Side Project Frenzy

If you’re like me, side projects rattle in the back of your head waiting to become a reality – usually while the ‘actual work’ is getting done.

Did you know more and more companies are dedicating time and resources to creating side projects?

From billion dollar apps like Instagram to start-ups like DuckDuckGo, companies of all sizes are getting in on the action of side projects. But why? Is it because successful endeavors like Gmail and Twitter started off as mere side projects? Is it to spark innovation and teamwork across organizations? Maybe. You can bet that as more side projects become successful endeavors, more companies will dedicate time to them.

Story of a side project:

Unsplash started as a side project of a company named Crew. Leading up to the creation of Upsplash founder Mikael Cho said, “We had no money. We changed our business model and had 3 months worth of cash left to turn things around. If we didn’t, we were toast. Done.”

While Crew was redesigning its website that connects companies with freelancers, the team ran into a problem any web designer knows too well: every stock photo was too awful or too expensive to use. As they scrambled to hire a photographer to take photos, an idea sparked. Why not offer quality stock photos for free? Three hours later, Unsplash was live for the first time on a $19 Tumblr theme.

Unsplash went viral and within 10 minutes of being on Hacker News, they had 50,000 unique visits to their site. Referral traffic poured into the Crew website and to date has generated over 5 million visits. Now, Unsplash is one of the top resources on the web for high-resolution photos. Anyone can download them for free, and use them anywhere with no strings attached.

Unsplash was so successful for Crew, it led to more side projects and they even created an Unsplash book. Also, the team recently proclaimed side projects as the future of marketing. Why was Unsplash able to push the success of Crew? As Jory MacKay of Crew wrote,

“The best marketing is when you don’t know it’s marketing.”

Your side project doesn’t need to go viral to find success. Here are three things you can do to set up your next side project for long-term growth:

  1. Start simple: Think of your project and build it using as few resources as possible. Test your idea using a minimum viable product with your users and grow from there. Thinking big will never hurt, but always start simple.
  2. Solve a problem: A good side project is created out of frustration or for the need of something easier. The best way to do this is to take note of what you use in your current workflow and daily life, and pay attention to problems or frustrations you run into. Think, ‘how can I make this easier?’
  3. Use something old: Not every side project needs to be new. The best way to execute an idea, is to reuse research and insights you’ve used before. Sometimes your best ideas have been with you all along without you even knowing it.

Even if your company doesn’t give you time to work on side projects, it’s important to spend time working on the things you want to work on. Side projects open the door for creative new products and can take you down a path you can’t even see right now.

Keep curious, stay motivated and remember the three ideas above to build your next successful side project.