Ingredients For A Successful Side Project
I believe your best chance of success will come from a side project vs. your day job. This is because you’re likely to be most passionate about it and highly driven for success.
Most people dream of actioning their ideas of side-projects or bigger yet, starting a business but few follow through on it. Much like joining a gym, your number one task, and perhaps the hardest, is pulling the trigger and just starting. The second hardest part, again like a gym, is keeping to a regular cadence of improvement. I won’t go into detail in this post about the soft side of productivity or motivation but this is a good read on the subject: https://fs.blog/deliberate-practice-guide/.
Let’s assume you’ve got your idea and you’re keen to start, what now?
1. Choose A Name
Turning your nebulous idea into a reality is best started by giving it a name. This will be necessary for most of the next steps and it simply helps anchor the project.
There’s a tendency to overthink this stage but I’d say approach it more like a codename that could change at some point. You’ll have plenty of other things to progress with so don’t let this bog you down.
It’s useful at the naming stage to find something with an available .com domain as it’s expensive to find one after the fact. There’s a good essay on choosing a .com over other extensions like .io, .co, .ai by Paul Graham.
Some tools to help you generate a name:
- NameQL smart name generator which only lists available .com’s
- Namestation really sophisticated tools to generate names and check availability
- Wordoid basic but good suggestions for phonetic name generation
- Lean Domain Search is a bulk suggestion of names relating to a keyword
- Namelix is an AI-powered name and logo generator
Validate your name:
- Brinso gives a brand name score to help you avoid some bad choices that seem good at the time.
- The Noun Project whilst not a logo generator, their library of symbols is valuable to create your own
2. Set up a coming soon page
You’ll probably have a desire to crack on and create a fully-fledged, working project but it’s wise to slow down and figure out early interest. This mindset is well covered in the Lean Startup process.
Some services for coming soon pages:
- Launchrock the OG of coming soon pages
- Carrd’s landing pages are nice and simple
- Ship by Product Hunt
- Webflow coming soon templates
3. Get beta testers
When you’ve got an early coming soon or service running it can be a bit daunting to know where to find people willing to help you validate your project. It’s useful to ask friends and family first but alongside that there’s some useful services:
- Betalist is the original and best to get signups. There’s a prerequisite that you have an email capture form on your site to prove it’s a beta product.
- Betafamily crowdsourced beta testing
- Betapage a directory of beta sites
- Rainforest QA More for QA but if you’re looking for early defect testing, could be useful
4. Create a Minimum Viable Product
Once you’ve got confidence that you’re onto something and people want what your side project offers, it’s time to build the smallest possible product.
This stage will depend on your coding abilities and the nature of the project.
Finding developers to create an MVP:
- Toptal for the best freelance tech talent
- Fiverr general marketplace for a range of skills
- Upwork another tech talent marketplace
- Clutch dev agencies rated and reviewed
Developing your own MVP:
This is the stage of doing things in an unscalable way, it’s not time for using the newest, hottest tech.
- Use static HTML over dynamic sites where possible. You can make it dynamic later
- If you are going to need a dynamic aspect to your project, consider a batteries-included framework to remove some of the thinking processes. This includes:
- Ruby on Rails — “Compress the complexity of modern web apps”
- Django — “The web framework for perfectionists with deadlines”
- Laravel — “The PHP Framework for Web Artisans”
- Blitz — “The Fullstack React Framework”
- WordPress — “the world’s most popular website builder”. Easy to overlook this one but WordPress is ubiquitous and can be configured to do almost anything.
At the earliest stage of your MVP you should aim to make it publicly available with an automated deployment process. Reducing the barriers to getting value to users is paramount and so you should strive for a process that lets you dip into the project for 5 minutes, push some code and have it available shortly after. You’ll then feel more motivated to continue working on it.
I’d suggest using Github to host your code and use their Actions service for running deployments.
Useful hosting providers for early-stage projects include:
I’d avoid AWS, Azure or Google Cloud at this stage unless you’re already familiar as they’re better serving larger companies.
6. Get some early users
Great, you’ve made your MVP and your beta users are happy with it!
Time to start spreading the word.
- Launch on ProductHunt
- Show on HackerNews
- Post on Reddit
- Share on IndieHackers
- Use your social networks (Twitter is best) to spread the message of what you’re working on
8. Fundraise or bootstrap
If you feel a few months down the line that you’re really onto something and want to double down on it you should consider fundraising or bootstrapping. Before quitting your job, I’d advise spending as much of your evenings and weekends on this first as the sad fact is most startups fail and the honeymoon period of side projects is an overwhelmingly powerful distortion of reality.
If you do want to pursue the fundraising route, you’ve now got a couple of routes. If you’re lucky enough to be bringing in recurring revenue, you can leverage that to get lump payments. It’s called revenue-based financing.
Revenue-based finance options:
Finding an investor is a nuanced process requiring setting up lots of meetings. The most useful directory of investors and their thesis is https://www.openvc.app. To get some insights into the world of VCs the Secrets of Sand Hill Road book is a useful resource.
Good luck on your side project journey and I hope it helps unlock your potential!
Feel free to reach out to me to provide early feedback on your project.