Originally published in December 2020.
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.
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.
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.