After He Was Laid Off, His Side Hustle Grew to $100k a Year


This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Alaa El Ghatit, founder of LifeOnRecord. LifeOnRecord is a service that lets people phone in stories, memories and well wishes for someone celebrating a birthday, retirement, wedding or other special occasion. The recordings are put onto a keepsake speaker or a vinyl album.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Alaa El Ghatit

When did you start LifeOnRecord as a side hustle, and what inspired it?

Back in 2006, I was working in an IT department of a large employee benefits consulting firm, managing 60 people, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at my job. I didn’t like being in meetings all day, and I wanted to get more hands-on again and work on something more meaningful, but I couldn’t see a viable path to doing that where I was.

I had been playing around with a telephone system in my spare time and wondered if I could create a business by having people call in and record their favorite stories and memories about a person as a way to celebrate their birthday, retirement, wedding, etc.

Related: He Started a Side Hustle in His Parents’ Basement and Won Big on Richard Branson’s TV Show. The Business Saw Over $650 Million in Annual Revenue Last Year.

What were some of the first steps you took to get the side hustle off the ground?

My mother-in-law’s 65th birthday was coming up, and I thought she’d enjoy hearing from all her kids, grandkids, friends, husband, etc.

So, as a trial, I set up a phone number that everyone could call and gave her the resulting recordings on a CD (remember — this was 2006). We all listened to it together on her birthday in her living room. She loved it, there were tears, and it sparked a lot of stories (18 years later, she still loves it).

I thought the idea had some traction, so I worked on it in my spare time to make it a service.

A few months later, I got laid off, and I decided to take some time to try and grow the business. People started ordering, but not in the volume that allowed me to support my wife and four young kids, so after nine months, I took a job as a director of IT for a mid-size company where I could be hands-on and manage a small team.

Were there any challenges that came with running the side hustle? If so, how did you navigate those?

Navigating the side hustle of LifeOnRecord presented three significant challenges. First, I got used to the security of a corporate salary with the entrepreneurial aspect of LifeOnRecord. I enjoyed both, which kept me from fully committing to LifeOnRecord. Despite the automation and minimal time LifeOnRecord required, the camaraderie of my corporate role left me hesitant to leave until 2022.

Additionally, keeping LifeOnRecord a secret from colleagues fostered an emotional barrier, making me more reserved and unable to share valuable insights across both my worlds. This secrecy persisted until the pivotal moment I decided to quit my corporate job. Surprisingly, upon revealing LifeOnRecord to the CEO, I found unexpected support rather than resistance. The company facilitated a smooth transition, allowing me to gradually shift my focus to LifeOnRecord, with the CEO even providing guidance along the way.

Lastly, an early challenge involved defending LifeOnRecord’s intellectual property against infringement from a multi-national corporation. Through perseverance and direct negotiation, which took over a year, I secured an agreement from them without legal intervention, and I licensed my intellectual property to them for a fair but significant licensing fee.

Related: The Side Hustle She Started in Her Princeton Dorm Room Led to a $510 Million Business: ‘Don’t Take No for an Answer’

How long did it take you to begin seeing consistent monthly revenue? On average, how much revenue did it bring in?

Growth was gradual, but people who used the service talked about it with others and developed into repeat buyers. Before I focused on it full-time, it brought in a little over $100,000 a year as a side hustle. With my corporate salary, it allowed us to live comfortably, fund college for my kids and go on trips.

How much annual revenue is LifeOnRecord projected to see this year?

For me, it is not really about the money and growth but more about me being able to provide a personal, customer-focused experience that I can be directly involved in. Having said that, last year was the first year it was a full-time venture, and it brought in about $350,000, and this year we will more than double that amount. We’re always super responsive to customer questions and requests, and I don’t want it to get so big that stellar customer service is no longer a priority.

How have you approached scaling the company? What has really been key in helping it grow?

Right from the start, my strategy was all about leveraging technology to scale and enhance the customer experience. Recognizing that customers wanted more control over their contributions, I developed a “My Recordings” portal for them to edit, organize or delete their messages. I streamlined the audio enhancement process by partnering with Dolby Labs for top-notch voice clarity and noise reduction, and I expanded contribution options beyond traditional phone calls to include six alternative methods.

[While] balancing this growth with my corporate responsibilities, I was mindful not to expand too quickly, aiming to maintain a healthy equilibrium between my day job and LifeOnRecord. This balance allowed me to enjoy the perks of both my professional career and my entrepreneurial venture without overwhelming myself or the business.

A key innovation was introducing vintage rotary phone rentals for wedding receptions for guests to leave messages for the wedding couple. Unlike competitors that simply rent out the phones, we integrated these pieces into our broader service ecosystem. Guests love the charm of leaving messages on these classic devices, which are then enhanced and preserved through our platform.

Related: This Fun, Flexible Side Hustle Pays $35 an Hour and Gets You Into Exclusive CEO Summits, Music Festivals, and Sports Events

As you look back over your journey with LifeOnRecord, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

There’s a lingering thought that maybe I should have stepped away from the corporate world sooner to fully embrace the entrepreneurial path with LifeOnRecord. The allure of stability and a predictable income often held me back, anchoring me to a role that, while comfortable, perhaps limited the potential growth of my passion project. Yet, with every decision comes a silver lining.

Staying in my corporate job perhaps longer than I should have afforded me invaluable lessons and experiences. It was in this professional setting that I honed skills that later became crucial in navigating the entrepreneurial landscape: the discipline of managing projects, the art of negotiation and the ability to lead a team.

This period also served as a vital incubation phase for LifeOnRecord. It allowed me to slowly but surely build the foundation of the business, testing ideas and refining the model without the immediate pressure of having it be my sole source of income. In a way, it granted me the freedom to experiment and innovate with less risk, laying the groundwork for what LifeOnRecord would eventually become.

What are you most excited about when it comes to LifeOnRecord’s future?

Customers have used LifeOnRecord in innovative ways. People have used LifeOnRecord to send out audio thank yous, and brides have recorded their feelings of “saying yes to the dress” using LifeOnRecord, then played that recording as they walk down the aisle. I think there are many more ways to market LifeOnRecord that we can explore in the future.

What’s your favorite part about running your own business today?

I love the impact the business has on customers. When I had a corporate job, I felt like a cog in a wheel, but with LifeOnRecord, I created a way for people to make a connection with others. I’m especially grateful when people buy it and record messages for someone with a terminal illness. They say it’s one of the few things they can do to show how loved the person is.

Beyond that, I like the lifestyle flexibility and not needing to be accountable to anyone other than our customers. I love being identified with it and the excitement that other people have when I share what I do.

Related: This Former Ph.D. Student Started a Side Hustle to Graduate Without Debt — Now He Makes $30,000 a Month and Can Complete a Job in 15 Minutes

Do you have any advice for others interested in starting a side hustle or business of their own?

I’d suggest being kind to yourself. Although there’s a flood of stories about individuals earning astronomical sums from side hustles, such instances are exceedingly rare. Usually, progress is slower than anticipated, resembling a dance of “two steps forward, one step back.”

Building a principles-first business that will last requires patience and time.

Leverage your day job for its intended purpose — a means to mitigate risks as you navigate the path to creating a business with lasting impact.



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