My Side Hustle On Maternity Leave Turned Into A $10M Business

Published: March 26th, 2022
Jess Munday
Founder, Custom Neon
Custom Neon
from Los Angeles, CA, USA
started May 2018
Discover what tools Jess recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Jess recommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Jess Munday, I am the CoFounder, as well as the People and Culture Manager of Custom Neon.

Custom Neon is a global manufacturer and retailer of custom-designed LED neon lights and signs. The business started in 2018 as Neon Collective, maternity leaves side hustle, today we are Custom Neon, a “$10 million, globally recognized brand with almost 40 team members across 3 continents!

We started the business to make LED neon art more affordable and accessible and had no idea how quickly it would grow!


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

My journey into entrepreneurship was quite accidental! I completed a degree in HR and business studies in 2012 and was working in an HR and recruitment position for a global clothing brand. A job and industry I loved and had no aspirations of leaving at the time! Fate had other plans!

My husband Jake Munday was looking to buy an LED neon sign for our son Jagger’s nursery, but he struggled to find options that were affordable, easily accessible, and met health and safety standards.

Undeterred and very tenacious, my husband Jake Munday contacted a manufacturer directly and ordered signs for our upcoming wedding.

Speak to people, not just friends, and family, people that will offer honest and critical feedback.

We soon realized there was a potential business opportunity. On a whim, I set up an Instagram page called Neon Collective and added images of our signs and it soon gained traction. This further cemented that this was a viable business and we began taking orders. Soon we were selling $10K worth of signage a week!

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

The day I set up the Instagram page, Jake came home from work, (An e-commerce venture he had started selling teeth whitening products) And he said with a smile on his face “so we’re doing this then!”)

I wasn't sure how viable it would be, so I decided to just test the waters.

Initially, we were hiring out our wedding signs, then people started requesting bespoke signage.

Within what seemed like just weeks, we were selling $10K of signage a week. That was with little outreach and expenditure!

I was still on maternity leave with my son Jagger, so we needed a more hands-on deck. Jake’s parents came on board, pretty much running the hire arm of the business and we recruited Kit Henseleit as our Operations Manager. At the time we were unsure of exactly what Kit’s role would entail, as it was a job that would evolve as the business grew. As Jake and I were doing everything, relinquishing responsibilities was hard, but we deliberately chose someone that was well versed in Social Media Management, content and copywriting, creative Direction, staging shoots, and liaising with sponsors and creatives. We knew Kit would help bolster our strengths, whilst also fitting in any gaps in our experience!

Having a 3rd person allowed us to strategize more effectively and maintain a steep upward trajectory. Giving us more time for marketing, outreach, quality control, and most importantly customer service.

We knew though, if we didn’t upscale our digital capabilities, we wouldn’t be able to continue with such momentum.

We reached out to Matt and Teresha Aird of Info active Media, a cutting-edge online publishing firm specializing in the development of interactive websites and advanced business information services.

Having generated a global presence for a previous business of Jakes, we knew they would provide the catalyst to our growth.

Whilst we had been successful in creating signs for local businesses, weddings, and events. Matt and Teresha came on board and proposed a rebrand from the original Neon Collective to a more global friendly, self-explanatory, Custom Neon®. They developed new e-commerce websites to target three major markets with a clear, powerful brand.

This along with comprehensive SEO endeavors provided the catalyst for our international growth.



How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Year on year we have continued to prosper. The pandemic threw a spanner in the works, halting all weddings and events, which overnight wiped out 30% of our business.

We deliberated on what to do, whether we should ride the wave and see how long the pandemic lasted, or make drastic changes and diversify our approach

We decided on the latter.

With some risk-taking, employee reshuffling, aggressive marketing, local outreach, and social media advertising we quickly managed to pivot the business and shift from customer perceptions of a wedding and events supplier to business signage and home decor provider.

What started as a $500 business is now a $10 million global business and the pandemic provided us with a real catalyst for change.

Customer Acquisition

Regarding our customer acquisitions, due to our strong presence in organic search, our ad spend accounts for only a small percentage of our overall marketing budget while generating an average 5:1 RoAS.

Average Sale Value

Our average sale value is around $600 with customers we acquire via organic, direct, and referral traffic being the most valuable on an individual and group basis. Paid ads are a very close second, with social media traffic being an incredibly distant third in terms of lifetime value (LTV). At the moment, email is our least valuable channel, however, we're working hard to change that.

Monthly traffic - Over 130k users per month visit our websites.

Avg time spent on site- 01:35, (We have seen a 28% increase in dwell time since adding video content).

Website conversion rate

Our website conversion rate is over 4%, a figure we’re extremely happy with considering the premium nature of our product. This includes both e-commerce sales and quotes request forms for customized orders such as business logos etc.

Email subscribers

This is an area where we see great potential. We've not yet really scratched the surface. Having recently executed a thorough email list cleanse, we're now working to build up our opt-in users via % off incentives.

Social media following

Our Pinterest accounts receive well over 2 million monthly views. We have 122k followers on Instagram, nearly 39k Facebook likes, and we're continually growing our Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube audiences. Most of this is organic growth with some targeted influencer collaborations.

YoY growth - Nearly at our third anniversary, we've seen our revenue increase by over 150% each year.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The learning curve has been pretty steep, to say the least, but one thing that I would emphasize to any entrepreneur is don’t be afraid to take risks, never stop innovating and customer service is key.

If you build a successful business, there will be someone hot on your heels trying to replicate it, so never rest on your laurels and never place profit over product integrity or service.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

There is an abundance of tools and platforms we use in the day-to-day running of our business. Magento is the eCommerce platform we use, we find it has premium functionality compared to other platforms.

You can find various Magento themes which support a mobile-first approach with HTML5 Semantic Elements to maximize the consumer shopping experience on mobile or any device, which is essential for our customer demographic.

Basecamp is an awesome project management and communication tool that allows me to organize and assign tasks and check progress easily across a globally dispersed team.

Hubstaff is a performance tracking app that we utilize, not to spy on the team, but to allow them greater autonomy in scheduling their workdays and also helps us identify processes that need streamlining.

Since using this platform and adopting data-sharing apps, we have cut down emails and increased efficiency by 30%!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

A book I recommend to all business leaders in the Chief Joy Officer by Richard Sheriden.

The book is a kind of memoir of Sheridens own journey, his experiences in creating a truly enjoyable, open, and authentic working environment, and the methodologies to understanding different personality types.

The aspects that stuck with me were centered around grounding culture, collaboration, and authenticity, and creating a real customer-centric workplace with the opportunity to fail without blame, the opportunity for learning continually and moving away from the outdated culture of leading by fear or that “powerboss” mentality, instead of moving towards mentorship, and respect, driven by exceptional leadership.

A book I love that I have gifted to friends is Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me This Sh*t Before?: Wit and Wisdom from Women in Business by Marcella Allison and Laura Gale. This book is inspiring, heart-wrenching, and humorous. A book that offers mentorship, guidance, and anecdotes from incredible women that have gone before us!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Test the market first, see if there is a genuine want or need for your product or service and what are people prepared to pay for it. You have to make sure the margins are there to make it profitable. Speak to people, not just friends, and family, people that will offer honest and critical feedback.

Plan, Plan and Plan some more. If you think you have everything covered, you’re probably wrong! Of course, pandemics and natural disasters throw a curveball, but a comprehensive analysis of your target demographic, competitors, opportunities, and threats is essential.

Once you have done all your research and still think it's viable, leap!...or someone else will and you’ll kick yourself!

Where can we go to learn more?