Evaluating Side Project Ideas
Or how to stop obsessing about that great idea and determine if it's really "worth your time"
I find myself distracted quite often with new ideas and new projects. I want to get all of them off the ground, but I know that's not realistic. You've got to pick and choose; you've got to have focus.
Since I know how easily I'm distracted, over the years I have developed a little system I use to weed out the worth-while projects from the no-need-to-waste my time. Actually it's more of a work in progress that’s always evolving and it's more of a questionnaire than it is a system.
Be aware, this questionnaire doesn't really tell you if a project WILL work or not, it just sort of helps me to get an idea of the business potential of an idea before I got ahead and spend more of my limited brain power or precious, very limited, free time on it!
It’s also not a must complete everything kind of exercise (at least not for me). Instead, it’s a bit more of a structured way to help my brain to stop obsessing about an idea that sounds too good to be true in my head…often times I’ll start filling out some of these things, get to a really hard one to answer — or one that just has a really depressing answer — and that’s enough to kill my enthusiasm for the idea (which honestly is a GREAT outcome for my brain most of the time).
Other times, I’ll just go through the basics of this stuff and still be so excited about the idea that I’ll skip fleshing this out completely and just move straight into the “let’s build it and find out” phase (though, if I’m completely honest with myself those tend to end up being the projects I often hit roadblocks on once it comes time to really market/sell/grow the thing).
Finally I should also mention that there are times I do side projects to scratch an itch that sits outside of a business goal (i.e. just to learn a new technology or build something fun or to teach someone or show someone something specific)…I also do some side projects as a collaboration and focused on other people’s ideas (where I’m mostly just trying to help them out)…in those cases, this framework doesn’t really apply (my evaluation in those cases is more on the relationship, the difficulty level, and my time commitment).
Anyway, below are the basic set of things I try to define or answer for each of my 'crazy' ideas and projects before I get too excited or too committed to ‘building’. Maybe it will help you frame your next thing (or at the very least get your brain to stop obsessing over the potential of a random idea for a bit).
Either way, I would love to hear what you think about this process…and what you do for evaluating your own ideas too (hit me up on Twitter at @falicon any time).
EVALUATING RANDOM SIDE PROJECT IDEAS
The Core Concept (1-3 sentences; elevator pitch)
The Problem (what does this solve for a customer)
The Solution (how does it solve the problem)
The Competitive Advantage (why this can replace the status quo; bonus points if my specific involvement can bring something unique or rare to this answer)
The Model (which basic business model does this map into? Should be a huge red flag if it doesn’t map into a well known business model; you can only invent so much via a side project)
The Team (who else will I need to/can I pull in?)
Project Competition (who is already in market? How will I compete with them?)
Project ideas/thoughts/beliefs (what’s the framework I’ll use to make in-and-out of scope decisions? why do I need this need to exist?)
How to make money (specifics around the model. Bonus points if the phases/timeline can also be worked out here.)
Information/things I still need (what are the current roadblocks to launching and scaling this today?)
Why I created it (why should I be the one to create this? Note: “because I can” is a very weak answer.)
Who I created it for (the target customer; what I specifically know/assume about them)
How much it costs (what will this cost me to build & maintain? Monthly and Annually. Also any information/guesses I have on marketing and other costs out of the gate are helpful here too)
How many users are needed to make 100k (You can pick any target here you want, but I like to think in terms of “what would it take to make this a full time thing” and for me personally the min. would be generating 100k in distributable profit [which would indicate it’s got the potential/opp. for me to afford to start thinking about this full time])
Staff resources needed (Sim. to team, but this is specifically who/what/when I would hire and what I would need them to contribute [team is more generally about co-founders/partners; this is more about staff])
Hardware/software resources needed (These are somewhat the fixed costs that I’ve prob. broken down a bit above already; but specifically outlining what I’m going to commit to in terms of hosting and any other required software out of the gate.)
What’s the timeline (How long will it take to get to launch? What’s the next steps and the plan? Am I still excited & ready to start?)