Launching your passion project

Do you ever lay in bed and dream up ideas of fun projects you’d love to work on? Or you’re at work and you like your job but the projects aren’t exactly 100% what you’d love to be making or designing but you tread along as if sleepwalking at times. The people are great, the clients aren’t bad, and you’re getting paid pretty well. But you’re itching for something more, so you create things here and there but they never really stick, so all of these projects of yours sit in your idea graveyard. 

But that rush you get, when you first start and get lost in the work. When your passion is inline with what you are creating. When the output matches the type of work that you want to create. When it’s your vision and when everything just lines up. It’s an amazing feeling, even if it’s short lived or fleeting. 

That’s one of the most amazing parts of being a designer. To create something from almost nothing. It’s magic. 

As makers, creators and mavericks - we are at our best when we are passionate. 

If you can relate – I totally understand because that was also me. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my career, was not about winning awards, having a cool job title, working with huge clients, or working on projects with big budgets it was launching my own little passion project and bringing it to market.

I learnt so much and grew so much as a designer because of this process. All the skills and experience I’d gained along the way had helped me converge to this point, to have fun and be a beginner again. 

But going from start to finish was hard. It took a lot commitment and hard work. Tons of research and reading. And because I didn’t want it to be something internal or static. (Like a redesign of a popular site or something of that nature) I wanted to make something that people could use, something that could make money, something that could impact people’s lives. 

So if you are thinking of starting that passion project of yours and want to learn how to start, complete, launch, bring it to market, make money and get over the psychology that you are not good enough. This one’s for you. 

Here are 6 important lessons I’ve learnt from the passion projects I’ve launched and created successfully.

Note: If your goal is just to create something for fun and not necessarily for market viability then you don’t have to follow everything here. I created so many projects just for fun or half baked projects that never went anywhere. They’re valuable in and of themselves. 

But if you want to create something tangible, something that is a product you can evolve and net you some revenue, and learn the lean startup model first hand here are some things you can do. 

1. Build an audience

This is super important. Before you get started on your project, the actual ground work for creating something that people will use, that will gain traction when you release it, is you need to find your tribe. The people who line up with your values, what you’re about, what you stand for and what you do. 

This could come in the form of followers on social media – instagram, twitter, youtube, facebook, followers on dribbble/behance, or a podcast etc. but essentially any medium that speaks most to you, start building an audience there.

How can you build an audience? Share your work, write about your experiences, share your story and just who you are. Start small, go from your immediate circle and expand from there. This is the first step, and it takes time, but it is through building these connections with people, real connections on a personal level that helps you leverage to a meaningful personal brand. We’re the little guys/girls, we have the power to be personable and real as opposed to faceless brands. That’s our competitive advantage and even though we don’t have the resources of big brands. We can leverage our time to care and to provide unique viewpoints based on our personal experiences. That’s something we each uniquely own. 

Note: If you are not looking for users this is not mandatory. 

2. Find the overlap

You need to find where your passion overlaps with a market pain point. This is the golden intersection of passion and profit. And after many years of just creating things just for the love of the process and the craft of design for existing clients. Which I am forever grateful to because I learnt a ton. But I am now more interested in how I can build my own things, on my own terms, and learn how to sell and market great products that can serve others. When you play in the space of your passions, and a market pain point that you are excited about to solve, that is when magic happens.

Nothing speaks volumes about the quality of your work than asking someone to give you their hard earned money. That is absolutely terrifying.  And so your goal is to put a smile on the faces of the people who put their vote of confidence in you and your product. and to make their lives better in some way. It can be big, or it can be small. That is the true power of design. Pretty design for views and likes are good for exposure – but beyond that there’s so much more you can influence, and achieve. 

3. Get started and find consistency

Just do it. Don’t stay in your own head. When you get the wheels turning, keep going. Look for like minded people as a guiding source of inspiration to see things through and to give you the accountability you need to find your inner greatness. To show you what’s possible across different levels. Sometimes all we need is someone to believe in us and say ‘keep going’, ‘you’re doing great’, ‘you’re audience is waiting for you to create this and it’s nearly there’.

4. Leave perfection at the door and create an MVP/MSP

I was a perfectionist, and I realised perfection is nearly impossible to create in isolation. And perfection is fleeting. Don’t try to bite off too much in the beginning. Start small, get user feedback, use design thinking principles. Prototype. Iterate. And test your way to perfection rather than hiding and waiting in a secret room waiting for a big reveal. Create minimum viable products and minimum sellable products that can delight and wow your users on a smaller scale at first and expand from there. Leverage existing tech stacks to quickly bring your project to market. Your audience is part of your story, they are a part of your journey and their success is your success. Use their feedback as a means to get better. The market never lies, if your product floats it’s good, keep going. If it sucks the numbers and feedback will reveal itself. Use the data and keep tweaking.

5. Learn sales and marketing

This is one of the biggest skills that you need to learn as a designer. You might have visions of the grimy used car salesman, or the person selling snake oil is what most designers imagine sales and marketing to be. That you become a sellout.

But the products we know and love are all driven by sales and marketing. Great ideas need great sales and marketing to be able to initially distribute great products. Steve Jobs was one of the best at integrating, sales, marketing and design into a compelling vision and story to ship great products. If done right, sales and marketing merely tools of distribution and don’t have to be tied to the cliches or unethical sales tactics. 

When you can communicate the language and value of design to different people not just designers, you become inherently more valuable. You learn how to bridge the language of different departments, to collaborate and bring clarity to conversation to create the best products possible. You have the ability to speak the language that resonates with different people. 

6. Keep iterating and be passionately persistent

Rome wasn’t built in a day. This will be one of the greatest lessons you’ll learn as a designer as you go deep in the rabbit hole with your project. You will be faced with a set of challenges, like a rollercoaster than teaches so much about the hustle. It will be a mirror. A chance for you to slightly get out of your comfort zone, but on the other end is a set of invaluable skills that you will learn which you can take with you for life. The lessons and the journey is the success. And in the process your persistence will be rewarded handsomely both in knowledge, wisdom and with some of that cash money.

Interested in launching/starting a passion project or side project? Interested in learning sales, marketing and personal branding from a standpoint of a designer? I’d love to hear from you.
You can participate in the survey here. I’m considering an invite only pilot program for designers in 2018 looking to make, learn and launch things using a lean startup model.