Originally published on GeekWire
I’m not sure if there’s a term yet coined for those who start companies in their spare time, so henceforth I propose those with full-time jobs and startups on the side shall be known as “side-project entrepreneurs.” It’s time people like us identify with each other. At this point, I’d consider myself a “serial side project entrepreneur.” On top of my full time job at UP Global, I’m a co-founder of a startup called Red Ride as well as a startup called Started.in. On average I work between 70 and 80 hours per week, in addition to being a newly married socially active 25 year old. Balancing everything is painfully hard, and impossible at times, but I think taking on side projects is one of the smartest decisions I’ve made. It’s also made me far more valuable to the organization I work for. I’ve come up with four reasons that highlight why the experience has been and is so fruitful, although I’m sure there are many more.
1. Epiphanies Come From Practice
One of the most important things you’ll learn if you go to a Startup Weekend event is that the purpose isn’t just to network or to build companies worth millions of dollars in a weekend. The core of the experience is around this idea of experiential learning, or learning by doing. You might not have a designer, or even a developer for that matter, so what do you do? You download the free trial of Illustrator and you learn how to use it, or you pull an all-nighter to take as many free programming courses as you can so in the morning you’re able to hack something together. In your day job, you might not have the opportunity to dip your feet into all of these different buckets, and with that you’re missing out on the opportunity to try out new things. Get out there and do it.
2. Learn Your Limits
As mentioned above, I currently work full time as a regional manager at UP Global. I’m also the co-founder of Red Ride as well Started.in. In addition to that, I’m a newlywed with a community of family and friends that like me enough to care if they don’t see or hear from me for weeks at a time. At this point, I may be crossing the forbidden “shiny object chaser” line, but I’m learning my limits, and to me, that’s invaluable. How far am I willing to go? Do I have what it takes to be a real-deal entrepreneur? You won’t know, you can’t know, until you prove it not only to co-founders or investors, but to yourself. If you want to learn your limits, pushing yourself, although sometimes painful, will prove immensely effective.
3. Build Your Autonomy
At UP Global, we’re fortunate enough to be about as autonomous as one can be at a global organization. We do an amazing job at trying to remain non-hierarchical during the high-growth stage that we’re in, but inevitably there’s a chain of command and big decisions have to go through some sort of process before being acted on. Personally, I think this is how it should be, and it will be how I run my company someday, but it means that you, the entrepreneur looking to change the world, are missing out on the opportunity to really make the big decisions. What’s the most important thing that we should be working on right now? What’s our mission statement? What’s our big hairy audacious goal? Do we need to pivot and change direction as a company? These are the big decisions, and the tough decisions, and ones that you’re going to want to learn to make. Create something and all of the decisions will be yours. You might be surprised by how refreshing and rewarding this is.
4. Get Creative
You might love your job and you might have all the freedom and autonomy in your role that you could possibly want. (If you’re in a startup, you should. If you don’t, get out now.) But when you’re working on the same thing day in and day out you might find that you lose your creative edge. This isn’t a bash on your company or the culture there, it’s just something that happens to some of us, especially those of us that have the entrepreneurial bug. A side project can be the perfect remedy to this situation. Being able to unplug from your day job for an hour or two at night to jam on something completely different opens up your mind to new possibilities. This is beneficial for you personally, but also immensely important to your company. Why? Because every single day you’re bringing a fresh perspective to the table, and one that’s been stretched creatively. (If they don’t see that, again get out now.) Moral of the story? Get out there and do something! Your goal doesn’t have to be to build a billion dollar business, you don’t have to raise millions of dollars and you don’t have to be full-time.
Of course, none of those things are bad, but if you’re happy with your day job and you still want to dip your feet into the entrepreneurial world, embrace the life of the “side-project entrepreneur.” You won’t regret it.