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How to Start a Side Hustle: From Writing Porn Titles to Making $25,000 in 4 Months

When I launched the first episode of my podcast Noah Kagan Presents, I asked all my listeners for one simple favor to help promote the show.

I promised to fly the person with my FAVORITE suggestion to Austin — all expenses paid — to hang out with me, do a bunch of cool stuff, and have the best day ever.

Charlie Johnson won the competition. 🔥

You might be able to relate to Charlie’s situation:

  • He dreams of being his own boss — and pushing his side hustle to the next level
  • He was once $25,000 in debt
  • He’s not quite sure on the next steps to take in his career or business

Sound familiar? Then this post is for you. Charlie and I go behind the scenes and share the surprising learnings we both had from our day hanging out.

Hear us talk about getting out of debt, starting a business, and even Charlie’s short experience coming up with titles for porn films.

Plus, we did a bunch of cool stuff together (at one point Charlie said he “wasn’t prepared for it”).

Me and Charlie talking about Charlie's side hustle, business ideas, and more

In today’s post and podcast, you’ll learn:

  • The 1% theory (and how it can lead to massive results)
  • How hesitation is your enemy
  • How to engineer your own Best Day Ever (BDE)
  • Why time constraints are magical — and help you get more done in a fraction of the time
  • How to vision your success… and achieve it
  • Creating goals you can win (instead of feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or lost)
  • The importance of accountability
  • How Charlie paid off $25k in debt in 4 months by side hustling
  • And a bunch more

You can listen to the podcast below:

Direct Download Link
Right-click and select ‘Save Link As…’

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe on AndroidSubscribe on Stitcher

And if you want to read the details of our adventure, check out the post:

Part 1: Self Improvement

Part 2: Growing a Side Hustle and Building a Business

Create your dream business with my 4 proven steps

Part 1: Self Improvement

How to make your own best day ever

I try to make the best out of every single day.

This means I fill my days with as many of my favorite activities as possible. Sometimes, this could mean crazy adventures like sky diving — but most of the time, it’s as simple as having my favorite cup of coffee in the morning.

The best day ever is about trying to engineer happiness into your day.

Anton, my coworker at Sumo, and I invented the “Best Day Ever” (BDE) framework a few years ago.

With a BDE you choose one activity to get your day started. From there, you ask other people where to go next. And then, you keep going…

You don’t plan a BDE ahead of time, and the only thing you control is the first activity and location. This makes for incredible fun.

Here’s how our first ever BDE unfolded:

  • Anton and I started our BDE biking in Seattle
  • Our first stop was a bar (we bought a Bloody Mary each)
  • The bartender recommended Paseo for a Caribbean-style sandwich
  • Our server at Paseo recommended The Walrus and the Carpenter for some oysters
  • And we carried on like this until the end of the day

The serendipity made it such a magical day. I’d encourage everyone to go do a BDE.

As my podcast competition winner, Charlie joined me in Austin for a BDE that included:

Here are some of the lessons from our time together.

Doing the 1% more to unlock growth and opportunity

When I launched my podcast, Charlie went the extra mile to help me promote it.

Before entering the competition, Charlie got analytical about how he could win. He read every other comment to see what the other entrants were doing and noticed an opportunity: No one was doing video. He decided to seize the opportunity.

He didn’t just leave a comment. He went out and made a video of himself handing out free tacos in the street and holding up signs promoting the show.

See for yourself, here’s the YouTube video Charlie produced.

And here’s Charlie’s comment on OkDork.

Here’s the crazy thing: this video only took Charlie an extra few hours… but it lead to insane results! He was able to separate himself from the pack, get an all-expenses-paid trip to Austin, and get some tips about starting his business from me (in the past, I’ve charged $1,000/hr for my time).

As explained by Charlie, here’s why he went above-and-beyond:

  • He wanted to stand out from other entrants
  • He loves tacos
  • He knows I love tacos
  • EVERYONE loves tacos

Charlie’s approach kicks so much ass. If you want to stand out from a crowd, just do 1% more.

The “one more” method

“Intense. I wasn’t prepared for it.” That’s how Charlie described our gym session to kick off the day.

When I’m in the gym, I like to push myself hard. I want to be in pain. And whenever something sucks, I know I’m doing the right thing.

“Whenever you think you’re done, you probably have a little more left.”

In business and all areas of life, I want to push myself towards where growth happens. It happens during the last rep.

