$250 to $11M: Jess Munday Talks Custom Neon’s Glow Up

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Not everyone aspires to scale a side hustle into a budding multinational corporation. For those that do, here's the story of one woman and the team doing just that.

NORTH GEELONG, AU — In the world of side hustles and startups, Jess Munday’s story stands out not just for its success but for its practical approach to turning a gap in the market into a budding global business.

With an initial investment of just $250 during her maternity leave, Jess and her husband Jake launched Custom Neon, a company that would grow from a garage gig to an $11,000,00 enterprise.

This story isn’t just about financial triumph; it’s a roadmap of strategic decisions, from mastering digital marketing to navigating the challenges of a global pandemic. For anyone looking to start or scale their own side hustle, Jess’s experience offers valuable lessons in innovation, resilience, and the power of a well-timed pivot.

From Idea to Enterprise: The Birth of Custom Neon

In the traditional job world, there are rungs on a corporation ladder. Euphemistically speaking, retail associates and help desk technicians at the bottom, CEOs and Directors at the top. 

Side hustles, while not directly comparable, can similarly vary in terms of responsibility and complexity. Some hustlers choose low-effort micro jobs aimed at making a few bucks here and there.

Others find themselves, sometimes accidentally, in the driver’s seat of a quickly moving sportscar. Munday, unbeknownst to her at the time, found herself guiding the latter. 

“The idea for Custom Neon came about when I was unable to find a safe, high-quality LED neon sign for my son Jagger’s nursery, back in 2018…we were unable to find a product that was high quality, reasonably priced, and met our safety requirements,” regretted Munday.

“The decision to turn this idea into a business venture was largely fueled by the fact I was on maternity leave, so I could potentially do something [to earn income] at home whilst our son slept,” she said.

Recognizing the potential for bespoke neon signage, Munday and her husband launched what was initially just a side hustle from their garage.

“Our initial investment of $250 was used to purchase signs directly from a manufacturer. The signs we purchased were [intentionally] generic, as our plan was to rent them out as a small side hustle while I was on maternity leave.” 

Munday recounted first using the purchased signs at her wedding where she said there were a number of great photo opportunities.

“Jake and I used these signs at our wedding which allowed us to create some great and very inspiring images of the signs, which I used to create our initial Instagram page, Neon Collective.”

Things began to unfold quickly from there. The Instagram page generated interest from other local couples looking to rent out the signs for their weddings. This led to a feedback loop of newlyweds passing on high-quality photos of the rented signs being used at their weddings.

“The signs looked amazing, and this led to a lot of demand. Within 3 months, I was selling more than $5,000 worth of signage a week and had a rent calendar that was completely booked for the remainder of the year.”

Related: 19 Flexible Stay-At-Home Jobs for Moms That Pay Well

Recognizing Opportunity

Neon sign that says "Challenge Creates Change"

While undoubtedly excited about their newly found source of revenue, the Mundays leaned on their corporate backgrounds to validate their business idea of actually manufacturing bespoke neon signage.

“Jake’s previous experience in E-commerce and my specialism in HR, recruitment, and people management made us quite a dynamic duo,” reflected Munday.

“The Instagram page was used as a way to test the market. As couples rented the signs, we’d simply ask them to tag Neon Collective on their socials and we were astounded at how quickly the page got traction. Without much impetus at all, we were generating $5k a week in revenue, and had begun receiving custom order requests.”

It was then that Munday realized things needed to change. Instagram was no platform for tracking rented signs and taking commissions; they needed a website.

Just four months in, the Mundays turned to an online marketing specialist that Jake had worked with previously. “They built and optimized our website, which was like flicking a switch! Jake moved into the business full-time as CEO and we opened our first small office.” 

Going All In 

The decision to bring in fresh faces early on paid immediate dividends. 

“Initially, I wasn’t thrilled about giving away part of the business, but it worked out well.” Matt and Teresha Aird — two search engine optimization (SEO) industry veterans and the Mundays business partners — “were fully invested, went above and beyond, and thanks to them, our business grew exponentially.” 

