In both cases it was the viral element of the idea that made it possible for me to turn what was once a side project into something more. If you can't spend all day every day working on it, you need something that will grow even when you're not watering it.
As for other business projects:
* I tried to resell knives and other camping gear on eBay once. I called it Wolfcastle Munitions. That was a disaster. I'm not built to do retail.
* I had an idea called Project Mothership that was going to be Rails hosting (before anyone was doing dedicated Rails hosting and much like what Planet Argon became) but I abandoned it after I realized that I'd lose my mind if my job became network operations management.
* I wanted to do a climbing sight called Microbomber that would list and categorize climbing routes across the world with photos and reviews and whatnot.
* I also thought about making custom gloves and coats for hardcore outdoor activities (wilderness hiking and skiing, etc). I have a near impossible time finding gloves that fit me well and are legitimately waterproof, and I've still never owned a winter coat that I've loved. I was also going to use the name Microbomber for this effort.
There are plenty more that I've long forgotten.
But, all of these ideas (except the first) I only spent very small effort on. I like to put small efforts towards a lot of ideas and then see what catches. That way I don't spend a lot of time and effort that is later wasted. Knowing when to abandon something and when to dive in is the hardest part, but it's essential. Call it what you want: intuition, savvy, or instinct. I just call it seeing the world objectively and not overvaluing every little idea you happen to have.
I have built something that I think is good, but has not taken off. I don't think it is a bad idea, I think it is an untested idea. I would hate to drop it without anyone ever seeing it.
If you think, the idea is good, give it a shot.
See what's the response. If it works, continue else quit.
Key thing is to know when to quit.
For both Gravatar and GitHub, did you put in any marketing efforts and money while they were still in the "side project" stage?
I mean, do people take it seriously? I usually mark it as spam. may be it's just me.
Did you use any other methods for marketing your product?
My rule of thumb: if you see a business using spreadsheets to manage something, there might be an opportunity there
TONS of Micro opportunities here.
FWIW, I fundamentally believe that smart people tackling brick-and-mortar-businesses-using-spreadsheets will make obscene amounts of money over the long term. (Not only are my products examples of this but, few people know this about me, I actually bought a gas station earlier this year to force myself to feel the pain.)
For anyone thinking about doing anything like this, feel free to reach out - I want to help you. :)
CRM: who's buying from me, what are they buying and what should I market to them so that I can make more money.
Inventory Management: what's in stock, what do I need to re-order, are my employees stealing from me?
I can keep going... :)
Yes, but you need to peel off a specific problem within a given vertical. I bootstrapped both of these ideas and, because of the limitations that come with bootstrapping, I targeted them specifically.
MailFinch is on demand direct mail for real estate agents. Over time, companies that send a lot of invoices started using it too.
NotaryCRM is for notaries - plain and simple. Over time, it became apparent that signing companies were also looking for a solution that solved their specific pains.
Edit: I suppose one could read this post: http://jasonlbaptiste.com/startups/distribution-distribution...
MailFinch: Cold calls and asking for referrals.
NotaryCRM: lots of SEO (notice the "find a notary" directory and the theme of almost all of the blog posts)
For both, there was a lot of call-to-action testing (in terms of verbal calls to action during my phone/in-person conversations) and rapid iteration (breaking features down into the smallest chunks and deploying often).
More recently (like, a week ago) I built a really basic site to force myself to learn a little more about consumer-focused community building.
As with all of my ideas, making money comes a close second behind the most important thing to me: learning something new.
You know what would be interesting: a photo capturing your wife/girlfriend's mood at the time beside each milestone :-)
Its definitely not big, nor huge, but its very profitable. Just some motivation for those of you out there who have little side projects that just want to make a small side income.
Two of my iPhone apps, Color Stream and Dayta have turned into profitable businesses, even though they were just pet projects (and still are).
Just wanted to let you know.
During that 18 months, there were times where it was rather stressful to work full to part-time on another job and manage a web application that's supposed to be up 24x7.
However, I would definitely say that if anybody else is in that tough spot before your side project can support you full-time, it's definitely worth fighting through it.
When I left Slide, I was initially going to build a gaming company 6 months before gaming blew up. Unfortunately, I couldn't find myself building games because I wasn't staying up till 3-4 AM excited.
One night I scrapped it and started building Mixpanel strictly to learn how to scale systems since that was interesting to me. What better project to learn about it fastest then doing analytics?
Ever since then I've consistently been up past 1 AM =). Still excited. Still learning.
This was all still being in school so I couldn't focus on it full-time.
1. How long did it take to write the plugin?
2. How did you find your paid customers? From what I heard, most WordPress users don't want to pay for themes or plugins.
3. And why did you decide to sell it for that kind of high price? Were there troubles at the beginning because it was a free download before?
It's been my sole income-source since then.
It took 6 years from initial creation: the first version of that original LAN Party site was written in old ASP in 2000, and then rewritten in PHP in 2001 or 2002, and then forked in 2004 for WoW.
Hopefully some of my new side-projects turn into something useful, almost all written in Erlang with the Nitrogen Web Framework (absolutely love it).
She's an author and adds to her book income by linking people to her 30+ books on Amazon using her affiliate code. I was concerned that the various url shorteners she was using might swap out her affiliate code for theirs as a revenue mechanism, so I wanted to take it "in house".
I discovered that this .ly domain registry had "vb.ly" available (her initials) and thought it might be cool engineering challenge to get that going for her and open it up for others to use.
500k+ shortened urls later, the rest is history. Literally
Edit: Nevermind, found the discussion here - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1772071
before we got kicked off adbrite (for our content, or something), it was possible to do this, but it was very tedious...
I owe you a drink!
http://mocksup.com is my current side-project, and while it's yet to "go big", it's profitable and growing.
Now we're working on getting to that next level where one of us can stop freelancing and get a check from Mocksup every month.
More importantly: I think almost every major internet success was started as a side-project. Yahoo, Google, Apple, the list goes on and on...
So my wife and I set up a blog - http://casualgirlgamer.com - in an attempt to promote it. The blog has become quite popular - more than 100,000 uniques a month - and we're now focusing completely on the blog rather than the app we originally set it up to promote.
We're not yet making enough to give up our jobs but we're having fun and have high hopes.
It seems that side projects give us the ability to stretch our creativity where our '9 to 5' lives don't allow us. My advice would be to have fun and pursue your side projects and make the leap to full-time once you have some traction and cashflow.
http://getclicky.com started as an internal project for another company I worked for a few years ago. It was profitable 4 months after launch, and revenues are doubling ever year. 2010 will be about $1M. We are happy with that.
Can we at least agree that projects with no business model and no funding should be called apps rather than startups?