In 2018, Emilio Gargano was preparing to take his Technology Applications EC-12 (242) exam to become certified as a teacher covering tech in Texas. "I needed to pass this exam to keep my job," says Gargano, who had just been hired at a public school. "But the problem was, you only had five attempts to pass."
The exam isn't easy. After he failed the first time around, the experience led him to start a blog called 1st Year Texas Teachers, in which he vented about the difficulty of the test. The blog caught the attention of other educators in a similar situation and led to a growing readership.
By the time Gargano passed the test in early 2019, his readers had started asking for exam notes.
Gargano saw a business opportunity. Now he sells guides for four different Texas-based teaching exams on his blog and has pulled in more than $9,400 in the past year and a half. He also wrote and self-published an e-book this summer, "Making Your First $1,000 Online," about how he started his online business. That has brought in more than $100 in passive income so far.
If you're considering starting your own business, Gargano suggests asking yourself the following question: What bugs you?
"My whole side hustle journey could be summed up by that," he says. "Passing this exam bugged the heck out of me." Figuring out how to cope with and address the annoyance got him a captive audience and customer base.
"What bugs you? What's gnawing at you? How could you solve it and then help others solve it as well?"
It helps to know about the field and problem you're trying to solve, he adds. So think about problems that feel very personal to your life and knowledge base. "I could never create a product for a doctor because I'm not a doctor," he says. But he felt qualified to create a product for Texas-based teachers.
To set a price for the guides, "I just looked at my competition," Gargano says. "What are they charging?"
Competitors in the field were charging $80 or more for similar products, which he felt was "just too much." But he also thought anything much below $20 or $30 didn't seem like a product his target audience would take seriously, "so I priced it right between there," he says.
The guides on his site now go for $24-$44 each.
Gargano wouldn't have started the business if it wasn't for the readers who asked for material to help with their own exam preparation. He has further expanded his line of products by listening to what else potential customers are looking for.
"I reached out to other teachers asking what exams they're having a hard time with," he says, "And so I created some of those guides from there."
He's also looked at how many teachers take any of the dozens of similar exams in the state every year and put feelers out about potential guides by making YouTube videos discussing the topic.
Long term, Gargano wants to scale up. "They talk about a BHAG: big, hairy, audacious goal. My BHAG would be $240,000 per year in profit," he says.
He's done the math, and that means selling about 6,000 guides per year.
"I think it's attainable," he says.
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