Jack and I have a consistent routine so that we don’t waste time and never let MarketSnacks seap into our full-time job or student schedules: I contact him at 4pm when the stock market closes to share the 4 business stories we’ll cover. We both write every day, but alternate who edits the MarketSnacks newsletter; and Jack covers tech and manufacturing companies, while I write about consumer brands and food/beverage firms. Efficient division of labor by our skill sets, not in the middle of the day. Most of all, we love our “one-and-done rule” – since content and media companies most often see conflict when editors and writers clash or changes to their work, Jack and I edit each other’s writing just once, and promise to not change what the other has adjusted. No hard feelings. Just productivity.
5. “Mentor Up” – You Need the Knowledge: Stealth mode is lame. Your buddy who won’t talk about his “super-secret project X” is just afraid someone will do it better. Get feedback from family and friends who would be customers because their insights will shape the product – and they’ll become critical free PR as you scale.
Next, find two mentors who can advise you on growth aspects of the business. For us, it was a VC with a media background who could articulate a long-term strategy with each contract we negotiated, and a lawyer who made sure we covered our interests in every partnership we entered. They don’t hold equity and they’re not looking to profit off you – they want to give back. As the organization Endeavor Global (a non-profit I previously worked for focused on high-impact entrepreneurs worldwide) has demonstrated, building entrepreneurial ecosystems of founders who mentor each other is what truly builds economies.
6. “Have The Talk” – Be Transparent and Open with Your Manager: Side hustles go nowhere if you don’t have a full-time role. Don’t lose it. For your day job, the company’s first reaction will likely be concern – will this mean you’re going to ignore that TPS Report that’s due daily or you’ll start showing up late or you may just quit to pursue your idea? Get ahead of those worries and build trust through transparency – schedule the meeting with your manager, proudly share your vision to solve a problem with your company, make clear you want their support, show you’ve got a complementary co-founder to manage the burden, show the schedule you’ve mocked up so it doesn’t interfere with your work, and promise to be consistently proactive with your progress by updating them at least weekly.
Then swing in with the closing case highlighting how side hustles will actually benefit your employer – exercising your creativity will make you a more interesting employee in the office and your entrepreneurial experiences will provide insights you can apply to your day job, from tactically negotiating contracts to thinking strategically about growth opportunities. Everyone can win if you have the chance – but you won’t get that opportunity unless trust is established.
7. “Celebrate the Wins” – Don’t Ever Forget To: First customer. First $10,000. First Fast Company reference. Even first logo completed. When your side hustle’s not your full-time focus, it’s easy to let the wins pass by as you’re distracted by your day job and you pivot to the next goal. Don’t let that happen. Keep the momentum growing from each win. Take out your co-founder for a beer and talk about what led to that unreal first ever TV appearance…you’ll never forget that pale ale.