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By | 03/09/2022

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Side projects, what developer would be without them? They come in all shapes and sizes, from applications that solve pocket-size irritations, to projects much more ambitious in scale. What’s more, they can exist pivotal in opening up new opportunities, growing a career, or providing additional income — often neither predictable or expected.

Developers generally don’t get into side projects because of the benefits they’ll offer. More typically devs go immersed in a side venture purely out of passion, or marvel, or because they have an itch to scratch. They take on side projects to dig deeper into something they beloved, to acquire something new, to satisfy an urge, to satisfy a siren phone call. They accept on side projects to solve a problem or a mystery no i else has nevertheless solved. Perhaps which no one else has withal identified.

“…[Tumblr] was born out of a perceived problem with an existing projection.”

Even so, such side projects can sometimes become wildly successful: they can get keys to accidental success.

To celebrate those who’ve succeeded, and to assistance those who oasis’t (nevertheless) ventured, this post will showcase ten side projects which became runaway successes — successes which the creators and founders, largely, never envisaged happening — and offering practical communication on how you tin can emulate that success, growing a cherished side project into something more.


Twitter was started in 2006 past a number of people, virtually notably Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Florian Webb. Today information technology’southward 1 of the most recognized and near used social media platforms in the world. It has more than than 100 million users, who ship more 340 million tweets a day.

It’s available in web format, with apps for every major platform, along with a number of applications which integrate with it, such equally the well known HootSuite.

Twitter is specially well known for being a key, empowering player in several global movements, most memorably, perhaps, the Arab Leap. Here’s a glimpse into what motivated its kickoff:

Williams decided Odeo’s time to come was not in podcasting, and afterward that year, he told the company’due south employees to commencement coming up with ideas for a new direction Odeo could get. The company started holding official hackathons where employees would spend a whole day working on projects. They bankrupt off into groups.

That excerpt, from an article by Business Insider, illustrates that Twitter was not intended from the start as a production, but was instead a project endorsed past the management team at the visitor where all the Twitter founders worked, chosen Odeo.

Odeo was creating a podcasting platform right around the fourth dimension that Apple launched iTunes podcasting. Needless to say, going up against Apple, and the largely runaway success that the iTunes podcasting platform became, wasn’t a recipe for success.

The team saw the writing on the wall and decided to look to other ideas, other solutions, one of which eventually became Twitter, originally called
Twttr. Quoting the article further:

Information technology was a arrangement where you could send a text to one number and it would exist broadcasted out to all of your friends.

So you see, even the original thought for Twitter wasn’t what information technology ultimately became, though in concept it was pretty shut.


GitHub, today valued at over $750 million USD, is self-described as a social coding platform. GitHub was started by Tom Preston-Werner, Chris Wanstrath, and PJ Hyett, with help from Git guru Scott Chacon, in April 2008.

GitHub was started to provide uncomplicated social lawmaking sharing for the Git version control system. Whilst Git itself has a very steep learning curve, GitHub, whether through the web interface or the range of available native applications, has done a stellar job of removing much of that difficulty. It’s not only made the tool fun, it’s made information technology a must-have.

Whilst in that location are other lawmaking hosting services, such as BitBucket and Codebase, none of them take either the market share or the developer mind-share that GitHub has.

Here’s a glimpse into how it got started, by one of the co-founders:

[GitHub] was born into a world where at that place was no existing marketplace for paid Git hosting. We would be creating the market. I vividly remember telling people, “I don’t await GitHub to succeed correct away. Git adoption will have a while, but we’ll exist ready when it happens.”

Just where did the idea come from? Good question. To quote i of the other co-founders, Chris Wanstrath:

Information technology started more than out of necessity than anything else: we both loved Git but there was no acceptable style to share lawmaking with others. Tom idea I’d exist interested in helping fix the problem, and I was.

