The Side Project: Path to Independence for Some, Road to Ruin for Most


The problem


Splitting attention doesn’t seem to work very well


I envy these developers that turn amazing side projects into huge successes.  Gmail was a side project, freaking LiteCoin is STILL a side project even though it’s responsible for wealth transfers of millions of dollars*. Insanity.


**Lite Coin was a side project at the time I wrote this, I realize it’s not quite applicable anymore


What these developers have is the gift of singular focus.  When they say they have a side project, they spend hours and hours of their free time working on JUST THAT SPECIFIC IDEA.  


I do not possess such wizardly talents, and often find myself with 5-6 solid ideas that could turn into real businesses, if only I could find the time…


Maybe because you don’t make enough progress quick enough on any one thing and thus get discouraged


Constantly moving to a ‘new’ stimulating project or idea as the other ones have dulled.


Build 80% pretty quickly, the ‘fun’ code.  Then when it comes time to dig deep it can be really grueling work testing/ re-releasing stuff etc. etc.  much easier jsut to jump to the next fun project right away.


The solution


I often find myself fantasizing about not having my day job sucking my best productive coding hours away from me.  I’d be able to spend large blocks of time during the day on the projects that matter the most, not the ones I’m being paid to build.  I think that would greatly improve my productivity on all of my side projects by effectively making them my only projects.


Unfortunately, it’s been too tough to turn down my job due to it’s flexibility and pay.  Also a large part of the decision to keep it for now comes from the fact that none of my side projects have yet to be launched and make money.  It’s a leap to quit the job and THEN try and make the side projects generate income. I’d much rather launch them and see if any ‘stick’ before making the full time commitment for it’s very possible none of them will be successful.  


So for the past year or so, I’ve resigned to working on them in my spare time, which usually means about 2-3 solid hours a tonight and more on weekends (if life doesn’t get in the way).  This has been a slow and painful process of learning as I’m not that productive of a programmer on these new tech stacks I’m using. It took me a year of part time work to build the full solution for Kneadit which I suppose isn’t terrible.  A part of me thinks that had I been working full time I could have launched it within 2 months, that’s what’s tough.


In the past month, I’ve made insane progress on all of the ideas because I’ve finally acknowledged my assets.


  1. Good income – I’m making well above my means in salary and and managing to save over half my income.  Cash is an asset that can be used to buy things.
  2. Project Management skills – I’m not a project manager by profession, but over the past few years I’ve built up a great skill set in finding, hiring, and working with cheap off shore developers.  I’ve built up several teams of people sitting around waiting for projects from me. 


About a month ago I decided to give up my tight control over the code of each of these small projects.  My ego wanted to build everything myself, but even more than that I want to FINISH stuff and work towards building some successful companies.  So I took the plunge and went hands off the code (mostly) and began tasking my teams with work while managing the projects across Trello teams/boards.
The results have been pretty mind blowing.  In less than a month, all of the bugs in Kneadit were fixed AND all of my ‘wish list’ features for a later release were completed.  We haven’t even gotten App Store approval on our beta yet and v2.0 is basically built.  


As for my other projects they’ve been reworked and are all in the home stretch of completion.  That insanely tough last 10% where you gear up to go live and take real money. This is the part of projects I haven’t built up a ton of experience yet, but with the teams making incremental progress each week on multiple projects it’s only a matter of time before things get dragged across the finish line.


The lesson here is if you must keep your day job for whatever reason, then do so!  Just realize that the extra money you’re earning from a salary can be converted into productivity on your side projects without taxing all of your free time.  While I have the money, I’m going to use it to buy myself time and productivity. Whenever I don’t have a job, I’ll switch back to spending little money and large amounts of time.  My hope is to make that transition once a few of these projects are up and trickling in some money as a proof of concept.


Categories: Essays