April 28, 2019

Multiple projects at once or focus on just a single one?

Daniel Heinz @danielheinz


I would like to know if some of you started working on let’s say 2-3 products/ideas at the same time.

If so, how do you manage the time and effort between those projects and would you either be working on a single product/idea or is it fine managing several businesses?

Surely both approaches are beneficial regarding a few aspects.

  1. 16

    I think you'll quickly discover that to make any project truly successful, it will take your full focus....If it's a solo project.

    But if learning is more important to you than making money, then it doesn't matter.

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      Agree, especially if it's a side project. I'm 6 years in a side project outside my day job, it is still growing and could already provide for myself. (I'm not taking the risk yet.) My biggest mistakes were two other projects that I tried to start during those 6 years, which stalled me for 1-2 years all together.

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        Just because it's your business doesn't mean you have to someday quit your job and work at your business full time. Since it's clearly the type of business you can manage while still working, you could easily hire employees to that business and manage it while keeping your day job. It doesn't sound normal but in a time where lots of people work remotely, it becomes normal real quick.

        In my opinion, if you're lucky enough to have a day job where you fit in, feel fully comfortable, good coworkers, good bosses, good benefits, and are actually smiling at work...that's hitting the lottery and that situation is worth way more than the paycheck.

        The social aspects of being an employee is something you'll never get again if you work at your own company. Everyone is your employee rather than equal coworkers so the camaraderie and office dynamics are never the same which is a big minus.

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          You are right about the social aspect of being employed, however, my personal situation is a bit different from your assumptions. I am a bit tired of being employed at a big corporation albeit great so I am really trying to retire from the job and want to do my own thing.
          Regarding my business, I cannot outsource the project as my main competitive advantage is technical difficulty/skill so it won't scale easily. I'm not complaining though as it is growing and is interesting to work on.

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            sounds like you've set yourself up for a good transition either way. thinking about it now, I guess if you liked your job that much you wouldn't have started the side hustle 6 years ago to begin with. best of luck.

    2. 2

      FWIW I don't think this is true.

      For software, probably it is. For SaaS, it's almost certainly true.

      But a lot of projects which can make money don't take much time at all...

      As long as you focus only on the tasks which move the needle (something most beginner founders are terrible at).

      For example:

      • an ecommerce store
      • an info product or course
      • a consulting product or productised service
      • ...

      These are all projects which can make serious money, fast, and only need a few hours a week.

      And I say that as someone who has now done all 3 of the above reasonably successfully as a side project in the past.

      That said, I don't recommend starting multiple projects at once. Especially if you're a first-time founder. Prioritising on one project is hard... on 2+ projects is even harder!

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        This isn't about people who have experience and already know a business inside and out. I think this is about sharing experiences and helpful advice people can use to improve their chances of success when they're starting out.

        My question for you is this. You're saying you started multiple business at the same time as a solo founder and were successful with three. First of all, what do you consider to be reasonable success? Secondly, if you have three business that are making money, there is always going to be one that is better than the others. It might be more profitable, it might have the most market potential, it might cause the least amount of stress, it might be the easiest to scale, it might just be the most pleasant, or maybe all the customers are women buying bikinis who need your advice on which one looks better on them.

        If you have three side projects that are starting to show potential and are making money, why would you continue to work on the other two businesses that aren't as good as the best the one?

        For example, lets say you're marketing an ebook or digital course and you've figured out how to market it and produce sales with a healthy profit margin. What motivates you to continue to operate a productized consulting business that you've found is much less scaleable with much lower profit margins? Or the ecommerce store that you've determined is much more expensive to market with much lower profit margins?

        I guess the question is, if one business is clearly better (easier to generate profit) than the other two, why would you continue to invest your time and money (as a solo founder) on the other two when it would be in your best interests to go all in on the best one?

        Also, when you first started your journey, you started with one project/business, what made you want to stop what you were doing and then start on other project before the first project/business was making money?

        Lastly, which of these drives you more, learning or profit?

        There are lots famous entreprenuers who operate multiple businesses successfully, so it's clearly possible just like how large corporations sell lots of products...but I think it's more interesting to learn how normal people think and operate, especially when starting out.

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          First of all, what do you consider to be reasonable success?

          $100+ profit/hour working on the project.

          If you have three side projects that are starting to show potential and are making money, why would you continue to work on the other two businesses that aren't as good as the best the one?