Orders increased by 40% in the first few months, and the team quickly expanded further, acquiring small manufacturing hubs in the United States and Australia. 

Jess and Jake standing with part of the Custom Neon team
Jess and Jake standing with part of the Custom Neon team.

“We also took on international remote workers (permanent and freelance) so we could have the optimum number of employers as we grew,” shared Munday. 

“I had confidence in the business being a success within the first month, because of the number of inquiries we were getting. Soon after our website was built, we were ranking number one for over 100 key search terms, so we were already well ahead of any direct competition.”

Munday said recognizing her limits and remaining humble were essential to their early success.

“SEO and digital marketing weren’t my forte. But, instead of trying to juggle everything ourselves, we brought in the pros. Initially, I had tried using SEO agencies, however, I didn’t know whether they were a good agency and didn’t fully understand what deliverables I should have been requesting.”

They needed someone to help them level up and teaming up with SEO veterans was a total game-changer.

Related: 10 Digital Marketing Skills They Don’t Teach You in School

A Refined Focus

A Custom Neon sign at Trilogy Sound Studio.
A Custom Neon designed sign on display at Trilogy Sound Studio, Washington D.C.

A bigger operation meant bigger stakes, and rising to the occasion meant ensuring they weren’t aimlessly spending money in an attempt to scale.

“Marketing is the powerhouse behind sales; it allows you to get your business in front of the right audience. Before you go all in on a product, testing its appeal on social [platforms] can give you insight into whether it’ll resonate with your audience,” advised Munday.

The founder couple recognized that if they had trouble selling a product to a small niche following, it was unlikely to do well before a broader set of eyeballs, no matter how much money they threw at it. The positive feedback they had received in the first few months let them know they were going in the right direction, but, that it’s not always easy to recognize blind spots when you’re fully immersed in day-to-day operations.

“Prior to them joining [our team] as co-owners, we had nailed the local market, but the challenge was to stand out and scale up. The Airds advised rebranding from Neon Collective to Custom Neon. It hadn’t occurred to us that the name Neon Collective could be quite ambiguous, especially for a global market. The name Custom Neon made everything about us crystal clear to our customers, no guesswork needed,” emphasized Munday.

“This move, paired with a strong SEO strategy, really put us on the map.”

The rebrand from Neon Collective to Custom Neon went smoothly. Munday kept their customers, prospects, and partners in the loop, with special offers, social stories, and competitions, keeping them engaged and excited about their journey.

“This experience highlighted the importance of listening to the inputs of others, being adaptable, and always ready to pivot our branding to better suit our audience.”

Related: How We Made $347,675 Blogging in Just 2 Months

Dealing with Adversity

Someone rarely scales a side hustle into a full-time business without meeting at least one major roadblock and Munday’s story is no different.

“One of the most significant challenges I faced in my career was COVID-19. We were still in our infancy and the pandemic struck a huge blow to Custom Neon because a substantial portion of our business relied on events and weddings,” lamented Munday.

Like other small business owners who struggled during the global shutdowns, their core revenue stream evaporated overnight.

“The situation was unprecedented, but we needed to take swift and strategic action if we wanted to survive…the only way out was through innovation and risk-taking,” she shared.

And risk-taking they did. Custom Neon increased spending and added four new members with a focused strategy of pivoting towards business and corporate sales.

This involved significantly increasing their Google Ad spend to capture the attention of a new segment of customers. They also decided to discontinue the sign-renting section of our business.

This gamble paid off, leading to a revenue increase of over 50% in just 8 months.

Unfortunately, an unwelcome global pandemic wasn’t the only bit of adversity Munday faced. “Another personal challenge I encountered was intense burnout during the early days of building Custom Neon while caring for a baby. The relentless pace and my reluctance to delegate led to exhaustion.”

