101Rabbits and counting
Haley Elmhorst was 12 years old when she got her first rabbit. Having been diagnosed with a number of mental health conditions at a young age, rabbits became a soothing presence in her life. “I had always been an anxious kid and I struggled with socializing with other kids my age,” Haley says. “Rabbits were my escape. I could be myself around them.”
On YouTube, I could be myself. No one made fun of me. No one cared about my nerdiness.”
But after bringing her rabbit home, Haley couldn’t find information online about how to properly care for it. So she started a YouTube channel called 101Rabbits to teach people the ins and outs of rabbit care. “People who own dogs and cats know the basics, like to keep your cat inside with a litter box or take the dog for a walk. But rabbits are so misunderstood,” Haley says.
As her channel took off, creating videos became nearly as soothing as the rabbits themselves. “On YouTube, I could be myself,” Haley says. “No one made fun of me. No one cared about my nerdiness.”
Within two years, Haley was earning money from her channel through AdSense — the first money she’d ever made. As more people tuned into Haley’s channel, she decided to invest some of that revenue into opening an online store. “I made DIY rabbit beds and things like that,” Haley says. “I think I ordered like 20 products with the AdSense money and put them up for sale. Then I would use that money to buy even more.”
When the store first launched in 2017, business was good — until Haley’s health took a turn for the worse. She was diagnosed with a condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and quickly went from working full-time to being in bed 24/7.
I didn't want to be held back in my career just because of [POTS]”
“I became pretty physically disabled, to the point where I wasn’t able to keep up with the demand,” she says. “So I shut down the shop, and we didn’t really do anything business-wise again until 2019.”
But Haley was determined not to give up. “I didn't want to be held back in my career just because of this,” she says. So when her health began to improve, Haley reopened her online store, which now serves thousands of customers in 14 countries. "Within the first year, we decided to rent a space,” she says. So in 2021, at the age of 23, Haley opened a brick-and-mortar retail location in Wisconsin to sell rabbit toys, food and litter.
“The majority of [my customers] are from YouTube,” Haley says, and estimates that 60 percent of her store revenue can be attributed to YouTube. As her customer base grew, so did the business. "We brought on team members to help us run the everyday business," Haley says. Currently, 101Rabbits employs five people — their revenue today is an average of “seven times our starting revenue," which includes earnings between AdSense and online and in-store sales.
“YouTube is definitely driving our growth,” says Andy Elmhorst, Haley’s dad and general manager of 101Rabbits. “It’s kinda like our secret weapon because we don’t really have to do a lot of marketing.”
“Without YouTube, I would not have a business,” says Haley. “I would not have employees. I would not have an income.” Haley says she would most likely be on disability now, living with her parents to make ends meet. Instead, she’s able to live independently and run her own business.
Andy shares his daughter’s pride in her accomplishments. After watching her struggle with her disability for years, he knows just how much she’s had to overcome to get where she is, and is constantly inspired by her perseverance.
By sharing her story on YouTube, Haley has also inspired others. Haley regularly hears from subscribers who also have POTS and give each other encouragement. Once, a young girl at a bunny festival ran up to Haley and gave her a hug. The girl’s mom told Haley that she had just been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, and that she felt less alone and afraid because Haley had talked on her channel about having Tourette’s.
101Rabbits also partners with local rabbit rescues to provide a safe home for bunnies. They currently operate two foster rooms in their store, where they care for bunnies from a local shelter.
In the future, Haley hopes to expand her product line and sell them in other pet stores. “I had a dream and a passion for providing other rabbit owners with safe, natural rabbit care products, so I expanded my business from just YouTube to include online [and in-person] sales,” she says.
If my 12-year-old self could see me now, she would be filled with so much hope.”
Most of all, Haley hopes her success continues to inspire other young entrepreneurs, especially those with disabilities. Looking back at what she’s accomplished — both for herself and for the disabled community — Haley says, “If my 12-year-old self could see me now, she would be filled with so much hope.”