100 ways to escape the 9-to-5 and make a living on your own terms. Part 4 of 4.

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Based on Courier Magazine’s 2021 guide. (You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and here's Part 3.)

Earlier this year Courier magazine published a bigass issue covering 100 of the latest, greatest ways to make a living in a less 9-to-5, more self-high-five way. To save you hours of time as well as any number of potential papercuts, I’ve distilled and summarised the hell out of the whole thing.

There’s so much good stuff in there, even my summary is a longass one — so I broke it into quarters. Each idea comes with a takeaway — and the best thing is, those takeaways are pretty universal, so even if running a dog grooming salon isn’t for you, it’s worth checking out the insight or tip that comes with it, instead of throwing the baby (puppy?) out with the bathwater.

This is the final part — we got there! If you'd like more of this kinda thing in your mailbox (infrequently, because I'm too lazy to spam), you can subscribe to my newsletter.


 

Idea 76: Virtual goods

Online gamers think nothing of spending thousands on in-game items like weapons and ‘skins’ (the appearance of virtual characters). For savvy traders, it’s an incredibly profitable business.

Morgan Ritchie started selling virtual goods after losing his job at Comcast, when he was playing a lot of CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive). Guns he spent $5 on six years ago now swap hands for $16,000. That far outstrips the rising value of FTSE 100, driven further by the opening up of CS:GO to China. “Chinese collectors have lots of money and want the rarest, most expensive things to show off to their friends,” says Morgan. Skins in particular have gone crazy, he says.

Takeway: If you’re a gaming nerd, you may be in a great position to monetise your obsession.


 

Idea 77: The regenerative agriculture movement

As environmental issues go mainstream, the business of soil health is gaining ground. Regenerative farming is a term that describes farming practices aiming to restore degraded soil biodiversity. A legend within this movement is Jane Scotter and her Hertfordshire farm, Fern Verrow. For 25 years, Jane has been farming this land to biodynamic principles. With high-profile clients and consultancy projects, Jane is proof that soil health can be a business opportunity, as well. She thinks the best way to learn is to work on someone else’s farm for a while: it’s never what people think, she says. It’s extremely hard work and can be disappointing — but the reward is in doing something good and being surrounded by beauty.

Takeway: If you’re up for getting your hands dirty, there’s an opportunity to do well while doing good — and it’s right beneath your feet.


 

Idea 78: Makgeolli

Example: Hana, Makku

In 2019 the total value of makgeolli sales was $762 million, up 25% from 2017. Makgeolli, which translates to roughly strained, is a type of Korean rice wine. And, despite sales in South Korea dropping a few years ago, makgeolli is on the rise overseas. Hana is the first craft makgeolli maker in Brooklyn, while Makku is another US-based craft makgeolli producer that uses traditional brewing methods.

Takeway: Success formula: take an unknown foreign alcoholic drink and be the first to bring it to another place. Chin-chin! 🥂


 

Idea 79: Casual eatery and grocery store on a mission

Tucked away in the Mexican town of Tepoztlán, Desiderata is a favourite with locals. The founder, Linsey Fields, created it as a restaurant and marketplace for local food brands in 2020. Most of the brands that Lindsey stocks are local small businesses, many of them run by women.

Linsey has built a welcoming social space around Desiderata, set up both for communal meals and for digital nomads looking for a comfy place to work from. She brought in a lot of furniture and details from her own apartment in Mexico City to make the place feel cosy enough to spend the whole day.

Takeway: Don’t just build a restaurant or store — make it a welcoming hub with a mission behind it.


 

Idea 80: Knife brand with a twist

Hugo Worsley, founder of the knife brand Allday, is a former restaurateur with a clever business model. Hugo creates high-quality kitchen knives with blades hand-forged in Japan and handles made using upcycled plastic waste. He has adopted a batch business model, releasinng a new drop of knives every three months, between which he focuses on sourcing and storytelling.

During the pandemic, Hugo was looking for opportunities coming out of COVID. More people were cooking at home, and with that came a need for better cooking equipment. Hugo had been working as a chef since his teens, so a lot of friends reached out asking where to get a quality blade at around the £100 mark. That didn’t really exist, he said: there was such a disparity between £30 supermarket knives and £200 knives. With that in mind, he started developing his own prototypes.

