Why you should have a side project

workout motivation

I often advocate people surrounding me to build their own side projects. I believe they can fulfill you in so many ways: for your career, your relationships, or your independence. Buffer, the company I currently work for, was itself a side project.

I’ve built myself multiple side projects. The major ones being TaipeiDev, TaiwanGoldCard, Citymayor, Project Memento, PartyInBeijing (inactive), Nodablock (inactive). I like believe each of them contributed and lead me to my current situation: being satisfied in my career, financially, and socially.

I’ll go through this post on the many reasons why side projects are great and the reasons on why I think you should start one. So let’s dive into it!

❀️ Working on something you are passionate about or care about

The main reason I started a side project is to create something I am passionate, care about, or even better, could probably help others. Making your or someone else’s life easier by building something from scratch is really satisfying. I’m always glad to stumble upon total strangers that tells me they’ve used one of my projects!

My first side project, PartyInBeijing, was a mobile app to help non-speaking chinese persons in China to go to bars or night club. Chinese addresses are not the easiest to pronounce or remember and it takes quite a bit of time to master the tones. I can’t recall how many times the taxi drivers bring us to the incorrect venue because our pronunciations were not great. So I’ve decided to create with my friends an app that dictate the address of a venue. This app got few thousands users in Beijing, and we added later events and tickets sales!

My last one, Travel Hustlers, built with Thibault, started because we travel frequently, and we always faced the same issues when arriving in a new cities. We’ve started to build “Layover in”, a small tool to figure out what to do during long layovers and discover new or unexpected places.

Joe Birch, Android developer at Buffer, built an amazing project called ChordAssist to help mute, deaf and blind to learn how to play guitar.

πŸ’Έ Making money

One of the most motivating and concrete outputs of a side project is obviouly the money it could generate. In my case, I’ve made…

  • Nodablock: USD2000 (4 sales at $500)
  • Party in Beijing: $2350 in ticket sales
  • Project Memento: ~ USD5000
  • Citymayor: ~ USD12000

Some people will think a new project is worth investing time only if that makes money, but I don’t think it should be the way to think about it. It could ideally generate income but I believe it’s the wrong motivation to have. If your main goal is to make money and you’ll have to take more risks, probably quit your job, and it’s be called a startup.

Many of my side projects do not make any money. Nodablock and Citymayor were money driven, Travel Hustlers and PartyInBeijing passion driven. The PartyInBeijing being the one I’ve enjoyed to work on the most, and I think fulfilled me the most.

✨ A Security net, a way to have your own business?

A really nice side effect will be to make money. At this point, you could simply quit your day to day job and focus on making more money with it. I wouldn’t advise you to quit your job to start a side project, this is called a startup and involve greater risks.

  • Mark got the idea for alchemist.camp, an Elixir-learning screencast and tutorial website, while working on a video chat startup. He wanted to share technical skills he learned from that startup. When it failed, he started making tutorials on YouTube and is now making $1500 per month.
  • Paul McMahon started Doorkeeper as a side while working in a Japanse company, and now fully focus on it
  • The Techlead has a successful youtube channel. He generates a decent amount of money from it. He however got fired while working at Facebook because of it. Even though, he still seem to do quite well since his channel still generates income, and he also other projects on the side.

Having a side project can help you “control your destiny” and stop depending of your employer. Just make sure the contract you signed agree with you doing so. It can also be a great way to reach Financial Indenpendance and Retire Early (FIRE).

πŸ“š Improving or building new skills

At your day to day job, you will rarely have opportunities to do what you really want. You’ll certainly be in a team that have specific goals and you were hired because you’re good at it, and will need to work to achieve those specific goals. But what if you want more and want to explore new areas?

By building something from the ground and for you, you’ll learn new skills that you don’t necessarily need for your job. You will have to do everything. How to make marketing (without money)? How to setup a blog? How to write some code in a language you don’t know? How to make my website rank better in Google? How can I make money? So many new skills you’ll have to learn in order to achieve your goals.

Party in Beijing was the project where I had to learn how to acquire new users in China, I’ve learnt the importance of retention, and how interacting with users is so important for a B2C app. I’ve remembered reading Traction to have some ideas on how to make marketing from nothing. Learned how to negotiate ticket prices to sell it to my users and make some profit out of it. I’ve learned a lot about blockchains Ethereum, how to create smart contracts by building Citymayor and Nodablock. I’ve forced myself to write blog posts to increase our SEO ranking. I went to conferences to try to sell an API and talk to people (and realized I wasn’t a fit for that industry). Learned how to say no and when to stop trying.

There is no better way to learn a new technology by using it, becoming better at sales by selling, or a better marketer by doing marketing. You could also realize you might be really good (or like) at something you didn’t have chance to even touch at your job.

