Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

It All Started as a Side Project

This summer, as I am quickly immersing myself into the tech startup scene here in Philly, I have had the opportunity to meet dozens of founders, leaders, and influencers within this thriving community.  Most directly, through my internship at VeryApt, I have been able to get to know the founders of the company and learn how they got to where they are now. Being a part of the Philly Startup Leaders Fellowship, I have also met dozens of startup founders, toured many startup offices, and been able to work alongside fellow students who either have a company of their own or plan to have one very soon.  Before this experience, I found myself constantly wondering where companies such as these found the time to drop everything and pursue their ideas while their time and energy was sucked away from their full-time careers as students or employees.  After critically scrutinizing the trends between the stories of how each startup originated, I realized the solution was simple and not as overwhelming and risky as assumed on the surface.  The trend was that almost all of these startups began as small side projects.

Throughout the summer, I have had at least a half dozen founders explicitly give me the advice of making sure to always have a side project to work on.  In addition, I have heard dozens more explain how their startup originated from a small side project.  It all quickly became clear to me that to finally accomplish the goals that I have, I need to start adopting varying side projects I can regularly work on. I also learned that the act of working on the side project or skill isn’t as easy as everyone makes it sound.  Most people are mentally exhausted after coming home from work every day, myself included, but if you continuously take an hour or two out of your free time each day to work on the side project, it can turn into a healthy habit.

One example of a startup that began as a side project is from the company I am interning with, VeryApt.  While speaking to the founders, I learned that the idea for the company began as a side project for the three founders, who were all friends, while they were still finishing their master’s degrees from Princeton University.  Once they graduated they were able to devote their full time to the project where it quickly grew.  They quickly acquired funding and now sustain that growth today with about 15 employees. Another example was from the founder of the adtech startup called Curren-C.  While working in the adtech business for a long period of time, the founder realized a major problem within the industry and began working on a solution to the problem on the side.  Eventually, the side project grew to a point where he was able to quit his main job and work on this side project full time.

With this being said, I also value the importance of a having time to enjoy myself, relax, and take the time to mentally refuel.  That’s why I don’t think the side project should ever consume your life because you will burn yourself out fairly quickly.  And for all those out there that have no interest in turning a side project into a full blown company, a side project can also be seen as skill development or other learning processes to quickly drive personal development and make yourself seem more valuable to a potential employer.  Whatever type of side project you choose to engage in, regardless of the goal, you will find that your small daily commitment will be what expedites and boosts your chances of reaching that success you’ve always desired.