We talk a lot about inspiring careers here. But what often gets neglected as we’re talking about all the cool things people are doing during their day jobs is all the cool things they’re doing outside of the 9-to-5.
So today, we’re fixing that in a big way. Read on for 51 of the coolest side projects we’ve ever seen. These projects really run the gamut—from blogs to small businesses, projects that are just getting off the ground to ones that have already been completed or turned into full-time gigs—but they all have one thing in common: They might give you a great project idea of your own.
If you’ve been looking for ideas for your own project to do in your free time, check these out as inspiration and as proof of the amazing things that can be done outside of a full-time job.
Publications and Podcasts
Blogs are the original side project and what many people think of when they consider starting one—so we figured we’d start there, too. This section includes anything that is published at regular intervals—be it a blog, a print publication, a podcast, or a newsletter!
What It Is: A blog about trying out different burgers and using them for design lessons and inspiration (really).
Why We Love It: Because it’s really the perfect example of a side project. It’s something that you’d actually want to do in your free time (eat burgers), but it also allows the designers who started it to hone their skills. And it’s led to impressive success: They were featured in Squarespace advertising since they use the platform, and they are looking to make a book or some sort of publication out of it.
What It Is: Content strategist Lindsay Mueller’s thoughts on living well, living simply, and living mindfully.
Why We Love It: Because it’s clean, it’s beautiful, and it clearly gives the author a change of pace from her day job. A side project that forces the author to think about living a more balanced life? Sign us up.
What It Is: A podcast that covers topics surrounding racial justice in America, created by Austin Channing Brown, speaker and author of “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.”
Why We Love It: The three co-hosts of the TNQ Show use their side project to educate listeners about a range of topics involved in racial justice and start in-depth discussions with racial justice leaders, activists, creatives, and thinkers.
What It Is: A weekly newsletter sending you simple sketches that teach you things.
Why We Love It: This started out as a personal, analog project—UX designer Jonathan Hey received a journal with a page every day for a year of sketching, which he used to practice the skill. When he got to the end, he wanted another challenge, so he decided to start sketching one explanation a day and sharing it with the world. He has now cut back to once a week because life happens, and that’s OK.
What It Is: A podcast where creatives and entrepreneurs discuss their creative processes and the process of surviving as a creative.
Why We Love It: Creator Shannon Byrne was working on another project and receiving advice (both solicited and non) from experts in creative fields, but she noticed that the conversations she had with these people were often far more productive, candid, and engaging than advice she found pre-packaged online. So she and co-host Hannah Spencer decided to start recording these conversations with a range of creative professionals including musicians, photographers, marketers, and more.
What It Is: A newsletter encouraging people to turn off from their digital lives more often, along with an ecommerce store selling paper goods and clothing.
Why We Love It: It came out of founder Jess Davis’ need to step back from her “fast paced, tech-based career”—and not only has it helped her take a break from her crazy digital day job, but it also gives other people the means to do the same.
What It Is: A lifestyle blog for the imperfectly perfect women and men of the world.
Why We Love It: Freelance social media manager, content manager, and writer Brittany Minor started her side project to document her findings and mistakes in the beauty world, but has since expanded to writing about travel, food, and parenting. This blog is for everyone, but Minor focuses on women of color since they’re so often neglected by the beauty world.
What It Is: A blog featuring the advice and adventures of a seasoned traveler.
Why We Love It: Started during a period of unemployment for Valerie, this project is a great reminder of the value of doing something you’re passionate about on the side of a job search, too. Not only did it become quite successful on its own, it’s led to multiple opportunities for Valerie: “It has helped me get a writing contract with Lonely Planet and commission for a piece with Yahoo Travel. It’s part portfolio piece, part my life’s work.”
What It Is: A magazine and marketplace “building momentum away from the fantasy of The Perfect Wedding (TM) and towards celebrations of authentic love and community”—of all shapes, sizes, and styles for all couples.
Why We Love It: A group of friends decided to use their interest and expertise in the wedding industry (one is a wedding planner as one of her day jobs, another a wedding and engagement photographer) to add something a little different to the space. It’s great to see people using their talents in new ways outside of their 9-to-5.
What It Is: A podcast that spends each episode focused on the mechanics and history of a single classic song.
Why We Love It: With his side project, musician and writer Kirk Hamilton breaks down his favorite songs, exploring how they work on a musical and emotional level, teaching listeners about music theory along the way.
