A couple left jobs in Big Tech and on Wall Street to focus on their side hustle. It’s


  • The Woobles started as an Etsy side gig for Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang.
  • The pair quit jobs at Google and Deutsche Bank to turn it into a full-time business in 2020.
  • They said listening to customers and innovating in how they scaled helped them grow so fast.

Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang’s business The Woobles started as an Etsy side hustle — and has since blossomed into a seven-figure business in less than a year. 

And it’s all possible, in large part, because they took a big risk — taking a giant leap off the corporate ladder and away from high-profile jobs at two of the world’s most influential organizations. 

Back in 2018, the couple had the kind of well-paying careers that young professionals dream about. Tiu had risen through the ranks to become a senior UX designer at Google and was managing a team. Zhang was a director at Deutsche Bank. The duo, who married this fall, met as freshmen at Duke University, where they graduated in 2011.

Justine Tiu at Google

Tiu at Google.

Courtesy of Justine Tiu

But Tiu, 32, felt unfulfilled. As a manager, she told Insider, she had less time to create, which she missed desperately. Trading on Wall Street had been a thrill for Zhang, also 32, in his early 20s. A few years in, he said, the novelty was gone and he felt unaccomplished. 

So the couple veered off the fast track to try their hand at entrepreneurship. And among the business ideas they were working on, what they thought was the most unlikely one took off. 

The Woobles launched in July 2020 with beginner-friendly crochet kits and surpassed $1 million in sales in April 2021. It’s since taught more than 60,000 customers how to crochet. 

“It was crazy because I remember I had thought before, if this business makes us $20,000 in a year, I would be happy keeping it open,” Tiu said of hitting that seven-figure mark so quickly. “This blew way past expectations.” 

Here’s a look at how they grew from a small, part-time shop.

The cuteness factor

Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang holding two Woobles at their wedding

Tiu and Zhang holding two Woobles at their wedding.

Courtesy of Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang

Tiu has always been creative, having dabbled in everything from designing websites to woodworking and pottery. After leaving Google, she launched the small Etsy shop to sell patterns for customers to make little crocheted animals in the style of amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed toys. “I wanted to do things that made me happy,” she said. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple left New York City and moved to the Raleigh, NC, area, where Zhang grew up, to be closer to family.

Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang at work

Tiu and Zhang at work.

Courtesy of Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang

At the time, they were working on a variety of ventures, including a tiny-home business and a trading platform. But as people were looking for activities to pass the time amid lockdowns, customers started flocking to The Woobles, crocheting their little animals and sharing the photos with friends and on social media. The company relied mostly on Facebook and Instagram ads for marketing, but it really grew, in large part, thanks to word of mouth. 

“The cuteness is definitely what helped it take off,” Tiu said. But customers weren’t just sharing images of their creations because their crocheted animals were so adorable. They also were intensely proud of their work. The kits come with all the materials required to make a specific design, along with links to step-by-step video instructions. 

“People look at this and are like, ‘No way, how can I make this?’ and then, at the end, they have this penguin and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to tell everybody, I can’t believe this,'” Tiu said. “They feel so proud and confident.”

Nurturing those feelings of accomplishment in their customers is what drives them. Tiu experienced the benefits herself while struggling as a manager at Google. Crafting helped her rebuild her confidence, proving to herself that she could still learn new things. “That’s what I want to share with other people,” she said. 

Their journey had some unexpected turns. But as they look at their progress so far, there are some lessons learned about walking away from big careers to launch a business. 

Listen to yourself

Sebastian the Lion, a Wooble

Sebastian the Lion, a Wooble.

Courtesy of The Woobles

Before leaving her job at Google, Tiu said she ruminated over the potential ramifications. She worried about finances. She fretted about leaving a career she’d worked so hard to achieve. And, after rising to the top of a male-dominated industry, she wondered if she was letting other women down. 

“The best piece of advice I got was from my manager at the time, who was like, ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks you should do … stop listening to anyone else and just really listen to yourself,'” she said. 

Innovate in how you scale

Two crochet animals atop a wedding cake

Two Woobles atop Tiu and Zhang’s wedding cake.

Courtesy of Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang

The Woobles kits come with a lot of yarn, and, in the beginning, the couple said they were spending a lot of time spinning the yarn on Sharpies to prepare it for packaging. “That quickly became not scalable,” Tiu said. 

They could have simply limited production, stymying their business at the same time. Instead, Zhang invented a contraption that cuts small pieces of yarn in bulk, which allowed them to meet the growing demand. 

Don’t blame your customers 

Tiu with a Wooble

Tiu with a Wooble.

Courtesy of The Woobles

When they saw that customers’ crochet hooks kept getting snags, they didn’t blame the problem on newbie crochet enthusiasts. Instead, they did the research to realize that it was an issue with the yarn in the kits, so they switched to a new yarn that doesn’t split.

Not every business decision should be based on customers’ opinions, but it’s a bad idea to ignore their thoughts and criticisms, they said. “If you see something’s not working, it’s an issue with the product — it’s not an issue with your customer,” Tiu said. 

What’s next is hard to predict for the couple. But, to them, The Woobles isn’t a crochet business — it’s an education company that’s focused on pairing physical activities with digital content. And from cooking to makeup application, there are plenty of skills they could help people cultivate. 

“There are lots of skills-based things that we can teach a little bit better,” Zhang said. So, she added, the question is, “How do we apply our learnings to the next thing we want to work on?”


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