How These Successful Businesses Started As Side Hustles

Robbie Ball was shopping for a watch for a mate’s 21st birthday present when the idea hit him. Everything he saw was “complicated, pretentious and quite expensive.”

“It was kind of that spark moment where I was like, I could do so much better,” he says. From there, Uncle Jack Watches was born.

After selling out the first batch of watches within two weeks, Robbie realised he was onto something. “It was just like, we need to take this a bit more seriously.” He was studying a Bachelor of Business and Sports Management at the time, and working part time in his own website design and marketing business. But before he knew it, Uncle Jack became his full-time gig.

For Vanessa Holle, dabbling in ceramics was a hobby – at first. Working as a graphic designer by day, she took a short course in ceramics and soon fell in love with the craft. She started selling her quirky vases on a consignment basis, and from there the business grew.

“In times when I didn’t have that much work in terms of graphic design, I could spend more time making ceramics and eventually I just thought, ‘I don’t really want to do the graphic design jobs anymore. I want to do this properly.’”

Now she makes her Vanessa Bean range of ceramics full time – her vases routinely sell out on Etsy and she’s been featured on The Design Files.

face vase vanessa bean side business success

A vase by Vanessa Bean

For anyone who’s got a passion project outside of their 9 to 5, Vanessa and Robbie’s stories are the dream. So we hit them up for advice on how to take your side gig and turn it into a success.

#1 Explore

Some people have the privilege of just knowing what they want to do in life. For others, a bit of trial and error is necessary. That might mean you have a couple of false starts.

Just a few years into his 20s, Robbie had already started a web design and marketing business – but things really took off when he turned his attention to something completely different. “I think the best way to learn is by having a go,” Robbie says. “Statistics say that your first crack is going to be a fail. But, if you learn from it, it’s not really a failure.”

Vanessa says short courses are a great, low stakes way to find something you’re into. “Just go and do a course or do a number of courses and discover something. You’ll find something in that, even if it’s not a creative course, you’ll find something in that that you love.”


Vanessa Holle. Credit: Lisa Tilse.


#2 Build on the skills you have

Robbie Ball was already familiar with the ins and outs of business thanks to his degree, so he says the main learning curve for him has been around the specifics of his new industry. “I don’t have a watch background or anything like that, so there’s a lot of learning involved,” he says.

Likewise, Vanessa Holle’s ceramics utilise skills she already had – she’s just working in a different medium. “I think that my background in graphic design does really influence what I make and I’ve always done a bit of illustration as well, so clay just became another kind of canvas to paint onto.”

While the connection between your day job and your side hustle might not be obvious, there are often heaps of skills that translate between roles and industries – from customer service to social media.

Robbie Ball - Profile Image 2017


#3 Figure out how to manage the money

“Don’t try and over-complicate your finances when you don’t need to,” Robbie says. “You don’t need to do big funding rounds and everything like that.” He recommends reaching out to family and friends to see if they’ll invest in your business – or do it yourself.

Both Vanessa and Robbie supported themselves with other work while they were getting their businesses off the ground – providing a good argument for not quitting your day job just yet. And if or when you do, make sure you’ve got a savings safety net to keep your bills paid. Supportive family and friends come in handy at this stage; people who understand that you’re taking a risk, and who want to help where they can.

The final word from Robbie? “I think there’s not a lot to lose for young entrepreneurs. Just have a go.”


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