This 26-Year-Old Turned His Side Gig Into a $500,000-a-Year Business

How he went from day job to dream job in just a few short years.

We’ve all been there: You go shopping and you can’t find anything you love—or even anything remotely in your style. Ryan McCarthy was just 22 years old when he decided to do something about that. Combining his love of fashion and Japanese anime, he started making T-shirts that he and his friends would want to wear. “I saw this niche opportunity,” he says. “In the beginning, it was just for me and my friends, but I decided I was going to run with it.” And he did ever. Now, four years later, that hobby turned side business has become Imouri, a wildly successful online clothing brand that he never anticipated. Here’s how he went from day job to dream job.

Getting it off the ground

Fresh out of college, McCarthy got a job as a web designer, designing e-commerce websites. “It allowed me to see the inner workings of these e-commerce businesses,” he explains. “I started creating the anime designs myself in the beginning.” He now employs freelancers to do that, as well as commissions artwork from other artists.

Courtesy Ryan McCarthy

Though he enjoyed the artistic and creative aspect of launching a business, he says that the company Printful was integral to the company’s early success. “They handled all the things I didn’t have time to worry about, like shipping and manufacturing,” he says. “It was a godsend finding them.”

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Straddling two worlds

For a year and a half, McCarthy worked his day job while trying to get Imouri a larger following online. “It was not an overnight success,” he admits. “I’d work all day at my web-design job, and then come home and work all night and focus on building the brand. I was doing the typical entrepreneurial lifestyle. Luckily, I had very supportive parents who allowed me to live at home while I did this. I couldn’t have done it without their support.”

Once McCarthy felt comfortable with his business plan and growing revenue stream, it was time to take a leap of faith. “It took over a year for me to see an income with Imouri that was close to what I was making with web design. It wasn’t until the income was parallel that I began thinking about taking the leap and quitting my day job,” he says. “My parents were incredibly supportive and were like, ‘If this is what you want to do, then go for it.’ I knew that I was young and I’d probably never have this chance again, so I did.” The company now earns more than half a million dollars a year.

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Recipe for success

ryan mcarthy imouri business Courtesy Ryan McCarthy

McCarthy credits a large portion of his success to his original concept. “Idea is everything. I had this hyperfocused niche of anime, and I was the demographic I was targeting. That made marketing really easy because I was in the market space I was trying to reach,” he says. “I would recommend that anyone wanting to try starting a business really spend the time to hone and craft both the niche and angle. No one else was really doing what I wanted to do at the time. There are others now that are in the niche, too, but they’re doing it in their own way. It’s so cool to see.”

A dream realized

Last May, McCarthy had the chance to commission art for Imouri with an animation studio in Singapore. That, he says, was the moment he realized that the company was where he’d always dreamed it would be. “They created our own brand mascot, and now I have this anime face for the brand, which is incredible. That was the moment where I was like, This is a dream. It’s happening.

The future is bright

Courtesy Ryan McCarthy

Expect to see a lot more of Imouri soon—and not just online. “I really want to do more with the brand mascot, but something else I’m working to do is getting out in person at conventions. These convention circuits can bring in more than 30,000 people, and it’s a great way to get your face out from behind your brand,” says the now-26-year-old. “It’s so different than when I started. There are so many more brands and subgenres of anime out there now than there ever were before. My ultimate goal is to have pop-up stores or a retail space in New York City. That would be the next dream.”

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Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.