When Mykou Thao wanted to find materials to teach the Hmong language to her 1-year-old daughter, she turned where many new parents go for help — the internet. But her search results turned up empty. Seeing a potential business idea, she made a set of professionally printed vocab cards, then posted a video on Facebook of her reviewing them with her daughter. Her quest to find Hmong language flashcards resonated with others, and orders came flooding in.

Thus, HmongBaby was born.

What started as a side gig selling educational flashcards and children's books online quickly grew into a full-fledged business.

Here, Mykou's husband, Touger, shares how the husband-wife team grew their business by tuning into their customer base.

FULFILLING AN UNMET NEED

When we came across this idea, it was scratching our own itch. Mykou and I wanted to create some products so we could teach our kids the Hmong language. We thought, "if we're interested in this, there must be others who would be interested as well."

The Hmong community in the U.S. is around 300,000 people, but our specific niche is Hmong-American mothers who are 20 to 35 years old with young kids. These women can speak a little bit of Hmong, but aren't as fluent as they want to be.

The vast majority of our sales are in the U.S.: California, Minnesota and Wisconsin have the largest Hmong-American communities. We have also gotten some sales from Canada, France and Australia as well. The beauty of being online is that the whole world is our customer base.

FROM SIDE GIG TO FULL-TIME

My wife and I had been wanting to create an online business for a number of years. We love the idea of being your own boss. I was previously a pastor at a church that Mykou and I started, while she was a wedding photographer. We had been dabbling here and there trying to figure out how to build a business online. We like online businesses because you can make sales while you sleep — literally — and you don’t have to rent out a physical building and stay in one place.

Six months after we launched HmongBaby, we quit our day jobs to focus on our business full-time.

Today, we share responsibilities both at home and at work. I work on the business Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while Mykou oversees operations on Tuesday and Thursday. On days we aren't working, we look after our two young children, now ages 1 and 2.

When Mykou couldn't find educational flashcards to teach her daughter Hmong, she created them herself. Mykou Thao

LIVING THE CUSTOMER'S EXPERIENCE

We've learned so many lessons from years of trying to launch other businesses — and failing. We tried creating a drop shipping business, niche sites and affiliate marketing. We also tried creating a blog. Things just didn't really work out until we came across this idea.

I think part of that is the fact that we tried to create other products and services thinking it was what other people wanted. HmongBaby was something that we wanted as parents, so we knew the problems and issues first-hand.

USING PREVIOUS FAILURES TO BUILD NEW SUCCESS

Another thing that set HmongBaby apart from our other failed projects: We didn't waste a bunch of time and money building the business before validating the idea. Before we built the website and created the product, we drafted a very simple version. Then we asked people "hey, would you buy this?" It turned out people didn't just say they'd pay us; they actually did.

What we've been doing so far is just listening to what our customers want. When we tried doing other things based on what we thought might work, we didn't get as good a reception. Really, what people want from us are the Hmong language products. I think that that's a good lesson: Really listen to your audience, and create what they want.

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