How Developers Can Turn a Side Project into a Business

How Developers Can Turn a Side Project into a Business

Are you an engineer or developer who practices that two-for-one life hack of learning new skills by taking on a side project? It may be time for you to take that side-project and turn it into a business! 

Whether your goal is to generate side income with a humble app or become a millionaire through obsessive focus, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t get started. Here are some tips to help you bring your side project to life:

Validate

Every side-project starts with an idea. Maybe you are trying to make something easier for yourself or you wanted to learn a new skill. Maybe you have what you think is a totally unique idea that would be a game-changer or maybe you just wanted to make a mind-numbing game for fun. 

Talk to Friends and Family

Whatever the reason, you never know if it’s going to be something worth putting out into the world unless you ask! Talk to friends and family about your idea and validate whether there’s potential for this personal project to go out into the world.

Research the Competition

If it passes the friends and family test, it’s officially worth spending the minor extra effort to research the existing market. With 30 minutes of google search (yes, you can do a LOT more than that, but the point is that it’s easy) you can find out who else is in the space and how they do what you’re trying to do. Maybe no one has solved this problem, or maybe that have, but you know a way to do it better or cheaper. 

Talk to a Product Manager

An experienced product manager may be able to offer a lot of insight and help you focus your project even in one or two conversations. Maybe you have so many cool ideas you have no idea where to start because they’re all great. Newsflash: you can’t do them all at once. Start thinking about your MVP so you can do as little as possible to begin testing, learning, and iterating.

Test

You won’t really know anything until you start testing. This process is unique for you because most people who want to build software have to pay engineers and designers, which means they often need investment before they even have a product. But not you!

Build Your MVP

MVP is about doing as little as possible while still doing enough to learn something from the testing. 

Don’t build your five-year product vision. Build a piece of it. Does this mean you build a sub-par version of everything you want to do in five years? No. Pick a singular user flow or requirement and build it as cleanly and functionally as possible.

Test and Iterate

Another unique process for you as an engineer. Because (theoretically) this is still just a fun side-project for you, you have a diffused sense of urgency. You can spend some more time iterating before release to get everything right. 

*Slippery slope alert: many people can let this step run way too long, thinking it’s not ready. Guess what? Your product will always be improvable. The trick here is to make sure you know exactly the scope of your MVP (including the problem it needs to solve, the way it’s getting solved, and the successes in testing that should determine it’s time to go live).

Start Thinking About Pricing

While you’re testing you can also start thinking about your pricing structure for the next phase. Don’t be afraid to ask your testers what they would expect to pay for this product or service!

Plan

Yes, this is a necessary step. However, I am going to very purposefully gloss over it. Why? Because too many people get caught planning everything and never just take the plunge. You really will never know what’s going to happen until you go live, and all the planning in the world won’t predict the future precisely.

Plan the Critical Pieces Only

What are the critical parts of your plan? Only those that have to do with getting your software into the hands of your first paying customers. Once you have revenue, you can make all kinds of decisions. If you don’t know something, you can use that money to hire someone who does!

This means, at the very least, knowing how you plan to make money, how you are going to market, and if you need money to do so. Are you going to be a free app on the app store with advertising income? Do you need to spend money on marketing or have actual salespeople to sell the product? 

Find financing (if you need it)

If your plans turn out to require funding beyond the initial time investment you made to build the MVP, you’ll need to spend more time here because you’ll need to convince someone to fund you. The key to financing is knowing how much you actually need. At this point, hiring someone to help with a detailed initial business plan can be worth the investment to bring a level of professionalism to your proposal. However, if you don’t need that money, it’s time for the last step…

Go!

Take the plunge!

Are you worried about your plans not going the way you wanted? Something unexpected happening? People not responding to your app or using it the way you think they should? Worried something will break or that something is missing? 

Let me help you with those concerns: all of those things are 100% guaranteed to happen. 

The key is your expectations. The only known is the unknown and the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. This is a critical mindset to adopt, to learn to thrive in chaos and remain agile and motivated. This is really what running a business is all about. If you have any aspirations at seeing your baby go out into the world (and maybe coming back to pay you a ton of money), then you need to get over your fears and simply try.