Side Projects That Became Very Successful

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Do you wish to start a new business or expand your business into a different area? Or, do you want to earn some side income or create a new project while you’re still employed in your regular job? Well, anyone can start side businesses or side projects. If you combine hard work with perseverance, a “can-do” attitude, positivity, and a dash of luck, who knows, your side project will become runaway success!

You may not experience overnight success, and that’s okay. The ability to turn even the biggest misfortunes to their advantage is one of the defining characteristics of successful people. They also never miss a chance to take advantage of one that presents themselves.

Famous Side Projects That Became Successful

Instagram

With 400 million monthly active users, Instagram is presently the most popular photo-sharing and social networking app. These examples show how these entrepreneurs transform their side projects into legendary achievements. Less than two years after Instagram’s inception in 2010, Facebook acquired it for $1 billion. But it was not the original project that its founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, developed.

Instagram started as Burbn, which initially was a mobile check-in app that intended to combine the attributes of other apps such as Mafia Wars and, most of all, Foursquare. However, users saw Burbn as too similar to Foursquare, and also found it complicated to use. However, they were using Burbn’s photo-sharing feature a lot more than its check-in feature. So, Systrom and Krieger decided to focus on the photo-sharing infrastructure and threw everything else. Burbn would become a photo-sharing app as “Instagram,” which was coined from the words “instant camera” and “telegram.”

Twitter

Not a lot of social media platforms can be as iconic and influential as Twitter. It began in 2006 by several people, most notably Noah Glass, Florian Webb, and Jack Dorsey. It grew to become one of the most recognized and most used social media platforms in the world, with over 300 million users who post over 340 million tweets a day.

Regretfully, Odeo was developing a podcasting platform at the same time as Apple introduced podcasting on iTunes. It goes without saying that trying to compete with a behemoth like Apple would be futile. Odeo thus knew it had to reinvent itself, and the group started coming up with fresh concepts.

Dorsey introduced the novel idea of creating a short messaging service (SMS) that would enable a user to “talk” with a small group of people. The new project was originally called “status” until the founders found a perfect new name for it: Twitter. The original product name was “twittr.”

Twitter was “a system where you could send a text to one number and it would be broadcast out to all of your friends,” according a Business Insider report. And the rest is history.

So as you can see, the original idea of Twitter was quite far from what it eventually became, although conceptually, it was pretty close.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking platform. Unlike other blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger, Tumblr is more free-form. It allows users to add all types of content – from text to pictures to videos to GIF’s – and have complete control over their blog’s theme and appearance.

Tumblr began during a two-week gap between contracts at Davidville, a software consulting company founded by David Karp that built business websites. He was collaborating with Marco Arment, the primary developer who would go on to start Instapaper.

While the pair received a steady stream of work, their clients otherwise disliked working with them. In 2006, Karp and Arment had a two-week gap between contracts. It should be noted that Karp had been interested in tumblelogs (short blogs). During this period, they began to work on a new project, a tumblelogging platform that was to be called Tumblr.

Tumblr was launched in February 2007, and two weeks after its launch, it gained 75,000 users. And the rest is history. Tumblr hosts 475 million blogs and had over 400 million active users (as of August 2019).

Pinterest

Before Pinterest landed on the radar as one of the hottest social media platforms, it experienced some obstacles.

Pinterest founder and CEO Ben Silbermann developed an app called Tote, which was intended as a clothing retail outlet. It turned out to be a dud. Since the app was a perfect substitute for heavy catalogs, the idea was truly quite good. However, what Tote failed to develop were easy mobile-based payments. At the time, technology was not so advanced to allow easy, “on-the-go” online transactions. It seemed that the timing was not yet right to provide a mobile shopping experience since mobile transactions and payments were not so seamless at the time.

Silbermann decided to move on, and use the failure of Tote to take off as an opportunity to build another project, along with other founders Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp. That project is now Pinterest, which now enjoys 300 million users monthly.

Google

Google, now a household name synonymous with internet search, began as a groundbreaking side project by two Stanford University Ph.D. students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in 1996.

Their mission was to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and helpful. Starting from a modest garage in Menlo Park, California, Google’s innovative algorithm, PageRank, revolutionized how information was retrieved online by ranking web pages based on their importance and relevance rather than counting how many times a search term appeared on a webpage. This core innovation propelled Google beyond a mere search engine into a tech giant, leading to its incorporation in 1998.

Today, Google has expanded its portfolio to include various services and products such as Android, YouTube, and Google Cloud, playing a pivotal role in shaping the digital age and influencing how people interact with information and each other globally. Its success story is a powerful testament to how visionary ideas, when pursued with passion and resilience, can transform into enterprises that redefine industries.

Slack

Slack, the widely-used communication platform for businesses, emerged from an unexpected origin as a side project within a gaming company, Tiny Speck, during the development of the online game “Glitch.” Founded by Stewart Butterfield, who also co-founded Flickr, Slack was initially an internal tool designed to improve team collaboration and communication.

Launched publicly in 2013, Slack quickly gained popularity for its intuitive design, seamless integration with other tools, and its ability to centralize workplace communication into a single, searchable platform. Its innovative features, such as organized chat rooms (channels), direct messaging, and file sharing, addressed common inefficiencies in email communication and transformed the way teams interacted digitally. 

