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The evolution of Sideprojects

·6 mins

I’ve been working full-time creating businesses since June of this year. Recently I was having a discussion with my friend and one of the questions that came up was “why I’m on this path”. I’ve never really introspected much on why this particular path, upon following the threads on how I ended up here, I realized the sideprojects I’ve used to do for fun have set me on this particular lane.

Looking deeper, the “sideprojects” have actually played a much more prominent role for me than I’ve realized before.

Sideprojects have different meanings depending on who you speak to. In Indiehacker circles, they’re businesses that are run outside of work. For programmers, they’re software or sometimes hardware projects. On a wider circle, they’re mostly hobby projects.

For me, Sideprojects as a thing have evolved over the years in what they mean and have also played an important role in the directions I have taken in the past.

The earliest iteration - Choosing a career #

The very first kind of “sideproject” was for an idea I had for a comparison voting site that I dabbled in my free time. I didn’t have much coding knowledge, so it was just Adobe Dreamweaver + VBScript. This was 10 years ago.

At that point, I was a server admin for almost 2 years. This project ultimately got me interested in Software engineering as a career. I have many cringeworthy records from that time.

The second act - Getting that job #

Without relevant experience, I know getting my first developer job won’t be easy. So, I wanted to strategize before I even sent out my first application. After asking around on HN, the consensus was “Show, don’t tell”.

I built projects during that time primarily to stand apart from other developers and also to demonstrate skills that I claimed I possessed. Surprisingly, I got a very healthy response whenever I mentioned the projects I’ve built as part of the job application. I even demoed one of the projects on the interview where I later joined. Such projects ultimately landed me my first job.

After 10 years, I still pass on the same advice to college grads wishing to break into any tech role. It isn’t a necessity, but a distinct advantage.

Exploring technologies #

Having experienced the benefits of “projects” firsthand, and also being comfortable with them, I naturally started using sideprojects as a way to learn new tools & technologies. On those days (yes, those days), Github used to have a streak count based on the consecutive number of days you had commits. Among my friends, we used to compete for the longest streak on just coding. I familiarised myself with golang, react, python, and more through this.

I also built several projects during this time, many open-source (nothing useful), that building projects eventually ended up becoming my hobby/habit.

Even today, if I want to learn any new stuff, the quickest way for me to pick that up is by building something with it. Be it design, writing or even stuff like SEO & marketing.

Getting outside validation #

Along this journey, a project of mine got its first external validation. And a huge reception at that.

I launched a weekend project of mine called “The Beginnings” on Product Hunt mostly for fun. After posting, it was just crickets and I pretty much forgot about it. 3 days later, I received a notification that it was featured by PH and has got more than 1000 upvotes.

This was the first time a project of mine was actually being seen (& used) by other people. I remember that time, I used to follow the live dashboard and note down the countries visitors are coming from. Then search that country on Google maps and visualize that someone out there has randomly come across my app and is browsing through a website that I made. It was exhilarating.

The $ bill #

Coming from the high of “success” of the project, I wanted to continue and replicate that. Along those lines, me and my friend were just brainstorming ideas to work on something together.

We ended up building and launching Finesseapp. It was a tool to schedule the deletion of Dropbox files. I don’t exactly remember how we ended up on that particular idea.

When I launched this on ProductHunt, it unsurprisingly did not receive even a 10th of the upvotes as the previous weekend project. But, I got another variation of “popularity”.

A couple of famous tech review sites picked up the launch and wrote about the tool. From there, few more did, and then a some more and it continued on for a while. As a result, the project started getting a steady stream of new users.

I realize now how lucky I was in both these instances to get such free marketing. Today, I can’t replicate even half of these results for any of my new businesses. Marketing takes real effort (will write more about this later).

Motivated by this, I introduced some premium features, like automated rules for deletion, folder management, and so on. After releasing the subscription, I got my first subscription within an hour of sending the email.

I still remember that moment when the first subscription notification came in for a $34.50 (annual) plan.

This was my first internet $. I remember thinking how awesome it is that someone real out there, saw the tool that I made, used it, and then decided it was worth sharing their money for it! When they don’t even know me. It was crazy.

To the business end #

Since then, I have been hooked and have been on that path, to build more products, make them more useful, and find more customers whose lives are made easier by things that I make. All the while trying to make a business out of it.

Eventually, I ended up here today working for myself.

Not all roses #

Before this, when I was still building those money-making projects on the side, I used to nostalgize and relish about the time when sideprojects were just a fun outlet to build wacky stuff or to learn something new.

It being a mini-business instead of a project, with the sole goal of making money from it, sucked the joy out of it. Suddenly every time you spend has to be accountable and the things you want to work on need to be evaluated from the business value it can bring. There’s no place for “why not” when wanting to build something.

I’ve grumbled about it a lot in the past. I feel the side"businesses" have replaced the side"projects" quietly under the same guise.

I didn’t set out to create businesses from the get-go. I think it has a lot to do with the type of projects I’ve received recognition or feedback on. For example, if monetary projects like finesse didn’t receive visibility or if any of my open-source stuff got more exposure, I probably would’ve ended up on a different path.

A full circle #

Now that I’m full-time working for myself, and especially with whatever I was doing as “sideprojects”, the space & time the projects used to occupy are suddenly free.

With that, the sideprojects have once again come back to exclusively fun hobby projects in their earliest form for me. It almost feels like it has completed an evolution cycle of its own, coming full circle and becoming just “fun” projects once again.

I seriously hope this time it doesn’t evolve any further :).