This is especially true in the gym because we limit our ability by thinking small.

For example, on the battle ropes exercise we aimed for 30 seconds each. When we counted out loud to 30 seconds with the expectation of stopping, we both struggled.

But when we didn’t count, we had no idea what the time was and we kept pushing. On average, we were swinging the ropes for 50 seconds before fatigue really kicked in and we had to stop.

I’ve noticed this in my past gym sessions, too. When I say I’m going to do 5 pull-ups, I instantly get tired on the 4th rep because I tell myself I should be struggling.

Thinking in a box limits us in more places than the gym. For example:

  • “If only I could ever make six figures, I’d be set”
  • “This is the best relationship I can get”
  • “It’s tough finding a job, I should just be happy I have something”

Sometimes we set arbitrary goals for ourselves that end up limiting our progress. Experiment pushing yourself just a bit further than you thought you could.

Hesitation is your enemy

Make things happen fast.

Don’t allow yourself vast amounts of time to get things done, because you’ll never end up doing them.

With every task, whether it’s business or personal, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is this a priority?
  2. How can I get it started today?

Planning is the devil of productivity. When you’re planning something out, it can feel like work. But really, you’re just avoiding doing more important tasks.

Try to default to action so you can get things done and begin to learn faster.

  • If you want to write a blog post, start writing
  • If you want to make a podcast, record an episode
  • If you want to start a business, sell something

You don’t need a perfect plan to start. Set time constraints and you’ll 10x your productivity.

Scary becomes easy: 3 lessons from mountain biking

I’ve been mountain biking a ton for the past nine months — and going down stairs is one of the most nerve-racking things you can do on a bike. It’s scary as shit. One mistake and you’re going head-first over the handlebars.

During Charlie’s day in Austin we went biking. I went down a steep set of 30 stairs and Charlie had two options:

  1. Get off his bike and walk down the stairs. The safe option
  2. Just go for it

Charlie took option #2.

Right after I got to the bottom of the stairs, I looked over my shoulder and saw Charlie right there behind me.

Reflecting on the challenge of mountain biking, we noted three important lessons from this experience:

  1. Hesitation is your enemy. When Charlie got to the stairs he didn’t stop, sit, and think about it. Hesitation would have slowed him down. Instead, he just went right ahead and tackled the challenge in front of him
  2. It’s nice to know that someone can do it before you try. After seeing me go down the stairs successfully, Charlie knew he could do it too. When facing a similar challenge in life or business, get a coach or watch a YouTube video of someone who’s achieved what you want to achieve. This way, you can have a visual of someone else doing it and 100% know that you can too
  3. What’s once scary becomes easy. At first, something can seem scary, but after you’ve done it you often realize it wasn’t that bad at all. Fun, even. By the end of our biking session, Charlie welcomed stairs along the course and enjoyed riding them. This would have never happened if he didn’t tackle the first set of stairs head on

Part 2: Growing a Side Hustle and Building a Business

Charlie wants to launch a Chrome extension and has a few other side projects. With some experience under his belt, Charlie isn’t a total noob when it comes to business. Here’s a little on his background:

  • He works with early stage startups in the Boston area
  • He’s helped scale a couple of Google ventures
  • He’s a generalist. He’s run sales teams, worked in marketing, project management, and support.
  • He’s done everything aside from coding and design
  • Right now, Charlie does project management for small startup team in San Francisco — and he’s experimenting with different side projects

Getting out of debt (Or, how Charlie paid off $25,000 in 4 months)

Back in 2014, Charlie had $25k in credit card debt.

This debt stemmed from leasing an expensive apartment in Boston and sinking a ton of money into a company he had equity in by personally covering travel costs, client lunches, and other expenses.

After checking out a bunch of online calculators to figure out how long it’d take him to pay off his debt — and being stunned by the results (it was going to take years) — he decided to take a different route.

Charlie’s first two techniques were pretty straightforward:

1. Cutting costs

When you’re trying to get out of debt, one of the best ways to pay it off is to cut your expenses. Charlie decided to buy Bivy Sack (or a “human condom” as he called it), and sleep in the woods.

2. Putting aside his full-time income

Charlie was in a fairly good position with his full-time job, earning around $65,000 per year. Every penny he was making, he would try and optimize for paying off his debt as quickly as possible.

