What's common between Gmail, Twitter, Craigslist and Uber? They were all started as side projects.

And today, these are some of the most successful products that made the best of the after hours. Google's famous 20% time rule comes in mind where they would allow engineers to spend one day a week working on a project that's not part of their job description. And that's how many of its products were born--including Gmail.

Mitch Samuels, a full-time undergrad student who also works for a startup, put together I Need A Resume in less than 6 hours to help his sister and her friends put together a well-formatted resume quickly. He put it online to see if it could also help his friends.

One thing led to another and within the same month of going online, it became the number one voted product on Product Hunt for the day. Since its launch, the product has now been written about in Nettd, The Daily Muse, Lifehacker, and a short morning segment on KTLA News. Non-profit placement programs have already started reaching out to him for building custom resume generators.

This could really be the start of an entrepreneurial journey. The reason I have highlighted Mitch Samuels' story is because you can connect with it more than you can with the stories of the billion-dollar brands.

But Mitch's story isn't any different from those bigger brands. They all started in much the same way. And this could be your inspiration or cue to get started as well. Don't wait for that one day when you build a safety net to start your venture, because you don't need one if you start it as a side project. Just look at this thread of people who're making $1,000+/month on side projects.

Need more cues on why you should launch your entrepreneurial dreams by building something on the side? Read on.

Side projects don't have to fund your living

First off, let's lay the foundation of side projects. They're extremely easy to start because you don't have to depend on them to make a living. You're probably already earning a salary through your day job. So, you don't have to worry about an income source even if you were to fail.

Side projects don't have to be ambitious

Similarly, side projects also don't run with a deadline and aren't overtly ambitious. You can take your own time to figure it out and launch when you feel you are ready. You can take small steps and cater to satisfying the problem of only a very small niche. Uber's initial idea was to crack San Francisco's taxi problem with a limousine service.

Once you begin to see traction within that small customer segment, you can take your time to expand the reach, albeit slowly if you wish to. There's really no pressure. However, if it begins to strike a chord with your audience, then you've got something going there--an eventuality could be quitting your day job and taking it up full time.

Side projects don't require a ton of cash

All of the successful products that were built as a side project were hacked and put online within a matter of days. The initial version of Gmail was built in a day and only for Google employees.

The $6.1 million funded Product Hunt started as an email list. Nasty Gal, with a revenue of $100+ million started with the founder collecting and selling vintage clothes on eBay. When you're starting small, you can really focus on the absolute basic way of solving the problem for a customer. Again, once you have resonance with your idea, you can gradually invest in improving the product.

Side projects don't come with expectations

The best thing about side projects is that you're not proving anything to anyone. There are no expectations and there's really no one who's watching you--and so you work without that added pressure. You can really focus and experiment on the best possible ways to solve the problem, even without knowing all the answers on day one. Side projects really start from scratch when no one's looking.

Side projects can change the game for your existing venture

Side projects truly have the potential to even change the game for your existing fledgling business. Take for instance the story of Crew. The startup had 3 months of cash left with no customers.

Around that time, the founders faced a challenge of sourcing royalty free, good quality photographs. They simply hired a photographer to take a few pictures, used one and put up the remaining for free on a new site, Unsplash, which they put together using a $19 Tumblr theme within 3 hours.

Unsplash now has over 5 million unique visitors and is the #1 source of traffic to Crew's website.

Whatever be your motivation, there are two important things to note when you're starting on a side project.

  1. Side projects need to be of value to your customers. Otherwise, it's just a hobby no other person cares about.
  2. Be mindful about your contract with your company and whether it allows for you to launch one. Read the fine print and only then proceed further.

Did you start on a side project and grow it? I'd be happy to hear about YOUR story in comments below!

Published on: Jul 28, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.