Information technology began as a side projection, one worked on over weekends, as all three had full-time jobs. Chris and PJ were working at their current startup, and Tom was at Powerset, which was developing a natural language search engine.

By their ain admission, it was a side business which became an accidental success. Repositories were initially free, but people were increasingly emailing to inquire how they could pay for private repositories. This was the tipping point for them all to accept the project seriously, and commit to it full-time.


Dwolla, founded in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2009, past Ben Milne and Shane Neuerburg, is a U.South.-based online and mobile payment network. Dwolla is a cutting-edge culling both to traditional merchants such as Banks and PayPal and to newer merchants like Square.

I of Dwolla’s core aims is to side-pace credit cards and keep costs downwardly, as the visitor mission attests:

Let anyone (or anything) connected to the internet to move money quickly, safely, and at the lowest toll possible.

Ben was only 28 when he started Dwolla, mainly out of a sense of frustration with paying fees. Dwolla started out pocket-sized, moving $50,000 a week, but now it moves between $30 and $fifty million a month. Here’s an insight into what motivated him:

Dwolla started out of my former company. I owned a speaker manufacturing company and we sold everything direct through a website. I got really obsessed with interchange fees and how not to pay them. Every fourth dimension a merchant gets paid with a credit card they have to give up a per centum. In my case, I was losing $55,000 a year to credit card companies. I felt like they were stealing from me — I was getting paid and somebody was taking money out of my pocket.

And then you see, he was already running a successful business, but he had an itch to scratch, one which would eventually lead him to creating Dwolla, a business organization getting rave reviews for the positive disruption information technology’due south causing in the financial space.


Pinterest is one of the most pop photo organizing and sharing websites in the globe, largely because of the power to pin a photo or create pin boards, which organizes content by a topic or theme.

Started past Ben Silbermann, along with Paul Sciarra and Evan Precipitous, in March 2010, Pinterest gained x,000 users within 9 months after launching, and now has over xi million total visits a calendar week.

Here’due south a glimpse at what motivated Ben to found Pinterest, compiled from a presentation he gave:

Ben got a job at Google in customer support, “because [he] was more excited than the previous applicant.” Ben got frustrated because Google wouldn’t permit him build products. He complained a lot. Finally his girlfriend said: stop complaining and merely get practise it. Ben says, “If you’re really lucky in life you take someone to call yous out on your ain bullshit.”

Pinterest is slightly dissimilar to the companies we’ve looked at so far. It wasn’t an active side project, simply an thought, i which Ben couldn’t let become of, to the point that his girlfriend told him to put upwardly or shut up. From this came the true motivation to beginning the project.


Before being acquired by Facebook in 2012, Instagram was started by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in 2010. With over 300 million users, Instagram is, like Twitter and Pinterest, one of the nigh popular social networks effectually, focused on photo sharing and commenting. Here’s a fiddling insight into what motivated Instagram’s inception:

Systrom and Krieger were unhappy with Burbn. It was “cluttered” and “overrun with features,” Systrom noted on Quora, calculation that the photograph feature was by far the well-nigh popular. And then in Baronial, the founders made an incredibly risky, but peradventure prophetic, decision: They’d flake Burbn almost entirely in order to build an entirely new app from the ground up.

Here’s how they did it:

They began by studying all of the popular photography apps, and they chop-chop homed in on 2 main competitors. Hipstamatic was cool and had bully filters, but it was hard to share your photos. Facebook was the king of social networking, merely its iPhone app didn’t have a great photo-sharing feature. Mike and Kevin saw an opportunity to skid in between Hipstamatic and Facebook, by developing an easy-to-employ app that made social photo-sharing simple. They chopped everything out of Burbn except the photo, comment, and like features.

This intense research led to the explosive success which Instagram enjoyed. Information technology had one million users within two months of existence launched, 10 million inside a yr, and 150 million within three.


Mashable, one of the virtually popular and highly trafficked news websites in the tech space, was founded in 2005 past Pete Cashmore. From humble ancestry, information technology at present has 42 million monthly unique visitors and 21 meg social media followers.