What It Is: A podcast by a group of customer services professionals about their experiences in the industry and love of breakfast food.
Why We Love It: This podcast grew out of weekly breakfasts that the hosts would have. Each host worked in customer support for a different tech company in London, and they decided to start recording their conversations on different topics to help others in the industry.
What It Is: A podcast about loneliness and solitude.
Why We Love It: Freelance food writer and author Julia Bainbridge and guests discuss being alone—without focusing on the bad parts. Instead Bainbridge seeks to de-stigmatize loneliness and find the joy in solitude.
What It Is: A weekly newsletter covering everything writer Maria Popova is reading and learning about, from Maya Angelou to contemporary art to “How Kepler Invented Science Fiction and Defended His Mother in a Witchcraft Trial While Revolutionizing Our Understanding of the Universe.”
Why We Love It: Brainpickings shows the potential of side projects. What started as a weekly inspiring email to a few friends that Popova sent while working at an ad agency, is now her career.
Small Businesses and Consulting
Another common thread of side projects is using your spare time to test out an idea for a business or to launch a consulting or freelance practice that you can do on the side. It sounds like a huge undertaking, but the below examples prove that real people can actually do it!
What It Is: A handwritten newsletter with reflection exercises and a couple of classes helping people re-learn how to use pen and paper to flesh out ideas.
Why We Love It: The project is an interesting mix of a periodical project (the newsletter) and some “one and done” work (the classes). It shows the different ways you can approach an idea in a side project.
What It Is: A couple of friends combine their expertise and experiences getting hitched to coach you through a different way of thinking about wedding planning—using the Scrum methodology typically used in software projects. They offer individual coaching and a guide.
Why We Love It: It’s a fun example of using your professional expertise in a different way. These gals weren’t wedding planners, but they did have a lot of combined expertise in event planning and management; writing, editing, and social media; Agile project management/Scrum methodology; and collaborating with designers to produce beautiful products. So they decided to use it to “help people save time, money, and, most importantly, their sanity.”
What It Is: Coaching to help you tackle tough decisions in your life, whether they’re small or large, personal or professional.
Why We Love It: Started by a travel writer, this coaching is something she does that’s “fun (and refreshingly different)” on the side. Just goes to show that even people with the coolest jobs need outlets for something a little different.
What It Is: Goods made out of vintage recycled license plates, made by a guy who spends his days as a web designer in the automotive industry.
Why We Love It: Because it’s a very hands-on, artistic project with a beautiful digital presence. We’re sure it feels good after a long day sitting at a desk to come home and make things!
What It Is: A course that helps creatives get their freelance careers off the ground through the use of passion projects.
Why We Love It: Artist Lauren Hom is no stranger to side projects (see 45 and 46 below), so she decided to share her expertise with others hoping to follow their passions and make money doing it.
What It Is: A site that lets companies quickly and easily make custom Zoom backgrounds with their logos.
Why We Love It: Designer and developer Mubashar Iqbal loves side projects. He whipped this one up in two weekends when he saw how quickly the use of Zoom was exploding.
What It Is: A monthly subscription box of science experiments and projects for kids.
Why We Love It: As a venture started by college students while, you know, being students, it’s a great reminder that no one is too young to follow a passion on the side.
What It Is: A travel tour agency with a twist—you accompany two seasoned travelers on their trip.
Why We Love It: Married couple Cicely Carroll and Bob Lawson have been traveling and living in exciting places for many years. They realized they'd become skilled travel guides and decided to use this to help fund their own vacations. They plan group trips and handle all the stressful parts of planning a vacation for their customers, including booking hotels, restaurant reservations, and the best activities an area has to offer.
What It Is: A site with camping content, a podcast, and courses on how to start your own glamping or holiday rental business.
Why We Love It: After suffering a stroke at age 28, camping enthusiast and business expert Sarah Riley found a way to combine her career skills with her passion in this wide-ranging side project. Her husband Roy, a professional photographer and videographer, contributes his talents as well as the project’s chief photographer.
Many people look to their side projects to have a little more meaning than their bring-home-the-bacon jobs. The next set of projects are pretty inspiring examples of how people are making a mark in their free time.
What It Is: Started by Audra Dipadova Wilford when she discovered her four-year-old son had cancer, this site helps families who have children with cancer learn about and access lifestyle changes and innovative therapies to fight the disease.
Why We Love It: It’s an astounding example of taking a hardship and turning it into a positive and powerful side project. Plus, we’re impressed Wilford manages it all while working her full-time job and taking care of her family!
