Side Projects that don’t wither and die

This brilliant bit of cartoon vandalism is doing the meme rounds on every social media platform this week. If you’ve ever had a side project then it probably hit home hard. It sure did for me.

The story of Quizzler

Back in 2005 I ran a trivia night for a church group. I love trivia nights and took the time to build a flash-based system that I could project the questions, answers and scores onto a screen. It worked brilliantly. The questions were all held in an XML file and for the next few years I reused the software, just updating the XML. But flash is dead-ish and I realized there may be a market for good looking, well running, quiz night software.

And thus in 2014 Quizzler was born. I did all the side-project things like registering, designing a logo and making a landing page with a MailChimp signup form. I even have laptop stickers and mugs!

I built a new version of the front end interface in (raw) Javascript, solving some complex problems that are probably now native CSS.

The landing page got lots of visits. The market is there. But the software has languished. It needs a backend, it needs interfaces for hosts and scorers, and needs to be generally robust enough to not spoil someone’s fundraiser or social night.

Five years later the landing page is still very effective despite no updates, redesign or modernization. At least twice a week MailChimp tells me “someone is picking up what you’re putting down”.

Side Projects and Motivation

So what happened? Why has my side project languished?

Clearly the motivation isn’t where it needs to be for a successful product. I don’t even have an MVP. I can’t blame time, or interest, or lack of potential market. All are there if I want them.

Motivation, I’m told, can be both intrinsic and extrinsic. It can come from inside: I have an internal passion for the idea. I will feel a particular way if I complete this project. And it can come from outside: I am well regarded. People pay me money for this.

All these things motivate us every day we turn up at work (though often the money one is the key!) but they’re also what motivates us to make our bed or brush our teeth.

To successfully complete a side project we need to find the motivation ‘hook’ that pushes us forward.

The Other Option

If we don’t find that motivation we end up with dead plants piling up. How many domain names do you have? Do you have an Evernote folder full of brilliant ideas? These are your dead plants. And you are carrying them around with you every day. Every new side project, started or not, is a weight you carry.

The weight of so many great (dead) ideas is stopping you picking up a new great idea. And maybe that new idea is your personal unicorn.

So here’s my solution: I have stopped renewing domains if I have not done anything with the the idea behind it. There’s absolutely no renewing it based on a plan to do something next week “because it really is a good idea”. If it’s that good, then I have the first expiry reminder to motivate me to do something.

Maybe you need more. Maybe a landing page is too simple. So set your line in the sand somewhere else. Signups to a mailing list could work. Or maybe a committed paying customer.

If you do not reach your line-in-the-sand then you let it go. Completely. Make space in your brain, your heart and your domain portfolio for the next great idea. This one wasn’t enough to move you forward.

The Future of Quizzler

I’ve now abandoned around two dozen domain names. I can’t even remember most of them, and on at least one occasion I had no idea what the idea had been behind it. They’re now all out of my brain completely. I’m no longer dragging the dead plants around with me.

So what about Quizzler? Will I take my own advice? You guessed it: I won’t. I am committed to finding my motivation and moving it forward.


So now I need to find the intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to move it forward.

Idea One: Find a partner

A partner is an extrinsic motivator. They could be anything from a co-developer to a mentor or coach or even just someone else with a side project for a weekly stand up. Someone who will have their own motivation for pushing me to achieve something.

Idea Two: Cash Money

Another great extrinsic motivator is someone else’s money. Whether this is an angel equity investment or a paying customer on a timeline, someone else’s cash is a big motivation for me to move.

Idea Three: Reduce the Feature Set

An intrinsic (de)motivator is a huge requirement list. Check out the Quizzler website and you’ll see how awesome it will be. But while I have such a high bar for success it’s hard for me to see the end.

Idea Four: Rediscover the Original Motivation

There’s a reason I wanted to do this in the first place. I need to uncover that and write it down somewhere I can see it regularly. Whether these original motivators were intrinsic or extrinsic, writing them down and seeing them often is an intrinsic motivation to move.


So the takeaways I want you to leave with are these three:

1. Abandon and forget anything and everything that hasn’t passed your line in the sand.
2. Find new motivation to move something forward.
3. Do one or the other of the above, but commit to no more collections of dead plants.

I’m no guru. I’m sure there are more great motivations to help me and others get moving on the ideas we haven’t thrown away. Drop me your suggestions on Twitter @divZero_