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How do I choose a side business to fund the one I really care about?

My goal is to make reasonably good language learning tools for people who most need them and can least afford to pay for them. It pains me to see something so ineffective as Duolingo and something as difficult to use as Anki being the go to solutions. People deserve something better than that and most people can’t afford to do the bulk of their learning through in person classes or tutoring platforms like iTalki for enough hours to get fluent at something.

While I’ve built out an MVP (in rails that died under even moderate use) and rebuilt it in a lower level tech stack, I’m still a decent amount of work away from anything good enough to be a really good traffic magnet. My video interviews of language learners have generated some traffic, but far less than either of my personal blogs and nowhere near enough to get a two-sided market started.

I should have the necessary pieces to do this, but I’m struggling mightily with a lack of resources. Despite the abundance of full time engineering jobs in the Bay Area, part time contracting has been difficult for me to find and so I’ve moved back to Asia to cut costs while picking up side work here and there.

I personally enjoy coding, blogging, building analytics / optimization tools etc, so it’s not an imposition to make courses or products around any of those things (or even language learning)… but after covering my basic living expenses, I’d just spend all of the income building the platform for language learners.

So I’m considering ways to escape the contracting treadmill, by publishing eBooks or creating a Udemy course. I could also give up for now, take an engineering job in the Valley, save money for two years and try again.

How can I go about choosing a topic for something that is 100% mercenary and for the purpose of furthering the real mission? How can I assess profitability of different niches? My gut is telling me that engineering probably has more inherently profitable than marketing and that marketing would be more profitable than language learning, but is there a better way to decide this?

Hey there,

Forgive me if I make some assumptions about your situation here. Your post shared a lot of details, but this is a very broad question.

It sounds like you already know the topic you want to pursue: language learning. If you’re considering pursuing another topic just to earn some money, I’d advise against it. This route rarely works, especially if you find yourself constantly pulled back to your first love/idea.

To make progress towards earning an income, you absolutely need to focus on just one topic. You listed a lot of things you’ve worked on, but none of them seem to have received the sustained focused effort needed to get them across the finish line. Some of the projects you mention also seem far bigger than one person would be able to accomplish.

For example, you mention “so ineffective as Duolingo.” It’s great to think big, but by comparing yourself to Duolingo, you’re setting your business up for failure. 100s of people work on Duolingo. You are just ONE person.

Also, Duolingo is free, and many people love it. How are you going to compete against something that is free, well-liked and backed by 100s of employees and tens of millions of Venture Capital dollars?

Focus. Aim to solve one small problem in a simple way. Talk to customers and really listen to what problems they face and how they feel about the solutions out there.

You have tremendous advantages over most entrepreneurs, especially because you can code. BUT, it’s a double-edged sword, because creating any kind of software can easily balloon to a project that is never complete. You should be thinking in terms of building a truly minimum viable product, not something that solves the big problems you know exist. Save those for 5 years from now.

We recorded an entire episode of The Fizzle Show to address this question, because it’s so nuanced and important. If you’ve been wondering about whether it’s feasible to choose a side business to fund the one you really care about, check out the full podcast episode here »

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