How I took my side hustle full time – I'm Paulina Karpis, founder of brunchworkFeatured

Hi Elphas!I'm the cofounder of brunchwork, a community of 100k young professionals and entrepreneurs in NY, SF and LA. brunchwork’s mission is career advancement through community. We get 10,000 RSVPs annually for dynamic power brunches with industry leaders like 2020 Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, HBO's President, Rent the Runway's cofounder, many Midas List investors, and more. I started my career in finance before brunchwork. Ask me about taking a side hustle full time, event strategies, building offline communities, engaging influencers, launching a newsletter, and more.
Thanks for joining us, Paulina!Paulina will be jumping online this Friday (July 5th) to answer your questions. She may not have time to answer them all, so please upvote the ones you'd most like her to reply to.
I'm a startup founder myself and one of my favorite things to do on the side is create and curate interesting, thought provoking content for others. I'm thinking of starting a newsletter combining my favorite things: industry, technology, philosophy, and idea sharing all within the beauty & wellness space. So my question is: What's your biggest tips for starting a newsletter and growing the audience?Also would any Elpha's be interested in this newsletter idea?? Would love to get some feedback to help me hone it! 😁
Great question, Lisa. I'd be interested in your newsletter idea. I'm struggling with finding time to put a regular one together for my startup and 25% open rates don't make me eager to carve out that time in all honesty. Happy to share my learnings thus far!
Thank you! Just sent you a DM
Hi ladies! I've started a newsletter recently and I'm getting 80% open rates. There's only 130 people on it, but I've been very careful and intentional about the original list and I'm sharing weekly progress from the founder's point of view — which I reckon is interesting and unique content. Also, I keep them super short — the aim is to be read within one minute, so I'm sure that helps too.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this then! What precautions did you take when building the OG list?
Hey Lisa! So, before I started the list I did a few months of customer research and also started building up a following on IG, as there's a large community of avid readers there. As I went out and about, I also spoke to people, and those that seemed interested, I asked if they'd be willing to be future testers/give feedback on early versions. So, before I started a newsletter, I had about 100 emails of people I'd spoken to directly at the very least, or who had done a customer interview/tried out the alpha product.I then sent all of them an email explaining why I was starting a newsletter before adding them all to the list. For newer subscribers, rather than just posting a link on my personal IG or emailing one out to all of my friends, I posted about it and gave people instructions to sign up. And these instructions always had a bit of friction. So, on my personal IG, I'd do a little video about what I was doing and instruct people to a link on my bio, if it sounded interesting. That bio link, would take them to a past issue, and if they enjoyed that, then they'd have to hit 'Subscribe' themselves.Even when people reach out to me nowadays, unless I've spoken to them and know that they are the ideal customer, I still send them past issues and leave subscribing up to them.The reason why I think I have a high open rate and low churn (even though I'm only at 130 people right now) is because anyone who ends up on the list is super invested and interested in the content. They're not following me just because they know me or because I've made it so easy for them to just hit the 'Subscribe' button.It also means that when I email out asking for feedback/with product questions, I know I'm going to be hearing from people best placed to help me.I hope some of that details is helpful for you. Please ask me any more questions if you have any!
Wow this is amazing! You really put in that work!!!!! Major respect and congrats on slowly but surely building a list of people who really care. My partner has a similar strategy with his news letter but you took it to the next level. I'll definitely DM you if I have more questions. I'm definitely still thinking through the content and frequency (ie should I do weekly or monthly)
Yes, please do message me if you have any questions and I'm glad my process was helpful. Good luck with your newsletter!
Lisa, Those sounds like great focus areas. My best newsletter 'growth hack' isn't a hack at all. Valuable, differentiated content that people want to share will get your further than anything else. It sounds like you're well on your way!Like many other newsletter, we rely on our Ambassador program to help us spread the word. When you're just starting out, it's as simple as asking that early friends/family list to share with 10 people each.
I'd love to hear about your event strategies. Building an offline event takes so much work. How do you balance making a profit and having the right number of people at the event to make it successful? And what staffing for events do you have?
Thanks for the great question! In terms of our event strategies, we rely on breakout groups. A large event can feel intimate if you carve out the breakout groups in a smart way and focus on specific activities that add value to each group. We rely on our City Leaders to host our events. They are accomplished professionals in their local communities who are energized by our mission and members.
Thank you for your response! It makes a lot of sense to have smaller breakout groups, and having City Leaders host them seem like a great idea. Thank you again!
