‘I Can't Believe You're Allowed to Do That': Meet the Companies Encouraging Side Hustles

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  • Several firms CNBC spoke to encourage side hustles because they help workers better understand business problems.
  • Other companies like employees' extracurricular activities if they benefit wider society.
  • But some employers warn that the day job needs to be ring-fenced and not compete with the side business.

LONDON — The pandemic may have been the stimulus people needed to start their own side hustle, but they're not always encouraged by employers that may fear staff lack commitment to their full-time role. 

Not so for Michael Hudson, CEO and co-founder of games distributor GameBake, who actively encourages staff to have side hustles. "It's something I've never had a problem with. I've got my own stuff that I'm interested in outside as well. And I think everyone should be able to pursue [side hustles] and find what they're good at," he told CNBC via video call. Having outside interests helps to diversify the team, Hudson said.

The firm's chief commercial officer Jack Robson is a former venture capitalist who makes deals in addition to his role at GameBake, Hudson said, while another colleague was an early investor in Bitcoin and continues to trade cryptocurrency on the side. "It helps to learn more in different areas and different markets. We're within the gaming market but understanding e-commerce for example is massively beneficial for GameBake," Robson said. He doesn't monitor how much time employees spend on extracurricular projects and trusts staff to get the job done.

"If you're providing more flexibility and more ways to learn [and] … engage with the industry … then naturally you keep people for a long time," he added.

Some firms are taking things further. At training firm Rebel Business School, permission to have a side hustle is written into employees' contracts — as long as what they're doing doesn't compete with the rest of the business.

"I can't believe you're allowed to do that," is the reaction the company's staff sometimes get when they tell clients they are encouraged to have side hustles, according to CEO and co-founder Simon Paine who spoke to CNBC by phone.

Business benefits

"But the rationale [is], hey, look, we are allowing ourselves to do this because it has a business benefit," is his response. Rebel Business School runs courses in entrepreneurship, so it makes sense for employees to have personal experience of it, Paine said.

"If the majority of the team have got their own experience of starting and failing, starting and succeeding … when they have conversations with the participants of our course, they're coming from a place of experience [and] therefore, they've got more credibility," Paine said. Side hustles his staff have include running a web design business and setting up a film reviews website.

Tom Roberts is CEO of digital agency Tribal Worldwide London, which has 150 staff. They are encouraged to have their own businesses, doing things like running a shop on Etsy to launching a coffee subscription brand. "Those people that have got a side hustle tend to be valued by clients more, because they'll have better conversations with them. Because immediately you're talking about a business problem with a client, there is empathy and understanding for the 360 degrees that you need to consider that problem from - not just from a marketing angle," Roberts told CNBC by phone.

He has run a record label on the side of his day job for more than 20 years and has real-life experience of working in an industry that has been hugely disrupted by digital media, which in turn helps him advise clients on the same subject.

Can allowing workers to have side businesses work for larger firms? Paine advises an open mind. "Recognize that that having an employee with a growth mindset who's got the excitement and energy for making something, you're probably going to lose that employee in any case, if you don't give them the opportunity to develop in this way," he said.

If an employer is considering letting workers have side businesses, conversations are key, according to Jessica Morgan, who runs PR firm Carnsight Communications. "You need to ensure work is ring-fenced. So although I think you always need to be reasonable as an employer you wouldn't expect your employee to be regularly servicing their other business while working for you ... It's probably best to keep an open dialogue about it, as with most things," she told CNBC by email.

Other firms are happy for staff to have side hustles when they provide wider benefits to society. By day, Albert Larter is an account manager at a marketing software company and by night he runs Wakuda, an online marketplace for black-owned businesses to sell clothing, gifts and homewares to consumers.

What does his boss think about his side hustle? "My manager is aware that I run Wakuda on the side … they are very supportive as they understand that I am helping to make a change with the impact in the black community Wakuda is creating. The main thing is that I make sure I perform my best and help drive the right results and meet my targets," he told CNBC in a LinkedIn message.

The bigger picture

Larter, 30, works on Wakuda from around 5.30pm to around 11pm and said that while his days are "full on," it is worth it, he told CNBC by video call. "I had the idea as the whole George Floyd incident happened, the [Black Lives Matter] protests happening, and what was running through my mind … was how can I really help the black community?" Larter co-founded Wakuda in August 2020, and now has around 300 vendors on the site.

He's used to juggling his working life having had side hustles for around six years. Larter earns a passive income from a deals website he set up that makes money via affiliate advertising — a marketing model where the site earns commission when it generates sales leads for another company — and also makes money from a rental property.

Larter's annual earnings are just shy of £100,000 ($132,000) and he is going for his first funding round for Wakuda in the New Year, aiming to raise around £650,000, at which point he expects to switch to running the business full time. It's a lot to juggle, but Larter's way of managing is to see "the bigger picture."

"The fact that that we're helping small businesses gain new customers, be able to grow, be able to learn new things ... is what spurs me on daily," he said.

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