          Some people just tick that way. I always have a main project and 1-2 small side projects.

          They aren't allowed to interfere with my main project - but the change of pace is refreshing and helps me recharge/keeps me sane. Like a hobby!

          It let's me scratch an itch I can't with my main (serious) project.

          I know @Shpigford is similar, for one.

          I guess the question is, if one business is clearly better (easier to generate profit) than the other two, why would you continue to invest your time and money (as a solo founder) on the other two when it would be in your best interests to go all in on the best one?

          The simple answer here is that maximising profit !== my best interests.

          Also, when you first started your journey, you started with one project/business, what made you want to stop what you were doing and then start on other project before the first project/business was making money?

          AFAIK, I didn't. When I left my first real business, it was doing 6-figures in revenue. I had played around with projects before that, but more as a maker/wannapreneur.

          Lastly, which of these drives you more, learning or profit?

          In life, learning. In work/business, profit.

          In both, my main driver is actually helping people solve their pain (and getting paid to do so). The best way to build a business is to understand the customer and create a win-win scenario. And I find doing that addictive :)

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            You sound like an extremely well adjusted individual. Other than being born perfect, what is it in your life that helps you to maintain such a balanced approach? You must have some obsession, hobby, or passion that allows you to avoid becoming too dependent on the outcomes of your work endeavors? Without getting too personal of course...

            What's your secret to keeping your personal and business interests separate?

            Good job mom and dad!

            Out of curiousity, were either of your parents teachers?

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              You sound like an extremely well adjusted individual.

              Is that sarcasm? (apologies if not, I've just never seen someone say that unsarcastically)

              Out of curiousity, were either of your parents teachers?

              Yes :)

              I'm definitely not perfect nor am I particularly well adjusted when it comes to work life balance.

              In fact, one of my main goals for 2019 is to become less dependent on work, and rebuild a lot of the social network/friendships/hobbies I had before starting to work on my own projects...

              I'm not at all the person you want to go to for advice on how to do that!

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                No, I wasn't being sarcastic brother. You don't give yourself enough credit. If we were talking in person, I would have said something like, how well adjusted you are makes me sick.

                Balance means different things to different people. To me, you're balanced because of the way you think about and approach business. Healthy, big picture...marathon, not a sprint.

                Your responses were sincere, and I practically predicted your parents were teachers because I have lots of friends who sound like they could be your twin brothers. It doesn't take a genius to spot the pattern, smart people come from smart parents and for whatever reason like half of my friends parents went the teacher/prof route.

                As for work/life balance, what is that?

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                thank you so much for the comments so far. Pretty interesting conversation with awesome viewpoints!

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            ah the win-win scenario. I wish more people talked about this huge little nugget because it's so hard to achieve. I think it's because it requires more creativity and imagination than your every day business-solution type of business.

            I think the days of the Oracle hostage approach are behind us now and in the long run, the business and leaders who are good at identifying or developing win-wins are the ones who will come out on top. Good reminder!

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      This comment was deleted a year ago.

  2. 3

    I tried doing (large & unrelated) 2 things last Feb, failed at both. Big stuff takes time, especially if time is a constraint(deadlines!).

    If your multiple projects are related to each other, go ahead. In this case, working on any one also helps another(in some way). So this probably can't hurt.

    If working on unrelated projects, 🚧⚠❓. Answer these for yourself:
    Q1. If you could work on 1 project only, which one would it be ? (Forget the rest for this step.) This is your project A.
    Q2. How much time will 'A' take per day/week ?
    Q3. Is there any time left ? Why ?
    If there is still time left after answering Q3, allot it to other projects.

    Note: This process is meant to ensure you don't fail project A. If failing can't hurt your situation, by all means, do everything.

    1. 1

      thank you! will definitely go through this process and iterate as much as needed.

  3. 3

    Depends. And appropro, as I'm exploring something new this week.. in the middle of an existing project! As a kid, I'd build new things all the time out of Legos. I'd keep them for awhile, rip them apart, and build something new, more streamlined, and cooler. Learn new techniques, new artistry. Now.. I have a full time day job and do other contracting work to put food on the table. Neither of those bring my any closer to realizing my dreams. So for the last couple of decades, I have tended to work on multiple projects/prototypes. Something gets my 100% focus when it gets significant traction or investment, until I play out the hand as far as it can go.

