Turning your side hustle into the main game

How do you make your side hustle your main game? Michel Cornilje and Caroline Kaup have done just that. 

Five years ago the pair were working in the design and lighting industry in Brisbane when they started Mutating Creatures.

They drew on their love of creating bespoke lighting with their backgrounds spanning illustration, packaging, product and industrial design.

The business now designs and sells custom lighting fixtures, pendants and jewellery using a combination of wood and 3D printing.

But it takes more than love and experience to make the transition from side-hustle to full time gig.

Slow and steady

Not wanting to take big risks, the duo deliberately grew modestly for the first three years to make sure the business was sustainable.

“We started off very slowly, more as a side project. We wanted to see how it’d all come together and it has just kept expanding,” said Cornilje.

Then two years ago he took on Mutating Creatures full time, with Caroline steadily increasing her commitment while continuing to work part-time in the lighting industry.

As for most new businesses, the work is time-consuming but rewarding.

“We love what we do, so if I put more time into it, then it’s not like, ‘Oh, I had to work extra hours’. You just do what you love to do. That’s the goal,” said Kaup.

“Obviously, you need to be able to support yourself so it’s a scary thing to do. We wanted to build it up slowly, until we can let go of everything else,” said Kaup.

“We are testing ourselves,’ said Cornilje. “If we hit certain targets every month it’s easier for us to make that leap.”

Staying lean

Typically, 3D printing is used for prototyping, however, Mutating Creatures use the technique for  finished products.

“Rather than producing thousands, we only make as many as we need. There is no minimum order,” said Kaup.

This helps keep costs low, meaning no excess product and less overhead – crucial to a young company.

International orders can also be printed locally, significantly saving on freight.

Control over what matters

As well as minimising risk, slow growth enables them to stay in control of their product.

They’re not keen on mass production and the large scale waste that happens with other production methods.

“Sustainability is important to us. Making made-to-order means we don’t have to mass produce anything. What we don’t 3D print we make out of sustainable materials that we source locally and
we reuse any offcuts where possible,” said Kaup.

Their commitment to a quality product means design, prototyping and even doing detailed painting and sanding by hand.

“We want quality so there’s time involved in doing it properly,”

Standing out from the crowd…without big budgets

Michel and Caroline mainly use social media for their marketing.

“We are wary of taking the risk of spending 5,000 dollars on print media and not get any leads in return,” said Cornilje.

Despite not investing cash into ‘traditional marketing’ they’ve managed to attract the right attention through quality products, that have won design and innovation awards.

READ: Social media marketing for SMEs

“The 3D printing side of the business has also helped us, it puts people in touch with us and what we do,” said Cornilje.

The ability to customise is also a draw card for interior designers.

Almost 90 percent of Mutating Creatures’ work is bespoke.

Social media is also a cheap and effective way to attract interior designers, and clients, from around the world.

“Our social media promotion usually happens after hours for us. While we do focus a little more on Instagram throughout the day,” said Kaup.

A future focus

The pair’s vision for the future is one many business owners can relate to.

“We try to have a good work-life balance, but want the business so we can have freedom as well,” said Kaup.

“Hopefully, we can have a small team in the next few years so we can also enjoy life at the same time and travel more… hopefully.”

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