Her Semi-Passive Side Hustle Earns $33k a Week on Amazon

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dr. Jenny Woo, educator and founder of Mind Brain Emotion, the company behind a line of card games and other tools for the development of emotional intelligence. The story has been edited and condensed for clarity.

There’s some research that shows that today’s college students are way less emotionally intelligent compared to those a decade ago. And this research was done before the pandemic, so you can imagine what that looks like post-pandemic. I’ve also seen a lot of research on the impact of distance learning and social isolation, where adults and kids just don’t have the same opportunity to interact with people. For kids, this translated into social anxiety and regression (in) communication skills and language, and just that unwillingness to connect with people.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mind Brain Emotion. Dr. Jenny Woo.

I’ve done management consulting for Fortune 500 companies, and through working with senior leaders, I found that soft skills in the workplace are not quite emphasized, which really impacts the health of an organization’s team. When I was researching this area at the children’s level, I realized, Oh my gosh, these are the skills that basically weren’t really taught or discussed in school. So, while at the Harvard Innovation Labs, I took a research-backed approach to develop a tool in the form of a card game that anybody could enjoy — you don’t have to go to school or anything. (I wanted to do something that was easy and accessible because I’m the first one in my family to graduate college.)

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The development of my first card deck, which launched in May 2018 with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, stemmed from a combination of education research and industry experience. I was in a master’s program in education that was focused on the intersection of cognitive science, neuroscience, education and child development, and I guess psychology sprinkled in there. I started with the 52 Essential Conversations to really help people have purposeful conversations in an authentic and vulnerable way. This would be parents with children, adult parents and grandparents with children in school. It’s almost like the pearls of wisdom that you want to leave someone close to you — to feel good that they’re set for life and can make responsible decisions.

I didn’t even really think about developing more card decks, but organically, as I was testing the game out with users and gathering these case studies, understanding how people are actually engaging and interacting with it, I realized that in order to even begin to have these vulnerable, heart-to-heart conversations, you need to have that trust, respect and understanding first. And so that is where I created the second deck, which is the Relationship Skills deck — to help people go back to the drawing board, connect with each other and build that caring trust necessary to even have a conversation. I released that one in January 2019.

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Amazon is a platform that’s continuously growing in terms of people who rely on the service, so selling there is a no-brainer. These days, I launch a new deck every four to six months on Amazon, and the sales bring in $33,000 a week. I have other streams of income as well. I lecture at the University of California, Irvine. I’m lecturing but also providing a service through my online course as Mind Brain Emotion, my company. So every quarter I teach, and they pay me directly per person taking my online course. We do some real estate too.

I speak a lot to entrepreneurship classes at the graduate college level, and one time I got this question from someone: “Can you start a business if you’re not really passionate about what you’re selling if it will make a lot of money?” My answer is, “Why would you want to do that?” My advice is to do something that you’re truly passionate about and hopefully passionate about for a long, long time because it is a grind. You’re going to get negative customer reviews, which is like a death sentence for a business. And you have to love what you’re doing enough to just pick yourself up and keep going. That also goes into knowing what your values are; you’re going to have so many dilemmas and decisions that you need to make, and in order to weigh the pros and cons, you have to go back to your values and what’s important to you.

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Additionally, as a solopreneur, you don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s one of the biggest challenges I see when I talk to other entrepreneurs. Sometimes you could be so in love with your idea, but it’s really important to talk to as many people as you can and listen to the customer first before yourself or the product to understand if this is meeting a need and if there are demands for this product.

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