The Life-Changing Magic of Side‑Projects

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” – Thomas A. Edison

For years, working on side-projects has played a huge role in my life. There are many different reasons for this and in fact, for each project, the reason has altered due to circumstance.

When I was 14, I was at that beautiful spot every early-teen experiences in the UK. The time where secondary school is starting to become your life without the imminent pressures of exams or results orientated activities. In fact, school was simply about friends, laughs, practical jokes and those physical music buttons on the side of slide-phones. But the truth is, despite the fun-filled day-times, I had something even more exciting occupying my late afternoons and evenings. For 14-year-old Justin had started his very first side-project. His own company.

What started out as a fun pass time that had me simply fleshing out a WordPress site with film and game reviews, quickly became a daily to-do. I would rush home from school with excitement and jump straight onto my computer, writing the next article or planning the next piece of content. See I had played a lot of iPod Touch app games and watched a lot of films up until that point and very much enjoyed the pass-time of talking about these things with others who were also playing these types of apps and/or consuming a lot of films. At 14, this made me want to write about them and to further the discussion but with people online and around the world. Unfortunately, these were the days before websites like Medium or Quora had really appeared and dominated on the scene, so I had to take matters into my own hands. Knowing that I could tap into a community of film and app lovers, I devised a website company of my own. And thus, Appfilm was born. (A very creative name I know…)

Branching out into learning about SEO and making partnerships to have my site featured (often with the inclusion of a competition for an iTunes App Store gift card which I was able to purchase with my pocket money) were just some of the things I was doing in my after-school hours. In reflection, it’s crazy to believe that as my friends were spending their pocket money going to town, I was spending mine on investing in things to give away, focusing on building a larger readership. This only furthers the understanding of my love for that particular side project. After countless articles had been put out, I expanded the company to have several writers (who yes, mostly went to my school) and even started getting major advertisement deals, which I often had to turn to my dad to help me negotiate a price deal for. But what was most exciting about this, was that I had something I was proud of and had created for myself that only brought me closer to others who were like-minded and also had similar interests and projects. As well as this, I was able to make connections with professionals who were able to assist me further down the line with other projects that I ventured on. (All at the age of 14). As you have probably read before, my life thus far has been interesting in the way things have played out. But this is accredited mainly to these kinds of side-projects.

Spoiler, 2 years down the line, this website company I built gave me the opportunity to join an innovative tech-startup (listed in the Deloitte Technology Fast EMEA) at the age of 16. Working with the industry giants of Marks and Spencer, Uniqlo, Waitrose, Topshop and Pandora, this early look into a startup which grew rapidly gave me the business strategy insight which has rocket-fuelled the rest of my career thus far. Whilst others were working at their local retailers to get some more ‘going-to-town-money’, I was learning the complexities and high-level thinking required to work in a fast-paced tech company as a five-days-a-week employee. (Yes, I was running home from school again, but this time to work at an awesome company, rather than just my own bedroom).

However, the five days a week (of school and work after school) still left two open days on the weekend for 16-year-old Justin to dive into new side-projects. Whilst I did maintain Appfilm, I also started designing web interfaces and fell in love with the user experience side of everything related to tech. Constant work on my portfolio, freelance projects and industry networking made my years before going off to university, jam-packed. Even whilst at university (for one academic year): I built multiple websites, designed several interface flows, made videos, recorded podcasts, got articles featured, networked, met up with industry experts and worked on much, much more.

I still work on side-projects. In fact, I haven’t stopped working on side-projects since the age of 14. It’s fair to say that I’ve grown a deep bond with them and so, here are some things I’ve learnt about life and about side-projects from these many, many self-assigned tasks:

Now it’s true, side-projects are often hard work. But whilst they demand intense effort and countless hours from you, side-projects are relentless in giving back. They build momentum. They keep your mind alert and active. They keep your creativity headspace in high-gear. They bring you fans. They get you paid. They get you featured in famous magazines. They help you meet new people. They create deeper relationships. They create incredible and unthinkable opportunities.

Simply put, I love them.

Share this with the right people!

If you’ve ever found anything here to be interesting or valuable - it would be a big help to get this to reach the right people and share it with someone that you think will appreciate it:

Every month I send out an email that includes new products, ideas, and interesting links I’ve discovered:

Join the Product Designers, CEOs, and Jazz Artists reading each month:

By signing up, you agree with our Privacy Policy