When Mina Starsiak graduated from Indiana University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, the part-time waitress had no idea what to do next.
“I didn’t want to work 9 to 5 in a cubicle, but I wanted to do something grown up, because all my friends were getting accounting jobs and doing big kid things,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “So, I decided to buy a house.”
With her mom Karen Laine, 57, as cosigner, Starsiak, 33, purchased a quaint fixer-upper in her hometown and the two got to work on a renovation.
“We just learned as we went,” she says. “I read directions on how to install flooring and watched online videos about putting up tile. It was really trial and error.”
Since that first property in 2008, the mother-daughter duo have built a booming home renovation business, Two Chicks and a Hammer, updating run-down, rust-belt properties with modern, Instagram-worthy touches. Their designs eventually caught the eye of a production company who gave them their own hit show on HGTV, Good Bones.
- For more on the HGTV duo, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
Finding sudden success on TV — their series debuted in 2016 and quickly became one of the network’s most popular new series — “feels surreal,” says Starsiak.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, and up until a year ago, my dad kept asking me to go to law school as a backup,” she says. “After Good Bones, he finally stopped asking!”