What It Is: A company that works with people in developing countries to produce high-quality, handmade scrubs at fair, living wages—creating economic opportunity for at-risk women in communities around the world.
Why We Love It: As a rehabilitation manager in her day job, founder Holly Godfrey found it challenging to find great healthcare uniforms—and decided to solve the problem herself while adding some good to the world.
What It Is: What started as a search engine helping students discover the best scholarships to apply to using data—giving them access to over $25 million in funds to help with their education—now uses data to help people make choices about moving, personal finance, and careers as well.
Why We Love It: While it began as a project on the side of founder Eppie Vojt’s day job as a VP at Red Ventures, he made enough progress and saw enough success early on that he was able to convince his employer to fund it and allocate resources toward it.
What It Is: Started with the mission to teach kids about how they can help with issues in the world and grow their natural empathy, Forever We sells a doll and book that represents the experience of the child undergoing treatment for cancer—and donates money to the cause with every purchase—allowing children and parents to have conversations around tough issues.
Why We Love It: Started by a mom of four kids, this is a great example that side projects aren’t just for people with traditional office jobs—people with full-time jobs like being parents need outlets for other things as well!
What It Is: A site that teaches people with chronic illnesses how to adapt popular planning methods—primarily bullet journaling—to suit their circumstances.
Why We Love It: Many people with chronic illnesses have to manage and track their health alongside their daily to-do list. Jess Williams is a full-time customer advocate at Buffer and mother of two who also has lupus. She started Pinecone Papers to share the methods she uses to plan and be productive while also taking into account the unique challenges that face chronically ill people.
What It Is: A set of projects and campaigns to help reduce the suicide rate among Australian men and to lower the help-seeking barriers that many men having a tough time face.
Why We Love It: It’s a niche topic, but one that the group of Australians who started it feel incredibly passionate about—and because they went for it, they’ve been able to make a difference! Even the most specific thing can be a side project if you care about it enough.
What It Is: A pet-sitting business that gives 50% of its profits to animal-related causes.
Why We Love It: Channeling her love of animals, the founder Ashley Jacobs started this by herself during her free time and was able to give over $4,600 to help homeless pets in her first two years. Now she is working on expanding it and creating a pet care booking website that continues to give back.
Events and Community Building
Organizing meetups, dinners, parties, networking drinks, conferences, or any other type of event can be a great side venture. Here is a variety of amazing examples of people really doing it.
What It Is: “The tiniest Thai restaurant in London,” a.k.a., a Thai food blog turned pop-up supper-club.
Why We Love It: Because we love Thai food. And also because founder Rachel Walder has let it grow and change naturally as time and interest changes, starting with the blog, then launching the supper club, and even offering “cook with me” days where she helps make cooking Thai food more accessible.
What It Is: Named for the concept of a “unicorn” employee, Unicorn Hunt is a job board for startups in UK.
Why We Love It: Designer Stef Lewandowski saw that it was difficult for early-stage startups in the UK to find the right employees and for workers to find smaller startups, so he decided to create a specific job board to solve the problem in his spare time. Unicorn Hunt even allows cash-strapped startups to choose their price to post jobs.
What it Is: An annual male pageant in San Francisco that raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society ($883K since its 2012 inception!).
Why We Love It: Because putting on an event like this is a pretty huge feat, so it’s pretty impressive and inspiring that founder and host Brianna Haag manages to do it in her spare time.
What It Is: A site that lets users easily create an event website to send out to attendees.
Why We Love It: This is another side project where Stef Lewandowski saw a gap and decided to fix it, really exemplifying how people can use their professional skills outside of their day jobs to fix different types of problems than they would at work. Attending is sleek and easy to use. You don't even need to sign in.
What It Is: A system for evaluating your life and priorities—along with offerings for one-on-one sessions and parties to guide you through the process.
Why We Love It: What started simply as a personal exercise and article to share her experience turned into a full-blown project when queen of side projects Ximena Vengochea started getting feedback on the article and saw an opportunity
What It Is: A speaker series and networking group for women that happens over many people’s favorite meal of the week.
Why We Love It: A couple New Yorkers felt there weren’t enough good ways to learn from and connect with other inspiring women—so they decided to make it themselves. Plus, with one event a month for 12 women, it’s totally manageable on the side.
What It Is: A community for location-independent couples and families.
