David Heinemeier Hansson, 37signals:

The marginal value of the last hour put into a business idea is usually much less than the first. The world is full of ideas that can be executed with 10 to 20 hours per week, let alone 40. The number of projects that are truly impossible unless you put in 80 or 120 hours per week are vanishingly small by comparison.

Anthony Garand, the first commenter on David’s post, makes a great point, too:

I’ve become fond of the word “Hacker” as of late. It’s got a fresh feel and it’s what we all do, hack on side projects. Entrepreneur is far to “fancy” for what we do. We don’t want to put on a facade, we want to be real people, we’re hackers.

In other words, just be you. Be real. And especially, don’t be borked by the all-or-nothing, real-entrepreneurs-quit-their-day-jobs mentality that the demons in your head hiss. Just get started. Drop a few pennies of your time per day into a jar. See what happens.

One way I hack

Since finishing the grueling, esoteric, wins-you-no-points-at-cocktail-parties actuarial exam process in 2007, I’ve directed my side energy to instructing actuarial exams themselves. I do this completely on the side, completely independent of my full-time day job.

I enjoy it for a number of reasons.

  • I’m good at it
  • It diversifies my income
  • It lets me play the role of an educator
  • It keeps me updated on industry trends and best practices
  • It gives me a direct, pay-for-value connection to a client—something most corporate work lacks
  • I can work independently and use whatever method and technology I want to get the job done (spoiler: it involves a bunch of Mac software)

How to remodel kitchens and bathrooms with pretty much just a MacBook

Side work has also taught me the value of my time. Adroit side workers are, above all, experts at managing time and making temporal trades.

If you have a paying side job, then you should have some idea how much you’re making per hour of otherwise-free-time that you would spend fixing things around the house, washing the dog, scrubbing toilets, and doing any number of other menial tasks that someone else could probably do better than you.

It took me a while to really get this. For whatever reason, I grew up with this mindset that I should be a total DIYer—mow my own yard, fix my own pipes, paint my own rooms.

But life’s little economic secret is that things work so much better for everyone when everyone does what they do best.

Side jobs create value in little niches and pockets—microscopic markets that most of the world has no business or care knowing about. Like actuarial exams.

Side work just has this special kind of economic purity the factory corporate world lacks. People generally don’t hack on side projects unless they enjoy it, and like the exam instruction work I do, side jobs create tangible value that one can readily see: Do something for someone; get paid for it.

And side work is perhaps the ultimate economic hack for getting things done without directly doing them yourself.

I’ve certainly seen it happen in my little corner of the economy, my home. I have a brand new kitchen and 3 new bathrooms thanks in large part to money I made on the side. Best of all, I didn’t have to touch a single screwdriver to make it happen.

I did something I was good at so I could pay someone else to do something they were good at. We both won. It’s a form of "work smarter, not harder" magic that seems lost on most of the time-selling salaried world.