Lessons learned while working on side projects

In past two years, along with day job, I have worked on several side projects with different people. Here are lessons I have learned and few do’s and dont’s

1 – Choose partners wisely

Choose people you would like to spend time with even if its not about the project. Many times people don’t leave jobs or projects, they leave people. I am not suggesting to choose people who are just like you, who like movies you like, who are interested in sports just like you, diversity in backgrounds and interests always helps by giving different perspectives. Simply put, choose people you like and admire.

2 – Make a Plan

Get your partners together, ask questions in order to be clear on what you are trying to achieve. It could be idea validation, money, fame, better portfolio, serving humanity or anything. Whatever it is in your case make sure you know what it is. Once goal has been decided, try to figure out minimum steps needed to reach that goal. These steps will become your milestones, complete milestones one at a time and you will have your goal. Keep in mind that things happen, realities change, make sure you regularly re-evaluate the minimum steps that will take you to your goal. In other words, milestones aren’t word of God, keep updating them according to situation.

3 – Always keep bigger picture in mind

Its very easy to fall in love with an idea/product/feature, but thats generally not a good thing. Don’t let yourself develop an emotional attachment, always be rational and logical. Whatever you are doing or building make sure you answer this question: is it helping me in achieving the goal? If the answer is No, leave it. Go back to planning step, find out the most efficient path to goal, create milestones and start working on them.

4 – At least don’t de-motivate others

Side projects requires a lot of energy. In a normal job, paycheck is motivating enough to get people out of bed every morning. In case of side projects, its really a challenge to keep yourself and your partners motivated. Off course one reason that can keep you going is the reason you started in the first place(your goal). Other than that, in my experience, keep getting things done is another way to maintain motivation. If you can’t find a way to increase motivation of team, at least don’t de-motivate them. One thing I have found really demotivating: delaying the blocking task. Let’s say you are a backend person and your partner is taking care of front end. If your partner needs a backend thing and without it cannot move forward, you should treat that as highest priority item. If you delay this task, you are demotivating other person and hence committing a sin of highest degree according to constitution of side projects.

5 – Don’t burn yourself out

You need to get a (little) life as well. If like me, you are already doing a day job and working on side projects as well, its very easy to run out of fuel. Don’t forget to give yourself time to relax as well. If you are not feeling like doing work, just leave it, go out have some fun. Do whatever relaxes you, it will help you in regaining your energy & will to come back and work to achieve your goal.

6 – Don’t be the only user of your product

It doesn’t matter if you have created a beautiful UI/UX, it doesn’t matter if your system can scale to 1 billion users, it doesn’t matter if your fault tolerant algorithm can withstand a nuclear bomb, nothing you have done matters until and unless you have users. Its very easy to get excited over an idea and start building it right away, but never forget: marketing your product is equally important if not greater than building it. Always brainstorm on who is your target audience and how you are going to inform them. Do it before starting implementation of your idea. Answering this question not only gives you better chance of success, it also helps you in creating a better product which people are actually going to use.

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