17-year-old whose side hustle earns $400,000 a year: These 2 things anyone can do to become successful

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s The Six-Figure Side Hustle series where people with lucrative side hustles break the routines and habits they used to make money outside of their full-time jobs. Want to tell a story? Let us know! Write to us at the address AskMakeIt@cnbc.com.

Some children play sports and practice instruments after school. 17-year-old Bella Lin builds startups.

Lin started her first side hustle, an athleisure company called TLeggings, in seventh grade by drawing up a business plan for $23 leggings and contacting a factory in China to make them. It brought in as much as $300,000 in annual sales, but was never profitable because of the highly competitive apparel market, Lin says.

She closed it and moved on to designing new enclosures for her two-pound pets. Longtime guinea pig owner Lin says typical cages smell bad and don’t offer much space for them to roam. She partnered with another Chinese factory to design an open-air alternative, and used $2,000 of her savings to launch a side hustle called GuineaLoft in November 2022.

Lin’s pets roam free in their GuineaLoft enclosures

Beautiful Lin

GuineaLoft, which sells on Amazon, brought in more than $410,000 in revenue last year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. The company has a 25 percent profit margin, and all proceeds are reinvested back into the business, says Lin, a high school senior in Mountain View, Calif.

Every successful side hustle has to tick two boxes, he says: “(It’s going to work) if they have something they’re passionate about and (find) a clear niche in the market. I think anyone can do that.”

Here, Lin discusses how to start a side hustle like hers, what she wishes she had known before starting GuineaLoft, and what it’s like to live a double life as a high school student and entrepreneur.

CNBC Make It: Do you think your side hustle is replicable? How much does it cost to get started?

Lin: Yeah, I guess. If you want to build a few units of (a product) to list online, you need to order a few models, look at (search engine optimization) and buy some Amazon marketing to get started. It could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.

Then measure how people respond (before spending more).

Why did you switch from selling sports leggings to a more specialized product like guinea pig cages?

With TLeggings, I realized that a lot of other companies are trying to do this (same thing). There was no room for innovation.

With Guinealofts, I sensed a gap in the market that wasn’t getting much attention. Small pet cages have been pretty much the same since they were invented. No one came to create something new.

I felt really confident in the product design because I knew what consumers wanted. But I didn’t realize it was something they really needed. I would have started this much sooner, even in high school, if I had known how receptive people would be to our cages.

What do you wish you knew before you started your side hustle?

I didn’t know what layers of bureaucracy I would have to deal with.

(For example) this spring, when GuineaLoft’s sales were growing, there was a glitch on the Amazon website and our cages kept coming under vinyl and CDs in the US market. People were unable to find our product for hours and it took five three-hour customer support calls to fix it.

Some online sellers complain about knock-offs. Have you encountered this problem?

We already had copycats on Amazon. I personally bought and tried four of them. They are low quality, have bad reviews, and (I suspect) can’t get sales.

These cages are made by companies that already make a million other things like garden furniture or wedding decorations. They are not dedicated to small animals and innovations like GuineaLoft.

I’m not pursuing patents for GuineaLoft as they won’t have much of an impact on protecting our product design. Plus, we can easily undercut (the competition) – our materials are locally sourced and manufactured in-house.

What advice do you have for people hoping to replicate your success?

Be realistic about the viability of your business and have clear goals. Building a business is a bit difficult, but I think there are a lot of resources available especially now. If you feel that you are not very experienced, you can put your startup through an incubator.

Prioritizing your company is also a really big deal. My guinea pigs are at home and even when I’m out, I kind of always think about work. I take a lot of economics courses in school. I am the business manager in our student council and the business lead for our robot team.

Then when I go home I answer things from my team. It’s always in the back of my mind.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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