Founder & CTO @SMERGERS & @wealthrox
Past - Dev Infra @Google · RF @NI · CS @USC

Founder & CTO @SMERGERS & @wealthrox
Dev Infra Intern @Google NYC RF @NI-WCDMA
Computer Science @USC
hey [at]

Today evening, I was having a chat with one of my friend. We landed on this topic of how side projects help us learn better etc.. and within no time we were talking about how commercialization of the same takes a back seat when we are working for some xyz corporation. Some of the points that we discussed are listed here.

» The technically smart guys are always upto something, its difficult for them to sit idle. So they indulge in side projects. Some contribute to open source software, some write software just for the sake of learning. But they have something to show to the world at the end of the day.

» After significant amount of work and with several iterations, lets say, they have a brilliant product which they think could be helpful to a much larger audience.

» If it is a non-commercial application, some companies may not object. But there are several other companies which are quite strict about side projects - This question on stackexchange talks about it.

On the contrary some companies encourage employees to work on their area of interest for 20% of their work hours, but the end product belongs to the employer - a good deal if you are not very keen on starting your own company.

» For someone who is a wannabe entrepreneur, It is very difficult to dive into it full time without having a significant traction with users (customers). But it is difficult to get users without some dedicated effort on your product. This is a chicken and the egg problem. This is where taking risk comes into picture. Hesitation can kill a company even before it is started.

» Some superstars resign from their companies to work full time on their ideas. In order to earn their daily living, they end up free lancing. This is not bad, but not everyone will have the guts to resign from their day job.

Let's look at how an employer is affected by the same.

» The vacancy created by the superstar will be filled in by another candidate who may or may not be a superstar. If he is one, the same cycle repeats. But if he is not one, then the employer is at loss. They just lost a very good employee.

» The new guy takes significant amount of time to ramp up and start contributing to the project.

» If the startup founded by our superstar succeeds, great! but what if it fails? he/she spent a lot of time on the idea, sacrificed a well paying job and a lot of other perks. After all this, they start looking for another job!

Lets see what amazing things can happen if your employer supports you in the following ways!

» One can make money from their side projects - provided they are not competing directly/indirectly with employers' product/service.
» The company will help you with some of the initial marketing by providing leads, introductions to potential Customers/VCs.
» All the company cares for is the timely completion of any office related work.

How employee benefits from this?

» One need not think of resigning from the company.
» One need not worry about other sources of money as long as they have a day job. They can continue to work on their side projects and more importantly, be the face of the product/startup.
» Provides the opportunity to test the water. Is it really worth jumping into it full time?
» Brings in a good bonding between the employee and employer. employee will be happy for all the support he is getting from his employer. Could that increase productivity of the employee?

Is this something which was tried/tested earlier? and then discarded? How many of you would love to work in such a company? I see this as a win win situation. I would like to know what you think about the same.

Udayathreya April 23, 2012

Krishna, nice article n this is exactly what i m doin at present:-):-P

Krishna Bharadwaj April 23, 2012

Thanks Uday.. That is very nice to know.. and more discussion over IM :-)

Kishore April 22, 2012

Hi Krishna,

In my opinion, Every company is a business. And in Business, simply put, you expect a return for your contribution/investment/effort. If my company is going to support me initially with seed fund or marketing, obviously they expect a share. Which is still a good deal for a wanna be entrepreneur (negative case- next paragraph). But, If the employee tested the waters and decides to take it full time, the company is under the loss for the same reason you mentioned (The next employee may or may not be a superstar). If he is a superstar, the same might repeats.. if he is not, its again a problem. After testing waters, if employee decides it is not what he wanted, the company's investment on him is gone for waste. Either way employers are not benefited.

And the other side (real case scenario), If I am Bosch (Leader in automotive industry), apart from expecting my employee to be 100% productive, why would I support him in social network programming if that is no way helping my company ? I would rather invest in the research than giving him an opportunity to ditch my company in future. 

So I think, it might not be a great idea to expect support from your employer keeping in mind the reality. But if there is an exception like the employer supports you to start your business irrespective of the cons that company face, I would love to work for that company (More like making use of it ;) )

Krishna Bharadwaj April 23, 2012

Hi Kishore,

What you say makes a lot of sense, but employees are the happiest when they are given the freedom and some perks like these :-) That's when they are the most productive too. I was just thinking about it.. It is analogous to our parents not letting us pursue a lot of extra - curricular activities because they are afraid that studies will take a back seat. Isn't it? It all depends on how confident are parents/employers are about their kids/employees :-)

Check out this link
And not just this.. Even companies like ThoughtWorks in India are open to it. Which is pretty cool :-)

Kishore April 24, 2012

Hi Krishna,

I guess the policy of having your  side business is fair and in fact the company has no rights to limit your creativity or impose what to do in your "free" time. My point of argument was Support from the company. Support from the company in terms of investment, allocating resources for you is not going to help form business point of view. 

Even in my company I can have any business which do not compete with my company's products. In fact I am working on one now.  :)

Krishna Bharadwaj May 3, 2012

Definitely.. allocating resources for us is definitely not something I am asking for. All the best with whatever you are pursuing now :-)

Anirban Sept. 14, 2011

Its going to be hard for a company's legal team to agree to such an agreement. 

But anyhow do not worry- do what you love. You will never regret failure,but you will regret not having tried.  And if  ever consider going back to a job,  come and talk to us at Akamai . 

Krishna Bharadwaj Sept. 14, 2011

Hey Anirban, 

thanks a lot for the support. Those are some encouraging words. I shall definitely consider Akamai if I ever think of getting back into the industry. Thanks again :-)

Krishna Bharadwaj

madhusudancs June 28, 2011

Maga, I completely support your idea. But I have one thing going on in mind after reading this. Is it possible to work on a product for any person which will not directly compete with the products of his employer. Actually, esp. in IT, any "COMPANY" (not product) is a direct competitor to any other companies, irrespective of the domain they are in. Yen anthya? Had Nokia thought that at any point in 1990s when Google started that it would ever ever become a threat to Nokia's mobile phone business? Also did Yahoo! think that Google's mail will become a threat to their mail business. So potentially, a successful company can interfere in every domain. What say?

Krishna Bharadwaj June 28, 2011

I agree that it gets difficult as the breadth a company covers, gets large. But we can just say, existing products or some of the products which are in the pipeline.

madhusudancs June 28, 2011

Ah, sure. I agree with that.