Some of the best businesses start as a side project. Whether you’re a moonpreneur or a stay-at-home parent, if you have the urge to start a business, you don’t need to let a full-time job or family obligations stand in your way. Some of the best new business opportunities come from a goofy little side interest or hobby that you start out doing just for fun.

For example, one of my fellow Iowa freelance writers recently got a movie deal from Warner Brothers based on a few minutes he spent during his lunch break.

How did this happen? It started with a Des Moines freelance writer named James Erwin who wrote a gripping, entertaining story in response to a Reddit post. (In addition to being a talented writer, James Erwin is also a former two-time Jeopardy winner – so he’s pretty much a superior human being to me in every possible way. I am in awe of him.)

Reddit is a news aggregator website where people can post links and vote on what they feel are the “best” stories, ideas and comments throughout the day. Someone had posted a question on Reddit asking, “What if a unit of current U.S. Marines are suddenly transported back to ancient Rome and forced to do battle with the Roman legions?”

James Erwin saw this question during his lunch break one day, and he happens to be an expert in military history. So he started replying to the Reddit post, sharing what he thought would happen in this hypothetical time travel story. People loved James’ writing, and before long he was writing thousands of words. People kept “liking” his comments and pushing his story up higher and higher on the Reddit list. His story became known as “Rome Sweet Rome” and before long, people were posting original ideas for movie poster artwork and fans were posting music on YouTube inspired by the story. James Erwin’s goofy lunch break diversion had taken on a life of its own and created a community of passionate fans and followers.

Before long, James Erwin got a call from a producer at Warner Brothers, saying that they loved the story and wanted to develop it into a screenplay. And now, James is working on his first Hollywood screenplay.

This is a pretty amazing story on multiple levels. For one thing, it’s very difficult to get work in the Hollywood film industry – and yet, James Erwin found a way into this tough-to-break-into business just by writing some stories online. This is one of those amazing examples of how the Internet, despite all the clutter and noise, can still serve as an equalizing force to connect people with opportunities.

For another thing, it shows how some of the best “side projects” and new business ideas can start with something as simple as a lunch break blog post. If you have an idea for a business you’d like to start, you don’t need thousands of dollars and dozens of employees and lots of resources. Sometimes you just need an idea, some focused effort, and a simple “test run” to see if people like what you are selling. Then you can grow your business from there.

Most of us are not going to land a movie deal based on a few thousand words on the Internet. But the broader lesson of James Erwin’s success is that many of us have potential to introduce valuable new ideas, products and services to the world. Sometimes you just have to start small and start simple – by writing a blog about something that interests you, or introducing a product idea to a few of your closest friends, or hosting a party with your own team of trusted advisers to discuss ideas for how you could start a business of your own.

Can’t wait to see the movie? Follow the progress of the “Rome Sweet Rome” film project on Facebook at