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I think side projects, software at least, are a lot like the Civilization games.

You can't wait to start. The first 10% is awesome. 10-40% is complex and the difficulty ramps up. 40-100%, all you can think about is starting over on something else. At around 80%, you just quit and actually do start over.




Speaking as someone who played the Civilization 2-5 to the point of obsession, and one that quit a full time job at $megacorp to focus on a side project of mine full time, this is so apt it's funny.

One of the reasons people do side projects is that they want to be free of other concerns that govern larger projects, like being able to make money, existing code, design or frameworks, or simply, existing paths of thought. But after the 80% point, the project has already created its own ways of thinking about certain problems, and that means you'll have to solve some problems suboptimally just to retain the existing body of problems being solved optimally.

Compromises. Boring-but-important bits, like designing, coding (HTML tables ahoy) and sending launch emails, which I did, the whole day yesterday.

I think as a society we fundamentally underestimate how much the average person yearns for freedom, all day, every day. Selling that freedom has its benefits, but it's not a free lunch.


Yeah, same. Left an awesome job to do my own thing after getting seed funding. For the first few months of doing that, I told myself that I could never go back to the 9-5 grind.

I am now very excited to go back to the 9-5 grind.


One thing doing a project full time teaches you is that the problems with full-time tech work in a company aren't problems because you're working for somebody else, they're problems of working on anything for a long period of time, regardless of who owns it.

Once you realise that, you also figure out that doing your own thing doesn't inherently buy you a seat in Valhalla by the virtue of being your own boss. You still have a boss, the fact that it is you helps with fewer things than one would think.

At least you got funded. I'm still bootstrapped, spending my own money for the privilege. :)


> At least you got funded. I'm still bootstrapped, spending my own money for the privilege. :)

The best move my founder and I ever made, by leaps and bounds, was to not take any outside investment. If you can manage your cash flow and not get over excited about rocket trajectory growth, bootstrapping has its benefits; for founders especially.


I’m making $200 a month off of it, and I live in San Francisco. Needless to say, I’m practically fully funding it out of my savings. It’s this, anyway, it was on the front page a few weeks ago: https://getaether.net

Basically, a passion product, something I want to see exist. It has the chance to sustain me eventually, but I think I’ll run out of savings long before it comes there, unless, I don’t know, I make a business version and sell B2B...


How do you make money off that? I always wonder what gives people confidence to make something new and untested vs picking an existing in demand product and improving it, sell b2b to people who actually pay for services.. don’t mean to downplay your project, just curious why you didn’t go b2b route?


The design and engineering challenge was interesting (I’m a product designer and an engineer) - and I had come out of a job I had not liked very much.

Honestly, I think that explains a lot of the side/full time projects here.

OTOH, if you’re looking for a ‘Slack, but for async discussion’ app for your startup, hit me up for the B2B pilot. I have not much time left on my savings, but I’m working towards launching a B2B version of the same app.


Researching Slack-Alternatives I actually at least subscribed to some newsletter of yours which arrived a few days ago.

I think to make money you need to focus on B2B, but it seems like a tough market right now. Anyways you'd have to focus your landing page on that.

Privacy? meh. Compliance stuff and no US servers or any 3rd party servers you'd need to make contracts with? Yay!

The 6 Month content limit feels off for B2B.

How does it differ from slack usablility wise?


Interesting - that might have been something else because I don’t market this as a slack alternative, and I did not send a newsletter a few days ago either. I sent one yesterday though.

For the B2B version the content limit can be set as a compliance thing, to however many months you want, or be disabled completely.

Compliance is even better: I can run it on premises, in any server you own, or in any AWS region you want, with no dependencies, no third party contracts, and I can guarantee I will see none of your data, you hold the content encryption keys.

Business version will have its own landing page, with its own benefits, etc. For example, that version isn’t P2P. It’s also not a Slack alternative, in that it doesn’t do chat, but longer form communication. In practice that means it takes place of email groups at your company.


Sounds really interesting. I just thought it's yet another slack/IRC, this time with p2p.

