The Etsy Side Hustle She Started in College Hit 6 Figures


This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Kirstie Wang, owner and founder of A Jar of Pickles, the stationery, accessory and gift brand that launched on Etsy and is now a six-figure business.

Image Credit: Courtesy of A Jar of Pickles. Kirstie Wang.

What was your day job (or other sources of income) when you started your side hustle?
I started my side hustle in college, and it grew with me through jobs in graphic design, UX design and brand marketing at really amazing companies and teams around the Bay Area. I’ll never take for granted how much it taught me to learn business practices from my side hustle while simultaneously learning corporate strategy.

When did you start your side hustle, and where did you find the inspiration for it?
While I was in college, I found myself not paying attention in any of my classes and teaching myself Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop instead. You know those people in the back of classes who are clearly not listening to lectures and doing something else? That was me. I found designing logos and flyers for student groups way more interesting than paying attention to my professors (and I definitely paid for it the week before exams). As I designed casual birthday cards for friends, my roommates gave me the idea to start an Etsy shop — A Jar of Pickles was born.

When I listed my few card designs on Etsy, I thought I’d sell maybe one or two cards that year, but to my surprise, I got my first few orders within a few weeks. I didn’t have inventory or any kind of system: I used recycled campus newspaper as packaging and took the bus down College Ave to a local print shop to have the cards printed as each order came in.

After I graduated, I started my first full-time job along with most of my peers while my tiny Etsy shop passively existed in the background. I’d list a card design here or there when I had time, motivated by the random orders I’d get. It became a cycle of orders and effort: The more orders I got, the more effort I wanted to put into Pickles, and it snowballed into a true, full-fledged side hustle.

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground??
Marketing has been a necessity for finding customers since the early days of the business. My emphasis was more on in-person craft fairs in the beginning, but since the business has grown, I’ve been able to focus more on online efforts and reach a wider audience, focusing mostly on social media marketing. Instagram has single-handedly changed my business in the past few years. With the emphasis on Stories and Reels and connecting with people all over the world, we’ve really found our brand voice on Instagram, which in turn has kept our reorder rate hovering at over 50% and built brand loyalty we wouldn’t be able to anywhere else.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
As a small business owner, you wear five million hats per day, which can get very overwhelming — but I’ve always been very into making to-do lists and planning out my time in bite-sized pieces. As my lists for Pickles grew longer, I pushed myself to find more efficient ways to get it all done and not sacrifice living my life. I created workflows and process improvements for listing products, packaging orders and creating content for Instagram, and I got faster at the logistical tasks that took up so much time in the beginning. Integrating posting Reels and Stories on Instagram into my daily business routine helped me connect with customers consistently and authentically by allowing me to show a raw, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to run my business. From that, I gained an incredibly loyal customer base, which is the core of what keeps the business running.

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
A Jar of Pickles was very much a side “when I have time” hobby until enough orders consistently gave me six figures in annual revenue a few years in. I never intended for Pickles to grow that much, yet it did, all while I was working full-time in design and marketing at companies I loved and living a very full personal life.

But the growth to that point was definitely incremental. I didn’t dream of hitting six figures in college as I was printing orders as they came; each week, month and year, I just pushed myself to grow a little bigger and strategize a plan that was just a little larger. Small, incremental stretches are what made getting to that point while working full-time possible.

I set goals that were achievable with the free time that I had while working a corporate job, and I think that’s the best advice I can give to anyone asking how to pursue a business on the side: Just continually set small goals and finish them. It’s easy to start an idea and have a million things come in the way, whether social events, unexpected life circumstances, stress at work, personal doubts, etc. Pickles would have never grown if I didn’t complete even the smallest tasks off my to-do list, and those small tasks have grown into huge accomplishments I’m really proud of. I learned a lot from working in the fast-paced tech world of Silicon Valley — go fast, and done is better than perfect.

Image Credit: Courtesy of A Jar of Pickles

Why did you decide to take your side hustle full-time? What does growth and revenue look like now?
I took my side hustle full-time eight years in when I couldn’t handle both the business and my corporate job any longer. Eventually, the side hustle took more and more time, and I didn’t want to sacrifice my weekends working instead of spending time with my loved ones. I made the difficult decision to give up the career I was extremely passionate about because my side hustle had proven to be on a good growth path and was already hitting steady profit.

I actually advise my coaching clients and small business owners that they should try to balance their business as a side hustle along with a corporate career for as long as possible: The learnings you get from watching and participating in how a company runs, strategizes and grows are invaluable when it comes to running your own business. But now that I’m working for myself, I have to admit the flexibility and freedom of setting my own work schedule makes me think I could never go back to corporate — so stay with a full-time job as long as you can to learn as much as you can before you taste the freedom of working for yourself!

What do you enjoy most about running this business?
There’s always something new to explore and work on. New opportunities come to the business, and it’s thrilling to learn different skills, create new systems and dream of what’s ahead for the business. I love that I have a creative outlet that’s completely my own, and I get to set the pace, products and mission.

What’s your advice for others hoping to start successful side hustles or businesses of their own?
As entrepreneurs, we dream of what new products we can offer, what our dream product packaging can look like or what our marketing plan should aspire to be. While it’s wonderful to keep a list of fresh ideas to pursue, it’s more important to take what you’re currently working on and make sure you’re seeing it to completion. Don’t let “shiny object syndrome” zig-zag your attention so you finish 10% of 10 projects instead of 100% of one. My rule is to let myself work on “shiny object syndrome” projects for 20% of my time and 80% on projects I’ve already set goals and tasks around. It’s always a good time to reflect and set specific goals to focus on for your shop.

This article is part of our ongoing Women Entrepreneur® series highlighting the stories, challenges and triumphs of running a business as a woman.

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