If you’re a regular net user, chances are you’ve read quite a number of posts from Mashable, which covers key themes in social media, tech, business, and amusement. Hither’southward a bit of an insight into why it got started:

When I was 13, I had an appendectomy and for whatever reason information technology didn’t become too well and I didn’t actually recover. So I was out for quite a few years trying to similar rest up, get ameliorate. And I missed schoolhouse a lot, so I was kind of out of sync with my friends. So I just started going my ain way, using computers, trying to larn as much as I could. Blogs were springing up, then I subscribed to every bit many blogs as I could. Read admittedly everything I could and it kind of became my replacement education in a way.

For Pete Cashmore, Mashable was brought about non intentionally, but almost by accident. When he establish himself express by recovery from an operation, blogging and online news provided a sense of release and fulfillment which was difficult for him to learn otherwise.

From that fourth dimension spent came the genesis of the idea — and the desire — to start Mashable, through which he now has an estimated cyberspace worth of $95 one thousand thousand USD.


Tumblr, founded past David Karp in 2007, is a microblogging platform and social networking website. Tumblr is different to the more traditional blogging platforms of WordPress, Blogger, and Moveable Type.

In contrast to these platforms, Tumblr is much more than gratuitous-grade, allowing users to add all types of content, and strongly command their weblog’south appearance. Information technology was acquired in 2013 by Yahoo! for $ane.1 billion USD, in cash.

Here’s a bit of groundwork on what motivated Karp to beginning Tumblr:

At the time, Karp was running his own consultancy, Davidville, which congenital business websites, along with a 24-twelvemonth-quondam programmer called Marco Arment, who would after constitute Instapaper. The pair had a steady stream of work, but frequently infuriated their clients with their lackadaisical approach to admin. . . “They loved what we did, but hated working with us.” At the finish of 2006, Karp and Arment had a two-week suspension betwixt contracts. Karp told Arment, “I’ve got enough of a vision of this thing. Let’s meet what we can put together in the ii weeks before our next gig.”

Then Tumblr wasn’t a side project either in the traditional sense, but it was born out of a perceived problem with an existing project. If the pair had been amend organized, Tumblr might never take happened. Simply that we’ll never know.


Craigslist, created by Craig Newmark, was originally launched in 1995 equally an e-mail list for friends to discover social events in the San Francisco area. This is before simply well-nigh all of the world’s nigh popular sites, the same year that Net Explorer, Java, and Intel’due south 133 MHz Pentium processor launched.

Inside a year, the listing had grown and users were calling for a web interface, which was launched in 1996. Craig had been working, successfully, as a Java programmer for IBM, but by 1999 Craigslist was incorporated as a private for-profit visitor, considering information technology had get and so popular.

From pretty humble origins Craigslist, today, has the following statistics:

  • 25% owned past eBay
  • Turnover of about $130 million USD
  • Is in over 700 cities in lxx countries
  • Regularly serves over l one thousand thousand queries a twenty-four hour period
  • Has one million task postings each month

Once again, Craigslist is a dissimilar kind of side projection. Information technology was a chip of fun, a helpful way to stay in touch with friends and to know what was going on in the surface area, and a great way to socialize. It wasn’t started with the intention of growing a career or building net worth, and yet Craig is reported to now take a net worth of over $400 million USD.


Allow’s look at present at ane last example. Shutterfly, started in 1999 by Dan Baum, is one of the largest sites in the world where people can share, organize, and store their photos and create photo books. Whilst at that place are a number of competitors, such as Mixbook, Snapfish, and Pinhole Press, Shutterfly is one of the oldest and best effectually. Every bit of 2014, it had two.6 million customers and 4.2 million orders.

