Ship Your Side Project — Even If It Sucks

One of the first iOS apps I ever created.

We hear it all the time from people, “I have this idea.” Then they go on to describe it in impressive detail with a glow in their eyes. Unfortunately, these discussions usually conclude with, “But I haven’t started it yet because INSERT REASON HERE.” Or, “I’m not done yet because INSERT TIME CONSTRAINT OR CURRENT OBSTACLE OR OTHER PRIORITY HERE.” Or even worst of all, “Even though I’ve been working so hard on it for the past year, I DON’T THINK IT’S READY YET so I’m going to keep trying to make it perfect before I let anyone see it.”

I have no problem calling out this type of thinking and behavior because I do it too. And I think everyone does at a certain level. It’s understandable — sometimes your constraints are legitimate and you shouldn’t spend your time chasing down every single idea and side project.

To prove my overwhelming guilt of this “ambition indifference”, here is a note I have on my phone called “App Ideas”:

“App Ideas”

It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you reading this have similar lists, maybe titled, “Business Ideas” or “Billion Dollar Business Ideas” (if you’re the ambitious type and a fan of alliteration). I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with these lists — I love coming up with diverse ideas and jotting them down when inspiration hits me on the B train — no matter how ridiculous they might be.

What I do find problematic, however, is when you don’t see a single one of these ideas through to completion.

The road to your best ideas and greatest successes will be riddled with plenty of failures, so muster up that courage and face your fears. What’s important at this point is putting your work out there. It’s hard to describe the amount of value in this, but maybe a quick run-down of my recent experience will help illustrate my point.

I had been interested in technology and mobile apps for years. I had no idea how to program an iPhone app, but I knew that it was something I wanted to do. So, one day I decided that I’d make an iPhone game, no matter how simple. This game came to be known as, “Rapper Run”. (It was originally “Kanye Runner” but Apple and I had some disagreements, so the name had to change. Different story for a different day).

Lo and behold, one of my first embarrassing games that is still on the app store: Rapper Run

Rapper Run AKA Kanye Runner

Yes, that is a a hand-drawn mini Kanye West, jumping over evil Kim Kardashians while scoring points jumping on other floating Kanye heads. By almost no standard, could this be considered “good”. By all accounts, this game sucks. But I’m ok with that. Because it led me to the next thing.

Just the process of releasing this caused me to learn so much about iOS development and made me more interested in learning. So I bought some books and read some tutorials and started working on other ideas. It made me think, “I could get serious about this”. All the while, I shipped another game called, Celebrity Faller.

Yep — that is Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, and Selena Gomez (she’s seen better days).

I put a lot more thought and effort into this game. For those wondering why I chose celebrity themes — it was for the sake of testing out app store optimization and keywords (another topic for another day). Though this was still not groundbreaking work, it made me decide that I want to become a professional iOS developer. That’s a life changing decision I came to all because I committed to following through on my idea of releasing an iPhone game. So then, I sought out ways to educate myself further and decided to attend Flatiron School.

Flatiron is where I learned so many of the things that I missed while teaching myself. By the time I graduated the 3 month program, I had put 7 apps on the app store.

And where am I now today? I’m an iOS Developer for an amazing company called Intrepid. I’m also building Podclass to teach those how to do the same. I am grateful.

Do you know how all of this started?

It’s because I decided to ship a shitty idea called “Rapper Run”.

No one strives to become a “wanna-be” or even worse, the dreaded “wantrepreneur”. And maybe that’s how you’re feeling right at this moment.

So let’s change that.

Shipping your side-project is a 3 step process. But don’t be fooled — simple does not equal easy.

1). Pick your favorite idea that you can start working on right at this moment.

This is the one that shows up in your day dreams. It’s usually the first one that comes to mind when someone says, “You working on anything interesting outside of work?” It could be the one you’ve started working on, but put it down for any one of the reasons that are readily provided by self-doubt. Or it could be the one that you know that you can finish. Ok, got it? Great! Let’s move on.

2). Finish the absolute, most minimal version of this idea.

This is where most people get stuck and unfortunately, never pass because this is where the hard work comes in. If you’re a fledgling programmer and you want to create your first iPhone game — this is where you need to get ready to buckle down and learn all the things you didn’t know that you didn’t know. This is where you need to swallow some pride and cut out all the non-vital features and aspects. This is where you need to make phone calls and find out who can produce a short-batch run of whatever product you want to sell. It’s where you need to decide if the best platform is Wordpress, Shopify, or Squarespace. Whatever this idea of yours is — this is where you put in the hustle and where you don’t stop until you have something.

3). SHIP IT!

By this, I mean upload it to the app store, or launch your website, or post links to your product on Reddit, HackerNews, wherever! This will be scary, but it is vital. Without this final step, you never cross the magical threshold of completion. I promise, that when you finish this step, you will have learned so much and jumped the obstacles that have stopped you 10 times in the past. If you can do this once, then you know you can do it always. That knowledge and confidence is absolutely priceless.

And that’s why this article is about shipping your side project, even if it sucks — because the success is not in how your product does in the wild; the success is in you.

Because now that you’ve shipped one thing, you can ship the next thing. So even if your first product wasn’t as amazing as it could be and everyone tore it apart on the internet and hurt your feelings, you can now move on to your next project and release something better with all the knowledge you‘ve gained! Remember, this was a side-project, not your magnum opus.

Now, go open up your notebook of ideas and thoughts and please ship your idea, even if it sucks.

Tweet me when it’s done so I can check it out: @alanscarpa

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