For Freddie Taylor, it wasn’t about the money – it was about keeping history alive.
“I couldn’t believe that the misinformation about black history that I grew up with was still being taught to my kids,” says Taylor, a black history educator and founder of Urban intellectuals, an education and learning company. “I kept saying, ‘Someone should do better.’ So I became that someone.
The entrepreneur had been producing black history teaching materials at cost since 1994, but turning his passion project into something bigger (and profitable) required him to approach things differently and start asking for help . He almost never pitched.
Fast forward to today, and Taylor’s business, fueled mostly by black history flashcards, has over a million subscribers on Facebook and achieves more than two million dollars in sales per year.
Here’s the advice Taylor has for anyone looking to turn their passion into a side hustle — or even a million-dollar business.
Test your idea, online and offline
Taylor’s passion for history and her curiosity for entrepreneurship began at an early age.
“My dad is a black history buff,” he says. “He always raised me with a keen interest in history and culture, and wanted me to understand what we went through as a people. He paid me for every chapter I read in black history books.
When Taylor came to college in 1994, he was surprised at how many studies didn’t include black history and culture. He wanted to do something about it, so he went to his college library and printed out profiles of prominent people in black history.
“I sold black history profiles on campus for a quarter to recoup my printing costs,” he says. “I just wanted to get more information about black history there.” Taylor sold black history profiles throughout her college years.
In 2002, Taylor discovered Yahoo! His wife’s groups – she was in a group for mothers. Taylor saw how the group worked and realized he could create his own community on Yahoo! for those interested in black history. He launched the group and built it to 100 members in three months.
Your winning idea could be right under your feet
When Taylor’s children reached elementary school age, Taylor encountered an all-too-familiar challenge with how they were being educated about black history.
“I was upset with the school system because I didn’t see the best of us reflected in the educational materials my children were consuming,” he says. “Little black boys and girls need to see themselves represented to know that greatness lies within them.”
In late 2007, Taylor created what would later become his million-dollar idea for his children: black history flashcards. He had cards printed that featured a famous black history character on the front and information about the person on the back. He didn’t consider cards a business idea at the time, however, and moved on.
Meanwhile, his online community organizing efforts were taking off.
Cultivate a space where people can gather
Seeing the growth of Facebook, Taylor decided to migrate her group to the platform in 2009.
“I started being curious on Facebook and having discussions about the black community and what we’re up against,” he says. “I couldn’t afford to have someone build a website for me, so I went to the library and bought a book on HTML. I taught myself to code and created my first website.
What surprised Taylor was how many people were interested in the black history flashcards he would mention in passing. He would sell them again just for the cost of printing them, like he did in college. With demand growing, he saw an opportunity to use the internet to reach more people with a black history education.
Pay attention to the behavior of your audience. If people are proactively asking you if they can buy a product or service, you’re on to something.
As online participation skyrocketed, a friend of Taylor’s saw the community he was building and told him he needed a product to sell. When Taylor considered what he could create, he returned to the black history flashcards he sold for payment. But he didn’t officially take any steps to make the decks available to the public to make money online until 2017, ten years after he created the first set for his now-teenage children.
Then the floodgates opened.
Stack ’em high, watch ’em fly
What is the only adjustment? That would be asking for help. Through connections he had made in his community and asking for help, Taylor found a manufacturer in China and invested $1,500 for an initial order of 500 sets.
“In our [Black] community, we tend to want to do everything on our own,” he says. “I needed to humble myself and ask for help creating and launching the flashcards. I modeled the flashcards after a standard deck of cards – 52 cards in each set. Then I hired a graphic designer on Fiverr and an illustrator on Upwork. The flashcards featured an image on the front and black history information bullets on the back.
Taylor was pleased with the quality and design, so he decided to show off the images and pre-sell the first batch of decks to gauge interest. They sold out within days.
“I was shocked,” he recalls.
Taylor ordered an additional 2,000 decks, which also immediately sold out. He then ordered 10,000 more – they also sold out. Taylor’s black history flashcards, an idea first incubated a decade before, sold more than 12,000 sets within a month of their launch. He credits his years of community development for why flashcards were so successful when they were finally released.
A side hustle can become a full-time business
Ready to expand its vision, Taylor outsourced supply chain efforts to a distribution center. He hired a full-time employee who was initially paid revenue sharing. The two-person team outsourced flashcard creation, customer support, marketing, public relations, and other aspects that kept the business running. They also hired a virtual assistant who did small tasks.
Today, Urban Intellectuals has evolved into a fully online education platform. He now has more one million facebook fans, a mobile app and its own social media network. The company launched an online learning community to educate children about black history called Club Sankofa, and offers black history clothing. He also offers Black History trips and has taken groups to GhanaMorocco, Spain, Granada and Alhambra.
The company makes over two million dollars in sales a year – and it all started with flashcards. More than 350,000 decks have been sold and featured since its inception, and the company enjoyed a Black History Month collaboration with JetBlue in 2019, featuring the flashcards at John F. Kennedy and Newark. Last year, the company received the Black Business of the Year award from the All Black National Convention.
Tips to turn your passion into profit
When it comes to creating an online side-hustle that can steer you toward financial independence, Taylor has the following tips.
- Start building your community now. Don’t wait, Taylor said. Start building an audience of people around a common passion or interest. Position yourself as a trusted expert by educating others and sharing your personal stories.
- Train yourself constantly — read books, take courses and attend conferences with speakers. Gather information, but be prepared to act on it. Also consider using a coach or mentor; Taylor says it reduces the learning curve.
- Focus on finding your product or service. See what you can offer people to help solve their problems or add value to their lives. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different offers and combinations.
Taylor says you can learn all the skills you need to make money online through YouTube videos, social media, podcasts and books. He says don’t let your limitations get in the way of learning skills that will help you reach your ultimate goal of creating financial independence — and have a bigger impact along the way.