Starting a side project in a company can turn into a viable business, becoming an additional revenue source for your organisation.
For Mikael Cho, founder and CEO of Crew, building Unsplash as a side project turned out to be a lifesaving decision, as it generated traffic and leads for a sinking company. He shares his story in his article How side projects saved our startup, which is well worth reading by any entrepreneur.
Another reason for starting side projects is to solve an issue you’re struggling with. You start an internal project tackling a certain problem your company has, and then realise that probably other companies may face similar challenges. After some product development and market research, you launch your internal project as a startup and start acquiring clients.
Can this be a successful business strategy? For SoftwareHut, starting an internal project led to building a 6 figure startup, Zonifero. We’ve started with a simple office management solution four years ago, developing the tool internally. Today, Zonifero is an independent proptech startup, and is being implemented in office spaces totalling even 100,000 sqm.
How to go from an internal project to a fast-growing company? Bear with me, as I’m about to share some details with you.
Start small: advantages of custom software
Four years ago, SoftwareHut was a software house with a growing office. Being a part of TenderHut group, we’ve had to manage multiple branches with an ever-expanding number of new employees, both new hires and people from acquired companies.
Onboarding new employees and answering questions about the office, booking conference rooms, or even finding information about co-workers became an issue. To put a stop to this organisational chaos, we decided to create an internal app for office management.
At this point, you may ask why we haven’t gone for simply choosing an existing solution. Sure, in the short term, opting for a tool that’s already available on the market would be a cheaper option. For us, however, the goal was to employ the talents of our software developers to create a custom solution.
Signing up for an existing tool gives you an instant access to its features but may lack some features you desire. Custom software solves this problem, being a viable investment in a long run.
Build it: internal software development
Today, Zonifero helps navigate in an office space, find co-workers, book a hot-desk or a parking space, and report issues and malfunctions. It can also work as a virtual card for access control. We have, however, start small and through many integrations gradually build up on the initial idea of an office management app.
Following Agile project management methodology allowed us to incrementally add new features and improve the app, as we spotted new opportunities or the weak spots. Constantly testing the app internally, we focused on making it intuitive and insightful, even for first-time users.
Improving the product with new functionalities, we’ve combined several large IT systems into one simple solution. Zonifero can be used in a web browser, as well as on iOS and Android devices. Thanks to Zonifero, you can now:
- digitally sign the attendance list,
- use the internal messanger to contact coworkes,
- book a conference room, a hot-desk, or a parking spot,
- manage delegations and do their accounts.
For administrators, Zonifero helps with optimising the use of office space based on gathered statistics.
Go big: acquiring first clients
Another benefit of creating your own custom software is simple – you own it! If we were to choose an out-of-the-box solution in the first place, we couldn’t have started offering it to other companies.
After implementing and testing the solution internally, we decided to start pilot projects with partnering companies. As the app proved to be effective for them, too, the idea of acquiring clients came to us, transforming Zonifero from an internal project into a startup.
Currently, we’re implementing the system in large, international companies, as well as public entities in Poland. We’ve also joined several partnerships with companies offering click and collect lockers and access control systems, so we could broader our offering even more.
The results after four years:
- Zonifero is an independent startup, as it continues to acquire new clients.
- The tool has been implemented in office spaces totalling 100,000 sqm.
- The highest number of users of a single implementation reached 15,000 accounts.
- In 2019, the company earned over 1,000,000 PLN in annual revenue.