Practical Strategies for (Finally) Starting Your Side Project


Twitter, Gmail, Virgin Atlantic and Craigslist all started out as side projects: here’s how to launch your own


According to our Editor-in-Chief, Lisa Messenger.

Do the time. A side project isn’t going to start itself so no matter how busy your day job is, it’s vital that you allocate time to nurture it. Take a tip from Google’s now defunct 20% policy, which allowed employees to take one day off a week to work on their own passions, and gave birth to Gmail, Google News and Adsense. What could you achieve in 20% of your work week? Marco Arment, the co-founder of Tumblr who launched Instapaper as a side project, spent just 4 to 8 hours per week working on the article-saving app, which has since been acquired by Pinterest.

Tell your boss. We’ve all heard stories of bestselling authors who wrote entire books at their desks without their managers noticing. But, as an entrepreneur who believes in transparency, trust and authenticity, I think it’s far better to let your superiors in on your side venture than to keep it a secret. A good boss is interested in their employee’s extracurricular activities and they might have advice or resources to share with you. If you’re worried they’ll think your work will suffer, show them this study which found that employees with side projects are more collaborative and productive in the office.

Learn whilst launching. You don’t have to choose between studying and start-upping. Some of the most incredible entrepreneurs I know do both simultaneously, and say each area of their life inspires the other (two words: Mark Zuckerberg!) The key is flexibility. When we launched our Graduate Certificate in Collective Entrepreneurship with Torrens University, we made sure the entire course could be completed online from anywhere. This means that students, regardless of their situations, could choose their own non-linear path and do it all on their own terms. Plus, it acts as place to test your value proposition in a safe environment, whilst practising your resilience and ability to work under pressure before you hit the real world. The course commences on the 20th of February, with limited spots available. Get to know more about it here.

Find a crowd. Enter a hackathon, go to a networking event or head to a local coworking space and hang out in their kitchen. Basically, go anywhere that you can talk about your idea freely and (hopefully) confidently. Studies show that sharing your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. It’s also a great way to problem solve and feed off other people’s enthusiasm. At tech start-up Slack, they actively encourage employee side projects and team members shares their passions across social media channels using the hashtags #craft and #sf-jam-sessions (for musicians in the San Francisco office).

Keep it simple. The tech discovery startup ProductHunt, which was acquired by Angellist for a reported US$20 million, started life as a simple email list that it’s founder Ryan Hoover used to share cool products with his friends. It’s a similar story with craigslist, which started as an email chain where friends shared events listings and items the wanted to sell. Although I understand the urge to want to make a perfect product before launching, some of the best start-ups in the world were launched as ‘stickmen’ – and their clothes were added later! Set your idea free!


Lisa Messenger



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