But this was just a part of the equation. He hit a wall with his full-time income and paying down his debt as fast as he wanted. His third, and most successful tactic, was to hustle on the side of his full-time gig.

3. Side hustling

Here’s a random thought for you: Isn’t it funny to think there’s someone out there making a decision on the name of porn videos on the internet?

Well, for a few weeks, that honor was Charlie’s.

Through Amazon Mechanical Turk, Charlie took up a gig titling porn films. But after his first paycheck was only $100, he realized this wasn’t a quick-fire way to clear his debt.

Next, he found out he could convince local business owners they needed his services as a consultant. He’d help with marketing, sales, operations, and anything else he could sink his teeth into. He’d pick up clients by:

  • Reaching out to his network on LinkedIn
  • Cold calling
  • Cold emails
  • Knocking on office doors and talking directly to owners

Here’s a simple framework for when you are cold emailing or trying to chat with a VIP or influencer.

During his time consulting Charlie took on a range of jobs from project management, to managing AdWords campaigns, and even selling a restaurant. Here are a few things he learned:

  1. Rejection will happen: Charlie got a ton of rejections when he reached out to businesses. But if you go through enough “no” you’re going to get some “yes”
  2. Do your research: When you’re going in cold, you need to know what you’re talking about. By doing your research you can find enough information to walk into a meeting and find some common ground (and be more relatable to business owners he was pitching)
  3. Learn on the job: When Charlie first began managing AdWords campaigns, he didn’t really know how they worked. Three days and a Kindle book later, he knew more than his client about AdWords and could deliver campaign results and positive ROI
  4. Leave your comfort zone: Before he earned $5 commission for selling a restaurant, Charlie had zero experience in buying and selling restaurant businesses. By leaving his comfort zone he was able to acquire new skills
  5. The importance of empathy: Before pitching any potential client, Charlie would ask a ton of questions to fully understand the problems and objectives the business had

My 4 business tips for Charlie

Now Charlie is debt-free, and he’s keen to build his own business.

He currently has a few side projects he’s working on:

  • Amazon Buy Blocker: A Chrome extension to help impulse buyers refrain from making purchases online (it hides the ‘buy’ button on Amazing and other ecommerce sites)
  • Debt free in 4 months: A guide to help others get out of debt
  • Common cold supplements: Supplements that help people feel better and get over the common cold

Here are the four pieces of advice I gave Charlie for starting his business — and these 4 strategies can help you if you’re starting a business too.

1. Commit to something you’re passionate about

Everyone seems to have this dream of passive income. But the truth is, it doesn’t happen. If you’re building a real business, you’ll always have to put in the work.

Businesses don’t generate revenue overnight. For example, the first year at Sumo I made $42,000. That’s after quitting my 6+ figure job at If you’re going to commit to a business it has to be something you’ll still care about in 7 years time. If not, don’t even bother starting.

Even now, after Sumo has become a fairly established business with 40+ team members and eight-figures in revenue, I’m still on the front line checking what people are saying about us in tweets. It’s because I care.

If you’re going to start a business or side-hustle, don’t do it purely for the money. Find something you’re passionate about.

2. How to vision what your success looks like

You should have a vision for what success looks like and it should be your sole focus:

  • Put it on your fridge
  • Stick it to your computer monitor
  • Set it as your phone background

The more clarity you have on your vision, the more successful you’ll be chasing it.

I’ve spoken to so many wantreprenuers who say they want to build a business, or they want to build “the Uber of x” product. But when I ask them how they’re going to achieve it, they don’t have a clue. They lack vision.

Building a business is a hard grind every day for years and years. You need a vision and purpose to work towards if you’re going to keep at it. Simply saying, “I want more money or more customers” isn’t enough.

Set specific goals.

For example:

  • By the end of this year I want to earn $20,000 from my side business
  • Next month I want 100 new customers

Not sure on your vision yet? Ask yourself why you want a business or what your ultimate vision of success is. Once you know the answer, you can set out to achieve it.

3. Create goals you can win

Sometimes with goals, it can be hard to know how you’re performing against your targets.

You can work all day, pull all-nighters, and think you’re hustling… but then at the end of the month you realize you’re nowhere close to where you wanted to be.

Goals need to feel winnable. As you progress you need to know whether you’re winning or losing.

Break down your overall goal into smaller goals that you can track each week.