“Recognizing the need for change, I made strategic hires and leaned into my family for support. This experience profoundly shaped my management style, teaching me the value of leading with compassion and humility…I have made it a priority to foster an open dialogue about mental health within our team. By sharing my struggles, I hope to remove any stigma around burnout and mental health issues,” shared Munday.

Related: Is Working From Home Bad for Your Mental Health?

Advice for Starting a Side Hustle and Time Management 

Examples of signs made by Custom Neon.

As someone who’s journeyed from a small project to a global success story with Custom Neon, Munday’s advice for someone figuring out how to decide on a side hustle is simple: dive into opportunities with both hands.

“Start with what you love and what you know. If you’re passionate about a product or industry and see a gap in the market, that’s your cue. You will be living and breathing it, so I can’t understate the importance of choosing a sector or product that not only has clear market potential but also excites you.”

For those interested in starting a similar side hustle, she recommends “focusing on tools that optimize operations, marketing, and customer service.”

Essential tools include e-commerce platforms like Shopify for online sales, design software like Canva or Adobe Suite for creating marketing materials, and customer relationship management (CRM) software to maintain outstanding customer service.

Related: How to Start a Dropshipping Business in 8 Simple Steps

Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of networking and customer feedback.

“Networking and community building have been a huge part of Custom Neon’s success. From the outset, we used social media as a marketing tool and as a platform for engaging with our audience, understanding their needs, and building a community around our brand. This engagement has provided us with invaluable feedback, helping us to refine our products and services.”

Remember, things aren’t set in stone. Plans are meant to evolve. Being flexible and ready to pivot based on market feedback or unforeseen challenges is key. Set clear, measurable goals to guide your journey, but don’t be afraid to redraw the map if you encounter roadblocks.

When it comes to work-life balance, Munday shared that her “journey hasn’t been a straight path…starting Custom Neon while on maternity leave and stepping into motherhood was a real eye-opener. I realized that work-life balance isn’t just something that is “nice-to-have”, it’s essential for your mental health and well-being.”

Encouraging the team to take breaks and get outside or move a little has been another small but impactful way to boost morale and mental health.

“We have a basketball area in the office, which is perfect for letting off steam and enhancing camaraderie,” joked Munday.

On a personal level, Munday shared that the Covey Matrix has been instrumental in helping her prioritize tasks more effectively, ensuring that the most critical tasks got her attention first. This allowed her to leave work without the anxiety of unfinished work following her home.

As for integrating personal priorities, it’s been about setting clear boundaries and being present in whatever she’s doing.

“When I’m spending time with my family, I try to be fully there. If my son has his sports day, I make sure that I have my day and tasks scheduled to accommodate.”

What the Future Holds


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A post shared by Custom Neon® (@customneon)

One thing we learned early on in our journey with DollarSprout is that the problems that face a $ 10,000-per-month blog aren’t the same problems that face a $ 100,000-per-month blog.

Nor are they the problems that a $1M per month publishing company faces.

Munday too recognizes that each step in Custom Neon’s journey will require a change in strategy to keep from plateauing or retracting. “As we look to the future, our growth strategies are centered around innovation, market expansion, and sustainability.”

She further added that “we want to continuously innovate our product offerings to meet and anticipate customer needs, exploring new technologies and materials that align with our commitment to quality and environmental responsibility.”

Market expansion is now a key focus, with plans to enter new geographic territories and diversify their product lines to cater to a broader audience.

“Our goal is not just to grow in terms of revenue but to solidify our reputation as a brand that cares deeply about our customers, our community, and the environment.

She closed by saying that “we are committed to enhancing our sustainability practices, from production to packaging and shipping as this is extremely important to us. These strategies are designed to ensure that Custom Neon remains at the forefront of the LED neon sign market while upholding our core values.”

Related: 48 Small Scale Business Ideas for Beginner Entrepreneurs

Ben Huber

Hi! I'm Ben. A personal finance nerd on a mission to help DollarSprout readers make and save more money. A quoted contributor for Business Insider, Business.com, Discover, Intuit, MSN, NBC News, Yahoo Finance and more, I work to help others live their financial best life.

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