Hugo had worked in kitchens and knew there were issues with plastic waste there — so it was a no-brainer to use recycled materials for the knife handles. He also wanted to create a story for each batch, working with a different source of plastic waste and a different illustrator. The first batch used plant pot plastic for the handle. For the second batch, Hugo worked with the vegetable delivery business Abel & Cole, which was having issues with milk cartons at one of their farms and asked if Allday could use them for their knife handles.

So far, Hugo hasn’t spent a penny on marketing. Instead, he goes to chefs or other people who work in the food space and have 1,000,000+ followers. He suggests they send him their plastic kitchen waste, so that her can make them a custom knife. People absolutely love this and tell all their friends, says Hugo — as well as posting the knife all over their Instagram. Rather than paying an influencer £1,000, you are giving them a product that they have been really involved in making — it’s a much better strategy.

Additionally, using batch sales was a great way to build a brand and get followers on Instagram really involved in the process, says Hugo.

Takeway: One human’s trash is another human’s cooking equipment.


 

Idea 81: Psychedelic spaces

Examples: Doubleblind, Compass Pathways, Emotional Intelligence Ventures, Kiyumi, Third Wave

Founded in 2019 by Shelby Hartmann and Madison Mongolian, Doubleblind is a magazine dedicated entirely to the subject of psychedelics — but the team say it’s about much more than just drugs: they are a bridge to wider conversations from politics and history to mental health. The biannual publication brings together rigourous science and immersive journalism, as well as thoughtful art direction.

Founded by George Goldsmith and you Katerina Malievskaia, Compass Pathways is a name without which no discussion of psychedelics is complete. They’ve created the first synthetic psilocybin for the treatment of mental health disorders, which received its first US patent in 2019. When psychedelics go mainstream, this London-based startup will probably have a hand in it.

As soon as drug regulation softens, psychedelics will become big business — think the founders of Hawaiian venture–capital firm founded in 2019 called Emotional Intelligence Ventures. Its goal is to invest early and long-term in psychoactive substances: both in the recreational and pharmaceutical space.

The Netherlands has many retreats for people using psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) to get high, detox, and unwind. Some of them charge a lot, but not Kiyumi, a minimalist retreat outside Amsterdam founded in 2019 that offers discounts to low-income clients.

Third Wave is a podcast by Paul Austin, a big name in the psychedelics industry. It aims to answer the big questions and unravel the science of psychedelics in an easy-going and accessible manner.

Takeway: Psychedelic drugs are picking up momentum in the mainstream, with investors and companies piling in — and there’s still plenty of space to turn up, tune in, drop out… and cash in while you’re at it.


 

Idea 82: STEM toys

Examples: Ambessa Play, Tech Will Save Us, imagiLabs, Kano, BBC micro:bit, LEGO Mindstorms

STEM toy kits are do-it-yourself toy systems based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The global market for this type of toys is expected to grow to $9.5 billion by 2025. Stem toys vary between online, offline, or specific age groups, and lately there’s been growing demand for sustainability within the kits and packaging design, as well as for toys that are designed either unisex or specifically targeting young girls, such as imagiLabs.

Takeway: Parents are increasingly interested in promoting STEM skills, so there is a growing variety of toy kits out there. Kickstarter can be a good place to launch an idea or a prototype a kit — many of these companies have found great success there.


 

Idea 83: Start your own talk show

Example: Sidetalk

Getting noticed on platforms where thousands are competing for attention is hard work — but a strong unique concept can be all it takes to start growing some serious momentum. It has certainly worked for New York University students Trent Simonian and Jack Byrne who launched a one-minute show called Sidetalk in 2019. Airing exclusively on Instagram, the show has a guerilla energy to it. Filmed on the streets of New York, each 60-second episode is an interview with one of the diverse and sometimes bizarre characters who live there — from anti-vaxxers to The Joker of NYC.


When lockdown started, the pair switched to asking people on social media to come onto the show. They now have more than a million followers, have been signed to WME and Brillstein Entertainment Partners, and are keen to turn their format into long form content for TV and film.

Takeway: A strong, simple concept can take you a long way — especially if you find a consistent and bottomless source of interesting content, such as fellow humans.


