Every maker I know has a handful of side projects they’re thinking about building. More often than not, the projects don’t end up completed. Here’s a handful of the excuses I’ve heard and definitely used at times:
- It’s already been done.
- The market’s too small.
- It’s not solving a “real” problem, i.e. ending world hunger, reducing our dependance on fossil fuels, or making burrito delivery drones affordable for the masses.
- I don’t have a team.
- I don’t have the time.
- And the ultimate excuse, “Oh yeah, I’m not working on that anymore; I’m working on X instead.” This is the ultimate excuse because ditching old incomplete projects for new incomplete projects gives you the illusion of forward motion, but in reality you’re standing still, not building.
Many of these excuses stem from the notion that the idea doesn’t feel exciting and innovative anymore. In my experience, the best ideas are the ones you work towards and not the initial concept. You’ll never know if it’s a really great idea until you build it. At The Onion, that took the form of riffing on jokes. In tech, it’s iterating on software and design. They’re really the same thing—creative construction towards a better product. But you have to start.
It’s important to remember that for the most part, side projects are just that, side projects. They’re for learning new skills, they’re for meeting new people, and they’re for fun. Assuming those notions, excuses 1-3 fall away. Excuse 6 is bs but there’s an easy fix, just build stuff. Once you start building projects, you quickly stop using that excuse. Excuses 4 and 5 work in tandem. You need a team to stay committed and find time. The best way to find that team is to share your project ideas. Too many people are too secretive about their ideas. Relax, nobody’s trying to clone your nonexistent side project with zero traction.
Here’s an example of how sharing ideas can help your projects get off the ground. This Saturday I was taking a 3D printing class at TechShop when I mentioned to a classmate one of the concepts I wanted to prototype—a bike light with a rider-facing LED panel that displays GPS and notifications from your phone. He paused and said, “You know there’s a team at the Makeathon working on almost exactly that, right?” I had no clue until then, and these guys were literally working one floor above us.
After the class I met Carter, the team lead, and we discovered that our concepts were in fact highly similar. I dropped my plans for the weekend, joined the team, and we ended up winning the hackathon - pretty awesome. What’s more awesome is that our prize was a commitment from IndieGogo to help us launch the product. So, in less than 48 hours we went from what was just another side project idea, to a real device that’s going to be made. Here’s our landing page with more info.
In short, openly sharing your side project ideas is an excellent means of vetting concepts and finding a team to help build the prototype. And really, stealth startups are just lame.