November 20, 2016

How to come up with side project ideas

Thanks for the ridiculous GIF, Giphy

Yesterday morning, someone emailed me asking for side project ideas. His question was particularly fitting as I sipped Philz coffee, sheltered from the downpour in San Francisco. Rainy weekends are the best days for side projects. 😊

I’m a big fan of side projects. They’re a great vehicle for expression, similar to how an artist communicates through their art. They can make you a better engineer, designer, marketer, or salesperson. Side projects can even turn into a business (Product Hunt started as a side project).

The email got me thinking of places to look inspiration. Here are a few ways to come up with side project ideas:

  1. Reflect on your day-to-day. Often the best ideas come from one’s own experiences. Write a detailed diary of everything you do in a typical day and identify things that could be improved. It could be something important (e.g. what tasks to prioritize in your day) or relatively small (e.g. deciding whether to bike or take an Uber to work).
  2. Ask your friends. Run through the same exercise above with your friends. Try to find frustrations or pain points that could be eliminated.
  3. Explore emerging platforms. I used to work in video games as Facebook’s games platform (and cow clicking) was on the rise. I would comb through Facebook’s API and developer docs to identify new, creative ways to built within their platform. As platforms emerge and evolve, new opportunities arise. Today I might explore Google Home, Alexa, or Facebook Messenger.
  4. Browse Product Hunt. Ok, I’m a little biased with this suggestion but great ideas are often built off each other. Products created today will inspire the next Snapchat, directly and indirectly. Also check out Kickstarter and Show HN.
  5. Explore GitHub. Even if you’re not a programmer, GitHub can be a great source for inspiration. Browse trending repo’s for new ideas or projects to join.
  6. Turn a feature into a standalone product. Look at some of your favorite apps, sites, or products. Can you repurpose and improve upon one of its features as a standalone product? For example, Medium has created an elegant way to share and present comments inline. Perhaps others would like to add this functionality to their site. Note: This side project already exists. 😊
  7. Go to a hackathon. While an obvious suggestion, this list wouldn’t be sufficient if excluded. Hackathons are designed for side projects; a motivating place to share ideas with other enthusiastic makers.
  8. Read the internet. It’s difficult to manufacture a truly great idea in a whiteboarding session. Sometimes they’re serendipitous, triggered by stories and changes in the world. Read the news and blog posts to increase the chances of discovering new ideas.

How do you come up with side project ideas?

I’d love to hear your ideas (simply hit respond below) and if any of these tactics help lead you to your next side project, please let me know! 🙏🏼

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