For example, say you want to bring in 20 new customers next month:

  1. Break down your monthly goal to a weekly one. So: 20 customers next month = 5 per week
  2. Let’s say cold email is your thing and you know for every 15 emails you send, on average, you get one new customer
  3. To get 5 customers per week you need to send at least 75 emails

You now have a weekly goal you can win. If you send over 75 new business emails per week, you’re going to crush your monthly goal.

By having a weekly goal, you can also adjust your sails if things aren’t quite going to plan, rather than hitting the end of the month and realizing you missed your target.

Pro-tip: Use my Quant-Based Marketing framework to help you set and achieve your goals

4. Get accountability

Every day you should check in with someone who won’t accept you not hitting your goals.

We all need a kick in the ass sometimes. If you said you were going to do 10 push ups and you only did seven, you need someone to hold you accountable.

Accountability partners will help you stick with challenges and not give up and the first hurdle.

Try to find someone who is the “+1” of you in a certain area, or in a position you want. For example, if you’re starting a fitness supplement company, go find someone who already has a successful company and learn from them.

I had an awesome time hanging out with Charlie and I’m super grateful for him and everyone else (all 600 of y’all) who entered my podcast competition.

One key theme that kept coming up throughout my day with Charlie was the power of doing that little bit more and giving the extra 1% — whether it was strategies getting out of debt, building a side hustle into a full business, or something else.

If Charlie didn’t go above and beyond to help me promote my podcast, he probably wouldn’t have won the competition. In my own career and life, giving the extra 1% has helped propel me to the next level.

Think about how you can give the extra 1% in everything you do.

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24 responses to “How to Start a Side Hustle: From Writing Porn Titles to Making $25,000 in 4 Months”

June 24, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Thanks Noah and Charlie for a great podcast! I enjoyed the story of how he worked himself out of debt and managed to get back on track with a lot of hustle. Some ingenious ideas for moving yourself forward.
Can anyone provide the details of the APP Charlie used for tracking his Budget? Or can anyone recommend an APP that will work in the Pacific/ Australasia region?
As far as the comment from Noah that there is no such thing as Passive Income, I will disagree. I feel it is better for me to work towards a lifestyle business that will generate income while I sleep rather than continuing to work for $25 per hour.
Noah, Thank you so much for taking your time to put this all together, I appreciate the work that you do and I am grateful that you can talk to these incredible people and share some of their lessons.

Charlie Johnson
June 25, 2017 at 10:56 am

Hey Martin, the app I use is called YNAB: You Need A Budget. It’s not free – it costs $5/month – but it’s a robust budgeting system that works for me. Other options to consider: and GoodBudget. Hope this helps!

June 26, 2017 at 3:42 am

Charlie, appreciate your time. I have downloaded YNAB and I have loaded all the data to get things underway. Good luck with your ventures, I am sure you will do well 🙂

May 19, 2017 at 3:13 am

Lolz tacos never get old. By the way, I’m a big fan of your work, and this post really resonated with me. Thanks for the inspiration and excellent writing. For more compliments please fly me out for a BDE. Or better yet, just give me money and I’ll email the compliments to you.

April 15, 2017 at 1:57 am

i love that you’re shaping your show environment with intention of discovering and sharing the meat of noah kagan

April 13, 2017 at 10:28 pm

Hey Guys,

I totally get the taco thing – I get it – but, in all honesty – it gets to be so, lame after a while.

So, so lame.

So lame.


Like, how many times can John Lee Dumas “Hey Its JLD” say “Ignite” in everything.

Or, “On Fire” –

Gets to be lame.

Like, this was taco overload.

We get it – you like tacos – yawn.

April 21, 2017 at 7:20 pm

You’re tired of taco jokes?

It’s ok, let’s taco bout it 🙂

Noah Kagan
April 22, 2017 at 9:02 am


Tight Tight Tight
August 22, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Taco’s are the boss bro. Taco’s are where it is at. As Tuco would say Taco’s are ‘Tight Tight Tight.’

Todd E Jones
April 13, 2017 at 8:53 pm

I have told you before, Noah, if you ever come to Conway, AR, I will buy you tacos at Tacos 4 Life 🙂

Noah Kagan
April 13, 2017 at 11:33 pm

Be careful what you wish for!

April 13, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Love the 1% theory. Thanks.

Charlie Johnson
April 13, 2017 at 10:51 am

This was a ton of fun. Thanks again Noah.