Hi Paulina,Thanks so much for the office hours! 1) At what point did you transition your side hustle to your full-time job? Was it when you had a certain level of traction and it was requiring more time than you could give to a side hustle? Was it once you raised money and could pay yourself a salary?2) How do you get your Brunchwork speakers? Is it through your network? Cold outreach? If cold outreach, what are some strategies that you have found most useful?~Briana :)
Thank you Briana! :)1) It took me a long time to transition from side hustle to full-time. My threshold was when our revenue could support not only my compensation, but also our team's. We have 20+ people who work hard on brunchwork and I wanted to feel secure in making payroll each month. 2) We work hard on making brunchwork a valuable experience for our speakers - that's been the best strategy. These days, we have great referrals and many repeat speakers. In the early days, our cofounder had a great community around him to pull from.
Curious .. what do the speakers want to get out of brunchwork..thanks
It seems that Brunchwork is more focused on community than technology (assumption). If that is the case, what challenges did you overcome / face while pitching your idea to investors and others to get funding / buy-in from the startup world?
At this time, we haven't made any effort to raise outside capital. We've grown by focusing on efficient, streamlined operations and reinvesting profits. Without outside investors, it has been easier for us to obsessively focus on our #1 shareholder - our customers. At one point, I considered raising capital to scale up our digital audience but given the recent hiccups of venture-backed media companies, I'm glad we didn't go that route. If your content is differentiated and valuable, I believe you can grow an audience into the millions without VC money. It will take a little longer, but it can be done.
Any chance that you would expand to Toronto? :)
One day! :)
Seconded! (from a soon-to-be Torontonian)
1. What advice can you give us in balancing a side hustle and a full time job? 2. What are some big risks that you took in making brunchwork the success that it is today?I'm a data scientist full time, but also run a non-profit that helps students build community focused applications from ideation to delivery. Always inspirational to hear from individuals who've made their side hustle full thank you very much for answering some of our questions!
Thank you Brianne! It sounds like you are making important strides with your side hustle.1. My best advice for balancing a side hustle and full time job is to do a great job on both. If you're taking on two jobs, you have to give your all to both of them. While brunchwork was a side hustle, I was moving up at my day job and I'm glad now I have that experience/knowledge to rely on. 2. Going full-time on brunchwork was the biggest risk so far. I was leaving behind a comfortable job/lifestyle and my family was not supportive.
I am curious how you got to the point to switch to your side hustle full time - were there financial consequences or extra (or less) stress?
It took me a long time to transition from side hustle to full-time. My threshold was when our revenue could support not only my compensation, but also our team's. Since I waited so long to go full-time, I haven't felt financial consequences yet. I feel more centered and have more time to take care of myself (i.e., get work outs in) now vs. when I had 2 jobs. The stress point has been constant through the years: how do we provide more for current + future members/ clients to justify the risk I took and build a really big business?
So it was pretty stressful right before the switch, I bet?!?
Thank you for such inspiring side hustle stories. I’m working on starting a community for designers myself so this is great.I want to ask, how did you start out and how did you gather audiences for your newsletter?
Congrats on starting a community for designers!We started the newsletter because so many great insights were shared at brunchwork events. We wanted a larger audience to have access to that knowledge. Similar to many newsletters, we rely on our Ambassador program to help us spread the word. The best newsletter 'growth hack' isn't a hack at all. Valuable, differentiated content that people want to share will get your further than anything else.
It sounds like you are a master community/ecosystem builder. What actions/ideas/philosophies were most valuable to you for developing a diverse, valuable, idea-sharing community? And what advice do you have for translating this to a personal level (i.e. a meaningful, mutually-beneficial personal network)?
Thank you Megan - I appreciate your kind words! :)My best advice for building a community / personal network is to really focus on the other side's needs. What can you give to your community / personal network? You will be rewarded many times over vs. just going in straight for the ask.
Would love to hear your advice on building offline communities! In this day and age with everyone being so busy and having tons of different options to choose from - how do you get people to dedicate time to your events?
We focus on providing a valuable experience at every event. For us, the answer has been setting a really high bar for our speakers + also facilitating interaction/connections among guests at our events.
Any advice on finding communities to share your side hustle with? Especially, if one is thinking about building a community around their side hustle.
We have a lot of side hustlers in the brunchwork community! :) Our breakout Challenge groups are a great opportunity to get feedback on your early ideas / side hustles. We host in NY, SF + LA and coming to more cities soon.
Can the Elpha community get a discount.
Thanks so much for your interest! We can give a 20% discount to our events & membership. Use the code ELPHA for your first event and put Elpha down as the place you found out about brunchwork on our membership application.
The current entry level is $85. It used to be $69. Can Elpha member get a bigger discount?
Thanks so much for your interest! It's noted on the website, but there is an additional 15% discount if you pay for a 6-month membership in-full.