Startup VS Side Project
It’s quite common (especially for software developers) to build something on the side. It could be a B2C, a B2B, or even an enterprise product. These projects can be built by one person or a whole team on a full-time or part-time basis. But where do we draw the line between working on a side project and having a startup?
It’s not an easy question to answer as there is no single definition of what a side project or startup is, but let’s try!
If you prefer the video version of this article, I’ve recorded a YT video about this topic here:
Regardless of what you are building, the first and most important step that every maker needs to take is buying a domain! Well, most likely, it will also be also the last step for most projects (for some people the dopamine rush triggered by this step will be more than enough). I personally could fill up a cemetery with all of the side projects that ended shortly after I bought their domains.
Depending on your skills and those of other co-founders, the product will be built by yourself, or you’ll need to hire people to build it for you. Yet, neither of these options will be defining as having a team that works on your product doesn’t necessarily mean that you are running a startup company. The same goes for registering a legal entity. This can be done later.
Focus and goals are everything
In my opinion, the main difference between having a side project and a startup is the focus placed on them. Side projects typically start being developed from features instead of a vision. You build something that you think you (or your friends) will use rather than building something with growth in mind. You may even choose to use and learn fun technology instead of going for the quickest stack to build the product; future growth isn’t your primary objective after all.
Startups, on the other hand, don’t need to start with a specific product in mind. You build a vision around the problem, then develop a product that can grow exponentially in a short period of time. The features and what the product is will be defined by your initial vision and not the other way around. Many startups start with the brand and marketing before the work on the final product is started.
This is something that heavily differentiate startups and side-projects: Side-projects can evolve into startups! Many products were started after hours and grew into something big with time, but it’s unusual for a startup to scale down and evolve into a side-project.
Building a startup means that you will be committed to the same idea for years or even decades, mostly because you can’t disturb an entire market in just a few months.
This commitment, in my opinion, requires working on the idea full-time. Obviously, there are examples of startups founded after hours. However, most of them weren’t started as a company with growth in mind. They evolved from side-projects, as mentioned before.
In conclusion, if you want to play with some cool tech, or you don’t want to commit to something big, and you like to play with ideas, you are probably working on side-projects. Growth and revenue don’t need to be your primary objective. Not every project needs to start with a big goal like changing the world or making a billion dollars.
Once you commit to building a startup, it’s sometimes hard to go back. Once you involve a team or take funding, there is an expectation to work on it for many years.
Being a startup founder means breathing and living your vision.