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- Ryan McCarthy is a former digital marketing specialist who founded Imouri, an online retail company that creates custom anime designs.
- In an interview with Business Insider, McCarthy shared how he grew his side hustle into a six-figure business that earns him $500,000 a year.
- Knowing where your customers congregate online can make or break your business, he said. McCarthy’s apparel brand didn’t get much traction until he started running digital ads on Facebook groups.
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Ryan McCarthy was a 22-year-old college graduate working a full-time tech job when he had an idea for a business.
He and his friends were on the hunt for clothes that would reflect their passion for anime, or a style of Japanese animated art, film, and television that has become more prominent on US streaming platforms over the past few years.
When they went online to search for anime-themed clothing, they found options were limited. They were looking for original, possibly custom-made apparel, but most websites used popular, licensed characters, and lacked original designs, McCarthy said.
“Generally, a lot of the anime fashion involves a popular character from an anime comic or TV show, and they just put it on a shirt or a hoodie,” he said. “But for me, it was more so about the art style of anime than the famous characters. I wanted to take an approach where I can incorporate the design style — not the literal design — to make original pieces.”
McCarthy had a knack for web and graphic design, so he decided to begin creating his own original anime and t-shirts. In 2015, he founded Imouri, an online retailer that makes original, anime-themed clothes and consumer products. And though Imouri is an apparel company first, McCarthy explained that anime art still remains the driving focus for his company.
“I thought ‘What if I were to combine my passion for anime with online retail,'” he said. “I just kind of took the idea, ran with it, and never looked back.”
McCarthy turned his side hustle into a full-time gig once he started earning a similar level of income as his day job in 2017. Now, he makes $500,000 a year from Imouri and receives up to 500 orders a month. McCarthy has made more than 100 original designs, and he still manufacturers his own products at home, with the occasional help from freelancers. But the 26-year-old added that quitting his day job and pursuing his side hustle full-time was definitely a risk.
“I was getting too busy trying to juggle between my day job and my company, and it just started to become overwhelming for me,” he said. “That’s when I started to think about taking a chance to actually do it. I had enough money put away where I could live on for a few months. It was at the point where I realized things were getting too overwhelming, and that I just got to go one way or the other.”
Here’s how McCarthy turned his bootstrapping side hustle into a six-figure career in five years.
Options trading He assessed his strengths and weaknesses before starting the business.
It took McCarthy a full year to build his business.
“It was a battle in the beginning because there were so many avenues to approach it from,” he told Business Insider. “I first had to figure out the logistics — like if I could even print all my apparel at home, or if I could handle the behind-the-scenes things that need to be done to get the actual product to customers.”
The 26-year-old further explained that his area of expertise was in digital marketing and coming up with original product designs, but he didn’t have much knowledge about finding suppliers for manufacturing materials, shipping products to customers and guaranteeing delivery, and keeping track of inventory or bulk orders.
“If I really want to grow my business and grow it right, I knew I had to focus on what I’m good at,” McCarthy said. “That’s what really led me to a print-on-demand model.”
A print-on-demand business means that McCarthy would only start manufacturing and designing products once he’s secured a buy. That way, he wouldn’t have to store unsold inventory.
McCarthy gets all his manufacturing, shipping, and inventory services from Printful, an ecommerce platform that helps retailers with product management. Printful is an on-demand printing and warehousing company. It’s handled the sale of more than 17 million items since 2013, and Printful’s sellers have also sold nearly $400 million-worth of products since 2013, the company shared with Business Insider.
His fabric materials and supplies also come from Printful. By having a third-party handle the shipment of Imouri products, McCarthy was able to focus on his creativity and designs, which are his favorite parts about working a side hustle, he said.
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Options trading He sought out customers in large online anime communities.
McCarthy officially launched Imouri’s website in 2016, after a full-year of planning in 2015. Most of his first orders were from family, friends, and people within his professional network, he said. But more orders started coming in when he engaged with anime fans on social media.
“It was very easy for me to approach my business because it’s something that I’m truly passionate about,” McCarthy told Business Insider. “I was basically my own audience. I knew where to market my products because I was essentially advertising to people like me.”
McCarthy said he subscribed to anime YouTube channels. He left comments under videos to promote his business. He was also part of Facebook groups that he used to advertise his business, he said. McCarthy ran digital ads on those platforms, and that generated more internet traffic to his website.
“A lot of it came down to reflecting on my own experience within the anime world,” he said. “I was able to really go to the right places — the right corners of the internet.”
McCarthy encourages people who are either working remotely or out-of-work as a result of COVID-19 to consider starting a side hustle.
“There’s such minimal risk when it comes to starting an e-commerce business,” he said. “It doesn’t cost you anything to do some research, look up what’s trending on Google, and develop a business idea that’s worthwhile.”
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