Slack’s success story highlights the importance of flexibility and responsiveness to user needs in the tech industry. It demonstrates how solutions born out of immediate challenges can evolve into essential tools that redefine productivity and collaboration in the workplace. Today, Slack stands as a testament to the potential of side projects to revolutionize business practices and establish new standards in digital communication.

Facebook

Facebook, the world’s leading social networking platform, originated in 2004 as a college project by Mark Zuckerberg and his roommates at Harvard University. Initially designed as a digital directory for students to connect and share personal information, the site, then called “TheFacebook,” quickly expanded beyond Harvard to other universities and eventually to the general public.

Zuckerberg’s vision of connecting people and creating a more open and interconnected world propelled Facebook’s rapid growth. The platform revolutionized social media, introducing features such as the News Feed, which aggregates friends’ activities in a single timeline, and the “like” button, now ubiquitous across the web. As it evolved, Facebook became a tool for social movements, a platform for businesses, and a medium for digital communication worldwide.

Despite facing scrutiny over privacy concerns and misinformation, Facebook’s impact on social interaction, digital marketing, and the way people consume information is undeniable. Its transformation from a college side project to a global tech behemoth underscores the power of innovation and the potential of digital platforms to shape societal norms and behaviors.

Craigslist

What started as an email distribution list to friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995, turned into a web-based service in 1996 and expanded into other classified categories.

Craig Newmark, the founder, aimed to create a community where people could help each other with basic needs like finding housing and jobs. Craigslist is now a massive classified advertisement website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, for sale, items wanted, services, community service, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums.

Minecraft

Markus Persson, also known as “Notch,” began working on Minecraft as a project in his spare time. He released the first public version of the game in May 2009 while working at Jalbum.

Minecraft’s popularity surged, leading Persson to leave his job and focus on the game full-time. The game, which allows players to build and explore virtual worlds made of blocks, has become a cultural phenomenon and was acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5 billion.

Social Media

Critical Factors in Their Success

The astounding success of side projects like Google, Facebook, and Slack can be attributed to a combination of critical factors that these ventures shared despite their diverse origins and markets. These factors underline the essence of turning a simple idea into a global phenomenon:

  • Innovation and Problem-Solving: Each project introduced groundbreaking solutions to existing problems or fulfilled unmet needs, whether it was Google’s algorithm for ranking web pages, Facebook’s platform for digital social connection, or Slack’s efficient workplace communication system.
  • Timing and Market Readiness: Their launches were impeccably timed to meet emerging market demands. Google entered when the internet was becoming indispensable, Facebook capitalized on the burgeoning need for online social networks, and Slack addressed the growing complexity of workplace communication.
  • Founder Passion and Dedication: The founders were deeply committed to their projects, often working long hours and facing numerous challenges without losing sight of their vision.
  • Ability to Pivot: Flexibility and openness to change allowed these companies to evolve based on user feedback and market dynamics, crucially pivoting their initial models to suit user needs better.
  • Building a Community: Early on, they focused on engaging with their users and building a community around their products, which helped in refining their offerings and fostering loyalty.
  • Scalability: The projects were designed with scalability in mind, enabling them to grow rapidly and efficiently as demand increased.

These factors combined to create a powerful momentum for each project, transforming them from modest side endeavors into leading names in their respective industries. The stories of Google, Facebook, and Slack underscore the potential of innovative ideas, when executed with strategic acumen and relentless drive, to change the world. 

Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

The remarkable journeys of side projects that blossomed into industry giants offer invaluable lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs. These narratives underscore the essence of innovation, resilience, and strategic foresight in the entrepreneurial journey. First and foremost, they highlight the importance of pursuing a passion: starting with a problem or a need that you are deeply invested in solving ensures genuine commitment and a deeper understanding of the market. These success stories also teach the criticality of early and ongoing user engagement—soliciting feedback, understanding user needs, and being prepared to pivot based on this input is fundamental.

Entrepreneurs are reminded of the significance of timing, recognizing when the market is ripe for a new solution and having the agility to seize these opportunities. Moreover, resilience emerges as a key theme; the path of entrepreneurship is fraught with challenges, and persistence in the face of setbacks can make the difference between failure and success. Lastly, scalability should be a core consideration from the outset, ensuring that the business can grow and adapt without losing its value proposition. These lessons, distilled from the stories of projects like Google, Facebook, and Slack, offer a blueprint for aspiring entrepreneurs to navigate the complexities of turning their visions into realities.

Conclusion

The transformative journey of side projects into monumental successes serves as a powerful testament to the potential of innovative ideas, when nurtured with passion, perseverance, and strategic insight. The stories of Google, Facebook, Slack, and others like them, offer more than just tales of entrepreneurial triumph; they provide a roadmap for aspiring innovators, highlighting the importance of addressing genuine needs, engaging with users, and adapting to the ever-changing market landscape. These narratives underscore the reality that groundbreaking businesses often start as small sparks of creativity, growing through challenges and learning from failures.

As we reflect on these successes, we are reminded that the next revolutionary idea might just be lurking as a side project, waiting for the right combination of timing, dedication, and vision to bring it to life. For aspiring entrepreneurs, these stories affirm that with the right approach, even the most modest side project has the potential to reshape industries and impact the world.

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