The Art Of The Side Project: A Conversation With Shane Labs
After graduating college with a degree in computer science, web developer Shane Labs began working a full-time job at a huge corporation – and was bored out of his mind. While twiddling his thumbs and watching the clock, Shane began brainstorming ideas for side projects.
Those brainstorming sessions did not go to waste. Shane used the downtime at work to teach himself new skills, and eventually began turning his ideas into living, breathing web applications. His passion for side projects culminated in Side Project Profit, a website Shane launched a year and a half ago.
Side Project Profit is part personal blog, part collaborative learning experience. Shane uses the platform to share his own side projects with the world, but also invites others to share their own advice and experiences concerning side project development, marketing and monetization.
“It's been a good two-way street," Shane says. "I give some value to my readers and then they give me some value back.”
Transparency is one of the keys to Side Project Profit’s success. Shane makes it a point to share the profit reports from his side projects so readers can see for themselves how well each project is performing.
One of these side projects, AmpedSense, holds a special place in Shane’s heart. It was the side project that propelled his monthly side project earnings past the $1,000 mark, a goal he had set a long time ago.
AmpedSense is a WordPress plugin that allows users to split test their AdSense ads. Shane explains that many people tend to slap Adsense onto their blogs and let the WordPress theme decide where to place it. But results can differ dramatically depending on AdSense's placement, size, and even color. That's why it's important to experiment with your AdSense's setup
AmpedSense automates this experimentation process, says Shane, so users can easily see that, "'Oh, if I put my ads over here in the sidebar, I only get 10 clicks today. If I put it within the posts, I get 40 clicks today. Let's make sure I do that.’”
The response to AmpedSense has been very positive.
“People that use it email me just out of the blue and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it's been awesome. I really thank you for it.’"
While AmpedSense has indeed proved profitable, another one of Shane’s successful side projects took only one weekend to build, and earned him a cool $2,500 prize.
In 2012, the city of San Diego put together a mobile app contest to promote technological innovation and enhance city services. Shane decided to build an app that would let you report street maintenance issues with only a few clicks.
“I just made something where you just pull it up whenever you see a pothole. It will detect where you are and submit a report to the city. The city seemed to like it and they gave me a $2,500 award for it.”
Side projects have become such a big part of Shane's life that he decided his lifestyle deserved its own term.
According to SideProjectProfit.com, a sidestrapper is a "full-time software developer with an entrepreneurial drive that creates successful side projects without any outside investment."
Shane argues that successful sidestrappers must possess two important qualities. The first is discipline.
“Just stay disciplined and just stick to it and just keep trying and don't give up … If you just are disciplined and set aside some time every day or every week where you say, 'Hey, on Wednesdays, from 5:00 to 8:00 at night, this is when I'm going to be working on my projects.'"
The second quality sidestrappers must have is patience.
“There were some sites that I was just about to give up on, and then I just let sit for a while while I worked on some other projects. Then, all of a sudden, they pick up some steam. Just have patience and realize that things take time.”
Another major challenge to the sidestrapper lifestyle is time management. The very nature of the side project demands that it not be priority number one. Shane says that he used to allot at least an hour, if not an hour and a half, to side project work every day.
“I’d wake up at about 6:00 and work from 6:00 to maybe 7:00, 7:30. I'd consistently get in at least maybe eight, nine hours a week, which was great.”
But six months ago Shane’s wife gave birth to a baby daughter. Just like that, his free time vanished.
“I'm still able to get a few hours in here and there. Now, I'd say I work maybe two hours a week. It's nowhere near what I'd like to be doing … Eventually, I'm hoping that our daughter will become a little bit more self-sufficient and we'll be able to get a little bit more free time back.”