I just misjudged time and maybe timezones made it the day before yesterday for me :). I meant your recent newsletter.


> You still have a boss, the fact that it is you helps with fewer things than one would think.

Worse yet, you now need to satisfy customers.

Not that that's inherently bad. In hindsight, though, it certainly lets you appreciate the times when you had a boss and life was simpler.


You trade one regular issue boss with the biggest, baddest boss there ever is, the Free Markets.

It certainly lends credence to the saying that having to earn earn for a living is incremental indentured servitude, instead of buying your freedom outright, you pay for it in micro transactions and pay interest for the privilege.

It doesn’t matter who your immediate counterparty is, whether be it your boss or the board or the stock exchange, the ultimate counterparty is the market itself. Having a business I think just makes the transaction a little simpler, a little more obvious.


I left the 9-5 grind many years ago for freelancing then consulting and now hoping my side project takes off. I could never go back to a full time employee thing, nope!!


Curious to know if you'll repay the seed, or if seeds are refunded assuming it was a friends and family round.


It's more complicated than that. I'm not the only founder and funds were raised from small investors w/ a SAFE.


Paying money back especially money collected from friends and family and not institutions and VCs is not "complicated." Their "investment" never had a chance to make money you projected and you went on to work on someone else's investment. Given these facts I am sure your investors would have preferred to invest in the company where you work now versus the one you left.


It's not family and friends, first of all.

I haven't started working on anything else or for anyone else - I just no longer believe this venture is going to work out and thus have planned to exit. My co-founders don't agree with my assessment.


> coding (HTML tables ahoy) and sending launch emails

FWIW you should probably be using something like MJML rather than hand-coding HTML tables. (There are a few alternatives, that just happens to be the one we use.)


Thanks for the tip. I was using the ‘Salted’ template from Litmus as a base. MJML looks quite polished though.

This is how it turned out with Salted:

https://mailsend.app/sendy-airlabs/w/qP3rC892jhLqY763Z0DTBnY...

Not too bad for a first try, I think. If anyone needs help with Salted, happy to take a look.


Interesting. My creative outlet is music, as it has been for 20 years, and I can tell you that your timetable holds true there as well. I’ve written a boatload of material but released very little (at least as a solo artist) because I never felt that a song was complete unless it felt utterly orgasmic to listen to. It took me a very long time to come to grips with the fact that even my idols have very few of these “perfect” songs. They probably felt like me quite often, but the difference is that they released anyway. So now, at that 80% point, I release the song. The ones that are special and can go to 100% become obvious as the song progresses, but they are rare.

The point is that it’s better to share a lot of imperfect creative works than to never release anything because it’s imperfect.


Very true. I probably posted this before but I think thoughts like yours relate very well to one of my favorite quotes, by Ira Glass:

> Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.


Your idols will have been supported by creative contributions from tens of other people including uncredited co-writers, producers, session musicians, mix and mastering engineers, marketing people, and sometimes record company executives.

Even with all of that backup, they still can't produce more than solid one hit out of maybe thirty songs.


There are certain artists who are fantastic, but I guess it’s not easy to be objective with something g like music. What one person likes another hates. As for support, production quality alone is huge. Nearly everything I listened to today has sooo many vocal layers. Comparing a song I’m writing in the kitchen and recording on voice memos to a singer with his voice layered 4, 8, 12 times perhaps multiple background singers (very subtle) or heavily effected with vocoders/etc... of course your recording sounds like an average voice over mediocre instrumentation. The pros don’t sound polished on voice memos either, which is why you never hear of any pros releasing them.


I have been making videos with the same mentality. I know my footage is not perfect, but it is what I have and it will only get better if I keep working on it.


I’m right there with you, in a very sad way.


Huh. For me, the first 10% is boring. You’re not doing anything interesting, just looking for resources and laying the foundations for something new. The middle is where it gets exciting, you’re striking out in new directions, building, and expanding. The end is a bunch of tedious micromanagement.

Either Civ or personal projects.

Although usually with Civ these days I try to win before I get bogged down with micromanagement.


