How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Launch My Side Project Already

Eleanor McKenna
Dec 11, 2018 · 5 min read

This article originally appeared on

I’ve been working on a side project for almost a year, and this week, I launched it. It took a lot time for a lot of different reasons: I moved city this year and had to put my iMac into storage for a few months, I started a new job, relaunched my blog, and was traveling for about a month.

But even after all of that, I’m happy to say that I finally launched a project I have been working on, and actually getting it out there and in front of real users has been enormously satisfying and rewarding.

So, to celebrate, here are 5 tips I have learned and wanted to share with anyone out there who is apprehensively hovering over the “ship it” button.

1. Be Careful Who You Show it To

Different people will give you different kinds of feedback, and there are lots of different kinds of feedback. Initially I showed it to other programmers or project managers, but the things they saw were very different to what my friends and family saw.

People who work in tech are going to notice different things. They will notice front-end bugs, and suggest new features to add. It can be easy to get stuck in an infinite loop of adding features and fixing bugs, and your project would never see the light of day.

The feedback I got from my non-techy friends and family was a lot more valuable that the feedback I got from my techy friends… There are 2 main reasons for this:

  • They notice different things
  • They were not the target users

Show it to the only people who matter — the kind of people who you hope will use it. If you hope tech people will use it, fine. But I found in my experience that this ended badly, where people would just point out the errors, or suggest new features.

“Do you have a license to sell those balloons?”

2. Take Short Cuts

When you’re just testing an idea out, there is no harm in taking a few short cuts.

Not being a good designer or a good developer shouldn’t be the blocker that holds you back.

Even though I’m a designer, I used an open source front-end framework to get the grid system working across all devices, and form designs and buttons all ready to go. This means you can get the entire front-end done in just a few hours — and you can move on to getting your project in front of real users.

There’s no special prizes for starting from scratch. If you need a social login or some kind of sign up form, that code exists as open source out there. Don’t spend huge amounts of time coding things from scratch if you can easily and affordably get something up and running quickly. It’s much more rewarding to get something finished and out there.

Get smart with how you use your time, and use existing tools and assets to your advantage.

3. Stick to the Plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Create a plan, and stick to it.

Stick the the plan as much as possible to avoid scope creep. I used a Trello board to keep my project on track, and forced myself not to add any features other than the ones that were on the board. It’s easy to get carried away with new ideas and distracted by the possibilities that your project could provide, but the best thing to do is to stick to a goal.

An MVP should have a basic set of features that work to solve the problem. You can dress it up and add more features later, but the basic functionality should work from the start.

Create a deadline so that it doesn’t completely take over your life. Sometimes you will have to push back the deadline — for instance, my deadline was originally October but things just didn’t happen as soon as I would have liked.

image via giphy

4. One Project at a Time

This one sounds like it should be obvious, but it’s tempting to start a new side project every time you have a really nice new idea. New ideas are exciting. Inspiration can strike at any time. Whenever I have an idea, I add it to a list in Trello, and continue to work on finishing the project I am currently focused on.

It’s better to have 1 finished project than dozens of half-baked ones in your hard drive at home. I should know — I speak as someone who has dozens of half-baked ideas on my computer.

5. Have Fun With it

It wouldn’t be possible to work on something in your spare time if it wasn’t a little bit fun. One of the things I love about working on my project is the fact that I can use a ridiculous colour scheme if I want, and can play around with the copy and design.

It’s difficult enough to make time to work on something in the evenings and at weekends, so make sure you at least enjoy this adventure. That way, even if it’s not successful, you can at least say you had some fun.

So those are my tips on how you can also finish you side project. I would like to ask — are any of you out there currently working on a side project? How is it going? Have you just started? Or are you nearly finished? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

Please get in touch over on twitter, or check out more articles about design on my blog.

Eleanor McKenna

Written by

Designer, developer, and writer based in Munich. Interaction designer at @Google. Founder of