Only even it too started every bit a side project. Well, well-nigh. Given that the thought was generated and fielded whilst the founder was still working at another chore, it qualifies to be in this list of x. Here’s a glimpse into how information technology started:

During a vacation from work at Silicon Graphics, where he had been an engineer and engineering manager in the tardily 1980s to 1999, [Baum] began testing photo image enhancement applied science with a friend, developing a strategy to course a startup company that would allow people to upload digital images and print from an internet site. “In a rather uncharacteristic move for me, I returned from vacation, quit my job the next day and started the company in our invitee bedroom with nothing more than some engineering science demos and a PowerPoint presentation,” he said.

The referenced article shows that it’s not e’er piece of cake to build a side project into a feasible business organisation, one which lasts over the long term. But information technology is possible. Information technology also shows that yous don’t need to be young, or fifty-fifty under 30, to have what information technology takes. Y’all tin come from a traditional career working for others, however still have an thought which will turn into a commercial success.


And there’s a showcase of 9 side projects, all of which became great successes. What can you learn from these success stories? A lot. But let’s distill the key elements, so you can begin chop-chop — today perhaps — to pave your own manner to success.

Pivot for Success

In every project in that location are missteps, no matter how experienced the founders are. But Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr testify that by looking at what’s
going right, every bit well as what is, there’s oftentimes the opportunity to pivot, even completely change direction. Through such nimble tactics, a hidden gem tin be uncovered, one which can lead to ultimate success.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

Equally the case of Twitter showed, fifty-fifty the commencement few attempts, a number of which can seem OK, may non exist enough. It may take several iterations, adjustments, even rewrites, to succeed. What’s more, that success may not fifty-fifty be immediately clear to anybody.

It’s not unusual for people to pass up what’due south new or what doesn’t seem initially to be working, simply that doesn’t mean the idea’due south non a good one. If you believe in it, have the conviction to persevere. But, conversely, y’all’ll need to develop the instincts to know when it’s fourth dimension to let go and movement on.

Brand the Decision to Start

Starting, simply starting, is critical. The ideas showcased here weren’t run through committees, or analyzed within an inch of their lives: they were
started. Too often, the prevailing wisdom is to “brand certain you’re ready,” oftentimes with extensive spreadsheets and weighty business plans.

“…his girlfriend told him to put up or shut up.”

Whilst information technology’s great to exist prepared, preparing for too long can squelch an thought before it’s begun. Take a foliage from the volume of these x businesses, and if you have an thought, sketch it out in enough detail to go a articulate, bones understanding, but and then have activeness. Even if you’re non sure where it volition end up.

Don’t Await for Atmospheric condition to Exist Right

GitHub is an excellent example of non waiting for the conditions to be exactly right before jumping in. When the founders started out, Git was only just past the ultra-early adopter phase and had only recently get usable by normal people. But despite that, developers were talking about it more and more at meetups and user groups, a attestation to the growing reach of the concept.

But still, circumstantially, there didn’t announced to be a patent need for hosting. Reading between the lines, I don’t think people thought they needed it. Yet the founders started anyhow, based on a perceived, and projected hereafter, need. This kind of start can be riskier than others, but in that location are a number of other examples, such every bit Apple tree, which show this tin work.

How to Go Exposure

Exposure is something anybody wants, and some companies pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for. But if yous’re working on a side projection, yous don’t take a large bank account to spare (or waste). So, how do you lot go exposure?

There are a number of approaches at piece of work in these ten successful projects, merely the one that rises to the top is getting in touch on with and condign an
participant in the communities which do, or would, use your product or service. Y’all can connect online, only connecting in person works and then much more than finer. Information technology’s and so personal. You can create meaningful, lasting friendships and people have a face to put to the proper name.

Success comes from turning … passion into something other people volition exist passionate about too.

Notwithstanding, in-person connecting does have its limitations. Y’all can only be in so many places over the course of a year. Working on a startup or a side project, yous have merely and so much time, then much income, to spare for traveling to and attention events.

