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How to Start a Side Hustle with a Day Job (Episode 61)

Artin Nazarian has quite a story.

As a refugee from war-torn Iran, he and his family moved to the USA. Artin discovered his entrepreneurial spirit after selling hand-drawn art to other students in elementary school.

After moving to Los Angeles, Artin was inspired to pursue filmmaking, which led to a job at Walt Disney Studios. He rose through the ranks, becoming an executive before the age of 30.

Since then, he has contributed to the launch of Disney+, assisted the integration of the $71 billion acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox, and worked on legendary brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar.

On the “side,” Artin has raised over $4 million to build software products and launch tech startups.

Today, Artin is a senior executive at Disney, and the author of Side Adventure, a self-published book about how to start a side hustle while you keep your day job.

Many of us strive to be the best version of ourselves and realize our full potential, but end up settling for a job that earns enough money to be comfortable yet doesn’t fulfill our aspirations. By reflecting on both failures and successes, Side Adventure offers experience-rooted guidance.

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Early Life in Iran

Artin was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran, a Muslim country. He and his family are Christian Armenians, a group of people who were persecuted and constantly “relocated” during the Armenian genocide. For generations, his family and people lived in peace, until the regime change in Iran in 1979. Since then, things have changed a lot for Christian minorities.

At the same time, the Iraq war started. All through the eighties, Artin and his family watched bombs drop around the city. It wasn’t what you may remember with desert storm laser-guided missiles hitting specific targets. These were primitive bombs: planes flying over civilians simply dropping bombs.

When they would hear the sirens go off, that was an indicator that there was an Iraqi plane in the area. People would go on rooftops to watch, simply because the anti-aircraft missiles looked like fireworks, especially to Artin as a child.

It was a unique and complicated part of his story, and Artin found that most people had a hard time relating to him in the US. Almost no one, especially around his age, had gone through anything remotely similar, unless they were living in that region at the same time.

He left the country at eight years old, with his family making their way to Madrid. Just recently, his father revealed that during the flight from Taiwan to Madrid, their plane was hit, which took one of the engines. The pilot decided to keep going, and they made it to their destination.

Madrid, Culture, and Language

Artin was thrown into fourth grade elementary school in Madrid, speaking no Spanish, only Armenian and Farsi. Luckily, as an open and energetic kid, he had no issues mingling, learning, and eventually speaking Spanish quite well.

In order to make friends he started drawing for the kids. He always had a knack for drawing animation-type characters, and suddenly he was surrounded by kids asking for drawings of Disney characters.This soon became a way to start a side hustle and make some extra money.

Eventually, they got their green cards from Madrid, and moved to Los Angeles, a suburb called Glendale.

LA Life and Education

As Artin got older and eventually graduated high school, he decided to go to film school. Obviously, LA was the perfect place to get roped into the industry – it’s where you see the glitz and glamor of film and fame.

California has the second largest concentration of Armenians, but because it’s Los Angeles, there were also a lot of Latin Americans. He became the Armenian boy that was translating English to Spanish for the Mexican kids that had just come to LA. As a translator, he made a lot of friends, and his unique experiences led him to a growing network of diverse cultures and relationships.

As he got deeper into his studies, Artin realized the glitz and glamor wasn’t the true reason he had been drawn to the film industry – it was the creation. He fell in love with the idea of making a film that could last forever.

In order to graduate, the requirement was to create a short film or a leading role. The school provided grants to five of the projects, and while Artin was luckily selected to receive one of the grants, he still needed about $5,000 to make the movie. He had to find a way to raise the funds, and that’s where his entrepreneurship skills kicked in.

He asked himself, “What do all the film school students want?”

They want their project to be seen to get their big break. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both had film school projects that kicked off their careers. He decided, what better way to capitalize on this need and showcase the films than hosting a festival? He came up with the film festival brand, put posters up everywhere, and as an intern at Sony (at the time) managed to get one of the executives to be a judge.

Shortly after, checks started arriving at his house. He ended up raising $5,000, hosting the film festival, but nobody knew Artin was behind it.

