Why a side project is not just a baby startup

About a week ago we started interviewing applicants for The Side Project Accelerator. Throughout this process, a lot of people have been asking me to explain the difference between a side project and a startup.

A side project is a completely different animal. A side project is different from a startup because:

Nothing is preventing you from starting it today
  • A side project is not about building a company, hiring people and raising money from investors
  • It will never make a billion dollars. It’s not going to be the next tech unicorn. It’s not going to kill Facebook. And you acknowledge that from the get-go, and you are OK with it.
  • The primary goal is not making money. Money can be part of it. It can be a goal. but it’s not the goal.
  • A side project can be created and launched in a very short period of time, without taking all of your time. You can do it while holding down a job, taking care of your family, and still seeing your friends.
  • It doesn’t require a 7-year commitment to the same idea. Unlike a startup, you don’t have to consider if this idea is what you want to devote your life’s work to. You can build it and move on to the next project immediately after.
  • A side project can be created and completed by a single person. It’s not a requirement to do it alone, but it should be something that can be done alone. I built my side project with my good friend, Sagi Shrieber, but the point is, there should be no obstacle preventing you from starting it today.
Just a little something to think about ;)

So then what’s a side project all about?

A side project is about changing your way of life. It’s about working on things that you enjoy, taking something from start to finish, and learning something new.

It’s about creating something that will live even after you are done working on it.

It’s about getting yourself out there.

It’s about building a personal brand, gaining respect, and becoming a thought leader; someone who’s voice, opinions and creations matter.

It’s about building an audience around yourself, not around the product you are creating. This side project may very well fail. In fact, by all industry standards for measures of success, it probably will fail. But that’s OK. You’re collecting an audience that will stick around, respect you, and want to hear more from you even after this project is dead.

It probably will fail. But that’s OK. You’re audience will stick around.

Think about the most influential people you know on the intertubes. I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Zeldman’s work. His bio reads like a list of super successful side projects: A List Apart, An Event Apart, A Book Apart, The Big Web Show, Designing With Web Standards, you get the picture. And these are just some of the successful ones. I’m sure the list of lesser-known/ failed side projects is just as long.

Jeffrey has built an audience around himself and his personal brand. I’d recognize that pixelated, blue beanie anywhere. He’s approaching half a million followers on Twitter, verified account, the whole shebang. He has an audience that sticks, and they care about what he has to say. Whether he’s writing about politics, life, or his newest side project, his word has the Zeldman brand stamp of approval on it.

That’s the kind of thing you can do with side projects.

Side projects breed more side projects

And side projects breed more side projects. There’s no cure for the side project bug once it bites. Ideas for the second, third and fourth side projects start spewing out like Mt. Vesuvius.

So you see, a side project is not a startup. A side project might not even be for everybody. But for those who decide to start a side project — congratulations. You’re in for one hell of a ride.

If you’re interested in starting a side project, you might want to check out The Side Project Accelerator — an 8-week online program created by Sagi Shrieber and myself to help you launch your side project, build a personal brand and earn passive income.