Merely if you’re slap-up to get involved, in most cities you’ll observe a meetup or user grouping which suits your production or service. If there isn’t one, why non starting time it upwards yourself? In addition, there are likely to be one or more conferences which you tin can speak at. Both of these strategies are great for getting yous coverage and exposure.

Why? Because y’all become to speak to a ready audience, which can help start buzz and extend your achieve. And your presentation, either a recording or the slides, will probable be posted online, which means y’all’ve the chance now of reaching even more than people in your target audience. When done right, the audience will learn cardinal details about y’all, non but your credentials and your vision, but contact info likewise — your proper name, where you work, and your social media handles — right from the offset.

Merely if you’re not quite comfortable yet with speaking, at that place are a number of ways you can connect with communities online. Here’s a curt list of suggestions:

  • Appoint in content marketing (think blogging)
  • Apply social media
  • Create a regular podcast
  • Create educational screencasts
  • Attend online events and meetups with Google Hangouts
  • Connect with Google communities
  • Enter into Twitter hats
  • Become involved with online forums

And so even if you’re just starting out, there are a wealth of opportunities for y’all to gain more than exposure for your project.

Where to Await for Collaboration

Nearly of the examples showcased in this post have shown, time and once more, that successful projects are a group, not a solo, effort. Whether it’s the three co-founders of GitHub, the multiple founders of Twitter or Instagram, or the fact that others (as in the case of Pinterest and Dwolla) came onto the project in the early days to inject new life into it, what these stories illustrate is that few tin can create something of true value alone. Anybody needs others around them to complement their own skills and to contribute skills they themselves don’t take. Every bit Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says:

When it comes to business organization success, it is all about people, people, people.

Merely how do you notice bully talent? Where exercise you await? Asking those questions is the way to start. At that place are loads of great resources available, but start with people yous know, people in your local user group, and people you lot come across at conferences.

The last 2, particularly, are likely to be fantastic resources, as those are the people with like interests every bit y’all. They may fifty-fifty be working on, or considering working on, side projects themselves. The rest comes downward to networking and building relationships.

If y’all don’t already accept a large network, start building one — today. Become proper business training, come across people, talk to people, build relationships. In addition to that, if you’re not already using information technology, starting using that social networking tool that leads the pack — LinkedIn.

Each social network has a raison d’être, or a reason for existing, and LinkedIn’s, with over 300 1000000 active users, is for business and professional person networking. People go there looking for work, to find employees, to observe freelancers and contractors, in short for concern opportunities.

So don’t let this gold mine slip past y’all. It’s gratuitous to sign up with and free to use, though premium accounts are too available, offer more features, should you need them.

How to Appraise Project Size

This tin can be a tough i, as no ane has a crystal ball, and twenty/20 vision is easy in hindsight. But when a projection’southward in its infancy, with possibly non even a scattering of users, it’s difficult to tell if it’s going to develop into annihilation, let lonely anything worthwhile.

And it’s ane thing to take on a project, it’s some other to know simply how much of a commitment information technology might end upwards being. Knowing this is important, because you lot’ll likely devote
a lot
of your spare time to it. And if it takes off, y’all’re going to be devoting the
of all your fourth dimension to it.

What’s more, if it takes off, it’ll as well be your primary source of income. If y’all’ve no dependents, then maybe this isn’t so important to you. But if y’all take a family, children, or older family members to intendance for, it will be.

The last thing you need to practise is to be able to make a realistic assessment of whether or not you should undertake the project. Admittedly, this isn’t the easiest thing to do. Probable the best thing you tin practise is to observe others who’ve trodden the same path before — find experienced mentors.

Whilst no one volition know your position exactly, and no one except you is in the hot seat with the decisions directly affecting them, mentors relish similar experiences to you. They can employ the lessons they’ve learned, and offer communication based on those experiences, offering guidance and counsel.

