Tell us a bit about yourself and your side hustle.
I’m the Founder and CEO of an ad agency, Decoded Advertising, but probably better known to some as the creator of the popular Instagram dog account, @lolabarksdale that I run with my wife. Many people start Instagram accounts for their pets, but Lola’s success on social media has evolved into a true side hustle that has taken on a life of its own. It’s crafting a persona, creative concepting, shooting and editing content, handling the pressure of consistently writing funny captions, wrangling the elusive IG algorithm, scheduling meet-and-greets with international fans, managing an inbox full of product and partnership solicitations, organizing charity appearances and keeping up with a full social calendar that makes it a little more involved than just posting cute, cuddly photos.
What inspired you to start your side hustle? How long have you been doing it?
Wanting to learn the ins and outs of the social platforms and how to build a brand from scratch. The platforms are ever changing and most people’s “best practices” are obsolete in six months now, so if you’re not actually getting your hands dirty and living it yourself then you’re not going to stay an expert in the space. I wanted an environment where I could experiment without constraint, but we never imagined Lola would achieve influencer status when we started the account six years ago.
Does your side hustle benefit the community in any way? If not, do you plan on using it to give back at some point?
Besides making people laugh? Absolutely. We use the account to support animal charities in a way we never could on our own. People assume we monetize Lola, but we’re not in it for that. We donate everything we make and force brands to send their gifts to shelters instead of us. One of our favorite traditions is her holiday cards. For the last three years, Lola has solicited small donations to local nonprofits from her fans, in exchange for a personalized holiday card. Many fans donate 5-10 times in order to have Lola cards sent to their entire families, and we have hundreds of repeat customers year over year. This is often the start of a charitable relationship within the community that didn’t exist before, since fans have to seek out organizations.
What motivates you to keep hustling?
The unexpected reactions we get from fans and the joy that she brings to everyone. It still feels surreal to be stopped on the street in cities across the country by strangers who recognize our dog and tell us how much they love her. But, it’s getting thank you emails from people with stories like a 911 dispatcher telling us how Lola’s updates lighten their moods during particularly tense shifts that keep us going whenever we question why we’re doing this.
Were there any specific skills you needed to start this project? Has your day job helped in developing those skills?
A willingness to put yourself out there, stand up for what you believe and not be afraid to fail.
The persistence to prioritize it, stick with it and not treat it like a side project.
The patience to experiment, let it grow organically and build for the long term.
Does your side hustle benefit your day-to-day work?
We own a brand now and use it to learn the things our clients go through. We can feel the risks and impact that our decisions make and extend our learnings back to our client’s work.
What have you learned since you began your side hustle? Has it evolved it evolved the years?
Not having a KPI to tie back to makes for fun arguments.
Is there any advice you’d give to young creatives & executives on how to pursue their passion projects on the side?
Don’t hide it, bring it to work and use it to inform your strategies and ideas.