 

Idea 84: Queer clothing

Examples: BOTH&, Carmen Lui Lingerie, Beefcake Swimwear

Shopping in a binary world can be hard if you are queer, trans or gender-nonconforming, but there are a few brands on a mission to change that. Agender clothing can provide a sense of self-worth, comfort and confidence to this growing market. BOTH&

Made from 100% organic cotton, each T-shirt in the BOTH& range has unique designs specs to serve different purposes — from creating a flat profile to covering binder lines, emphasising muscle growth in the arms and, importantly, alleviating gender dysphoria. Carmen Liu is a British luxury designer and trans woman creating matching lingerie sets specifically for trans women and others who want to ‘tuck’ their genitals and flatten the side profile of that area. Liu created Carmen Lui Lingerie after noticing a distinct lack of underwear options for the trans community, with gaffer tape being the only alternative, and a painful one too.

Beefcake Swimwear was born out of frustration with mainstream swimwear’s focus on the gender binary, where the only main styles are a bikini or swimsuit for women and trunks for men. Drawing inspiration from 20s swimwear, the founders have created an androgynous one-piece swimsuit with classic boy short bottoms that fits all genders and sizes.

Takeway: In the US, 1 in 6 Gen Z adults identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. This means there’s a big gap in the clothing market, and even mainstream brands need to understand the needs of this community.


 

Idea 85: Start a family business

Examples: Tom Àdam, Kanaami-Tsuji, Little Moons, The Hotdog Box, Breadblok

From fresh brands established by like-minded siblings to businesses passed down through the generations and revamped by their current custodians, keeping business in the family can lead to generous rewards.

Originally from Latvia, Tom Adam created the men’s luxury underwear brand after visiting Japan. He launched Tom Àdam in 2018 with the help of his family — namely, his dad and grandma, who all play a different role in the business.

The Hotdog Box is a father-and-daughter duo serving gourmet hotdogs out of a shipping container in Chicago. They started it in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, when Bobby‘s web design and marketing firm was going through tough times. Now, at just nine years old, his daughter Brooklyn is already a budding entrepreneur, and they have a lot of time together.

UK-based brother and sister Vivien and Howard Wong co-founded the mochi ice cream brand Little Moons in 2010. After their father was diagnosed with cancer, the siblings quit their corporate jobs to pursue their dreams, inspired by the traditional Japanese rice cakes their dad used to make. They say working together as a brother-and-sister team has many advantages: they bring very different strengths to the business, while knowing and trusting each other completely — something that isn’t always the case with business partners.

Founded in 1985, Kanaami-Tsuji draws on the traditional 1000-year-old craft of kyo-kanaami or wire netting ware, to produce handmade utensils suitable for a contemporary lifestyle. Products range from tofu servers and tea strainers to custom-made ceramic grills.

Breadblok is a gluten-free bakery-café in Los Angeles serving bread and baked goods inspired by the quality and simplicity of Provençal food. The brand was born in 2014, when sisters Chloe and Celine, whose grandfather’s celiac disease had forced the whole family to adopt a gluten-free diet, were taken aback by the lack of decent gluten-free options in the epicentre of health and wellness that is Los Angeles.

Takeway: The right business partner can make all the difference to your company — and may not have to go very far to find them.


 

Idea 86: Food for expats

Example: Friday Pies

If you ask any expat Kiwi what food they miss most from back home, 9 out of 10 will say a good pie, say the cofounders of Friday Pies. The five friends and housemates got the idea when they all got furloughed during the lockdown. Friday Pies use flaky puff pastry filled with a range of high-quality meat and vegetable options, from buffalo chicken or butter paneer to the Kiwi classic, mince and cheese.


The classic meal the friends created quickly grew into a batch-cooking frozen pie delivery service. Within two weeks they had scaled to 80 pies — the maximum that their home oven and kitchen table could handle — and by six months they were turning out 800 pies a week, all delivered or collected on Friday (hence the name). Their clientele is a community of thousands of fellow expat New Zealanders who became regular customers. One customer travelled nearly 6 hours from Newcastle to London, carrying a freezer box just to collect the stock of Friday pies.

