Ash HN: Given the salary of a developer, how can a side project be worth it?

24 points by iraldir 2 months ago

Disclaimer, this is a real first world-problem. As a JavaScript contractor in the UK, I can easily make 500£+ a day, full time, minus taxes. My goal was to reimburse my student loans (done) and start putting money aside for making my own startup. But the more I stay in this business, the more I make money, and the more it's hard to even imagine a startup that comes close to that opportunity cost.

Even for a side project, it would simply be more profitable if I just spent time finding higher paying customers for my JavaScript skills.

It sort of feels like a trap. Anyone got a story of how they went through that?

codegeek 2 months ago

Yes, I have one word for you: Mindset. The more you make money in your contractor job, the more it should NOT be hard to imagine a startup or your own thing. Why ? Because doing your own thing has nothing to do with just money. It is an ITCH that has to be scratched if you are meant to be that person who risks it all.

So change your mindset. Don't think about the fact that you will probably be very poor in the beginning of your side project/business/startup etc. That is a given and a fact. If that bothers you, you will never be an entrepreneur. Get that out of your head.

Instead, think about the opportunity cost of you NOT doing your own thing. Think about where could you be in 7-10 years from now if you did do your own thing. Mindset. All about mindset. Now you could of course completely fail and still be poor/broke after few years BUT if you are really that entrepreneurial type, you will still not feel completely lost. You would have learned so much doing your own thing that you will have a satisfaction. At least, that is how I think about what I am doing right (bootstrapped business for almost 5 years and my personal income is still not quite what I used to make in my high paying but boring/miserable Investment Banking IT job)

My final thought: If you want to do your own thing and you are always doubtful, imagine yourself on your death bed. Would you rather regret the fact that you didn't do your own thing or would you regret the fact that you did something but failed ? For me, it is the former. That is what drives me to do my business, nothing else. Money is important but a side effect and yes I want to be rich but that is not my main reason to do a business.

onion2k 2 months ago

Most people make side projects for fun. If it turns in to something that brings in some money that's great, but if it doesn't it was still interesting to build.

Plus you get to build the thing that you want to build rather than what someone else wants. That's a huge draw for a lot of people.

Another reason is that your contractor earning is capped by whatever you can charge multiplied by your time. If you get in to the top echelon of contracting you might be charging £1200/day, but even that is 'only' about £300,000 a year. If you want to earn more you need to find a way to charge for something other than time. That means starting a business that sells a product.

world32 2 months ago

I've was in exactly the same position as you, "why would anyone want to risk it on a startup when you can make several hundreds of pounds a day contracting". And now I am working on my own side project.

You get used to the money very quickly, if you are smart you will be saving at least 30-40k a year depending on where you live (I assume you're in London based on your day rate). Even though it is a huge amount of money and certainly a first world problem, if not a 1% world problem, you might still get bored with your job. And If you do ever get bored then having a mountain of savings and knowing that you can always go back to contracting if you want to puts you in the perfect position to start your own business.

But it seems like you were thinking that you would do your own startup because "thats what you're supposed to do". If you are happy contracting and enjoying the money from it then stick with that. Doing your own startup can be a great experience but it is not some kind of nirvana that everybody has to aspire to.

EDIT: I would also recommend reading this article for a perspective on how to think about your work. These days in tech everybody tells you that you have to "do what you love", and generally that is assumed to be orthogonal to what earns the most money. Don't take that advice as gospel. If you are happy working as a javascript contractor and earning a sh*t-ton of money then you are in a very good place. The hacker news mindset has created a lot of startup mythology around "doing your own thing" and "breaking the mould" which might make you think that its something you need to do too.

remyp 2 months ago

A different (possibly oversimplified) way of thinking about it: the people paying you that rate are only doing so because they're getting a return on that money.

If you can find a way to do what they do (run a successful business) then you would get higher returns being a labor buyer rather than a seller.

Whether those potential returns _adjusted for risk_ are worth it is up to you.

DerekQ 2 months ago

Contracting at medium to high rates is great if you want to bootstrap your own startup. I use it for that purpose myself. A few of the best reasons.

1. It allows you to work for 6-12 months and save up enough to take 2-3 months off to work on your startup — something that’s often required to build a version 1 of your app.

2. Contracts tend not to include the usual clauses such as "We own the ip to everything you invent, even in your spare time." And if they do they can be removed without difficulty.

3. It’s extremely forgiving of job hopping and spending short amounts of time with a company before leaving to work on your startup.

