How Chisom Okwulehie built lucrative design side hustle


Last year, Chisom Okwulehie’s architectural design business, Juntero, brought in $414,000 in revenue.

But it had humble beginnings. When the now 35-year-old launched the company in 2021 with her cybersecurity specialist husband, its first gig was designing an ad for, which paid only $20.

While Juntero’s first sales were mostly one-off graphic design gigs, the company soon attracted bigger projects, like floor plans for small businesses. Okwulehie worked nights and weekends for Juntero while maintaining her full-time position as an architect at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

By the end of 2021, Juntero had garnered $55,000 in revenue. In 2022, the business continued to grow, with revenue increasing to roughly $206,000.

“I didn’t expect to receive many projects as quickly as I did,” Okwulehie tells CNBC Make It.

In 2023, the company worked with about 60 clients and brought in about $414,000 in revenue — all while Okwulehie maintained her full-time job at Port Authority.

After paying the team of contractors and covering taxes and other expenses, Juntero earned nearly $173,000 in profit last year. Okwulehie paid herself a salary of $37,500 and put the rest into savings.

Getting started: ‘I’ve always been a hustler’

In early 2021, Okwulehie had just given birth to her daughter and was looking to secure more income for her family.

“I’ve always been a hustler,” she says.

She figured the extra cash would help cover payments for her and her husband’s duplex in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, as well as a plot of land they own in Upper Nyack, New York, where they plan to eventually build a bigger home for their family.

“My parents always told me that if you’re going to purchase a home and [your spouse] dies, you have to be able to cover the mortgage,” says Okwulehie.

Chisom Okwulehie at home.

Zach Green | CNBC Make It

Although she was scared to start a new business in 2021 with all the economic uncertainty from the Covid-19 pandemic, she knew it was time to take the leap. Plus, working from home freed up more of her time, since Okwulehie didn’t have to commute to work, an hour each way.

“I knew I was going to start a business in the future, I just didn’t know when,” she says. “The pandemic definitely pushed me to do it.”

At Port Authority, Okwulehie works mostly on large civic projects, like upgrades to Terminal One at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York or the soon-to-be-opened train station entrance in Harrison, New Jersey. With Juntero, however, she’s able to do more design work for residential projects.

Growing the business: ‘My company is different’

To attract clients on freelance job websites, Okwulehie initially kept her rates low.

In 2021, she charged $60 per hour, raising it to $80 in 2022. She now charges $100 per hour, but also offers fixed-rate prices, depending on the scope of the project.

She also minimizes operating costs by working exclusively from her home office. Since the business is almost entirely virtual, much of the work is assigned via Slack or WhatsApp.

Chisom Okwulehie in her home office.

Zach Green | CNBC Make It

By 2022, Juntero had found its niche: creating photorealistic 3D renderings of potential designs. These visualizations caught on with real estate developers who market new, unbuilt properties to potential buyers.

“Some architectural firms spend money on renderings, but a lot of times those renderings are very conceptual,” Okwulehie says. “My company is different, it actually looks real. If a client is based in China and they want to purchase a home in, say, Texas, I can create that home and actually have the client walk through that home in 3D.”

Juntero’s renderings also appeal to homeowners looking to renovate their properties. When Okwulehie receives a client’s dimensions or a floor plan for their home, she sources all of the materials and finishings, then sends a mood board to the client for approval. 

“If they can’t visualize the design, I’ll create a 3D rendering of that space,” she says.

Once the plan is finalized, she sends the client a detailed shopping list with links to buy everything they need.

Juggling her side hustle with a full-time job

As Juntero grew, Okwulehie began delegating much of the work to a team of designers: “It’s basically an agency where I manage a bunch of talent and then give them work.”

As of December 2023, Okwulehie says she does about 10% of the work herself, while a team of over 30 credentialed architects, interior designers and 3D modelers do the rest. These days, her work at Juntero is mostly focused on dealing with clients, marketing and overseeing the work being done by her team.

In a “typical week, I spend about five to 10 hours working on Juntero,” she says.

Chisom Okwulehie in her home.

Zach Green | CNBC Make It

So far, Okwulehie’s biggest client is a property developer that used Juntero’s renderings to sell a few homes for millions of dollars. Okwulehie hopes to continue growing the business through partnerships with developers across the United States.

That doesn’t mean she’s quitting her day job, however. “I still see myself working at Port Authority full-time,” she says.

Okwulehie hopes her story will inspire others who are thinking about making extra money through a side hustle: “You can earn additional income just by using a laptop, depending on the type of trade you have.”

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