    I've also poured my focus into things which went nowhere (learning mistakes from validation/execution, etc) and so at this stage I'm more comfortable with setting up multiple beach heads. Sometimes things click together because I have lots of different inputs and tech/life experience, and that means something new and beautiful stands in front of me waving seductively for awhile. If it doesn't go away, I explore it a bit. Nowadays I try to validate more before just BUILDING. I also try not to rally up a team until I know I will focus.

    Sometimes it's just a quick exploration. I'm fairly well-disciplined thanks to tools like Clubhouse. If a projects gets substantial traction, it will absolutely receive more focus. However if I can bring it to the point where it needs less oversight, I will let it run, and try to automate what I can. This approach lets me switch gears and hone skills in lot of areas, and it's getting easier to spin things up. I kind of think of it as increasing my overall success potential through iterations of ME and my process, versus trying to increase or establish value through multiple iterations of a single project.

    Underneath some of this, I am well aware that my weaknesses are very much in marketing/sales, while building incredibly complex things alone quickly is something I am really good at. I also am not very good at exiting a project yet. I have spent hundreds of hours learning, but not enough hour practicing (or trying) those things. Trying to address that now!

    Talk to an investor, and they will want you to focus on one thing exclusively. Which is absolutely fair.

  4. 3

    I have a primary project that I focus on and some teeny tiny fun projects I tinker with when I get bored with the primary project.

    Taking a break from your primary focus is a great way to clear the cobwebs out and get a creative boost.

  5. 3

    Wow! this should elicit some strong opinions on either side. I've heard both in talking to several people. It goes something like this in short -

    1. "One thing" proponents - Focus is the key. Get one thing done at a time.
    2. Multi-tasking proponents - You can multi-task and get more stuff done as long as you are good at what you're doing.

    So, it depends on your abilities and where you fit, IMO.

    Personally, I tend to multi-task as it seems to help me with one thing especially; i.e., overcome my creative block while working on "one thing". :) In other words, I work on the other project when I'm stumped on my main project.

    1. 1

      Thank you!
      Yes it definitely has to do with your character and how you can handle such things. I’m probably also more of the „multi tasking“ type of guy.

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        I remember reading somewhere that most people think they can multi-task well but this is not true. So, do test yourself :)

  6. 2

    I wouldn't necessarily START multiple projects at once, unless perhaps you are starting a project and a second project is an offshoot of the main project (like say, an open source library that you needed).

    It's really hard to start things, blank canvas syndrome or whatever it's called, so starting 2-3 new things at once seems like a recipe for disaster.

    Instead of diving right into a bunch of projects, have you tried to validate each of them? Ideas are easy and, no offense, there's probably a high likelihood that only 1 of your ideas is actually a viable project to pursue (maybe). Will save you a ton of time instead of just throwing all of the darts and hoping one of them sticks.

    With all that being said, I do maintain 2 active side projects, work full time, blog weekly (for two sites), keep the fam happy and try to contribute to open source as regularly as I can. Could my side projects benefit from me being full time? Sure, but that doesn't guarantee success either.

    Having a full plate does give you the a constraint on your time. Said constraint is amazingly valuable because time is limited, you are forced to either waste time on stuff that doesn't matter or focus on the tasks that will help move the needle and benefit your project / business.

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      Hi Josh,

      you are absolutely right. I am currently working on a project which is kinda like a vision I try to pursue.

      It started off with a single project/product and I‘d like to build upon this vision by developing additional products.

      I am definitely going to validate every idea before I spend a lot of time and resources on it.

  7. 2

    Personally, I find it helpful to have several ideas floating around in my head, but usually just build one thing at a time. (Takes me 1-3 months to build something btw)

  8. 2

    I don't yet have anything that would justify all of my focus. I have several modest projects that are mostly on autopilot and I only occasionally need/want to work in them.

    If you don't have anything fully supporting you or moving in that direction, I would recommend having several irons in the fire to see if anything begins demanding or justifying more of your time.

  9. 2

    Instead of thinking of how many projects you create, I would think of how many different niches/very defined sets of customers you serve, and for what problems. This would already help you re-focus which projects you should be working on.

  10. 2

    I think the tradeoff is: exploration vs exploitation (or breadth vs depth). It’s important to focus, but on what? Exploring can help you make sure you don’t land up in a local maxima.