Although Friday pies were still less than six months old at the time of writing, data and business efficiencies inform the whole operation, from customer conversion rates to tracking delivery routes. The group says they are working on plans to expand the company to wholesale, a shopfront and kitchen location, as well as brand collaborations and pop-ups.

Takeway: If you’re part of an expat community, perhaps you could think of what you could bring to the table — literally.


 

Idea 87: Start a business in Seoul

South Korea is renowned for its ultramodern infrastructure, automotive and tech industries — but some would argue that the real stars are its luxury goods, fashion and creative sectors. Since the 90s, the city has seen an explosion of looks, brands and designs. Seoul’s superfast Internet and mega-efficient same day courier services mean you can deliver products and services in an efficient and timely manner. It’s also a lot easier to start an online business with a much smaller budget, compared to bigger cities like London.


Location matters, but there are plenty of young business owners making a change in the city’s dynamics by opening up small cafés and restaurants in less developed, slum-like areas and turning them into commercially viable locations. And with nearly half of Korea’s population concentrated around the capital and its surrounding regions, owning a store in Seoul means you can reach out to a wide audience.


Takeway: If you want to go fast, go East.

 

Idea 88: Trash into treasures

Example: Gjenge Makers

Gjenge Makers is a Nairobi-based startup that transforms plastic waste into lightweight paving bricks. TheirLight Duty Paver is twice as strong as ordinary country blocks, and in little over a year Gjenge Makers has recycled more than 40 tonnes of plastic and created 130 jobs within the community. The brand was born out of the frustration its founder Nzambi Matee felt when she saw the growing amount of plastic waste enveloping her city. Matee decided to find a solution, recycling it into alternative building materials. Her mission is to spearhead new technologies that can impact the affordable housing sector while providing opportunity and jobs and creating an ecosystem for recycling waste in Kenya.

Takeway: Take a closer look — the path to success and world betterment may well be paved with trash.


 

Idea 89: All things biodegradable

Example: Sprout, Billi London, Simply Gum, Lia, Ecovibe

Traditionally, used everyday products have either ended up in landfills or on the street. Luckily there are lots of brands on a mission to change that, one product at a time.

Sprout is a Danish company producing plantable pencils and eyeliners, with clients including Disney, Coca-Cola, and Toyota. The patented pencil contains a seed capsule at the end. Once planted, it dissolves and grows into flowers, herbs, trees or vegetables.

Billi London is a brand of biodegradable women’s tights created by a French duo. Sophie Billi-Hardwick and Marie Bouhier have managed to produce durable and comfortable tights that biodegrade in just five years — over 20x faster than regular tights, 8 billion of which are produced globally, most of them unrecyclable.

Despite being a $33 billion industry in the US, chewing gum has got it self into a sticky situation, with the local councils reportedly spending millions per year scraping it off pavements. New York-based Simply Gum is on a mission to change that. While regular gum is made of a plastic base filled with synthetic ingredients, Simply Gum has managed to make something simpler and better, made from natural ingredients. It is now sold by over 1,500 US retailers.

Nearly 8,000,000 women in the US used a home pregnancy test in 2020. That’s around £2 million of plastic waste. Biodegradable tests have already entered the market, but the new Lia test has gone one step further — it’s flushable. Lia’s proprietary coating keeps the test intact during use, but afterwards it breaks down like toilet paper. The privacy aspect of flushing is also popular with its customers: people like that their business stays their business.

Ecovibe is a marketplace for environmentally friendly home products, packed with eco alternatives to everyday products that would normally end up in landfill. Instead, here you will find compostable washing up sponges, biodegradable and refillable dental floss, and laundry strips that emit 94% less carbon than standard liquid.

Takeway: These days it seems like alnost anything can be made biodegrabale — just take a look around to see what hasn’t been taken care of yet.


 

Idea 90: Online language learning

In 2020 alone, Duolingo saw half a billion downloads. Globally, the market for online language learning is expected to reach nearly $26 billion by 2027 — and language learning apps keep adding better, more intuitive functionality as they grow.

Takeway: Find a way to make language learning easier, faster or more fun, and you’ll succeed faster than you can say ‘voilà’.


