For Freddie Taylor, it wasn’t about the money – it was about keeping history alive.
“I couldn’t believe the misinformation about Black history I grew up with was still being taught to my children,” says Taylor, a Black history educator and the founder of Urban Intellectuals, an education and learning company. “I kept saying, ‘somebody should do better.’ So I became that somebody.”
The entrepreneur had been producing educational materials about Black history at cost since 1994, but turning his passion project into something bigger (and profitable) required that he approach things differently and start asking for help. He almost never launched.
Fast forward to today, and Taylor's business, preeminent powered by Black history flashcards, has over one million followers on Facebook and does over two million dollars a year in sales.
Here’s the advice Taylor has for anyone curious about turning their passion into a side hustle – or even a million-dollar business.
Test Your Idea, Both Online And Offline
Taylor's passion for history and curiosity for entrepreneurship started at an early age.
“My father is a Black history buff,” he says. “He always raised me with a strong interest in history and culture, and wanted me to understand what we’ve been through as a people. He paid me for every chapter I read in Black history books.”
When Taylor arrived at college in 1994, he was surprised at how many studies didn't include the history and culture of Black people. He wanted to do something about it, so he went to his college’s library and printed out profiles of figures 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 out there.” Taylor sold the Black history profiles all throughout his college years.
In 2002, Taylor discovered Yahoo! Groups from his wife – she was in a group for mothers. Taylor saw the way the group functioned and realized he could build his own community on Yahoo! for those interested in Black history. He started the group and built it to 100 members in three months.
Your Winning Idea Might Be Right Under Your Feet When Taylor's children reached grade 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 so that they can know greatness lies inside of them.”
In late 2007, Taylor created for his children what would later become his million-dollar idea: Black history flashcards. He had cards printed that featured a famous figure from Black history on the front and information about the person on the back. He didn't think of the cards as a business idea at the time, though, 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 his group over to the platform in 2009.
“I started being inquisitive on Facebook and having discussions about the Black community and what we’re facing,” he says. “I couldn't afford to have someone build a website for me, so I went to the library and got a book on HTML. I taught myself coding and built my first website.”
What surprised Taylor was how many people were interested in the Black history flashcards he would mention in passing. He would again sell them just for the cost to print them, similar to what he had done in college. With the demand growing, he saw an opportunity to use the Internet to reach more people with Black history education.
PRO TIP Pay attention to the way your audience behaves. If people proactively ask you if they can buy a product or service, you're onto something.
As online participation increased, a friend of Taylor saw the community he was building and told him he needed a product to sell. When Taylor thought about what he could create, he returned to the Black history flashcards he had been selling for cost. But he didn't officially take action on making the decks available to the public to make money online until 2017, a full ten years after making the first set for his now-teenage children.
Then the floodgates opened. Stack ‘Em High, Watch ‘Em Fly What's the one tweak? That would be asking for help. Through the relationships he had built in his community, and asking for help, Taylor found a manufacturer in China and invested $1,500 for an initial order of 500 decks.
“In our [Black] community, we tend to want to do everything on our own,” he says. “I needed to humble myself and reach out for help to create and launch the flashcards. I modeled the flashcards after a standard deck of cards—52 cards in each series. Then I hired a graphic designer on Fiverr and an illustrator on Upwork. The flashcards featured a picture on the front and bullet points of Black history information on the back.”
Taylor was happy with the quality and the design, so he decided to showcase the imagery and pre-sell the first batch of decks as a way to gauge interest. They sold out in days.
“I was shocked,” he recalls.
Taylor ordered 2,000 more 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 prior, sold over 12,000 decks less than a month after launching. He credits his years of community building as to why the flashcards were so successful when they did eventually launch.
A Side Hustle Can Grow Into a Full-Time Business Ready to expand his vision, Taylor outsourced supply chain efforts to a fulfillment center. He hired a full-time employee who was initially paid by revenue share. The two-person team outsourced the flashcards creation, customer support, marketing, PR, and other aspects that made the business function. They also hired a virtual assistant who did small tasks.
Today, Urban Intellectuals has grown into a fully online education platform. It now has over 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 the Sankofa Club, and it offers Black history apparel. It also offers Black history trips, and has taken groups to Ghana, Morrocco, Spain, Granada, and Alhambra.
The company does over two million dollars a year in sales – and it all started with flashcards. Over 350,000 decks have been sold and featured since inception, and the company enjoyed a Black History Month collaboration with JetBlue in 2019, featuring the flashcards in the John F. Kennedy and Newark airports. Last year, the company received the All Black National Convention’s Black Business of the Year award.
Advice For Turning Your Passion Into Profit When it comes to building an online side hustle that can steer you toward financial independence, Taylor has the following tips.
Start building your community right now. Don’t wait, says Taylor. Start building an audience of people around a common passion or interest. Position yourself as a relatable expert by educating others and sharing your personal stories. Continuously educate yourself — read books, take courses, and attend conferences with speakers. Gather information, but be willing to act on it. Also consider getting a coach or mentor; Taylor says this cuts down on the learning curve. Focus on finding your product or service. See what you can offer people to help them solve their problems or add value to their lives. Don’t be afraid to test different offers and combinations. Taylor says that you can learn whatever skills you need to make money online through YouTube videos, social media, podcasts, and books. He says to not let your limitations keep you from learning skills that will help you reach your ultimate goal of creating financial independence – and make a bigger impact along the way.