Many people dream about starting their own businesses. Some quit their jobs and start working on their business solely. While others starts their businesses as a side project while working full-time and still succeed.
Start-up success stories are all around these days. However according to Airbnb, DoorDash, Slack, and Uber, you must solve real problems for your users. And anyone who does not follow this rule joins the 42% club (42% of start-ups die because of no market need). Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are still developing apps, websites, or services without first validating market demand and designing solutions to problems that do not exist.
Another example of validation is finding people who genuinely like your product and use it daily. They can invest their time (which they frequently do) or money (pay for it). Both options demonstrate that your product is in demand and that you can build a business around it.
Many successful businesses began as small, part-time projects. Here are a few successful start-ups that began as a side project, validated demand, and grew into the popular services we use today.
Dharmesh Shah had recently sold his first start up, so he had more free time than usual. He decided to start a small blog where he will discuss his experiences as an entrepreneur. The blog was so popular that it drew more traffic than sites run by professional marketing teams, even though it had no budget.This prompted him to start HubSpot as a side project. HubSpot is currently worth around $2 billion, and many would argue that the site’s success is due to the high-quality content it publishes.
Kevin Plank, a University of Maryland football player, hated having to wear sweaty and heavy undershirts on game days and during practices. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and it was necessity that drove Plank to create a far superior athletic undershirt—one that will keep you dry even during the sweatiest practices and games.
He was so taken with the design that he decided to start manufacturing and selling his own undershirts. Plank drove up and down the east coast for a year, selling undershirts from the back of his car. Plank was eventually able to move his business out of his car and set up legitimate headquarters thanks to his incredible passion for his project and the ingenuity of his invention.
Within two years, he was making team sales. Under Armour currently generates nearly $4 billion in revenue per year.
Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom founded Instagram in 2010, when smartphones were still in their early stages. Instagram (then known as Burbn) was a simple check-in app. But there was a catch: their app allowed users to upload photos in addition to check-ins.
When they had free time, the pair rented a desk in a shared office and worked on their side project. They didn’t have much success at first. People weren’t interested in sharing mobile photos, and because foursquare dominated their niche market, there wasn’t much room for another big app.
When Krieger and Systrom decided to focus solely on mobile photography, Instagram took off. Their re-imagined app became so popular that Facebook decided to buy the company for $1 billion, even though the duo had yet to figure out how to make money from Instagram.
Many are aware of Slack’s rapid rise as a start-up and subsequent entry into the collaboration space, but many are unaware that Slack began as a side project for founder Stewart Butterfield.
Slack is a collaboration platform where teams can communicate and collaborate using groups and a live chat system.
Previously, Slack was a pivot from the now-defunct MMORPG game Glitch.
Apple is perhaps the best example of a mega-successful side project. The story of Steve Jobs’ visionary company, Apple, has become legendary start up folklore: two college dropouts with nothing to their names who came together to change technology forever.
Even though they didn’t have any money, they were driven to succeed. In Jobs’ parents’ garage, the pair began building personal computers. Jobs, at the time worked at Atari, while his friend worked at HP.
They finished the Apple I for the first time in 1976. Apple’s first invention put them on the map. Soon after, Apple II appeared, and Apple quickly became one of the most exciting technology companies in the world.
In the mid-1980s, Apple’s leadership fired Jobs. However, as soon as he was brought back in 1997, he proved to be the company’s pivotal figure. Apple’s value had fluctuated over the years, but Jobs’ return transformed it into a global tech powerhouse.
Create something that you would use:
The best way to generate start up ideas is to ask yourself, “What do you wish someone would make for you?” Paul Graham, the founder and CEO of Y Combinator, wrote in 2010. Another, more common expression is “scratch your own itch.” What problem led you to believe that your side project was a good idea for yourself? Are there others like you?Whatever itch you’re scratching, there’s a good chance that a few other people are feeling the same way. Don’t dismiss your side project idea because you believe you’re the only one scratching the surface.
Listen to the market
When you’re running a business, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. You’re so sure of what’s going on with people and how you’re going to help them that you forget to take a step back and listen. However, some of the most successful side projects resulted from listening to what users and the market desired and then creating something specifically for them.
Put in the hard work and take risks
The truth is that every major start up mistake can be avoided by simply trying. Test your concept on a small scale to see if it works. Create a landing page or blog posts, then send a cold email to 100 potential buyers in your target market to see if they connect with your concept. If you need to take a break and learn more about how to pitch your idea to prospects, pick up a sales book, enrol in an online course, or find a mentor who can help you accelerate your knowledge and make your first sale.
Side projects are the ultimate way to experiment before committing your entire life to your idea.
“Don’t be afraid to bite off more than you think you can chew. You’ll get the hang of it.” That was the insight that led Gumroad founder Sahil Lavingia, a 19-year-old university dropout, to leave his position as Pinterest’s first designer hired to work full-time on his side project.
The best thing about side projects is that you’re usually not under any time constraints to complete them. That doesn’t mean you want them to collect dust while you “wait for the right time,” but it does mean you can focus your energy on your idea and take the necessary steps to make it a success.
Side projects are an opportunity to explore the future – to use today’s most relevant tools to build apps, create products, and manage projects to completion that people may not even realize they require.
Side projects can be a great source of inspiration, a way to experiment, and, in many cases, better business ideas than the ones you’re pursued right now. Why not give it a shot?
Millions of successful businesses that you have never heard of have been built in someone’s spare time. Just consider it. Who knows, maybe your side project idea will be on this list one day.
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