Guest Article

University of Houston expert on how to make your side hustle worth your while

Your side hustle should work for you. Photo by Hero Images

Some of today's most innovative companies started as side hustles — businesses born out of garages and dorm rooms, as founders worked a traditional 9-to-5 jobs or focused on school or family.

First of all, what's a side hustle? Chris Guillebeau, the creator of Side Hustle School, defines it as "an asset that works for you" and not just a part time job or a gig.

The side hustle can serve two purposes. The first, to give you some extra cash while you pursue your day job. The second is that the side hustle is your daydream. Either way, it makes sense that more and more people are compelled by the allure of the side hustle. It allows for extra income, it creates the incentive to learn new skills, and it is a creative outlet for many people.

In the years I've taught entrepreneurship classes and worked at the University of Houston's startup accelerator RED Labs and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within Bauer College, I've had the opportunity to connect with some phenomenal student and faculty entrepreneurs who are pursuing startups, small businesses, and side projects.

I've also met with a lot of people who had no idea where to start, and no idea what to pursue. I noticed that a lot of the people who were successful at starting a company had actually started with a side hustle. Then, a colleague mentioned that she'd seen the same trend.

I realized then we needed to put more resources into helping the hustlers interested in entrepreneurship. It made perfect sense — if you have the skill to expertly execute a small side hustle, you'll have the confidence to expertly execute a not-so-small business.

That said, expertly executing the side hustle is easier said than done. A side hustle has a science to it, and more importantly, it has an art.

Whether I'm working with founders in our RED Lab startup accelerator or guiding students in our Women In Entrepreneurship course, my goal is to help people figure out the best side hustle to meet their goals, and then how to most effectively create it. These are four key steps I've identified to take a side hustle from a hobby to a potentially profitable business.

Hustle needs heart

First, we talk about brainstorming what kind of side hustle best matches your skill sets. You'll be spending a lot of what used to be "free time" on this new endeavor, and it should be about more than simply making money.

Think about the things that you enjoy doing in your day job (or skills that you wish you had the opportunity to use in your current role). Ask friends and family for suggestions ― you might be surprised at the marketability of the ideas they provide.

Branding is everything

Your raw talent and skills will get you far, but the right branding can take you anywhere. The branding of your side hustle will help to legitimize what you're doing and give potential customers the confidence to work with you.

Your brand is the DNA of your side hustle. It's who you are and how a customer feels after engaging with you. Once you define your brand, think about your brand promise (a single statement that captures the essence of your side hustle) and your brand position (the space your side hustle occupies in the market). The elements of your brand will help to guide the business decisions you make for your side hustle.

Know your value

Pricing is another major consideration when it comes to starting a side gig. In addition to capturing the materials and resources it takes to produce your product or service, you have to consider the time you're taking to run your business. Be sure that at the end of the day, you're actually adding a revenue stream rather than doing a whole lot of work just to break even (or worse, spending money to have a side hustle).

Leverage technology

In any startup, you have to make creative use of all your resources to get the job done. The phrase "there's an app for that" couldn't be more appropriate when it comes to managing the additional work and obligations related to your side hustle.

Thanks to the rapid growth in mobile apps and technology, there's never been a better time to launch and grow your side hustle, straight from your phone. From tracking your business expenses, setting reminders for appointments and calls, designing marketing materials and collateral, connecting with customers, there's all sorts of resources at your fingertips.

Millennials intuitively understand the power of technology, social media, and marketing. You can use all of those skills to your advantage to create a relevant brand and connect to customers. However, there are other concepts and information that you have to understand to create a more legitimate side hustle.

You have to really consider your customer and what unique value you bring to them. You might not be disrupting an industry or creating a life-changing innovation, but you could be putting extra thought and care into your idea that keeps your customers coming back. You also want to make sure your financials and legal requirements are properly handled. The last thing you want is to start a side hustle to make money, only to lose that money (or more than that money) due to poor planning. Make sure your side hustle is working for you.

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Kelly McCormick teaches within the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer College and is director of RED Labs, the University of Houston's startup accelerator.

Using APIs, organizations can more easily combine their own internal data. Getty Images

Houston, home to one of Cognite's U.S. headquarters, is the energy capital of the world. But while many oil and gas industry players and partners come together here, much of the data they use — or want to employ — remains siloed.

There's no lack of data. Connected devices are a wellspring of enterprise resource planning data, depth-based trajectories, piping and instrumentation diagrams, and sensor values. But incompatible operational data systems, poor data infrastructure, and restricted data access prevent organizations from easily combining data to solve problems and create solutions.

We understand these challenges because we work alongside some of the biggest operators, OEMs and engineering companies in the oil and gas business. Lundin Petroleum, Aker Energy OMV, and Aker BP are among our customers, for example.

Flexible, open application programming interfaces can address the challenges noted above. APIs enable users to search, filter and do computations on data without downloading full data sets. And they abstract the complexity of underlying storage formats.

As a result, data scientists and process engineers can access data in an efficient manner, spending more time on their use cases and less effort contending with technical details. Using APIs, organizations can more easily combine their own internal data. APIs also simplify the process of using data from industry partners and other sources.

Most companies have slightly different work processes. But common API standards can help a company combine software services and platforms from others in a way that matches its own business logic and internal processes. That can allow the company to differentiate itself from competitors by employing services from the best suppliers to create innovative solutions.

Standardizing APIs across the oil and gas industry would open the door to a community of developers, which could create custom applications and connect existing market solutions. Then more new and exciting applications and services would reach the market faster.

To ensure adoption and success of such a standardization effort, the APIs would need to be well crafted and intuitive to use. These APIs would have to include the business logic required to perform the operations to empower users. In addition, APIs would need to define and allow for the sharing of desired information objects in a consistent way.

Best practices in defining common APIs for sharing data within the industry include:

  • Introducing APIs iteratively, driven by concrete use cases with business value
  • Ensuring all services using the API provide relevant output and insights in a structured machine-readable format, enabling ingestion into the API to ensure continuous enrichment of the data set
  • Making all data searchable
  • Preventing underlying technology from being exposed through the APIs to ensure continuous optimization and allow companies to implement their technology of choice
  • Supporting all external data sharing through an open, well-documented and well-versioned API, using the OpenAPI standard

If oil and gas industry operators define APIs, suppliers will embrace them. That will "grease" the value chain, allowing it to move with less friction and waste.

Operations and maintenance are a natural place for API harmonization to start. Standardized APIs also can enable operators to aggregate and use environmental, equipment and systems, health and safety, and other data. That will accelerate digital transformation in oil and gas and enable companies to leverage innovative solutions coming from the ecosystem, reduce waste, and improve operations, making production more sustainable.

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Francois Laborie is the general manager of Cognite North Americas.