What’s in a Side Project?

Posted by Jessica Alter /February 28, 2013 / Uncategorized

It’s easy to become stuck in the routine of a day job and lose sight of the interests that truly invigorate you. Side projects are an incredible outlet to tap into your passion, scratch an itch and most importantly, they are the best way to start working with people to figure out if you’re a good potential team. Even if your project never materializes, what you learn during the process is more important. You can see where you flourish and where you fail. See who you work best with and who you can’t stand.  In fact, you might be surprised to hear how many companies have bloomed from modest side projects. Here are a few:

  • Sugar Publishing - Lisa Sugar turned her obsession with celebrity gossip magazines into a blog that she wrote as a hobby. PopSugar is now the flagship in a growing publishing empire that amasses over 20 million unique visitors per month.
  • Texts From Last Night - Ben Bator and Lauren Leto used to shared funny texts from the previous night anonymously with a group of their friends. When they opened up that option to a wider audience, the idea took became a diary of Gen-Y nightly escapades.
  • Twitter - While struggling with Odeo, Jack Dorsey and a small team started working on a service that used SMS to communicate what you were doing in real time.  And thus Twitter was born.
  • Yammer - Genie employees needed a way for staff to communicate internally – Yammer was created. David Sacks spun it out as a separate company, and it was recently acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 billion.
  • 9GAG - Ray Chen, the co-founder of the popular user-generated site, says it started off as just a “fun side project.”  Now millions of people share in the fun.
  • Dogster -While working full-time on a company called One Match Fire, Ted Rheingold and a small team with no external funding started a side project that would become Dogster and Catster.  After reaching 2M unique a month, they were  acquired by SAY media in 2011.
  • Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook from his college dorm room, and it’s become a ubiquitous way to connect and stay in touch.
  • Formspring - Ade Olonoh started the site for fun, but when he saw over a million users register within the first 45 days he knew it was time to turn it into a full-time gig.
  • Craigslist - What started as a fun side project in Craig Newmark’s living room in 1995 stayed that way for four years. In 1999,  it finally became it’s own company and has since grown into one of the busiest sites on the internet.  
  • Dwolla - Ben Milne owned a speaker manufacturing company when he realized how much money he was losing to payment interchange fees. He set out to create a service that would eliminate these fees, and now Dwolla is successfully challenging the credit card industry.
  • Instapaper - Marco Arment, then CTO of Tumblr, wanted to solve a simple problem of not being able to read web articles on the go during transit. He created Instapaper while still working at Tumblr full time, but eventually he transitioned to Instapaper as it went from side project to full-fledged success.
  • FounderDating - Yes, it’s true. Jessica Alter and Saar Gur originally started FounderDating as a side project after lamenting about how most people surround themselves with similar people and needed to find compliments to start companies. It struck a nerve in the Bay Area and is now on a mission to enable entrepreneurs everywhere.

Your side project might not become your full-time company. So what. What it will do is allow you to experiment, learn and start working with people to figure out if want to start a company together.

Know of any other companies that started as #sideprojects? Comment/tweet to us or better yet, go start one.