 

Idea 91: Art from under-represented cultures

Example: Karabo Poppy Moletsane

Karabo Poppy Moletsane is a South African illustrator. Drawing inspiration from her South African heritage, it would be impossible to separate Karabo’s work from where it’s made. And these days her bold and vibrant illustrations are everywhere, from Nike and Google to Trevor Noah and WeWork. Growing up in the mining city of Vereeniging, Karabo was under pressure to follow a traditional career path: illustration was only ever meant to be a hobby. With a fall-back plan to study medicine, Karabo majored in visual communication and discovered how she could incorporate drawing with digital design. Her mission is preserving the African aesthetic through her work while addressing the imbalance of African representation in mainstream media.

Takeway: If you’re a visual artist, it might be a better idea to pick a memorable and underrepresented aesthetic you’re connected to than constantly trying to match the style of the season.


 

Idea 92: Multidisciplinary design studio

Milan-based Flatwig is a design studio that specialises in everything from interior design and furnishing to custom–made objects, graphics and jewellery. Francesca and Erica, the duo behind it, take a collaborative approach to everything they do because to them, inspiration is collaboration. After moving to London from Milan (they have since moved back), they got their name out there through word-of-mouth with the help of a PR rep who worked with their first client, a restaurant owner who had asked them to design his new wine bar for him before they’d done any interior design work (luckily, they agreed anyway). They were also using a co-working space, and met a lot of clients that way. If you have a great personality and your lifestyle matches the aesthetic of your work, companies will hire you for that reason, say Francesca and Erica.

Takeway: It used to be a challenge to convince people of the importance of home design, but the pandemic was a wake-up call. Designing for smart working or working from home will be a significant opportunity for many independent designers and companies.


 

Idea 93: End-of-life services

The proportion of people who worry about funeral costs — 1 in 3 — has increased 128% since 2004. There are start-ups are innovating in the $106 billion deathcare space: for example, bringing the cost of funeral services down, and bringing more transparency to will and asset planning.

Takeway: If you’re comfortable accepting death as part of life and want to make that phase better for others, there are plenty of ways to create value within the end-of-life area.


 

Idea 94: Crystals

Note: I wanted to skip this item, because I’m strongly opposed to promoting or highlighting what I consider an absolute scam — but I’m keeping it, because my goal is to summarise Courier’s guide fo 100 business ideas, not to curate and condense it according to my personal beliefs. Please use your own discretion. — Olga

Examples: Stoned Crystals, Modern Mystic, Convivial Crystals

While their purported qualities remain completely unproven, crystals are serious business. According to Bloomberg, the value of gemstones like amethysts and citrine held steady while the diamond industry suffered during the pandemic.

Takeway: One of the innovations in the sphere is ethical sourcing. Mining is an industry that often fails to protect workers and environment — so choosing more mindful suppliers is one way to differentiate a crystal-related business.


 

Idea 95: A pocket hotel

Located in France’s second biggest city, Marseille, Tuba Club is an oceanfront hotel and restaurant offering a small oasis of calm. Set within a former diving centre overlooking The Calanques National Park of limestone cliffs, Tuba Club only has five hotel rooms on offer, but it’s quickly becoming a social hotspot in Les Goudes neighbourhood of Marseille, open both to overnight stays and people just stopping by at the bar.

The hotel’s interiors are heavily influenced by its oceanic surroundings. The owners used as much natural material as possible — lime walls, for example. They also hunted for furniture, bought tables from a closed beach in St Tropez, and fixed stuff from the diving centre. The space is a hub of activity: guests can take part in snorkelling and beachfront yoga, as well as boat and walking trips around the national park. There are also regular onshore and offshore cleaning events. Part of Tuba Club’s manifesto is to have a minimal impact on the environment, so the chef works only with local farmers to source seasonal produce.

Takeway: You don’t need a grandiose building with dozens of rooms to create a fashionable, one-of-a-kind hotel — if anything, the opposite may be a better starting point.


 

Idea 96: Music streaming and music sync

Streaming and syncing are giving artists new opportunities for audience engagement and revenue generation.

While anecdotal evidence suggests that it has become harder for musicians to make a living wage from their art since the streaming era arrived, this tech has also put audiences within easy reach. Artists can now build an audience and monetise a following much easier than 10–20 years ago, when the infrastructure relied on third parties (labels, retailers, radio program directors, media) to reach an audience.

