Friday, April 26, 2019

Innovators nurture side-projects

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

My Story:
Earlier in the day, I had a short twitter conversation with Gaurav Mittal. Gaurav was an ex-employee of my current organization (Citrix). My memory of him at Citrix was one of years back. I recall him demoing an interesting technology. It was a wearable device that one could wear on the knuckles and it would assist you with feedback while walking. The device was meant for visually impaired people who could leverage this to make their lives easier. What was demoed was still a prototype with a lot of wires and circuits dangling on the sides.

If i recall correctly, Gaurav worked with the team that was chartered with life cycle maintenance of the products. And he took up the development of this wearable gadget as a side-project. Fast forward 5-6 years, Gaurav is now the Founder and CEO of Eye-D.  
(From the websiteEye-D helps visually impaired be location aware, explore and navigate to nearby places of interest, evaluate surroundings with their smartphone camera and read printed text. Eye-D will serve as the true companion for most of your daily assistance needs.

Last year, I was a judge at a social start-up accelerator where many start-ups pitched to get grants and support. Eye-D was among the start-ups that pitched. If the app/play store penetration of their app and user base and the industry accolades are any indicators to go by, i believe they have had an impressive and a successful run so far.

What qualifies as a side-project ?:
The most interesting part of this story for me, as you might have guessed by now, is the fact that it started as a side-project. For the lack of a better definition, something qualifies as a side project if:
a) It is not a part of your main job.
b) It is something done out of interest and passion.
c) It is something that you do during your discretionary time.

Sometime back, I was reading the book called as Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test
New Ideas in Just Five Days and noticed many examples from Google that started as side-projects but eventually became big. Priority Inbox feature and Google Hangouts to name a few. I was also reading somewhere that Instagram started as a side-project. A few days back, I dissected the case of MailChimp, which was also started as a side-project. Sharing from the blog:

"Mailchimp, named after their most popular ­e-card character, launched in 2001 and remained a side project for several years, earning a few thousand dollars a month. Then in 2007, when it hit 10,000 users, the two decided to commit full-time."

In my experience in running innovation programs, the projects that largely stood-out are the ones that started as a side-project- where the innovators chose to put in all their energies and skills, not because somebody is telling them to but because they just want to.

I understand that side-projects are important, but i don't have time:
This is one of the common reasons for people to not take-up side projects. Time availability (or lack of it) is normally depends upon individual's context. Sometimes there are genuine reasons beyond office that dictate how much time one has at hand. I won't get into specifics but largely i have seen it as a time management issue, as a motivation issue.

Everything else being equal, people who find time for side-projects are the ones:
1. Who are intrinsically motivated.
2. Who have greater hunger, fire-in-the-belly than most.
3. Who are not satisfied with the status-quo and want to do something about it.

Our best work generally happens when we have a big enough challenge and not enough time.

It is very evident that one got to embrace side-project as a potential means to start the innovation journey. Small beginnings often result in big endings.

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