I think the first 10%, like civ, the excitement is in exploration of the different directions you could take the project. Some people right at the start will know exactly what they want to do, but for a lot of people it isn't clear until they look around and get the lay of the land.


At around 80%, you realize you'll never finish because there are always more features. This is the state of real businesses as well. No sustainable business is every truly finished.

You just have to hit minimum viable product and launch. Then you're adding features (or fixing bugs, doing maintenance) to that product.


This. Set quantifiable goals and when reached move on until you can't live without more changes.


Agree, this is where I am now. There are a ton of features planned but I can’t afford to develop them without first getting some customers to justify spending.


How do you know that it's 80% though, if there's no final state?


The point is that the imaginary % towards completion doesn't matter. You either have a viable product or you don't.


I've wanted to create a marketplace for "80% done" projects - a place where you can meet people who can help you push those nearly-finished projects past the finish line.

This is such a massive problem across creative and programming fields. I have a huge number of projects that are nearly there, yet not quite.


Interesting idea. There could be a lot of benefits for this kind of matching service. I imagine people who feel burned out at the 80% mark would enjoy working with others to complete their project.

Perhaps the person helping them is also at 80% on their own project, and the act of helping someone else motivates them to push through and finish their own incomplete projects!


Yeah, I envisioned this as a place to trade the remaining 20% of the project. Or at least find people who can take a dispassionate look at your project and take it to market. Too many times, the creators are too heavily invested and hesitant to take things live.

Heck, you could even buy/sell "nearly there" projects that the creator doesn't have the energy to launch, or doesn't want to launch because of other commitments. Creators make some money (and see their projects live), buyers get nearly-done ideas for cheaper than live projects.


This is a really good idea. I have often felt that someone has already done a project similar to what I need, and hoped I could use their code or assets. But it is hard to find those projects and hard to know if you can use the code and assets if the project is abandoned.


> I've wanted to create a marketplace for "80% done" projects

But you have stopped working on it when you were 80% done? :)


And this is why I don’t do side projects outside of work. If I’m not learning marketable skills at work, it’s time to look for another job.

I will spend extra time learning new-to-me technology by either doing a low priority side project at work or spend 50% more time doing a project than it would have taken me to do it if I knew the technology.

There is a certain forcing function knowing that others will look at your work and use it. It’s like a commitment device.


This sounds so true. I recently managed to get to 100% of my side project and now looking for customers. I got SUPER excited when someone responded to my cold email saying they are interested in my product. I gotta day, until I got that email I was super bummed out. Now I’m talking to another person and I have a feeling I’m into something in terms of outreach. Once I get my first customer I’ll aim for 5. Then 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 3 , 4, 5 1k 5k etc. I think short term goals make the most sense for motivation and that’s what I did to get to 100% project completion. It was hard, I wanted to start on something sexier at 80%.


There was a post on HN a few days ago from someone who wrote a book called "The first 100" or something similar. Could be helpful? I'll try find the link...



Most strategy games, really. I occasionally played Civ, and others, and always had this "late game tiredness".


There's an excellent episode of the games design round table podcast (http://thegamedesignroundtable.com/2013/02/14/episode-14/) where Jon Shafer (designer of Civ 5) and Soren Johnson (designer of civ 4) discuss this problem - amongst other things.


If you're looking for a strategy game that doesn't suffer from this, try Age of Empires II. At least I don't find the game tiring at the end; in fact I find it more exciting. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most online AoE II games are 1 hour long, whereas Civ, Factorio, etc. take dozens of hours and weeks to complete.


If you play strictly early game aggro, civ gets much easier to complete!

I can't remember the last time the game wasn't over (for me or my opponent) quickly when we both do composite bowman/crossbow rushes.


Well duh, but then you miss all the awesome late-game tech!

Anyway, play Vox Populi people, it's much much better, also in OP's regard.


I see tons of games with names including Vox Populi, could you disambiguate with a link?


The OP probably means a mod for CIV5 called Vox Populi: http://civ-5-cbp.wikia.com/wiki/Civ5_CBP_Wikia


Sir I didn't get on what topic you are telling




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