What I Learned From Failed Side Hustles

Phil May 15, 2019
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What I Learned From Failed Side Hustles

Since 2010 I have been involved with a number of side hustles. Nearly a decade at time of writing this post, that is depressing. My goal was to start working for myself. I hoped that one or more of these side hustles would take off and bring in an income that I could live on. Allowing me to focus on running the hustle full time and turn it into a fully fledged business. So, what skills have I learned from these failed side hustles?

On the first few of the failed side hustles I worked alongside friends or people I knew. Most of the early projects started by an acquaintance coming to me saying “I have this idea, do you think you can build it?”. I always jumped at the chance as I struggled in the past coming up with potential business ideas.

Working on these side projects gave me the bug of starting my own side project/business. I have become better at coming up with potential ideas. Always delving right in and start building the product. Unfortunately many of these ideas have also fallen from the way side, ending up in the graveyard with the earlier “joint ventures”.

I decided to write this blog to look back at the projects and review what I had learned over the years, skill set wise. You can always view these so called “failures” in a negative way. Taking inspiration from Tony Robbins, instead of viewing them as losses, I have started to think “what have I learned from this”. Getting all the information down whilst drafting this blog has been somewhat therapeutic.

“Failed” Projects I Have Worked On

In this section I will run through what sorts of software related projects I have worked on. Giving an overview of what I learned from each one.

Sketchbook Guru

Someone I knew from University had this idea. His idea was a website which basically ended up being “LinkedIn for start-ups”. Before LinkedIn was a thing (we really missed the boat on this one). The main idea of the site was to bring together people to launch a business idea, ranging from designers and developers all the way up to people who wanted to invest into new businesses.

What I Learned

Linux/Ubuntu and how to setup things like MySQL databases, Postfix email management, etc.

Installation and configuration of WordPress and PHP.

PHP/WordPress front-end development.

PHP scripting to process results and email the users.

Web design. Although our attempts were pretty shocking compared to today’s standards.

Football Survivor/Fixture Survivor

My University contact also came up with another website idea. Again, we missed a trick with this one and couldn’t get it to market. Someone had had the same idea as us. Not sure if their site is still running or not. This website idea was basically gambling against your mates on the football results. The last man/men standing would take the share of the winnings.

What I Learned

PHP and an earlier version of the CodeIgniter framework.

Bootstrap, HTML and CSS.

jQuery and Javascript.

How to build a custom admin area to run the product.

I also built a custom CMS, integrated into the main product, which only admins could see and use.

More web design – My skills improved massively working on this side hustle.

Marketing/sales/copy-writing. I included marketing pages within the website to help promote the product. Even though no one actually signed up. EVER!

Away Day Bible

The Away Day Bible started out as an Android and iPhone app. Designed for travelling football fans to be able to find places to eat, drink, places to stay and included transport information. Users could submit reviews to let fans know if a pub or chip shop was worth visiting or not.

Three of us contributed to Away Day Bible for over 3 years. Unfortunately we could not find a way to transition this into a paying side hustle and decided to part ways.

However, like a Phoenix out of the flames. The grounds guide and all the information we spent an age collating is still available for people to use. the website is called Football Social Club. This site is now a paid subscription service. If you would like to know more about the grounds guide you can here.

What I Learned

How to build a custom API using Apigility.

I also built a version of the API using CodeIgniter for the Football Social Club version of the grounds guide.

I built a custom admin area to manage the data that was displayed by the API. This admin area also enabled us to manage the “business”.

I built both an Android app and iPhone app from scratch (written in the native programming languages for each phone). Which used the API I had built to display data to the users.

We used third party products such as Google’s API’s to show maps. Along with other API’s such as analytics packages.. This was a massive learning curve along with the app development.

More WordPress experience for the marketing website. Also exposure to things like setting up SSL’s and integrating WooCommerce. Allowing people to purchase merchandise direct from our website.

How to interact with payment providers. We used Stripe to process payments as a friend recommended them.

For version 2 of the mobile apps I started building an MVP using NativeScript. However, we never manged to get this to market. Although I did mange to get exposure to NativeScript by getting around 80% of the functionality from the original apps into version 2.

Automated Accumulator

A friend of my wife and I got both of us into ‘Matched Betting’. I won’t go into detail about what matched betting is. Or delve to far into the goal of the product. Basically I designed and built a SaaS product which would allow a user to setup a number of bets to be placed on football matches. Selecting which outcome the user would like to bet on.

The software would then automatically place the bets for you. The clever bit of the software was that it made decisions whether to place another bet on a fixture. Which was dependant on the outcome of the last fixture our system had bet on.

Blowing my own trumpet here, it was very clever. I even managed to get my first customer who signed up for monthly subscription. I was over the moon. However, I decided to shutdown the project as there was very few potential customers. In addition, the whole system relied on a third party API which was flaky at best.

I couldn’t bring myself to let customers lose money because of a third party API. It wasn’t reliable and if the third party decided to revoke my products access to their API. The whole project would have had to be shutdown. In, conclusion it wasn’t a stable business model. However, I learned so much in a very short space of time.

What I Learned

I built the main SaaS website using Microsoft’s .Net Core framework.

Learnt how to build ‘WebJobs’ using .Net Core.

It was my first real product that was hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

Taught myself how to use VSTS/Azure DevOps to automate my build, test and deployment pipelines.

Gave myself exposure to Azure SQL databases.

Again used WordPress as my marketing site. I got a lot better at building a marketing site and writing sales copy.

I got over the fear of actually messaging and picking up the phone to call a potential customer. That’s how I managed to land my one and only client bt dropping them a phone call.

The Takeaways From Failed Side Hustles

I have learned so much from all these failed ventures. From picking up new programming languages and frameworks. Which comes more naturally as I have worked as a software developer for a long time. Through to writing marketing and sales content and speaking to potential clients. Which has been a steep learning curve and something that is still difficult for me.

Would I Still Jump In Without Looking?

In short. No. I wouldn’t dive right into projects like these again. Over the years I have read a few books like The 4-Hour Work Week and Will It Fly. These books discuss testing and validating your side hustle/business ideas. This is key to what side hustles I would work on in the future and something I have been more focused on recently. I still have the desire and work ethic to find a successful side hustle. However, my time is getting ever more precious and I need to spend it wisely.

One thing I will say. If you are a programmer or from a tech background and want to play around with new programming languages or frameworks. Coming up with a side hustle idea is a great way to learn them FAST.

A word of caution though. Expect to earn ZERO money from it. Actually expect it to take money our of your pocket for things like hosting, etc. If it’s purely a play thing then great. There is no such thing as “If you build it, they will come”. You will be waiting a long time.

What’s In The Pipeline

There a few things I have worked on recently that I am trying to see if I can find paying customers for. However, they are more a “scratch my own itch”. Which I am trying to find users to if they would like to test what I have built. In addition to gaining feedback before writing another line of code.

If you are interested in trialling one of these products please contact me

I am also doing a lot of market research to find a side hustle. It seems I used to struggle to come up with potential ideas. Now I have some many I want to look into. Market research can be as overwhelming and time consuming as actually building a product.

At least with product research and a potential customer list. Your chances of succeeding are increased.

Good luck in finding your side hustle.

Find Out More

If you would like to find out more about what I learned you may find the following blogs useful.

Quickly Deploy An API – Using Apigility

Building a Custom CMS – Using Codeigniter

Alternatively you can view what products I have worked on that have become small side hustles here.

Category: General, Tech
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