4. Contractors are usually not expected to work overtime, eating into side-project time.

On a different note, your use of the term "side project" instead of product, app, startup or business suggests you don't see this side project as a business or potential business. Maybe that's why your focus is on the money and not the business you might build.

I've always felt that "side project" is a terrible phrase to describe the early stages of a new business, even if you're starting that business while working a day job.

matt_the_bass 2 months ago

I second the comments about side projects value is for fun. To me the value of my side project is non monitary. In my side project[0], I craft clocks. The value it provides to includes:

- kickstarts my motivation. I’m interested in making these but if I didn’t have a few customers I might slack off and not start the project and instead waste time with internet or other drivel.

- it’s an excuse to learn new skills and fund the purchase of tools that I’d like but don’t really need.

- it demonstrates to my young kids that anyone has the ability to create. Even if it’s a small idea, it’s still valid.

- all my mistakes/trial-and-errors also demonstrate to my kids that EVERYONE makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.

- my spouse works on the marketing side of the business and it allows her to earn some income with flexible hours part time.

- and last but certainly not least: it feeds my ego! In all earnest, I think this is good since it is an outlet for my ego and I feel it helps keep my ego out of the rest of my life.


seanwilson 2 months ago

> As a JavaScript contractor in the UK, I can easily make 500£+ a day, full time, minus taxes.

If they can easily afford to pay you that much, it might make you curious how much money you can make by creating a product yourself.

For people saying your maximum earnings are capped as a contractor, that's because you're charging for your time instead of your expertise. Consider fixed price and valued based pricing.

smt88 2 months ago

Bootstrapping a company is gambling. If you don't enjoy the game and don't want to lose money, what's the point?

It's normal and rational to prefer high, steady pay over a miniscule chance at being fantastically wealthy, especially when founding a company often destroys your life for 3+ years.

If you like your life, don't worry about side projects.

muzani 2 months ago

Play cookie clicker.

At first, it's slow. As it progresses, you get more cookies per click. It'll hit a point where improving cookies per click has diminishing gains.

At some point, you'll invest in an autoclicker which is pretty slow and you think you might as well just click the cookies yourself. But it's additional cookies in parallel with your clicks. That's nice.

After a while, the autoclicker and passive income gets good enough to match active income. You start to optimize it. More income per click for some routes, or more clicks per second. It compounds.

It seems slow at first but anything compound is powerful.

mromanuk 2 months ago

You can look at it from different perspectives:

- Just for fun (when you watch TV you doesn't look at the opportunity cost of it)

- you have a maximum amount, that you can earn as a contractor, but a side project doesn't have a max limit (neither a minimum)

ChrisRR 2 months ago

Because most people aren't contractors and make more like £150-200 a day

benologist 2 months ago

What makes side projects worth it is the time you put in is fixed and the reward is variable and disproportionate to that time. This is not really specific to programming, it also applies to books, music, television, games, streaming etc. There's also no real cap on how much side projects can succeed. Contracting you can make a lot of money too but it's capped and directly proportionate to your continued time investment.

saluki 2 months ago

The biggest selling point is this.

You can trade hours for javascript money but can you make money while you sleep or lie on a beach?

Your side project (SaaS, info product) can.

If you have the entrepreneur drive you'll already be thinking about ways you can create something that will become your main source of income and getting away from trading time for money.

You don't have to quit consulting, that's a nice way to fund your side project.

  • shoo 2 months ago

    > can you make money while you sleep or lie on a beach?

    > Your side project (SaaS, info product) can.

    or you could invest your surplus JavaScript money in the stock market, or real estate, or other investments that reduce your demand for money (e.g. a cheap house if that's a better deal than renting).

    Less interesting than side projects but probably a much more predictable low-time return on investment.

alsoicode 2 months ago

I often do side projects when there's an opportunity to explore something I don't normally get to do in my line of business work.

In many cases, I'm able to take what I've learned back to my day job, so it's not always about money, at least for me.

badpun 2 months ago

Been there. At some point I both became too sick of the nonsense of working in dysfunctional orgs and had enough saved to not worry about money too much. Leaving the contracting game seemed like obvious choice at that point.

is_true 2 months ago

FOR ME. It's not just about money but freedom, both with your own productos and your life. I like being able to go sailing/kayakin/running/mountain biking/fishing/etc when I want.

keiferski 2 months ago

No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.


majortennis 2 months ago

how do you find those high paying roles