Man, 26, works 20 minutes a day, brings in $700,000 a year from side hustle: I’m ‘doing less’ and ‘making more’ than ever

 Francisco Rivera doesn’t even like candles — but he brings in six figures per year selling them on Etsy.

In February 2023, Rivera was living in Orlando, Florida, and working part-time for online tutoring company Outschool. Demand dropped when after-school activities resumed post-COVID, so he started looking for more income elsewhere.

He found a YouTube video about print-on-demand side hustles, where sellers create designs for products like T-shirts or mugs.

They list their designs on marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon, and when a customer places an order, a manufacturer prints the design onto the product and ships it out.

For his product, Rivera chose neutral-colored organic candles with “witty” labels, he says. He creates his designs on Canva, lists them on Etsy, and uses a service called Printify to connect with manufacturers.

Francisco Rivera doesn’t even like candles — but he brings in six figures per year selling them on Etsy.
Francisco Rivera doesn’t even like candles — but he brings in six figures per year selling them on Etsy. Credit: CNBC

His Etsy shop brought in approximately $US462,000 ($A707,000) in sales last year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It — enough for him to quit his tutoring job in December 2023. (Rivera says he’d prefer not to name his shop, to prevent potential copycats.)

About 30 per cent to 50 per cent of each sale is profit, Rivera estimates. His expenses include Etsy fees, nearly $US55,000 ($A84,000) last year, and money he spends on marketing and Printify’s services.

Often, he works only 20 minutes per day, he says. Some days, he works extra: up to two hours, researching trends and designing new candle labels. With the rest of his time, he’s pursuing a music career, he adds.

“I’m making more than I ever have, doing less than I ever have,” says Rivera, 26.

Here, Rivera discusses the side hustle advice he thinks actually works, the biggest downside to his print-on-demand gig, and why — despite his distaste for them — he chose to sell candles.

CNBC Make It: Do you think your side hustle is replicable?

Rivera: Absolutely. The beauty of the (print-on-demand) model is it’s so low-risk. It’s $0.20 to list something on Etsy. I borrowed someone else’s Canva account, but the Pro version costs $US120.

I don’t think I’m special — I just work hard. There’s value in time and value in flexibility. I would take a pay cut if it still allowed me to do what I’m doing (outside of my Etsy shop).

There are so many people I know who are interested in this, but just can’t start. I always say: If you have a 9-to-5, you’re putting in work and you already are consistent. You just have to channel that consistency toward something else.

A lot of print-on-demand businesses sell items like T-shirts or mugs. Why did you choose candles?

I’m not super passionate about selling candles. I’m actually allergic to them.

But at the time, candles were a newer category in print-on-demand. After scouring YouTube and Printify’s product catalog, I liked the idea of coming up with witty phrases to put on a product, and I noticed a lot of people were already selling apparel and mugs.

It felt like there was more opportunity with candles. They make great gifts, a lot of people buy candles on Etsy, and people who had funny candle shops typically went viral within a year.

What’s the biggest downside to your side hustle?

The biggest downside of this side hustle is copycats — people who use the exact same phrases or very similar designs. They see bestselling candles, replicate them and then skip (to the top of search results). I have to file copyright infringement, and it’s a mess.

Etsy is very secretive about its algorithm (for search results). You can revise things, like the images on your listing, or use different words in your product descriptions.

I don’t find a huge amount of success changing those things, so I would rather focus on pushing out new candles.

Can you share a piece of side hustle advice that you think is overrated?

A lot of people recommend sales analytic tools that show you demand versus competition (customer searches for your product versus similar products).

I’m not fully convinced they help. Instead, I’d tell people it’s important to not be married to your creativity. If there’s a design in your shop you really like, but it’s not really getting the results you want, cut it.

Research what other products are selling well. Put your own spin on it.

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