– Been getting more comfortable pitching people in person (less hiding behind computer)
– Finding that people don’t want to pay for an anti-cold product when they’re not sick (sounds obvious – so how do I find sick people?)
– Started getting press for Buy Blocker ( to get traffic + feedback

Thanks guys!

April 13, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Charlie, the best market for anti-cold products is probably people who are afraid of becoming cold. As always it’s probably easiest to start with a small niche. Triathletes who are preparing for the big event of the year? Runners who have signed up for a prestigious Marathon. In general, people who hang out at gyms, health clubs, part of running groups, etc. Most of them hate getting a cold. And many of them already eat/drink a lot of supplements, so are probably open to try new things.

Students who are studying for an important exam.

Another big niche is parents of toddlers who more or less “always” are sick. They are probably prepared to try anything new 😉

Good luck

April 13, 2017 at 9:25 am

Ok Noah, so this is my situation.

Idea validated – check.
Product developed – check.
Sales – very few, but yes, people are willing to pay money for this.

My huge huge question is ramping up marketing / lead-generation in a cost-effective way for a bootstrapped startup.

Traditional advertising is way too expensive for a bootstrapped startup, so we need ideas to growth hack our subscribers.

I’ve read much of your stuff already, the Quant Marketing blog is amazing, yet, it would be great to have examples of growth hacks?


Mary McDonald
April 13, 2017 at 8:30 am

FIX! FIX! It was rigged! I demand a recount! 😉 OK, handing out tacos WAS a brilliant strategy to catch your (and others’) attention…. yeah, he deserved to beat me out.

?Sounds like Charlie was super-lucky (isn’t that what everyone says when someone out-hustles you?) – and the contest was fun (even though I DIDN’T win…)? — thanks for capturing it all so we could participate vicariously!

Brita Long
April 13, 2017 at 8:27 am

I don’t really listen to podcasts unless I’m on a road trip. Thank you for writing out a summary of the podcast! I read so much more quickly than people talk, so being able to read a transcript saves me so much time. There are definitely a few strategies here I can apply to my not-yet-focused solopreneur journey.

Andrew Miner
April 13, 2017 at 1:04 am

Guayaki is my favorite drink, no doubt.

Charlie: since you are keen on making videos, maybe you should do a Buy Blocker parody of the old Joe Sugarman “Blue Blockers” infomercial rap. 🙂

Google “blue blockers rap” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s all time!

If you want, hit me up and I’ll help you write it.

April 12, 2017 at 11:39 am

One of the best so far! Especially liked how you debunked the passive income myth, or at least put it into some real world perspective!

But is it really realistic to test an idea over a weekend and ditch it if you don’t manage to get any sales?

Or did you only mention this to emphasize how important it is to get things done and start selling instead of getting stuck in research mode?

David Patzke
April 12, 2017 at 2:01 am

I really like apprentice the extra effort you put in transcripting the podcast. I am mostly reading at work (after I am done with the work or inbetween). So it is a bit difficult to listen to a podcast. But with the extra work you put in I am learning while I am at work. Thanks a lot.

Miguel Rafael
April 12, 2017 at 1:10 am

You knwo what I love about your stuff day Kagan? It’s super easy to re-listen. I’ve re listened to some of the podcasts over 5 times. And something different usually catches my attention. I used to only listen to long format stuff, like Tim, but it’s so hard to go back to his podcasts and find that one quote that got you thinking.

Great job dude.

April 11, 2017 at 8:53 am

I have listened to every podcast and this was the best by far primarily because it was specific and something I can take a hold of. I am in the same position as Charlie and trying to figure out a side hustle to keep going with. I was doing the 30 day thing but you gave great advice on committing otherwise you will keep switching. Your really really good at drilling down what someone is doing and encouraging them to make better decisions.

Scott Smith
April 11, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Agree – this is the best show (apologies to Neville). This podcast represents what I thought you’d do in the first place. You’re awfully good at breaking down an early stage business.
Favorite drink: Bourbon.

Mitchell Cohen
April 11, 2017 at 8:40 am

First off, super jealous of Charlie as this day sounded awesome! Next, I really liked how you switched it up a little this episode. I think you might be on to something if you ever wanted to do a podcast mini-series where you interview people on “growing a business” or really any subject. I really enjoy your no BS, straight to the point style AND how you keep it relevant for so many applications!

Thanks for the content!

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