πŸ•΅οΈβ€β™‚οΈ Finding a new job or opportunities is easier

I’ve asked David Wong, working in the cryptocurrency team at Facebook, what would be the best way to be noticed by Facebook? He answered: “Side Projects” and “Blog”.

I believe there is no better way to show you’re able to code, do marketing or sales by doing building your own side project. This also show the passion you have about a domain, and you had the skills to achieve it. Doing this by your own also demonstrate an entrepreneurship spirit that will help you to score points against other “normal” profiles.

Blogging about your side project can also a great things to increase the visibility of what you are creating. Even if you don’t go “viral”, you’ll have at least have something out there accessible with a link. Someone reading about your blog might simply reach you and ask you if you’d like to work for them if they’re interested in what or how you’ve done it.

Few months ago, I’ve met Tom in a coffee shop, and he told me he was working on a side project about comparing ski resorts worldwide. He told me he started it because it would be useful for himself and he also wanted to sharp his coding skills to find better jobs. A week ago, he posted on reddit. He literally got 2 job offers in the industry he wanted to be in, and this from total strangers he never met, and would have probably never met.

I’ve told my friend, that quit his job in marketing because he wanted to get back into engineering (Machine Learning specifically), to create his side project to make his job hunting easier. He came up with BrandImage.io, a tool using AI & Natural Language Processing to understand what people like/dislike about a brand or a product. And he already got some interviews thanks to it! I’m now wondering how long it will take him to find the company that fits him - πŸ‘‰don’t hesitate to contact him πŸ‘ˆ. 2024 note: He’s now at Google πŸ˜ƒ!

πŸ”Ž Knowing more about yourself

As said previously, you’ll have to jump outside your comfort zone, and do the things you don’t usually do. This will broaden your horizons, and you might think about you current job differently. Perhaps it will help you realize you just might be doing the wrong job.

Working on Nodablock was also really interesting. It might be the only B2B/money focused project I’ve started. But where I had to deal with people, or project I didn’t really appreciate. I’ve realized the money I’ve accepted didn’t make me feel comfortable. This kind of turned me off, and I quickly lost interest in the project. It also made me realize that money wasn’t enough for me to continue a project.

πŸ‘«πŸ‘« Working alone or with friends?

I strongly believe that the best way to start a side project by yourself. The main advantage is that you’ll just go ahead with all your ideas, and no one will be here to stop you to do anything you have in mind (except yourself πŸ˜‰). You’ll not have hours of discussion to try to convince the other side. You’ll learn a lot by doing everything, and, if ever you make money, it will be all yours πŸ’°πŸ’°.

Even though, I do most of them with my friends. I pick them with knowing they have the same interests in the problem I’d like to solve and that can add value to the project. I also try to make sure they are aligned with my mindset (positivity, no-ego doer, ship fast imperfect feature, and accountable). The main advantage I’ve noticed was mutual support, what’s my main driver to make progress on a project. What is completely lacking when you do a project by yourself, and you can lose motivation really quickly. I’ve done one solo project (Nodablock) and found myself not really motivated. The lack of conversation can make you think you’re heading nowhere. Even though it was making money, motivation wasn’t just there.

The disadvantage of working with friends will be misalignment/disagreement. You’ll discuss a lot about what to ship next or what to perfect. Those happened with all my projects and I try to solve them quickly to not “stuck” the project. A tip would be to clarify exactly what you want to build before starting anything. Those discussions are healthy and help make the project move forward. Something I insist is that side projects shouldn’t be the cost of any friendship. If misalignment are too strong, it’s just better to sit (or have a call) and talk.

πŸ‘­πŸ‘« Making new friends, and making new friends

An other advantages with side project is meeting new people you wouldn’t usually meet. It’s been 5 years I’ve been working remotely. The feeling of isolation come quite often and I’ve found that talking about side projects will make you meet new people, that can become friends. I’ve kept in touch with some customers that bought some concert tickets. Met some really interesting persons at some meetups or events when trying to sell Nodablock, and now meeting amazing people with TravelHustlers!

πŸ‘·β€οΌŸ But I don’t know how to code?

This is the biggest misconception about side projects, you don’t necessarily need to code to start one. There are so many platforms that can help you to create your side projects. Creating a podcast, writing a blog, writing a book, making a youtube channel, and so on…

To conclude, follow your passions and build side projects around it. It will only bring you positive things and you’ll have fun doing it! And you, what were the benefits of you having a side project? Please comment :)

ps: there is also more than 200 comments shared on Hacker News. Some talk about the reasons why you shouldn’t have side projects. I invite you to check them out. I won’t talk about it here since believe this is a part of an other discussion πŸ˜‰

Thanks for reading

As always, hit me up and let’s hang out. I am thinking a lot about AI, Health, Tooling, Hacking and other stuffs. I now focus on TaipeiDev and HackersBait. If you are in Taipei, come hang out.