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Importance of Side Projects [Entrepreneurship
Posted on March 3, 2015 @ 11:37:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Where do new businesses come from?

In one version of the story, the founders have an idea or a market opportunity, pursue that idea/opportunity with a lean methodology, and eventually, if they were correct and the market responds, they will be on their way to launching a successful company.

In another version of the story, the entrepreneur starts a side project for whatever reason while continuing with her bread-and-butter work, but that side project starts to evolve and appear like a bigger opportunity than she initially imagined. Because it is an ongoing side project, some research and development work is ongoing and work is mostly geared at creating a minimum viable product. This happens naturally because it is just a side project and who wants to invest all that time into developing something with too many features that no one will use. The entrepreneur involved in the side project wants to use it and maybe a few people she feels inclined to share the idea with. The idea is shared and the feedback helps the entrepreneur figure out things to add and remove and the feedback gets better. The entrepreneur sees more possibilities in her side project and decides to launch and make it available to a wider audience. The wider audience responds, the entrepreneur devotes more time to her side project, and a new company is born.

In the first version, the company is more of a planned undertaking while in the second story the company is more of an evolved side project that may adhere to lean principles by necessity rather than through conscious adoption.

From this observation, one could draw the conclusion that learning a startup methodology is not really necessary to creating a successful company. We've been starting companies for a long time now without any Learn Startup theory and principles. One of the ways we have been doing this is by launching side projects that morph into a main line of business. These side projects operate under a different set of constraints than our main projects, they get done when there is time, there is very little to no budget directed at them, if they get shared with a small circle of people then there is the opportunity to collect feedback and better adapt the product or service and perhaps receive encouragement to share your product or service more widely with people they know, and so on.

I'm involved in a Permaculture side project right now. I have to complete a design project as part of the requirements for my Permaculture Design Certificate so have been mulling over what might be a feasible Permaculture-related side project for awhile now. I'm now in the second iteration of a concept and have shared this new iteration with a close network of people who might participate in my scheme. As part of my project requirement, I am now tasked with explaining how my design adheres to various Permaculture ethical and design principles. This exercise seems like a rationalization of the actual design process, except that the discovery and justification of some elements of the design were inspired by the directive to include a social permaculture element into my design. My design is also constrained to be in harmony with Permaculture principles although I am only now trying to fully commit these principles to memory.

I have reached the stage in my side project in which I think I may be able to launch a minimum viable product with no cost except some domain names and my time to develop the site. I'll be able to use code I developed in another side project to get something up and running fairly quickly. The 3 other people who I have contacted might agree to use the website for its intended purpose. The side project might achieve launch status within the next month. Spending time on planning instead of coding right way appears to have been a good way to manage my time for this side project. The planning work means I'll waste less time when it gets to the development stage of my side project. In the video below, Colin Ta'eed talks about just doing it and getting the initial version of your side project out there in less than 10 hours. In my own experience, spending time in planning and discussions can also be very productive way to evolve your side project, however, you need to eventually get something out there. If you can forsee issues before you begin, perhaps it is better to spend your time solving those issues than implementing a half-baked idea just to get your side project out there. In my own case, my thinking, planning, and discussions led to me pivoting to a new idea that seems more feasible and realistic to begin with.

The purpose of this blog posting is to highlight the importance of side projects in the process of developing new lines of business. There is no recipe for choosing what side project to work on, they often arise out of ideas and experiences that you are interested in pursuing for an extended period of time. If the ideas and experiences involved in your side project are intrinsically interesting to you, then monetary rewards do not have to be the motivating aspect of your side project. By working on a set of ideas for an extended period of time, and sharing your ideas with others, you may get to the point of launching your side project for the greater benefit of others. Seeing that others want to use your product or service may be the main goal of our side project. If that is achieved, however, then other possibilities open up. If your side project has some traction in your niche then that is a good foundation for seeking investment to further the evolution of your side project. It is not theoretical anymore.

So if someone asks you "How do I become an entrepreneur?" you could advise them to take a class in Lean Startup theory and learn how to pitch and do all the stuff that startups have to learn how to do. You could also ask them if they have any side projects they are working on or are thinking about working on. If they don't, maybe you should tell them that is not a good indicator so far.

I searched on "side projects" on Youtube and found this recent keynote on the topic. The keynote is by a CEO and co-founder of Envato, Colin Ta'eed, and was delivered at a recent Ruby development conference. He reinforces some of what I have suggested and makes the interesting additional observation that involvement in side projects is a good way to learn some of what is required to be a startup.

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