I’ve always had them. Sometimes arty ones. Sometimes business ones. Right now my side projects are: The Do Lectures and Hot Smoky Bastard. Luckily the Do Lectures is someone else’s main project.
Hot Smoky Bastard is a hot sauce; I work on innovation and sustainability. Why am I making hot sauce? Well, it went something like this. I had a lot of chillies that I grew. I had a smoker. I like cooking. I made a massive batch of smoked chilli sauce inspired by Rohan Anderson who was doing something similar that day in Australia (the power of Instagram). The problem with a massive batch of smoked chilli sauce is that you can’t eat it all so I bought some small bottles and filled 50 of them. My plan was to send them to mates and clients. But they looked a bit sad without a label so I came up with a name and brand. I spent half a minute thinking it through and half a day designing the labels. It looked great. It tasted great. I sent them out. People asked for refills. I was on to something.
I didn’t think about it like this but it was a classic accelerated hack, the kind of thing I teach all the time. Take an idea. Grow it to 80%. Test it. Do it without permissions and on the cheap. My labels weren’t waterproof. My bottle was too small (nightmare to fill), and too heavy (cost a fortune to post). But people liked it. Test early. I’m not a fan of the “fail fast, fail often” mantra. I prefer “don’t try to fail but if you do then fail fast”. I was lucky to have my mates at www.madebyfieldwork.com make me a great website but since then I’ve used simple services like Wix and Squarespace to make super-cheap websites. You can be up and running in hours. This is the best thing about the digital age, you can test and launch products fast. You can test three different straplines out on Facebook ads in a day. You can see which landing page generates greater “buy now” clicks. You can test brand identities on Instagram really fast (I’d avoid doing this on Linkedin, people there tend to be less visually orientated).
So I was up and running. People liked it. People bought it. I sold out at the events I did. Great chefs said the “fucking loved it” (Anna Jones). I take the website down when I am too busy and put it back up when I have some time to make it. Then people began hassling me to make it. This is a compliment. When they run out they want more. This is a normal rule of retailing. New customers don’t understand that it’s not my main job. That’s okay — I just explain. But there is an increasing expectation that I’m going to do something with it.
Am I? I could. I could find someone to subcontract manufacture to. I would need to write the recipe up first. But that’s okay. I would need to throw some cash in and invest in bottles and bulk supplies, but that’s okay. I could even increase production in my kitchen. This would take up too much time and that’s not okay. So, I’ve been stuck between the horns of a dilemma for a while: Grow it or just keep it a niche thing? And I should have made a decision by now. Why haven’t I?
I think there has always been a part of me that is scared by success. More so than failure. It’s okay if a side project fails, I just take the learning and use it in one of my talks. But if it’s a success, then what? What am I hiding from here? I’m not certain. I think I’m hiding from a few things: 1 Doing one thing. I like to do lots of things. But if Hot Smoky Bastard works, and if I can sub-contract it then I can do loads of things still. This is a shit excuse. 2 Success. I’m a battler. I like fighting. I’m not certain what success feels like. This is a tough one to think about. I clearly associate myself with fighting but not succeeding. Why? This is the key. The thing here is being willing to accept it rather than looking for the interesting stories that fall out of nearly making it. 3 I don’t know if I want to be the sauce guy. This is an interesting one. It is all about identity and ego. Do I want to be known for hot sauces? I seek to change the way people think about themselves and what they do. I work with people to reduce their environmental impact and make products that matter. Making sauces seems a bit lightweight. 4 It might just work. Then what am I going to do for a side project? Then I’m going to need to take things seriously. If you fail when doing a side project it is no big deal. If you fail when you are doing the main thing it is a big deal.
So I’m sat here typing this with the words of friends, customers, and mentors ringing in my ears “Why don’t you do the sauce thing man”? “Why don’t you make the sauce thing the main thing”? Do all side projects need to grow up? Do they all need an exit strategy? I don’t think they do. They can just be. But writing this has really helped me. I need to push this as far as it goes, only then will I know how far it could have gone. In the words of Terry from On the Waterfront and of course the great Reverend and the Makers “I could have been a someone, I could have been a contender”. Yeah but only when you decide to take it as far as it goes. Talk is cheap. Doing is real.
So if you know someone who I could sub-contract the manufacture to, if you fancy helping, then please get in touch.