The Trick to a Great Side Project: Make It Super Crazy

July 25, 2017

10:50 am

Being crazy generally isn’t considered a great idea in any business. Radical changes like Medium’s pivot away from advertising or even simply a weird rebranding choice like tronc or Oath can set a company up for endless ridicule. But when you’re starting a side project as a hobby, going crazy is really the best approach available to you.

If You’re Not Going Crazy, You’re Too Incremental

When you’re trying out a weird side-business that could disrupt one market or another, you need to make it stand out. You can’t simply make a tiny improvement over the status quo: No one will notice or care if they can continue living their life as normal instead. To be seen, you need to be new. And in order to be new, you’ll need to be weird.

Writing on, entrepreneur Thomas Boogaerts recently posted a collection of insights culled from the archives of the Indie Hackers blog, which picks the brains of successful independent entrepreneurs. The whole post is great, but two quotes in particular stood out to me.

First, Sebastian Dobrincu broke it down best. He built “a neural net for high frequency trading as a side project,” and earned $3,500 a month off of it.

“I can’t stress enough the power of side projects,” Sebastian said in the Indie Hackers interview. “Side projects allow you to experiment on crazy ideas without being labeled as crazy. And even when people do judge you based on this, you can just pull the, “Yeah, it’s just a side project” card.

And definitely go for the craziest idea you have in mind. That’s how most of the successful companies started (talk Facebook, Uber, AirBnb). You probably don’t want to spend your most precious resource (time), building yet another Snapchat clone. Every problem has a solution. You just have to be creative enough to find it.”

But Solve a Real Problem

The other interview subject, Naveen Mishra, co-founded a “crowdraising” business, and had this to say:

“What I do want to underscore is audacity. There can be a negative connotation to solving tiny problems and having side hustles, so one thing I always tell people I meet is always solve real problems and have skin in the game. It’s easy to see when an entrepreneur’s heart isn’t in it. It’s easy to ride a wave, but make sure you are riding and not coasting.”

Audacity, craziness — whatever you call it, it’s a key component to a great side project. And it’s the main reason people love browsing Product Hunt for the newest weirdo service, from a music recommendation newsletter to a gradient design tool called “Grabient.”


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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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