Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Starting off: The Incremental and the Iterative Way.

Posted on: August 4, 2008

I love the weekends. Especially the ones where you pretty much meet people after people, and get to see the world through a different set of eyes and perspectives. Always loved that.

So there goes the past weekend, which has just about been the most amazing weekend ever – after a really really long time, and partly thanks to meeting some of the folks from the startup scene in bangalore.

So here’s a thought that’s been on my mind. How many kinds of entrepreneurs are there? Well, it seems there are two kinds. The Incremental ones and the Iterative ones.

The incremental one is that guy who wants to be an entrepreneur, is very calculative, and goes on and takes up a job in that large firm, and after years of carefully planning his networks, funds and contigencies makes a leap to build one product, putting together a company with his colleagues. You could almost say that Mindtree was one such firm. The firm immediately attracts investors, because the experience of the founders talks volumes, the contacts are well established and the product/idea is usually something that is closely related to the domain that they have been working in.

This is pretty much your typical VC fundable business.

But there is this other kind. The kind that starts off young, comes up with an idea and grows the idea. The idea is usually nothing significant, but an improvement none the less. The grow the idea, and make an exit – small, okay or in most cases nothing at all, move on to the next idea, and with each new ideation and execution grow exponentially in terms of thinking, visions and execution style. These are your radical mavericks.

But you know what? In most cases the incremental ones, as great as they are, will only become what they are, if they are not funded. If they learn lessons the hard way. If they learn to bootstrap, learn to live in the trenches, and they grow from there.

I strongly believe, and there are quite a few others who agree, that we are destroying these genre of entrepreneurs by either cushioning them with hopes of investments, in the name of incubation centres (totally taking away their risk appetite)and by simply not letting that first idea fail.

If statistics are true, then its usually the third venture of an incremental entrepreneur that will or should get funded. Anything before that is all premature, and just part of the process.

So I am trying to validate this theory and it kinda starts to make sense. They say that for any product to be built, it takes roughly about 2.4 iterations before it can hit the market and scale. With an iterative entrepreneur, I really believe that the entrepreneur himself is the product – really think about it. Every icon that you can imagine is one of those. Do you really think they made it in their first shot?

The first step really doesn’t have to be that big idea. And i’ll repeat that over and over again. With Michael dell it was the idea of buying stamps for cheap and selling them. He writes in his book that he learnt things in that first venture which helped him put together Dell. It’s also the reason that I strongly believe that they should start as early as possible – right in High school or college if possible. It could be just about anything from running a local canteen to trying your hand with home made jewellery. What you understand about working and interacting with people will go a long way.

Trust me, it wont be easy. And as a audience in OCC Bangalore noted during discussions, it is a terrible experience when your first idea bombs when asked for feedback from peers. But you know what… its all part of building you as the product. It’s an excercise to shed that extra weight that you have in you – that air of confidence and assumptions sometimes. Really, for an iterative entrepreneur, its all about falling nine times and getting up ten times. It really is.

So if you are one that falls into the first category, well You probably wont be reading this cause you’ll be busy trying to keep those investors and partners in bay. As for the iterative kind, unless you are in your third or fourth venture, dont waste your time trying to raise money and all. Be smart, save some money here and there, be frugal and stick it out. See how far you can build and take a product without having to raise money – its very much like holding your breathe to see how far you can control yourself from now having to depend on oxygen. But when you do attain that balance – or even control in it, thats when you know you are ready for the olympics to show the world what you really got.


6 Responses to "Starting off: The Incremental and the Iterative Way."

So do we have anyone who would come into the category of first(Incremental) and iterative one. I am not sure whether all are kick a** hero’s to leave comfortable zone and start something on their own. Anyway I do appreciate guys with such a brave heart, at the same time I don’t see anything wrong in taking cautious approach. What I would say is, whether you follow an incremental or iterative process. An entrepreneur should perceive himself as a product and constantly strive to build himself, learn from mistakes, grow his contacts, plan for short term and long term, take risk(whether calculated or not). Please correct me if I am wrong…

Bhanu, right on spot.

I guess what I was trying to say about the fresh and ‘incremental’ entrepreneur, was that the journey was longer than expected and not to give up heart, nor base everything on funding and such things everyone seems to be running after.

But yep, planning is crucial if you ever have an entrepreneurial dream. 🙂

“With an iterative entrepreneur, I really believe that the entrepreneur himself is the product – really think about it.”
–Couldn’t Agree with you more

I think the iterations of an iterative one need not be spread over multiple ventures. All the iterations can pretty much come from a single venture where the entrepreneur has persisted.

I fall in the first category and I’ve read this post 😉
But the “kind” of entrepreneur is more based on many things…like when you are bitten by the entreprenuer bug(which includes risk taking ability),when the idea looks valid(see an incremental one)

While I resonate with you fully on this post, I do feel however that even those that are at heart the ‘iterative’ types, should spend some time working – not necessarily for too long, but long enough to understand what it means to work in a professional environment – it will possibly make them better managers of their own business, especially when it (hopefully) becomes a medium organization itself. Don’t stick around too long, however, otherwise you’ll risk becoming cynical, comfortable, married-with-kids – and generally risk averse!

Gautam Kshatriya

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