Side hustles: Millennials embrace the gig economy

Young adults take the initiative of entrepreneurship

The side hustle is more prevalent than ever.

The traditional 9 to 5, now regarded as a thing of the past, serves as just one source of income as millennials take multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“No one ever taught me how to do actually do it, so I taught myself,” said Larry “La’vell” Williams, owner and founder of RexWhite Imagery. He bought his first camera in high school, which he used to shoot music videos in Clayton, N.C.

“I probably didn’t make a dime until my sophomore year of college,” Williams said. “It was more of a survival-type deal where I could get a job and at that time make $8 an hour or I could charge someone $50 for a shoot and work one hour.”

Williams’ camera expertise has landed him a number of gigs: lead videographer for Technicom, high school football videographer for Radar Sports Media, the 2017 Aggie-Eagle Classic and multiple Cam Newton football tournaments.

“To supplement my income outside of what I was doing, I was driving for Uber and Lyft,” he said. “I got to meet a lot of random people and I was handing out business cards left and right. On a good day, that might be like 10 different people. I could do it whenever I wanted to outside of shooting videos and taking pictures. I can still do it now if I wanted to.”

The number of Americans stepping away from the corporate ladder for entrepreneurship is growing. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 29 million Americans are self-employed and their ranks are increasing by half a million annually.

Brian Okoye, a systems support analyst at Wells Fargo, has positioned himself to get as many coins as possible. Okoye is CEO and co-founder of Paint With Purpose, a themed paint-and-sip event service in Charlotte that provides an outlet for millennials interested in more than bar-hopping and the usual party scene.

“I had actually happened to go to a paint and sip event maybe December 2016 and I really loved it,” he said. “[My team] said ‘why don’t we start that type of business for millennials because a lot of people don’t really come together and do something like that in large numbers.’ We never anticipated it to be what it is now but we knew that it was going to be something.”

Thanks in large part to his parents, Okoye always knew he wanted to become an entrepreneur.

“Both of my parents are from Nigeria, born and raised, and they came here some 30 years ago and have been working hard ever since for my siblings and I,” he said. “So I knew that I needed to do something for my next generation of family where they didn’t have to work in jobs that they didn’t want to do.”

Williams, who graduated UNC Charlotte in 2017 with a degree in communications studies after switching from finance, is in the process of acquiring his Series 7 license to become a financial advisor at Wells Fargo.

“The main reason I even wanted to start working the full time job now is to really expedite paying back my loans. It’s a little over $30,000,” he said. “I’m trying to pay them back in a year and a half at most. I can pay my rent without my job, so I’m going to still do my business thing. All this money I’m getting in I’m putting it straight to the loans, and also buying more camera equipment.”

Williams doesn’t want to be a photographer his whole life. He plans to hire and train photographers, continue recording music, and provide black youth with the tools to properly budget their money.

“I don’t see myself necessarily having to work a job past 30 for sure,” he said, “but I want to be a millionaire by 25. That’s the goal I made for myself.”

A systems support analyst, Okoye supports multiple infrastructure applications for Wells Fargo security, specifically the data services team. Although it’s a full time job, Okoye doesn’t work the traditional 9 to 5. Since the systems have to be supported 24/7 Okoye’s work day is 2-10 p.m.

“It’s been good transitioning out of college because we’re used to getting up late and it’s also given me the opportunity to focus on side things like my business so I’m grateful for that,” he said.

Despite having a flexible work schedule, Okoye, a UNCC graduate, admits managing a growing business and a corporate job isn’t easy.

“Initially, I didn’t think it’d be as much of a challenge in my case but thinking on it, I would say it definitely is,” he said. “Some days consist of 16-hour work days non-stop but it’s well worth the challenge and I still feel like I’m not doing enough.”

Okoye is a firm believer in the traditional work hours but the corporate world will not be his home for long.

“I feel like the 9 to 5 is necessary,” he said. “I started working part-time when I was 15, so I’ve always been working, but in the corporate world, interning since 17. But I always knew that wasn’t going to be the end goal for me.”