I wrote previously about the highs and lows of a side project, which was very much a cautionary tale. This time, I'm speaking more optimistically. As difficult as it is to make a side project successful -- whatever that means to you -- it pales in comparison to the benefits of having one, successful or not.
When we set out to build Stride, the goal was to create a product that solved the everyday need of Nathan and myself, while sparking the unlikely potential of generating some additional income. We achieved both of those things, but that's not what keeps us excited. When you start a side project, you start so much more.
Understanding of Functions Outside Your Own
In your day job, you have a clear role -- engineer, marketer, business person, designer -- it's likely that you don't parlay beyond that. In a side project, the team is smaller and the needs are broader. If you're an engineer, you're going to have to fill gaps on product and design. If you're a business person, you're going to have to work across the marketing stack and maybe even get your hands dirty in development. With Stride, I've handled everything from finances to paid marketing to front-end development to product design. They wouldn't let me come anywhere near those things at Moz, and wisely so. Having first-hand experience in those functions have made me better at my job, bettering my understanding and interactions with those in said roles.
The Ultimate Sandbox
A side project is the ultimate sandbox to try crazy ideas. You can take risks that you would be scared to broach otherwise, either due to bureaucratic barriers or potential negative impact. In a side project, no idea is off-limits. Crazy is the norm. The only barrier to trying something new in a side project is the barrier effort.
Team Test Run
It's no secret that the team is the most important part of a successful startup. A great team can adapt, work through the tough times, and spend countless hours together without wanting to kill one another. Working with a team on a side project is a great way to take a real-life test run with your team to see if you've got what it takes, with a slightly lesser downside in the unfortunate case of failure. If you fall apart as a team during a side project, it's time to find a different team.
An Outlet for the Risk Adverse
To be an entrepreneur, you don't need to be illogical. Most think that entrepreneurship is simply jumping off the cliff. Instead, entrepreneurship is a constant desire to create, and taking action on that desire. That's all. Side projects allow you to scratch the entrepreneurship itch without jumping off the cliff. It's okay to love your job and love your side project, I know I do.
Minding Your Own Business
A few years back, I read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." There wasn't much I took from the book (which was probably a good thing), but I did take away one very important thing -- the concept of "minding your own business." Ever since the first startup I was involved with came to an abrupt stop, this concept has been in the back of my mind with everything I do. The idea behind the phrase is that with the uncertainty of employment and industry, it's up to you to develop your own stream(s) of income that relieve dependence on your employer. With a side project, you open up the very real potential of being able to "mind your own business."
Yet, with all this good, side projects are still very much faux pas. There's a plethora of reasons why that is, but that's irrelevant to discuss here. The bottom line is that if you work at a company that doesn't support (and even encourage side projects), you're at a company that doesn't get it. Great employees are those that are inherently entrepreneurial and push themselves to learn, all the time. Side projects are that outlet the encourage both of those things.
Take the step into side projects. It's one of the best things you'll do for yourself and your employer.