Why We Love It: After selling their house and possessions and living on the road since early 2014, this six-person family realized a) they had a lot of knowledge to share, and b) they wanted to create a community of other families like them. It’s a great example of creating for the world exactly what you’re looking for yourself.
Inventions and Products
Some people in their spare time like to be a little more hands on—so they invent a new product and sell it. Check out these fun ideas that have become realities during the nights and weekends of driven professionals.
What It Is: Piñatas full of small bottles of liquor, delivered to your door.
Why We Love It: Um, piñatas full of booze. ’Nuff said.
What It Is: Vintage watch faces upgraded with modern leather bands.
Why We Love It: Six “tinkering friends” started this project to get out of the creative slump of their day-to-day jobs. Most of them had no leather experience or watch-making experience at all, so figuring it out has been very rewarding.
What It Is: Age-appropriate books that tell the stories of India’s heritage to children of the South Asian diaspora.
Why We Love It: Founder Sailaja Joshi noticed a gap in the market when she was pregnant and searching for books to read to her child. So she decided to create them herself to give all children of South Asian heritage access to books that resonate with their culture and identity.
What It Is: A collapsable, reusable water bottle.
Why We Love It: Because we always forget to bring a water bottle because it doesn’t fit in our bag. But also because this is a great example of a side project that’s grown to something larger—after starting with just one bottle, founder Niki Singlaub now offers multiple bottles and lids and just successfully finished a Kickstarter to fund a collapsible tumbler.
What It Is: Packages of adventure books plus access to an online community where kids can learn more about the world.
Why We Love It: After living abroad for 10 years, creator Andrew Bliss wanted to mentor kids from afar to instill the same sense of adventure in them and encourage them to embrace world cultures, learn new languages, and lead “well-examined lives.”
What It Is: A fun, totally non-pretentious wine tasting board game.
Why We Love It: With day jobs in the finance industry, the duo who created this game wanted something totally different and totally fun to do in their free time. And they continue to have fun with it; they’re now developing a craft beer version (Brew Ha Ha!) and whiskey version (Whiskey Business).
What It Is: Micro-batch seed blends and hummingbird nectar.
Why We Love It: Okay, it’s a little niche, but bear with us. This product is a great example of jumping ship on one passion and pursuing another. As one of the cofounders quipped, “Well the three of us were once in a band together. Then our attempt at a top 40 hit didn’t make it to the charts so we decided to do something else. The only logical thing; start a wild bird feed company!” Maybe not so logical, but it worked!
Just for Fun
Sometimes, side projects don’t have a great purpose or an end goal of being a big-time business—sometimes they’re just an outlet for doing something fun and different and seeing what happens. These next projects are all about that.
What it Is: A blog full of pictures of hot dogs in random situations, plus a store of prints and posters.
Why We Love It: It’s proof positive that side projects don’t have to—and in many cases shouldn’t!—be too serious. A photographer by profession, Laura Thompson uses the blog as a way to be a little more creative and to de-stress. In other words, the perfect goals for a side project.
What it Is: An offering to hand-letter signs for local restaurants—in exchange for the food she writes out.
Why We Love It: Graphic designer Lauren Hom gets to practice her craft, without going through complicated payment systems or dealing with huge client expectations. She just gets a free snack out of it!
What It Is: A website where Lauren Hom makes crowns out of bread and puts them on her head.
Why We Love It: It's proof that a fun side project can be based on a pun. Plus it's great to get another dose of Hom's creativity!
What It Is: A blog that collects traveler Tabitha’s writing and photography.
Why We Love It: This blog shows that a side project can be as simple as documenting the activities you enjoy in an interesting way.
What It Is: Photos of cities with monsters drawn on top, all of whom have full back stories.
Why We Love It: This collaborative side project shows how two people can combine their skills and passions to create something awesome.
What It Is: Poking fun at all the “X under X” lists, this simple site allows anyone to create an award certificate for themselves. “Because you know you deserve it.”
Why We Love It: This side project makes people feel better about themselves. And we like that.
What It Is: A site where visitors vote on what colors they associate with different words, helping designers choose the best colors for their projects.
Why We Love It: With this tool, Mubashar Iqbal came up with a clever way to gauge what an audience's response to a color scheme might be before they even see it, allowing designers to make more informed choices.
What It Is: A website about learning to build websites. Jennifer Dewalt wanted to learn to code, so she challenged herself to build one website a day for 180 days.
Why We Love It: It’s proof positive that a side project doesn’t have to be perfect to share it with the world. The process can be part of the project!