Side Projects

How to start a Side Project. 1. Come up with an idea.

Over the next 17 weeks we will be publishing a new post every week. The concept is starting your first side project. This is part 1: Come up with an idea.

This guide will help you make the most of your time and increase your chances of success. It contains knowledge obtained from personal experience and also by monitoring many solopreneurs online. It is distilled knowledge from hundreds of people who succeeded and many others who failed.

If you have an idea you keep thinking about implementing or even if you don’t have one yet this guide is for you. It will walk you through all the steps you need to go through for your side project to be a success. We’ll discuss finding the right idea, validating it and then we’ll go over the many necessary details that make or break a project.

You may think it’s hard to come up with an idea but it’s actually the easiest part of a side hustle.

Don’t think that you can only get an idea with a eureka moment. There are a number of tricks that can help you. This is what we’ll discuss in this section.


First of all, if you are like most of us you have a list of “cool” domains which you’ve purchased over the years. For example I have registered domains about an app that organizes meetings, a wallpaper sharing website and many more.

So check out the list of your domains. Do you see anything that stands out and could be transformed into a successful app or service? It should be a concept that allows you to charge real money, preferably applicable to companies.

If you don’t have purchased any domains or if your domains don’t look strong enough, don’t worry. Domains don’t matter anymore. Nowadays people just use Google to find what they are looking for. Nobody types the actual domain in the browser anymore. Once you find your idea the domain can be a compound word. For example if your app is called SuperApp the domain can be or something similar.

Examine your workflow

Try to thoroughly examine your daily workflow for pain points. For example Stripe (the famous payments processor) identified the problem that creating a system to charge credit cards over the internet required developers to go through badly written documentation and archaic technology. They created a system that was very easy to implement and their customers loved it.

Every time you work on something that is hard to do you should examine the possibility of an app or service idea. It is very unlikely to be the only person having this problem. If you have it, chances are others are having it too.


Another thing you need to look out for is repetition. Are you constantly doing the same task multiple times a day (or week)? This is another possible opportunity. For example, at the start of the month I get multiple emails with invoices which I then save to a certain Dropbox folder in my computer. Once I collect and organize them by name and date, I forward them to my accountant.

Of course this process takes place only once per month so I’m not sure if I would pay for a tool that solves this problem. However it illustrates the concept of repetition. People are willing to pay for something that automates a repetitive workflow. The reason is that everybody wants to save time if possible.

For example Zapier created a platform that automates all kinds of things. It connects 3000 different apps to allow you to create automations for all kinds of tasks. For example you can automatically save email attachments to your dropbox and have it alert you on slack.


Not everything worth building starts with a problem though. Many times you can “Take a sad song and make it better” as the Beatles used to say. This applies to you especially if you have an interest or background in design.

A lot of existing products have a bad design or in general have an ill designed workflow. This is a chance to take an existing idea/product/concept and create an improved version. For example offers a better way to issue invoices which look more beautiful and more professional. created a better, smarter way to use email. They used innovative thinking to create features such as: the screener, decide if you want to be getting email from someone. The imbox, a place for your IMportant email. The feed, for reading newsletters and casual email.

In our examples people took existing concepts (invoices, email) and brought them to the modern age. The world is full of old concepts in need of a renovation. You think gmail is boring? Why not create a modern gmail client?

Ask people for problems they are facing

If you still don’t have any good ideas, turn to the people around you for inspiration. Ask your coworkers, friends and family about their problems. This opens you up to a new world view as people from other professions share their own views. This allows you to break free from the bubble of your limited perception.

It’s important when asking for opinions to create an environment where people feel genuinely free to share their thoughts. The goal here is to gather information. Don’t criticize their thoughts (yet). The time for idea validation will come later.

Steal an idea

Still can’t get a great idea? Why not steal one? The concept is that it’s ok to steal someone’s idea but you still have to be unique. Take for example pizza restaurants. They copy each other’s concepts but all of them try to differentiate.

The same model can be found in the software world as well. There are many weather apps and there are many todo apps. Sure some of them are more successful than others and some of them make no money at all. But isn’t that the way things go in every business segment?

I’m not proposing that you create clones of things. However if you try to differentiate you can have a reason to exist (and succeed). Instead of the next generic todo app, try to make a todo app that integrates with a company’s intranet, or one that integrates with email systems, or one that uses OCR to scan handwritten todos.

Instead of the next instagram, try a photo sharing site specifically for mobile wallpapers, or one for cat pictures. The list of variations of successful concepts is endless and the only limit is your imagination.