In Melbourne, office workers by day, entrepreneurs by night

MELBOURNE -- A growing number of spare-time entrepreneurs are pursuing sideline careers thanks to a new digital platform.
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor on

MELBOURNE --  Last May, Apple employee Thomas Snow was using his spare time to teach himself to code with the help of an online course. He found the experience somewhat isolating and one night over dinner told his wife how missing the physical support network of a classroom environment had given him an idea for a new business. He wanted to start a coding academy which would combine the best of both digital and real-world learning environments. Later that evening, without Snow's knowledge, his wife signed him up to Side Racket -- a digital marketplace that connects people worldwide around projects based on skill sets.

"Side Racket allowed me to access a shared collaborative online space that directly impacted the way I work and communicate with others with similar interests," says Curtin, 31, who left his job at Apple in June to work part time at a coworking space, and start the Code Dependency coding school.

Launched officially last month, Side Racket's entry into the market comes at a time when a growing number of spare-time entrepreneurs are looking for fulfillment outside their day jobs. The platform, originally built in May by entrepreneur Mark Hendrickson, 26, designer Will Dayble, 29, and developer Luke Giuliani, 29, has attracted 400 users and over 110 active projects -- all based on word-of-mouth referrals.

On a functional level, the new digital platform sits somewhere between Facebook and LinkedIn as a social networking space. Its vision is to "give people the toolset they need to break out of their career, chase opportunities and do more of what they love," Mark Hendrickson, Side Racket CEO, says.

Once signed up, Side Racket allows users to sign up, create profiles and pitch a project, like Code Dependency, and list the talent they're missing to make their idea a reality. At the same time, users are encouraged to join other people's projects by offering their skills and spare time.

Hendrickson explains Side Racket gigs are rarely paid. He says some people offer their skills and services with a view to being becoming a cofounder or equity stakeholder, but the majority of people are just pitching in for the love of what they do.

The concept for the platform was conceived last year when Hendrickson was working full-time at a bank, while working on his own sideline ventures. "I think I had the best gig in the bank," says Hendrickson who quit his job as the bank's digital lead in April. "I got to work with startups in the social and online space -- I loved my job, but I realized that I loved what I was working on from 6pm to 11pm just that little bit more."

Hendrickson observed that while information and tools were readily available, there was no "home" on the web for side projects. Moreover, he had heard so many people around him lament about not acting on that big idea and complain about how bored or restless they were with their current work life.

This anecdote rings true on a larger scale, with a global study by Gallup Consulting reporting that over 60 percent of employed Australians do not feel engaged with their work.

Similarly a survey from job site Career One revealed job dissatisfaction in Australia is at an all-time high, "with more than 80 percent of workers considering changing jobs during the past twelve months."

But Hendrickson acknowledges that not everyone can, should or even wants to quit their job.

"Side Racket isn't a silver bullet, but it's there to give people the opportunity to finding a project to build their options should they decide to break away from their day job," Hendrickson says.

The Melbourne trio initially created the platform as a free public site, and have since established ways to monetize by using the platform as an innovation tool for internal use in companies. Currently they're focused on refining the public platform, but will also pursue other applications as they go.

Side Racket gained traction when Hendrickson met Dayble at Startup Weekend in August 2012 and formed a team to build charity startup Clarity.io. Giuliani soon joined them and eight months later, the duo had an idea for an ideas-accelerator platform and decided, on impulse, to enter the May 2013 Melbourne Angel Hack competition, a collaborative programming hackathon event.

The first iteration of the platform was built overnight, largely due to the competition deadline. The team came third place for their early concept, which has grown to utilize the internet for what it's best at -- fast communication, vast reach, accessibility and banding people together.

The uptake of Side Racket in the Melbourne community is promising considering the city's nascent but rapidly growing startup space.

A 2013 study commissioned by Google estimated Australia's technology startup industry has the potential to contribute AUD$109 (USD$105) billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product, to the country's economy, as well as generate 540,000 jobs by 2033. Global research company Startup Genome ranked Melbourne number 18 in their 2012 global Startup Ecosystem Report.

"More connections means more startups, more innovation, more development in the not-for-profit sector, more volunteering, more value creation and more happiness," says Hendrickson, considering the wider implications of his business.

But the entrepreneur says he isn't planning for the site to become the next billion-dollar company. "Side Racket is a movement first, and a business second. It's a lot more fun when it's flipped around." Hendrickson says.

"We want to create a world where people feel free to pursue their passion, and follow what works for them into a career. If we can break the 'school, university, job one, job two, job three, retirement' cycle, we'll be happy," he says.

Photos: Side Racket.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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