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Why Your Side Projects Don’t Suck

Jake Larkin July 1, 2015

About one month into any new job and you already begin to get the hang of your responsibilities and daily routine. You are supposed to do this on Mondays, and supposed to do that on Tuesdays, and then usually you meet with so-and-so to talk about yada-yada on Wednesdays. Even at a fast paced company like a startup, you become ingrained in your core responsibilities and you lose pieces of the excitement that existed during the first few weeks. Not only do you feel less fulfilled and challenged, but the company loses its ability to explore and learn from a new set of eyes or new topic.

This doesn’t need to be the case. How do you fix it? Side projects.

What is a side project?

A project being conducted at work or outside of work that does not directly relate to the growth of the company you are involved with. They certainly may co-exist in the same industry, but the side project is outside of the daily routine of your company.

Who’s doing it?

Good question. If I were you, I probably would not take advice from a small app development company without first doing some research. It may shock you, but even large corporations are getting into the world of side projects. Some are hosting weekend hack-a-thons or even after hour building sessions, both of which are reserved for working on strictly side-projects (no company work). Google even has a policy in place that 20% of your working hours (not overtime) can be spent on projects that you want to work on, even if they are completely unrelated to the company. Apple, Microsoft, Spotify, Uber and many more are building company cultures that allow employees to work on side projects. It’s the reason Gmail and Google Drive exist. Heck, even the Post-it-Note was started as a side project at 3M.

Where do you begin?

Side projects come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, your company might have an inherent interest in making the side project a success, but this is certainly not a limitation of the possibilities. Side projects can be stupid. They don’t need to serve an immediate purpose.

Start Now

The biggest piece of advice on how to begin is simple – just do it. Seriously. If there is something that sounds exciting to learn about, grab a few co-workers and explain it to them. Explain why you think it would be exciting and get cranking. Failure is inevitable with side projects, so quit worrying about what happens when your idea sucks. Even if you know your idea is not the greatest, the outcome is not the goal.

Keep it Simple

Side projects are not complicated by nature. A small idea that gets executed during a few extra hours at work means that it shouldn’t be complicated. You still have to accomplish your core responsibilities, so side projects move in small increments. You can safely ignore all the questions that you ask yourself on bigger projects. There is no need to worry about, “This thing won’t scale” or “How in the world will this ever make money?” Decide which core elements are needed to bring the idea to life and make those happen.

Forget Scale

This is the absolute toughest aspect of side projects. The society we find ourselves in now thinks that it has the ability to measure opportunity, but the truth is – you can’t. There are so many variables that go into the success or failure of an idea that you could never listen to a 10 minute pitch about an idea and have the slightest clue about its outcome.

From the start, you need to forget about scale. Forget about how you will measure the success of your idea. These do not matter with side projects. You work on a side project because it makes you happy. You have a connection to the idea that should not be stopped by some SWOT analysis. A side project should only get bigger when you want it to get bigger and never before then.


If you are reading this and are an employee, this is important. At some point, you are likely going to explain why you spent 3 hours coding a website that doesn’t actually do anything or you made a financial model of an industry that your company has nothing to do with. As I mentioned before, the outcome of the project is not always the purpose of the project, but I can’t promise that your boss will understand this.

You Run the Show

With a side project, you become the boss.

The idea is yours and you run the operation. When things change, embrace the changes. Work with a team of people who truly want to work on the project and nobody that is simply escaping their core responsibilities. This will the project owner first hand experience at running a team and delegating tasks.

It’s Like Recess for Adults

Think back to your elementary days when the 45 minutes following lunch was the best time of the day. Not only because you weren’t working on your school work (i.e. core responsibilities) but you were learning new things. Of course, in 5th grade, new things might have been how to jump rope, or how to build a fort out of mud or even how to kiss your first girlfriend, but the implication is the same. A side project is like recess for adults. When you remove constraints, your exploration brain kicks in and real learning begins. You can make a dozen mistakes and not be ashamed. You can dig into an entire new industry and learn everything about it. You take your mind off of the your core responsibilities and in turn, you may even learn how to do them better.

It Helps Business

Side projects force you to learn about a field that you have no knowledge about. To expose new areas that are ripe for innovation. To bring to life ideas that would have otherwise remained in a notebook. Even if the side project is deemed a failure, everyone involved is now slightly more informed about the industry they were peering into and this will likely come up further down the road. In fact, it may even help your current company pivot into a whole new field.

Designli’s Projects

At Designli, we fully embrace side projects. First and foremost, we are an app development company, but we all share a love in creating cool, new products. We launched our first two projects a few months ago, YourAppMVP and FixedPriceWP as purely afterhour projects that we thought we exciting enough to release and watch grow. We have two new projects that are currently in the works that we are very excited to share as soon as they are live.

How Your Company Can Support Side Projects

A good start is to block off a portion of the work week and give your employees creative freedom. Let them work on something that has been bugging them for weeks. An irking frustration that they want to solve.

  1. Make sure to not assign value to any project over another. Each employee has the need to express their own abilities and explore uncharted grounds for themselves. Do not attempt to measure this with any data.
  2. Allow projects to be on-going. If the crowd agrees that a project is exciting, let it keep going. Give them more time to work on it and possibly a small budget of funds to play around with.

These two acts will display your level of trust and remove fear at the exact same time. Both imperative for a successful “side-project” culture. Have any questions or advice for generating cooler side projects? Let us know!

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