Thursday, February 24, 2011

Case Study: Side Projects

Lean Coffee TO met again today and we discussed an interesting case study from Chris Eben, hosted by the good folks at My City Lives.

Brief summary of the presentation and discussion:

  • Started with the idea in 2008
  • Talked to investors, nearly secured funding, but disappeared during market crash
  • Should you go it alone? Started out with another non-technical partner
    • Turns out going it alone is very difficult (especially motivation)
  • Side comment: Are Entrepreneurs not taking big enough risks anymore?
  • Another comment: Investors will look closely at how much you've risked personally ("skin in the game")
  • Another risk: While working full-time, could you get sued for your side project due to employment contract?
  • What's the true motivation behind the side project? (you're always accountable to someone)
    • Want to build fun/challenging/new stuff
  • Possibility: Could you team up with your existing employer to do the new project?
  • Having a family/kids/mortgage can increase the potential risk of quitting a steady job
  • Should you learn technical skills to get a prototype done?
  • Process has been fun, but frustrating now that so much time has passed since the initial idea

And special -- for this week only -- a full-fledged off-topic rant!

I've been doing consulting with Syllogistic Software for almost 8 years now. I mentioned today that one of my key selection criteria for projects is one simple question: "What documentation do you currently have?"

I think this was was misinterpreted by some. (This ties in a bit to last week's documentation discussion.)

I wasn't suggesting that an idea needs to be fully spec'd out prior to starting. Quite the opposite. That's so un-lean it's not even funny. I would never waste time documenting unless it was strictly necessary.

My point is that this step is critical to demonstrating that you have more than just an idea in your head.

I've noticed that people can lean towards being "talkers" or "doers." I assume, perhaps unfairly, that someone is a talker, until they prove otherwise. That's why I ask potential clients what they've accomplished so far.

Don't get me wrong. I love talking too. I'm always chomping at the bit to get my two cents in at Lean Coffee :) Nobody is 100% one way or the other.

Let's face it though: There's a time for talking, and there's a time for doing.

Talkers can survive in big, bureaucratic organizations. They chat up their boss, attend meetings all day, send lots of emails, hang around the coffee room. They can talk to customers and investors. A properly motivated talker can be a good sales person.

As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to entrepreneurship, there is no room for talkers. There's too little time, and too much at stake.

There's a little saying on the Internet, "pics or it didn't happen." There's also the more traditional "actions speak louder than words."

When it comes to side projects, goals, and life in general, my all-time favorite is one I was introduced to many years ago (on a consulting practice business card of all places):

"JFDI", or "Just focus and do it."

Hope you enjoyed the rant. Next week I'll try to get back to my brief bullet point format :)


  1. Sounds like you think I'm a talker.

    That case discussion went very differently than I expected it would and, had a known, I would have provided some very different information and context.

    Nevertheless, fair enough to assume that people are "talkers" until proven otherwise.

    Thanks for the notes.

  2. Hey Chris -- Like I mentioned, I don't think anyone is strictly 100% a talker or a doer.

    I'm mostly trying to be inspirational (perhaps with a small dash of "edge").

    Life is always a fine balance between determining what is important, and then doing those important things.

    My point is that once you know what's important, you have to buckle down, blast through the obstacles and "get 'er done".