Likely the worst affair you tin do is mind to armchair critics, people who’ve never done what y’all’re doing, and probable never will. Their advice, whilst no doubt well intentioned, won’t be based in the practical knowledge and experience necessary to aid you lot in any meaningful way.

How to Find A Mentor

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and are available both on- and offline. Do yous know someone who’s started a side project which turned into a successful business? Does someone you lot know know someone?

Is there someone in one of your sporting clubs or user groups? Ask around. Oftentimes we form the simulated impression that people who are successful either are unwilling to share what they know or have no time to do then. From personal experience, I’ve often found this not to be the case. I’ve constitute that successful people are usually more willing than others to share their experiences.

Merely whilst offline mentors are mayhap the best, considering yous’re right at that place with them, don’t disbelieve online. Online development programs for executives are a bully mode to gain new skills and cognition if y’all don’t know someone who can mentor yous in person, the internet is your friend. Well-nigh everyone has a Twitter, Google+, or other social media account, especially people in business and the public spotlight.

What’southward more, some of the all-time also weblog. Take Richard Branson for example. He regularly blogs nearly a wide range of topics, interests, and events he’s participating in. Make use of these resources to acquire all you can, gaining in situ mentors.

But when there’southward so much dandy content, mixed in with a lot of white noise, how do y’all stay abreast of the best and filter out all the crust? Depending on the medium y’all’re using, in that location are 2 means: Social media and blogs.

Social Media

For social media, Lifehacker has four great suggestions, specifically relating to Twitter:

  1. Follow the correct people
  2. Utilize lists to manage your feeds
  3. Filter out the junk y’all don’t desire to see
  4. Surrender on seeing everything

Twitter is like a veritable burn down hose of data. You can’t take in everything, even if you lot tried. But the aforementioned goes, more or less, for other social media platforms such as Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.

With Google+, instead of lists, you circumvolve the right people and participate in the right communities. On Facebook, you’d like the right pages. Yous don’t need to be on every social media platform, or, for that matter, even any. But it helps.

If y’all programme to become involved in social media, kickoff simple and build upwardly slowly, making the best utilise of each platform equally y’all get along. If yous are on multiple platforms, consider using a tool such as HootSuite or TweetDeck to make your time more efficient. With these, you can work with multiple platforms simultaneously, scheduling updates, plus a lot more than.


The number of blogs bachelor on the internet is astronomical. So make sure you’re using assemblage tools to manage the available content. Whether you’re using a desktop browser or a mobile device, at that place are tools to help you out:

  • Feedly
  • NewsBlur
  • The Old Reader
  • Digg Reader
  • Pulse
  • Tiny Tiny RSS
  • Reeder
  • Pocket
  • Flipboard

The Lesser Line

That’s the tour. Are you inspired enough to want to take on a side project of your ain? Have yous an thought, or peradventure simply the clue of an idea? Do you think it might boost your career, make yous rich? Information technology only might, merely exist sure that at the offset y’all’re pursuing the passion — the problem you see, the marvel you accept, that itch to scratch — and don’t let dreams of success distract you. Work to grow your audience, to expand your reach, to get the ideas out there, but in service of your project, not in anticipation of where that project might have you. Success comes nigh often in these endeavors out of the right ideas, at the right (or fifty-fifty in advance of the correct) time. Success comes from turning that passion into something other people will be passionate about too.

Or maybe your projection is only a hobby, and you’re thinking of keeping it that fashion. No worries. But if the project blossoms, follow it. Because from the smallest of endeavors, from the most unexpected of corners, tin can come wildly unexpected success.

Whether you dream big or small, the best side projection is the one you lot can’t imagine
doing. If you can’t imagine non doing it, it might be that others won’t be able to imagine not using it. And however modestly y’all start, your passion just might lead y’all to develop the side by side Pinterest, the next GitHub, or the next Twitter. Your passion merely might lead you to excellence.

Source: https://www.udacity.com/blog/2015/03/9-examples-stunning-accidental-success.html