Launching successful side projects

Updated: May 27 2021

Starting a new project can be a daunting process. Often we start with an idea in our head, then picture the final outcome – a finely polished product, the ideal scenario.

At this early stage it might feel like an impossible task to get there, like you’re at the foot of a mountain unable to see the summit.

This is the point where a lot of us give up or start feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead. It’s so easy to feel like this. You’ve imagined up this big idea and you have no idea where to start.

If you manage to get past that first stage, congratulations, you’re half way there. But maybe now you’re working tirelessly around the clock to perfect your product in time for launch. Then you launch, expecting great things to happen and an unmanageable stream of interest to come flooding in.

In reality it’s often the complete opposite. Maybe this sounds familiar or at least you know someone who’s been there. I feel like we all have in some form at some point in our lives. Be it when launching new a business, working on an article, writing a book or whatever.

Here’s some ideas I’ve picked up along the way, to give you the best possible chance of launching products that don’t fall flat on their face, leaving you feeling disheartened and ready to chuck it all in.

Get your ideas out there #

If you don’t have a product yet, don’t let that stop you. Launch your ideas instead. Before you even entertain the idea of building a product, get your ideas out there in their rawest form. This is a very low risk way of proving a concept and validating the potential of your ideas.

It’s the easiest way to test the water and see if people like what you’re building. The worst thing you can do is waste your time and energy working on something no one wants. If you’re building something interesting, then start telling people about it. What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you’ll start a few more conversations and open a few more doors. Whatever it is, trust that only good things will happen.

Launch before you’re ready #

I’ve read a lot lately on why we should in fact be launching polished products from day one, but I remain firmly rooted in the camp that says launch your product before it’s ready. If you know what’s what you will have already launched when it was just an idea in it’s infancy.

As we all know, products and business are a constant work in progress, inevitably they evolve and change in time. Like our own lives, they take a great deal of iteration and fine tuning, they require us to listen to ourselves and our audience, in order to truly understand the direction to take.

So if you’re waiting for the perfect time to launch, know that day will never come. If your work is never be done, then there is no perfect time to launch. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you perfect it, before you release it. Launch now, perfect later.

Always work on more than one thing #

When I said launch ideas I didn’t mean ’launch an idea’. The cold reality is most projects will fail, so don’t go put all your energy into just one. Launch as many ideas as you can, then see which sticks. That way you won’t get hung up if one fails, as more than likely you will just shift your focus to the one with more potential.

Think about how all todays great companies started for a second. A lot of them were side projects or just simple far flung ideas. At least they were nothing like they do today. Think Air Bed and Breakfast, Apple when it had the Newton logo, or when Elon Musk was laughed out of Russia when he tried to buy an ex-Soviet rocket. Who’s laughing now.

Hunt down your target audience and start collecting feedback. Send out a questionnaire, a tweet, pick up the phone and find out if theres any interest in your ideas.

Don’t be too precious #

9 times out of 10, someone has already had your idea, or nobody really cares to try and built it. So forget the NDA’s and secrecy, it’s all in the execution after all, not the idea. Even if someone else steals your idea, the end result will be quite different. After all, as much as we try and copy each other, human nature doesn’t allow for this level of perfection. Did anyone build Tesla when Elon Musk released the patents? It takes more than an idea to build products. The more open you are, the more interest you will attract.

Listen to your audience #

Always gather feedback from your audience and work with real data. Collecting data as your product evolves is invaluable. Whether it be analytics or feedback from users and customers, it’s absolutely vital. This is the best way to learn about what works and what doesn’t. If your product is out to solve problems then you ought to find out what the problems are that need solving. If you’ve build a website, you probably want to reach out to your audience to find out what they are struggling with or what new featured they would like to see added.

By doing this you can safely make iterations to your product without a negative impact, because you know you’re are doing the right thing. If you do this you will find yourself creating the product that people want. No second guessing. No building products based on assumption. You know Netflix creates series based on the data they collect, now we all know why they are so successfully. This is user centered design at it’s best. Essentially they pre-empt a shows success before they’ve even made it, because they know they have an audience which matches the criteria.

Always back up assumptions with real data #

Ok so I’m kind of repeating myself here but that’s only to stress the importance of data. Don’t build products you think people want. Build products you know there is already a demand for. It’s never been easier to reach an audience and ask for feedback, so before you start building your product start collecting data to work with. It can be as simple as Sending out a survey or a questionnaire or building a clever product landing page. It doesn’t get more straight forward than creating a new Instagram page and seeing what posts get the most engagement. Think about where your audience hangs out. Start conversations and share what you’re working on. Always try and look for quick and easy ways test your ideas before you dive in head first.

As long as you get the worst, most unpolished version of your product out there first, and then improve it based on the data you collect, you will set yourself up for the best chance of success.

Note: These thoughts were initially sparked after reading a post by Joel Gascoigne of Buffer fame (link below), many years ago. I apply this same mentality to writing. Get it out there even if it sucks. Then go back and improve it later.

Resources #

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