Syncing (the process of getting songs placed in films, TV shows, ads, and video games) has also been a way for artist to earn money from records. Online streaming advancements over the past decade have only made this easier and more profitable. These days, some of the fastest growing revenue opportunities for music or fitness, gaming, and social video.

Takeway: Music is essential to the success of many businesses and industries, but formal licensing and revenue share programs are just beginning to take shape — so this industry is ripe for disruption.


 

Idea 97: Functional fragrance

Functional fragrance is a type of perfume that combines aromatherapy with ingredients that have proven wellness benefits. According to research, 96% of people would recommend functional fragrance as an anti-stress tool — and this sector is due to grow at a rate of 6.5% each year until 2030.

Takeway: You can do well by producing things that smell good while also doing good.


 

Idea 98: Build a startup in Tallinn

Estonia and its capital are a great place for ambitious digital startups. Despite its small size (Estonia’s population is just 1.3 million), it’s one of the most technically advanced, progressive and entrepreneurially-minded countries in Europe. It now has Europe’s third highest amount of startups per capita, helped by government-issued Startup Visas that entice foreign companies to set up shop in the country with promises of tax incentives, financial help, and tech support.

A World Bank study in 2019 placed Estonia 18th out of 180 countries in terms of ease of doing business, while global anticorruption body Transparency International found it to be not only the most transparent country in East and South-East Europe, but one that has some of the highest economic freedoms in the world.

Estonia is one of the most advanced digital societies in the world. According to the locals, 99% of state services are online and everything is quick and easy. Establishing a company takes 10 minutes, and filling taxes takes even less; business data is freely available, making it easy to analyse your competitors or do background checks on prospective clients. In addition to that, commuting time is short, the air is clean, and the city is very diverse: from the medieval Old Town to industrial estates turned hipster hotspots and brutalist Soviet architecture.

Takeway: If you can deal with a cooler climate, Estonia will provide a warm welcome to your startup.


 

Idea 99: Crossover luxury lifestyle brand

Lola James Harper is a Paris-based luxury lifestyle brand reflective of the artistic passions of its founder, Rami Mekdachi: music, photography, and perfumery. Born in Lebanon and raised in Paris, Rami spent a lot of his youth shooting pictures from music magazines before meeting perfumer Benoist Lapouza and tarting to art direct perfumery projects. He soon realised how perfumery was linked to music: from using the same words like ‘notes’ and ‘chords’ to the fact that they were both intangible.

After Rami co-created a limited-edition set of candles and launching them during Vogue Fashion’s Night Out along with a concert and an exhibition of his photography, he says people instantly understood that the link between the different disciplines was “a way of life.“ In 2021, anyone can find a factory, says Rami. These days the point isn’t in the gear but the meaning. That is the essence of Lola James Harper.

When Le Bon Marché approached Rami to ask if they could stock his candles, he said that the product was inseparable from the overall brand aesthetic — so he would not share the candles without the music, the photos and the rest of it. Le Bon Marché proceeded to offer him a fully fledged space in the shop. In seven years it’s grown from 50 m² to 300 m². The space also hosts concerts, masterclasses and even jam sessions. After perfume came clothing, a film, a book, and collaborations with hotels in London and brands like Lululemon. This approach has worked beautifully, judging by this New York Times review: “Sun-drenched photos from afamily travels; perfume, coffee and music made with friends… Lola James Harper is a holistic project about art, friendship, family, slow life and sunshine.”

Takeway: To create more value and attract a small army of loyal fans, think of the overall experience you want to create for your customers — ideally all five of their senses.


 

Idea 100 (we got there! 🎉): Assistive tech

An estimated 2 billion people will need at least one type of assistive product by 2030 — and yet it’s a market that is incredibly underserved. At the moment, just one and 10 people in need of such equipment have access to assistive tech like hearing aids and wheelchairs because of barriers like cost, availability and policy.

Takeway: It’s a problem that’s invisible unless you’ve come into direct contact with it — but assistive tech is a growing market with polenty of room for innovation.


 

…phew — that’s all 100 done! 🙌 (#neveragain). If you’ve enjoyed these, you can sign up for my newsletter where I share tips and ideas on personal branding, inventing your own work life, non-sleazy self-promotion, and creative problem-solving.



 

llustration by Julia Gnedina from Ouch!

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