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It’s one thing to teach a toddler to read; it’s another thing entirely to transform that skill into a 7-figure business.
Spencer Russell built Toddlers Can Read from the ground up and achieved tremendous success in just 2 years.
Despite early setbacks with initial sales, he adapted by refining the course experience and struck gold with viral content on TikTok.
As Spencer innovates, scales, and plans a rebranding, he remains deeply committed to his mission—helping children everywhere unlock their reading potential.
Explore his strategies, learn from his experiences, and discover why he believes in giving your side hustle full-time energy.
Tune into episode 584 of The Side Hustle Show to learn:
- How Spencer Russell found his niche in early childhood education
- Strategies for delivering value and engaging customers
- Leveraging social media for business growth
- Expanding reach through blogging and paid advertising
Identifying the Opportunity
Spencer Russell is an award-winning teacher and dad who saw an opportunity to help kids learn to read starting at very young ages.
When researching business ideas, he was heavily influenced by the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, which recommends focusing your efforts at the intersection of three criteria:
- Something you can be the best in the world at
- Something you’re excited to do
- Something that can provide for your family
As Spencer shared:
“What are the jobs, the occupations, the roles that I could fill that would hit those three criteria? I had already taught my son to read, he was two years old, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m pretty good at teaching little kids how to read.’”
Spencer knew he had a natural skill set for this niche based on his experience as an educator.
He conducted competitive research and pored through the myriad online courses targeted at general parenting topics:
However, he found very few tailored specifically to building early reading skills for the toddler demographic.
Despite the massive market of anxious parents eager to prepare their children for kindergarten and beyond, this narrow sub-niche appeared wide open.
Preparing for Launch
Armed with a business idea he was confident could succeed, Spencer promptly entered an intensive learning phase. Although knowledgeable about childhood education, he had limited business experience beyond teaching.
After consuming content voraciously for several weeks, Spencer pieced together a basic course and began collecting pre-orders at $49 with a mid-June release date. He promoted it verbally to his network of friends and family.
However, Spencer quickly realized that most people who expressed interest didn’t end up purchasing. After an agonizing 3-4 days of zero sales, Spencer finally made his first sale.
While far below expectations, this response still provided enough validation to move forward and ended up with 31-32 pre-orders from initial users.
Now it was time to double down on course development and finalize the content.
Optimizing the Customer Experience
With his “beta testers” granted access, Spencer tracked their engagement to identify improvements. He discovered most customers don’t actually finish online courses.
Rather than questioning his teaching, Spencer concluded he needed to optimize the delivery for his target audience. As he explained:
“My takeaway from that was I need to make it more engaging and make it easier to access. I thought my takeaway was going to be I need to teach this lesson more clear or explain this concept better.”
He transitioned the course onto the platform Kajabi, which allowed support for mobile and on-demand consumption.
This flexibility better matched how his customers—busy parents—wanted to learn. Spencer also re-recorded higher quality videos to boost engagement.
Spencer created a high-value course tailored to his audience by continuously refining the customer experience.
Gaining Social Media Traction
In parallel with finalizing his course, Spencer launched social media profiles to build an audience.
After months of consistent value-focused content, Spencer finally struck gold. A January 2022 TikTok video about teaching sight words went viral.
As he explained:
“Our first viral post was on TikTok in January of 2022, and it was a sight word post. And we learned from that post—sight words as a topic is a big thing. And so we started to do more posts about sight words than a lot of those posts picked up.”
This initial boost provided momentum to optimize future videos using data analytics. He would diligently test different variables like captions, visuals, video style, prompts, and more to pinpoint what resonated best with his audience.
If a particular video underperformed, Spencer broke down the data to determine exactly why.
“How many people were still watching after one second? What was the angle? Was there a kid in the shot? Where were the captions? Was it a negative hook?” he shared.
Diversifying Traffic Sources
While hugely reliant on social media, Spencer understood the need to diversify channels. He started blogging weekly, optimizing articles around targeted keywords.
He also began experimenting with paid advertising on Google and Facebook, driving traffic to a free online workshop funnel.
While new to paid ads, Spencer takes a data-driven approach to iterate toward profitable campaigns.
Maximizing Customer Lifetime Value
Visitors who make it through Spencer’s funnel can enroll in his reading curriculum—three courses available individually at $99 each or discounted as a bundle for $249.
He follows up over email with purchase incentives and delivers an automated nurture sequence, providing supplemental content to past buyers.
Although a one-time purchase model served him well initially, Spencer shared his regrets about not incorporating a subscription model from the start:
“Not having a subscription model … is my biggest mistake. And that structure would be what I would shift my business to if I could start over.”
He has expanded into physical products like workbooks and flashcards based directly on customer feedback. Spencer also envisions adding a paid membership program in the future.
Tools and Technology
He accepts the high costs and complexity of migrating off integrated platforms in favor of best-in-class solutions.
To manage everything smoothly day-to-day, Spencer divides his time into structured “success blocks” focused on priorities:
- Morning ritual – Cardio, stretch, cold shower, cleaning
- Learning – reading, journal, meditation
- PQO: Prolific Quality Output from 8-11am without any distractions
- Quick check on stats/dashboard from 11 am-12 pm
- Content creation – Filming videos, ideating new lessons, designing graphics from 12pm-4pm
- Working out and family time from 4pm-8pm
- Evening catch-up – Processing emails, messages, and misc. to-do items from 8pm-10pm
He also adheres strictly to the “11am rule” where he ignores messages before 11:00am to reserve mornings for strategic work. This discipline enables him to effectively scale the business.
Given his success so far, Spencer plans on continuing to widen his course curriculum, physical product line, and even considering a company rebrand to serve a broader audience.
He plans to launch in additional international markets, localizing content where needed.
While his brand has a very broad global appeal, Spencer sees huge potential in tailored messaging and translations based on factors that differ across countries.
He also plans to rebrand. As he put it:
“The biggest thing that is on the horizon that we haven’t talked about much publicly is a rebrand away from the name Toddlers Can Read towards a more universal and inclusive name with programs targeted for different ages from toddlers to bigger kids to adults.”
He continues to listen closely to customer feedback to ensure his company direction stays aligned with their evolving needs. But he never loses sight of the core purpose—empowering parents to maximize their kids’ reading potential.
Spencer’s combination of genuine care for his audience and strategic innovation positions him for growth.
- Embrace a blue ocean strategy. Thoroughly analyze competitors and customer needs to identify wide open niches worth pursuing.
- Focus on quick wins on social media to get attention and solve problems. Adapt content for your audience, leverage social media for viral growth, and diversify traffic sources to avoid sole reliance on external platforms.
- Listen to customer feedback and adapt accordingly. Customer input guided Spencer’s expansion into physical products and potential subscription model. Build what people want.
Spencer’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation
“Don’t be afraid to go all in. Take a big step. Give it full-time energy, even if not full-time hours.”