  11. 2

    There are two answers. When you are in exploration mode, work on as many things as you can manage while still being able to adequately explore each idea and give it it's fair chance. Once an idea catches either traction or your obsession - the point where you feel it is worth cutting off the other ideas for it - focus is extremely important and working on any other idea at the same time is likely a distraction.

    The only exception to the fact that additional ideas are likely distractions in build mode is that sometimes you'll need to take your mind off of your main project in order to keep inspired and sane. If you find another project to be inspiring, then go for it, as long as it doesn't take your attention away from your main goal.

    Lastly, this really depends on your personality, your discipline, and the nature of the ideas that you are pursuing.

  12. 2

    It really depends on your goals and expectations, if you're looking for revenue-generating projects you'll have to launch as many businesses as you can, now I am doing a mvp pretty much every week, if one of them get a lot of exposure and traction, I'll focus on that specific one otherwise what's the point building a better version of a shitty product no one wants to use, right?

    The hard question is how do you know when to move to the next project? sometimes your marketing plan sucks and you start making assumptions, I'd say if you can be sure that the marketplace doesn't need/adopt your business then you build something else without shutting down the previous one.

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      It's time to move on when you've made all the sacrifices you're willing to make for that business because it's not worth it to you.

      Knowing when to move on is super simple. Like anything serious, you write down goals with deadline dates. When those goals are not hit by the deadline dates, it's hammer time.

    2. 1

      Thanks for the answer!

      Do you have a team of people to help you out? I can imagine that handling 1 MVP per week can be very time consuming assuming that you already are managing multiple businesses.

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        It's not time consuming if you reuse 70% of the code ;) hit me up if you need help building a mvp

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          Hey I am currently building a mvp. I try to build as much to be reusable as possible but often feel like in this case I need much custom stuff. Could you please share some tips and tricks and maybe also ressources for building an mvp.

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            Hire me

  13. 2

    I have a full-time, freelance gig (teaching) and a side-project. I have to say that the side-project frequently suffers because there are things I have to do immediately in order to keep the money coming in.

    So, if they complement each other, more than one might work. Or, if you don't have a lot of pressure and can do things at your own pace... Then, go for it. But I think you'll wind up having one that's getting traction and becomes "your main gig."

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      Thats correct. It probably depends on what projects they are and how much help you can get.

  14. 2

    Focus is always important. But if you already have something going that needs less oversight, then you can take up a new project and just give the other project a few hours a day.
    So I do have 3 projects I work on, but one of it takes more than 80% of my time.

    1. 1

      thank you for the reply!

  15. 2

    I currently have my main one and are working on two side projects.

    Main gig: my digital agency www.auroradigital.eu

    Side gig 1: we at aurora are setting up a side service using our resources at aurora (hoping to reveal it here on indiehackers end of next month)

    Side gig 2: building a small SaaS for influencer marketers on Instagram.

    For the first two gigs I spend most of my time in managing and on the third I code this way I have a good variety in what I do

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      This is a great point. Working on multiple projects at the same time is more doable when you're working with other people.

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        That’s probably the most important aspect! It may be doable at the beginning, but at the end you need to have a team assisting you when the business is growing.

    2. 1

      Thank you and good luck with your projects!

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  16. 1

    It's really hard(I've tried it myself) if your startup is about a product/new idea, you need to keep thinking about it all day back of your head, doing that for multiple ideas is very hard.

  17. 1

    I found out that running multiple, but related (ex: all being SaaS, all in semi-conductor industry, etc.), projects helps trying multiple approaches in parallel effectively. Who hasn't re-build a version 2.0 from scratch, then realize that some of the choices done in v1.0 were actually better in some ways? It also helps come up with "framework"/"platform"/"full-solution" business models. Only when you have built a dozen e-commerce sites does it start to make sense to build a Shopify-like business.

  18. 1

    I've read other places and seen from others that taking on multiple can work, but works best when you've mastered something already. It is also not a good fit for SaaS as others have mentioned. If we can do things as a side hustle, we could turn several side hustles into a sustainable business model.

    I'm in SaaS and contemplated this, but not until I get the marketing part down and build business systems that can be run by other people if I want to step out for a few months.

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      Thank you!

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    This comment was deleted a year ago.

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    This comment was deleted a year ago.

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      I've always done something similar to stay productive while reducing stress. I was a truck driver during college or I painted houses in the summer...therapeutic type work while getting paid.

    2. 1

      I do this also, but I use my day job for that.