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When This Entrepreneur Couldn’t Decide What to Name His Business, He Started a $2,000-a-Month Side Hustle to Help — Now It Earns Over $10 Million a Year

When This Entrepreneur Couldn’t Decide What to Name His Business, He Started a $2,000-a-Month Side Hustle to Help — Now It Earns Over $10 Million a Year

This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Darpan Munjal, founder and CEO of Atom, the AI-powered startup ecosystem “on its way to becoming the go-to naming and branding destination.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Atom. Darpan Munjal.

When did you start your side hustle, and where did you find the inspiration for it?
The inspiration for my side hustle came back in 2011 when I was starting another business. I was struggling to decide on a name for that business, so, in a moment of either inspiration or desperation, I posted a comment on an entrepreneur forum. I don’t remember the exact wording of the post, but basically, it asked for business name ideas and offered a small award amount — I think $50 — to whoever submitted the name I ended up choosing. It worked! A few people jumped in and submitted ideas. I really liked one of them, and that’s how I found a name for the business.

At this point, I began to notice that my original problem of finding a name was far from unique. Friends, entrepreneurs I knew through work or networking and others on the forum were familiar with this struggle. I’d come up with a basic framework for finding a name through a competition — why not streamline that and offer a solution to a common problem?

Related: 3 Secrets to Starting a Small Business Side Hustle That Gives Your Day Job a Run for Its Money, According to People Who Did Just That — and Made Millions

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?
The big first step in launching my side hustle was having a problem I needed to solve. It’s a classic rule of entrepreneurship and side hustles that become successful businesses; you start by finding a problem or an unmet need, and you work out how to fix it.

Contest-based crowdsourcing is pretty common today, but back then, it was far less common, and I wasn’t aware of anyone offering crowd-sourced naming contests. So, I had to create a place for it to happen!

This meant building the platform itself, which was the next big step after the concept. I have a background in technology and marketing, so I was able to create a simple minimum viable product myself. The platform allowed people to sign on, list information about the business they were trying to launch and share that information with a community of creative people who were interested in winning money by participating in naming contests.

Once the platform was up and running, we received a considerable number of customer service inquiries. So, the next step was to bring on a freelance customer service support professional. That’s how the business took off. It was all very bootstrapped, and while I certainly had confidence in the utility of the platform, I was a little surprised by how quickly interest grew.

Related: He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: ‘Sweet, Sweet Irony’

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
The biggest challenge for me was finding the time. I was running a whole other business, and this was a passion project. It was something that I was deeply interested in, but I didn’t have much time to invest.

The good thing was, through my background in technology, I had an understanding of how everything works on the back end. I also had experience with customer service and marketing, which is fundamental for pretty much any business. It all helped me navigate being time-poor because there was no learning curve in regards to running a business. So, I got the word out on a few forums through my friends, and it started to spread from there.

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
I remember the excitement of acquiring our first paying customer on the second day following the website launch. It was a gratifying experience, and it gave me more confidence that we were addressing a real need that customers were willing to pay for. Although revenue was somewhat unstable at first, within three months, we were generating around $2,000 per month. With a bit more consistency in revenue, I brought on a resource to help on the technology side with building out the platform.

Related: This Dad Started a Side Hustle to Save for His Daughter’s College Fund — Then It Earned $1 Million and Caught Apple’s Attention

When did you take the business full-time? What does growth and revenue look like now?
About seven years ago, so about three and a half years into the business, I went full-time. I had exited the other business and was looking around for my next opportunity. I realized that Atom (Squadhelp at the time) was that opportunity.

We had a solid community of extremely talented creatives who wanted to make money by naming businesses, and we’d already helped thousands of clients. There weren’t a lot of people in this space trying to solve or understand naming, so there was a lot of scope to grow the business.

Since starting, the growth has been really exciting! We’re now one of the fastest-growing companies in Chicagoland, with eight-figure yearly revenue. We’ve helped over 50,000 clients, including Pepsi, Dell, Nestlé and Philips. One of our recent milestones came about a year ago when we brought on our first round of funding — a $10 million strategic investment.

Earlier in April 2024, we completed an exciting rebrand from Squadhelp to Atom.com. It’s kind of surreal that this all came from what was essentially a side hustle. The business is really growing and changing. We are, of course, still home to a crowdsourced naming platform, but Atom will be a full startup ecosystem for ambitious new businesses, offering everything startups need to build their brand, starting with a domain. Similar to how atoms are the core building blocks of everything in the universe, we aim to be the foundational building blocks of the startup ecosystem.

I am confident that a premium tier A+ domain name like Atom.com will provide a solid foundation for us to accelerate our growth. With this name and brand, as a naming startup, we’re truly betting on ourselves.

Related: This Insurance Agent Started a Side Hustle Inspired By Nostalgia for His Home State — Now It Earns Nearly $40,000 a Month

What do you enjoy most about running this business?
Being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work, but it’s very enjoyable. What I like most about it is the continuous opportunities to grow and learn. It’s very fast-paced. You’re always solving problems. You’re always doing something new. You’re working with fascinating people. We’re pushing the boundaries when it comes to innovation. That’s definitely one of my passions — applying technology in new ways.

For example, we jumped on the AI revolution and applied it in many cool ways, such as a brand alignment tool, training AI personas that can generate tailored names based on patterns and trends, and so on.

What’s your advice for others hoping to turn their own side hustles into successful businesses?
First, continue to innovate, and don’t be afraid to fail. What’s interesting about our business is it started as crowdsourcing, but we continued to rapidly iterate, which allowed us to evolve into a different space. The biggest part of our business now is a brandable domain marketplace, and it has performed tremendously well. The thing about rapid iteration and failing early is that it allows you to gain some very valuable insights about what works and what doesn’t, ultimately leading to a much stronger foundation.

You just have to keep taking steps based on those rapid learnings. You have an initial idea, and that’s probably not going to be the right one, and that’s okay as long as you keep trying.

Second, continue to listen to your customers and stakeholders and make the needed adjustments. When you hear something’s not working, change it, and change it fast. A few entrepreneurs are singular geniuses, sure, but most of us are successful in part because of who we surround ourselves with and who we listen to!

Finally, you need to understand the fundamentals of running a business. That’s what allowed me to get Atom off the ground when I had very little time. You need some understanding of marketing and operations, product development and technology. They might not be the most glamorous, but they come with entrepreneurship, so you have to own all these aspects and be willing to work hard and push the boundaries.

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