Once the films were produced, a handful of them got selected to be screened at the Academy Theaters, and again, Artin was selected. That night at the theater was his second “aha” moment. As he sat in the chair, and the big lights went down, his name came up on screen:

“Written and Directed by Artin Nazarian”

He looked to his left, seeing his parents sitting there, and the smiles on their faces. It’s a moment he will never get out of his head.

More than anything, he realized he wanted to make his parents proud. Whether it’s making a movie or writing a book, creating a startup, it’s all about making his parents proud.

Once he realized this, it felt like a weight lifted off his shoulders. He didn’t need to become the next Steven Spielberg or a famous lawyer to capture that feeling.

The Disney Connection

Artin had some ideas to write movies, but obviously had no way to get them sold. He and a close friend were working at a Macy’s department store in Los Angeles about a year after his graduation, which led to a fortuitous moment.

A woman came into the shoe department, and after picking out a few pairs, handed his friend her credit card. They happened to notice the Disney castle on the card, and struck up a conversation.

It turned out, this woman worked with Disney to release VHS and DVDs. While this isn’t quite so relevant now, 17-18 years ago, that was the big thing.

They had the opportunity to pass on their resumes and shortly after they both got called in. This is where Artin’s journey at Disney began in a post-production department.

Still, this wasn’t what they’d gone to school for, and it wasn’t what they wanted to do. They started writing scripts and making short films, music videos, and commercials to hone their skills as much as possible.

The true difficulty was to get financing for a movie, just because it’s such a risky investment. Artin started looking around and noticing that lots of money was going into technology. He started reverting back to his entrepreneurial spirit and learning how software development and products worked.

He started with huge failures, from 2004 to 2009 there was one failure after another. But as he learned and grew, he landed his first big investment and they were able to raise $4 million.

This became the big Side Adventure that he writes about in his book.

Start a Side Hustle the Side Adventure Way

It took about two and a half years to write the book (about a year longer than he originally planned). Artin believes there are five steps to start a side hustle.

1. Get Inspired

The “inspire” section is his story. He doesn’t believe his story is totally unique, but he hopes that his story and finding what drives him (his parents) inspires others to believe that they can do it too.

He didn’t have to have a family that could give him a hundred thousand dollars. He didn’t need to go to Harvard or a super prestigious school. He didn’t need to have high-up connections.

He could do it, as long as he was resourceful. This is how the book starts.

2. Leverage

Step number two, leverage, comes from using whatever you have as an opportunity to learn. If you are working at a job, whether it’s the corporate world, small company, or a small business, there’s a huge opportunity there to learn. Instead of being stuck in whatever role HR has told you to do, you need to play whatever role you’ve been given, step outside of that role, and take initiative to learn other disciplines through the organization.

3. Add Value

Once you start learning other areas, you’re able to identify problems that you might not have seen before, which is where adding value comes in. Solving problems is the easiest way to get promoted, especially in a larger organization, because senior-level management is always looking for more people who can solve big problems and add value to the company.

Whether it’s at the bottom line, whether it’s adding revenue, whatever the problem is, it’s adding value. Once you understand how a broader organization works, it’s easier to identify problems. Find the problem, solve it, and then make sure you put a spotlight on that problem to market yourself.

4. Identify it

Identifying problems that you can solve is part of that, but it’s also important to personally identify if you actually have the right puzzle pieces in place to pursue the venture. Artin discusses how to understand if you’re ready financially to take the step.

Once you have those pieces in place, you’re in a very good place to start a side hustle and your percentage of success goes up.

5. Move

The last step is to move. Whether it’s growing something from a side adventure to a main adventure, or moving it from inside your head into the real world, you need to always be looking for the next step.

Before you actually go down the path of spending money and building that product to start a side hustle, validate the idea. Artin gives his steps and reveals how to put this idea into action in the book.

Finally, don’t be scared to pursue your idea. Fear holds people back. As long as you take one step forward, and think about it as a marathon and not a sprint, you’ll build the momentum you need.

The book Side Adventure is on Amazon, and you can buy it in a range of formats from print to Kindle. For more great resources and conversations about entrepreneurship, great ideas, and even greater people, check out more episodes of The Jeff Bullas Show.

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