Do It Jointly

How a Couple of E-commerce Entrepreneurs Turned a Side Hustle Into a Lucrative Dream Career

Jen wanted to stay home and raise children, but she and Steve live in the Bay area—a place where it’s nearly impossible to exist comfortably as a single-income family. So when Jen got pregnant, they decided to set-up an e-commerce shop that Jen could run from home. Ultimately that shop, Bumblebee Linens, plus Steve’s side hustle (which has become his main gig) grew enough to allow them more material comfort and financial security than they’ve ever had before.

Here’s their story:

The E-commerce Mom and the Side-Hustle Guru

Who: Jen & Steve
Where: Bay area, California
Relationship: married
Children: two

When they met, Jen was working in finance, and Steve was a microprocessing chip engineer (basically, he was designing the “nervous system” that powers your smartphone). Early into their relationship, Jen let Steve know that when she had children, she wanted to quit her six-figure job and stay home.

But the couple lived in the San Francisco Bay area, which often tops the list of most expensive US locales. So when Jen got pregnant in 2007, rather than becoming a single-income family, the couple started an e-commerce company. They decided to sell embroidered handkerchiefs because when they got married, Jen looked everywhere for embroidered handkerchiefs to distribute among their guests. Ultimately, they bought the handkerchiefs in bulk from Hong Kong, and Jen did the embroidery herself.

Jen decided there was a demand that they could fulfill, and that’s how Bumblebee Linens was born. For awhile, both Jen and Steve worked day jobs. “We didn’t really go out. We spent the nights and weekends on Bumblebee, and there was a huge learning curve. I had never designed a website. Jen had never ordered from overseas or dealt with vendors. There was a lot to figure out,” Steve says.

At first Jen was running the business and doing the embroidery herself. Eventually Steve took over embroidering, working at the machine for a few hours after dinner each night. It took about a month to get the store running. After that, fulfillment took about five hours of Jen’s day and an hour or two of Steve’s evening. “I always go into anything with a 3-5 year timeframe. If nothing had happened after a couple of years, we probably would’ve moved onto something else,” Steve says.

It took about a year for Jen to actually quit her day job, but by that time, Bumblebee Linen was turning enough profit to replace her salary. Their daughter was a few months old by then, and Jen was able to work from home.

“We could time-shift a lot,” says Steve. “When you have a young child, they nap a lot, and they go to bed really early. So she’d go to bed at 7:30, and we’d power through it till 10 or 11.”

Jen and Steve don’t fight about money, but at first, they fought about the business. “We solved that problem by separating duties,” Steve says. “Jen was in charge of product and operations. I was in charge of tech and marketing.”

They found suppliers and eventually, hired embroiderers and started going to market oversees to find new products. (If you’re interested in the how-to and ins and outs, check out Steve’s free guide.)

In 2009, while still working his day job and handling some Bumblebee duties, Steve started his blog. Three years in, it started making what he terms “decent money” and five years in, it surpassed his salary.  Last year Steve’s brand, My Wife Quit Her Job—the blog, courses and podcast—brought in $1.5 million.

“I’m not a huge writer. Growing up, I was more math and science oriented. Blogging was just a means to an end. I knew that I’d have to write to get any traffic to the site,” Steve says.

It took about three years for Bumblebee to outgrow their house. Now the company rents a small office, staffed with four employees. Jen works part-time, spending 2-3 days a week at Bumblebee.

Steve spends about a day a week handling Bumblebee tech, and he just launched a new venture—GoBrandWin, a free tool to help brands grow their email list. Altogether, with the blog, podcast and Bumblebee, he works about 20 hours a week. That leaves plenty of time to coach his kids’ sports teams and have weekday lunches with Jen.

“I over-commit and she reels me back in. I feel like I motivate her to do more, and she motivates me to do less and relax more.”

“I’ll write a podcast or do a blog post once a week. And I teach the class. I do one live session each week for about an hour. I guess the majority of my time is spent answering questions during or outside of class,” he says.

Because he teaches e-commerce, and he and Jen run an e-commerce shop, Steve has a lab where he can test theories in real time. “Anything new in e-commerce, I try it out in our store, and I report on it in the blog,” he says.

Steve isn’t passionate about embroidered handkerchiefs, but he is passionate about entrepreneurship. “I’m very into the mechanics of running the business, the marketing, the human psychology aspect,” he says.

Steve kept his day job until 2016—long after they needed the income from it. Essentially, he just loved the job and working with others, and he likes staying busy. He’s much more ambitious in terms of attempting to grow their businesses than Jen is.

“Jen is quite satisfied being a mom. Starting a business was never really on her bucket-list. She’s the type of person who could be very content taking care of the kids and reading books all day. She’s active in the PTA and the school, and those are the things that make her happy,” Steve says.

But they complement each other. “I over-commit and she reels me back in. I feel like I motivate her to do more, and she motivates me to do less and relax more.”

As far as household money management, they separate responsibilities but share resources. When their first child was born, they closed their individual accounts and moved everything into their joint accounts. Steve manages investments, and Jen pays the bills and manages the finances for Bumblebee. They don’t consult each other on spending unless a purchase tops $500.

“She’s pretty frugal, so I know she’s not going to spend money left and right. And I have a similar approach, so money-wise we never argue,” Steve says. “My dad left his entire family to escape China. My parents started out with nothing, and I grew up frugal.”

When he was younger, Steve spent more on material possessions.  Now he prefers to spend on experiences. “I don’t buy stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary. I drove my car for almost 16 years,” he says.

Whereas many people might think the “safest” option is to have a traditional day job with a salary and benefits, Steve disagrees. “I was at my day job for 17 years. We went through two major downturns during that period, and a lot of my friends lost their jobs…when you’re in control of your own destiny, at least you can do something about it.”

*If you want to hear the story of how Bumblebee Linens got started, this podcast episode, where Steve interviews Jen, is a good place to start.