"My name is Peter–"
[together] “Hii, Peter”
"–and I can’t stop starting new projects.."
That’s how I feel I should introduce myself, sometimes– as an addict. Because I can’t stop building side projects. Often, concurrently. Affiliate sites, clothing brands, e-commerce stores, crazy kickstarters. Jesus, and that’s just the ones people know about.
And don’t mistake this for gloating; most of them failed, and some I continue to string along, unable to let go. I’m writing this to caution others, and to share my recent journey into rehabilitation.
All of the signs of addiction are present. The glazed look in my eyes after over-indulging on r/Entrepreneur, ProductHunt and the IndieHackers forums. The voices I hear, pushing me to start something new (or is that all of the podcasts?)
Money? It’s barely about the money. It's the rush. Being able to stand back, look at your bastardized creation and say, “I built that, damnit.” I feel like a Mormon family tasked with repopulating the world– relentlessly birthing new children that I love dearly, and equally. But also, so many mouths to feed..
If this sounds like you– just know, that I know. I know how good it feels to get your first customer. I know how when you’re shoe-stringing it, paid ads can feel like you're throwing money into the wind. I know the look on your friend's and family’s faces when you say, (for the ninth time) “I’m starting something new…”
So how’d we get here?
Most fellow-addicts I meet are either developers or designers. I am the latter. And as graphic/web designer who specialized in marketing, I found myself creating logos, writing ad copy, developing campaigns, and coding landing pages. Building these for other people starts to leech into other areas of your life. You start thinking “that’s not how I would do it”, or “ooh, that could be a tagline”. It creeps in slow.
Combine that with the ability to quickly visualize an idea and spin up a website? You’re about to chase the dragon, friend.
And it’s not just designers and developers anymore. With an increasing number of mockup tools, photo/image editors, and stupid-simple web template marketplaces, nearly anyone is susceptible to entrepreneurship. And there are risks.
“Don’t be a square, tell me about the HIGH, man!"
Fine. I should explain what I think are the benefits of bringing lots of projects to life. You should know by now that a business is 1% idea, and 99% execution. To get great at something, you need practice (or 10,000 hours, so says Malcolm Gladwell). So what better way than to do it? Do LOTS of it?
Each of my side projects has been entirely different from one another, the ideas often stemming from real-life annoyances. The benefit of this was expanding my network of knowledge. Building an e-commerce store takes different strategies and tools than starting an affiliate blog, or a web application. And when you’re researching for one project, you may come across a skill or resource that is perfect for the other.
This internal ecosystem of learning is what drives my addiction. I learn by building and putting things into practice, not by memorizing online startup guides. Mistakes were made in my earlier projects that I’m thankful I knew to avoid in later ones. I feel more prepared and qualified for each new endeavor (even if it’s an entirely new field), because I’ve done so many of the steps before.
…. so you should try it, maybe just once.
Going off the edge
So you went and started a new side project. You’re not even sure YOU love it yet, let alone want to tell your friends or coworkers. So you keep it hidden. It’s your dirty little secret.
Maybe it’s a slow day at work, so you start tweaking a landing page in the middle of the day, or maybe you watch an unrelated tutorial at work (quick, switch tabs!). This reality is why some trendy companies are starting to offer time for their employees to openly work on side projects. But that's playing with fire, in my opinion.
Does it make employees happy? Well, sure. But it’s a slippery slope. And you have to really read the fine print on who owns the intellectual property if you're building something on company time.
Where things get interesting is when you begin to think about your side project(s) more than your day job, no matter what level of progress or success they may currently be. This is a problem for both you and your employer. I found myself focusing all my energy and brainpower on my side projects (upset, even, that I was unable to devote more time), and not what would further my company's goals and my daytime career.
At this point, I was juggling way too much by myself, but I was addicted to the feeling of ticking everything off my to-do list every day. I knew I couldn't continue at this pace. Something had to give.
So I quit my day job.
Not the rehabilitation you expected? Neither did I.
I chose my addiction.
The addiction to building my own products will be a lifelong affliction, and I knew that I would always be half-assing both my day job AND my own projects if I continued working for other people. And that sounded like a lose-lose scenario. But I knew that more than a few things needed to change if I was going to do this.
Without the safety net of a day job salary, I learned quickly to ditch the blind, parental love for each and every project. The pressure was on.
Despite the knowledge that comes from working on a variety of projects, I knew that if I wanted to succeed in a big way, I needed to focus the majority of my time on one. It needed to be something I could confidently talk to anyone and everyone about.
Right now, that one is Guestboard.co - a messaging platform that allows wedding guests to interact before a wedding, among other key features. After attending more than 12 weddings in the last year and a half, it’s something I’m passionate about and see long-term potential in the event industry as a whole. The MVP testing will begin in late January, with just about 180 engaged couples on the waitlist.
I also know now that I can't continue to do everything myself, despite how satisfying it is. So my priority is connecting with people to work alongside that will push me to meet my daily, weekly, yearly goals, and bring them aboard. I'm still on the hunt for a kickass advisor, and I make a point to step away from the computer and network with other creators 3 times a week.
As for my other side projects, I wish I could say that it’s as easy as stopping cold-turkey, pulling the plug on the small ones, and focusing on the big idea. But in my case, the passive income of two of my side projects, along with my wife’s salary, is paying the rent and bills. So I’ll still get my fix, for now. But at a controlled pace.
The rest will fall by the wayside, as a silent reminder of all that I’ve learned and experienced so far.
Advice for other addicts:
• Learn to recognize what exactly you’re addicted to. I was drawn to using my design skill set to addressing different problems whenever I came across them. But I bit off more than I could chew. If you simply like a challenge and creating solutions, try to get your fix by focusing on challenges within your core project.
• Expanding on the above, if you feel the NEED to start another side project, make it work for your main one! Here's a great Indie Hackers post on using side projects to creatively market and drive traffic to your core product.
• Come up with a rubric that helps you decide what idea is worth pursuing. Just because there’s a small problem out there doesn’t mean you should devote 10 hrs/week to it.
• Your time is valuable. I'm all for learning how to do something yourself, but know your limits and hire freelancers to do some work for you. It's not a waste of money. If you can't afford to hire a freelancer for a few hours, you cant afford multiple side projects. It buys you time and helps you practice your leadership– something you'll need more of when this thing takes off.
Thanks for reading!
Getting hitched soon? Read why you should treat your wedding guests like customers.
And if you want your guests to feel like part of the family, and share more than their dance moves, sign up for the Guestboard waitlist.