"I just want to build something again." My infamous last words behind the start of two side projects in the past two years. One was built during Rails Rumble, the other simply out of a love for the rush. The rush of creating, the rush of launching, the rush of building. It's not that I'm reaching for things to fill my day. No. It's that the rush takes precedence, over everything else.
Looking around the web, I know I'm not alone.
Side projects sound so appealing because they mitigate risk. They take something that's traditionally very scary, starting a business, and make it seem less daunting. The fear of failure and personal finance woes fall away, because it's just a side project.
Deep inside, we all want to be entrepreneurs, but very few of us have the balls to make the leap. Myself included. So, we satisfy our aspirations and mitigate risk through side projects.
The problem, of course, is all of the many unintended consequences. When the day job, school, or whatever it is that we do just isn't enough, we typically tell ourselves that we're starting a side project for one of four reasons: continued learning, additional income, validation of an idea or just for the hell of it.
When Rails Rumble came around, I fell into the just for the hell of it category, but ended up spending countless weekends and evenings for over 8 months, only to abandon it. I don't look at the experience as a waste, but I do look at it as a case study in what not to do.
We launched with a bang, kept building, ran on fumes of adrenaline and tried to make it up as we went along, hoping for the best. We didn't think about the end-state we were trying to achieve. Because of that, it failed. Not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, we failed because we sacrificed other obligations, sanity and a service that some people came to rely on.
Know that when you start just a side project, you're starting so much more. It'll completely consume you. The worst failure in any side project is to devote time, energy and sanity for any sustained period only to close the doors.
Side projects are a means to an end.
They need to start with an end-state in mind -- create a passive income stream, validate my idea. They need to have deadlines and key metrics -- six months to profitability, 10 paying users to validate my idea. But most importantly, they need to be a sprint. The longer a project lingers, the harder it becomes to keep morale high and pull the plug if it's not working out.
Dustin put it perfectly:
Moderate success is the worst place for a startup. It's worse than failure. There's some validation, but no growth. Endless paralysis.— dustin curtis (@dcurtis) July 4, 2012
As I'm learning with each year, a lack of commitment to one thing is just as productive as doing nothing at all.