Last night, as part of Denver Startup Week, I attended an AIGA Speaker Series event that featured Randy Hunt, the Creative Director of Etsy. He spoke a bit about his work at Etsy, but mostly highlighted the idea of side projects, with a focus on his book, Product Design for the Web. He listed the various side projects he has worked on over the years and categorized Etsy as his “not side project.” He made the point during his presentation that he saw value in keeping the two separate. When I talked to him afterwards and asked him why he saw the separation as important he said that sometimes if we try really hard to make our side projects our not side projects, they can lose the very reason why we started it as a side project in the first place. Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t meant to be turned into a business and that we do them simply for the pleasure of having something that is uniquely ours.
I’ve been thinking about this point since our conversation last night, and have been wondering – how do you know when to let a side project remain a side project? Do we want to do a project simply for the joy of it and is there value in leaving it in that place? How do you know when to differentiate between trying to turn your side project into your not side project (aka a business) and when to leave it as a passion project that you do on the side? When do the two start to meld together and should they? Sometimes we love doing something but that doesn’t mean that we have to make money off of it. It is an important distinction to make.
For example – I’ve worked with people in the education world who were actors “on the side.” Did they set out to be an actor and found that the difficulty in “making it” as an actor was too much, so eventually found a not side project to pay their bills? Or – was it just something that they enjoyed to do and wanted to keep the enjoyment there by not having the pressure of depending on it to make money? In the end – it really only matters if the individual is happy and enjoying how they have set up their life. I make the point to say that sometimes we have to re-imagine how we are doing things and appreciate that we can piece things together in whatever way makes sense to us. At the end of the day – our lives will be richer if have some side projects – whether they ever make you money or not.
*Image via Chapter Be