Every resource we use when planning, building, and launching a side project at Crew

It’s time to stand on the shoulders of some giants…

Image by Leon Seierlein on Unsplash

At Crew, we’re huge proponents of the side project movement.

And why not? Our side projects have turned into our top referrers of work, an overfunded Kickstarter campaign, and one of the fastest growing photography communities on the web.

Side projects bring value not just to your company, but to all of those that interact with them. We believe that if you show your potential customers love (without your hand out!) they’ll return the favour down the road. And whether that’s by signing up for your service, joining your mailing list, or just recommending you to a friend, it’s all good.

But we’re certainly not the first people to see huge value from building things outside of our core product. And when we first started down this crazy path of splitting up our already limited resources to build something different, we needed inspiration and validation of our own.

So if you’re in a similar position, or need to justify your side project idea to your co-founders, boss, or investors, here’s a look at every single resource we used:

This post is part of our year-long series, Make This Year, where 20,000+ makers and creators are learning how to make build side projects like video courses, podcasts, and more. Click here to join up and get all our past lessons!

Why start a side project?

Side projects can…

  • turn into big companies. Many startups such as Uber, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, and Buffer started as side projects. Herbert Lui shows some remarkable examples of side projects that turned into successful businesses and explains why you should start your own.
  • be a great way to experiment with an idea before committing to it (and before sucking other people’s money into it). Fred Wilson, one of the most respected VCs in the tech scene, highlights how experimenting with side projects can be critical for building tomorrow’s best businesses.
  • help you achieve multiple business goals. Jesse Bouman explains how companies turn moonshot ideas into profitable businesses.
  • save your startup. (Shameless self plug) Crew CEO Mikael Cho explains how launching a simple side project in three hours brought in a huge new audience, exposed Crew to the creative community, and ultimately saved our startup.
  • bring in thousands in revenue. Spilled.co’s founders took their love of streetwear and turned it into a 6-figure business in a year, with only $300 initial investment and while keeping their day jobs.

Think you don’t have time/resources?

Side projects can be built…

  • (and get paying customers) in 3 hours. Marc Eglon, editor of Hackerpreneur magazine, validated his side project idea, set up a site, launched on Product Hunt and got paying customers all before his morning butter coffee went cold.
  • with a ‘minimum trashable brand’. What you first put out doesn’t have to be your final product. Per Harald Borgen, the creator of BugRex—a two-sided marketplace that connects experienced coders with people looking for quick bug fixes—built a ‘trash brand’ overnight to test whether people would actually use their service.

Ready to build?

Lessons learned from top side project makers

  • Inspiration has an expiry date. Serial maker Justin Jackson has 4 kids and a full-time job and still manages to pump out project after project. His secret? Set manageable deadlines, work on them one piece at a time, and give up on TV. You might not know what happened on Game of Thrones, but you’ll have a business and new skills to show.
  • Offer outcome. Not output. Alecsandru, lead UX designer at Grapefruit and creator of the UX Recipe iOS app on why a side project should “Emphasize the value proposition you offer, not just a batch of features. Users might return for what you stand for and be part of your mission on a long turn, and that’s a major win.”
  • Never set a deadline. Buffer writer Kevan Lee believes side projects are a very different animal than traditional work. They target a different part of the brain and fit into our daily lives in a wholly unique way. Therefore, they kind of have their own rules. His #1 rule? Be okay with missing a deadline.
  • Wear One Hat at a Time. One danger about side projects is wanting to jump into all aspects at once. But decision fatigue is real, and the more you take on at once, the less you get done. Instead, start with basic questions: what is the end goal? What tools are available out there for me to use to build this? Who are my target users? What should I call this thing?
  • Need an idea? Combine your interests. Again, Kevan Lee for the win with his breakdown of the psychology of creative side projects, and how we’re better off looking for something with low-pressure, low risk, and love. So if you’re looking for an idea, look at what you already are comfortable with. Like writing? Try writing in a new medium rather than jumping into something drastically different like coding or designing.
  • Side projects should be stupid.When you treat something like it’s stupid, you have fun with it, you don’t put too much structure around it. You can enjoy different types of success.” Use side projects to let your mind wander. To connect the dots where you normally wouldn’t. Yes, they can be great for your career and business. But first and foremost they’re good for you.
  • Treat them like an experiment. Fear of failure stops so many of us before we even start a side project. But reframing how you look at them can drive you forward. Remember, Experiments don’t ‘fail’ — they simply prove or disprove a hypothesis.”
  • Side projects are all about ‘Succeeding Slowly’. ‘Fail fast’ may be the mentality most of us in the startup world live by, but when it comes to most side projects, it’s all about endurance. “For me the importance of ‘Side Projects’ is to allow that precious time for a young idea to be protected from the world. Like one of those tree guards you see around young saplings. It just buys them time to get strong. Once they are strong enough, the guard is taken away.”

The most defensible reason to build a side project:

Side projects are career super fuel…

  • Jessica Hische, Serial side project maker, turned her side projects into a portfolio that kickstarted her career in lettering.
  • Fedora — a side project built as a hacked-together alternative to Udemy — became Teachable, a platform for building and selling online courses that is used by thousands of people.
  • Ximena Vengoechea explains how side projects are the new resume: “Where years ago you would have proudly touted this or that achievement, these days the bigger question is what you’re working on right now, outside of work.”
  • Award-winning designer Tobias van Schneider on how one side project can change your life. “Often the things I expected the least results on, turned out to be something that impacted my work or career the most.”
  • 99u editor Matt McCue describes the 5 types of personal projects that can boost your career, from the “crazy idea that could lead to a big future commission” to the “I’m adding a new tool to my toolbox” project.

Bonus:

Where to find your side project people

Luckily, there are lots of other places where similar side project-minded people hang out. Here’s a few of our favourites:

Ready to build your side project (and need a little help with the heavy lifting?)

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Side project reading list

Want even more? Here’s the rest of our side project case studies and resources that didn’t fit above: