Pi of Life : The Second Kind of Startupper [Platform Builders]

I’ve been interacting with many entrepreneurs in the recent past – traditional, tech, online, offline and everything in between. And dissecting the spectrum along the individual-approach-to-entrepreneurship(-and-life) dimension, I broadly found two kinds of folks.

Those who think in terms of a grand vision, plan and are executing on that, head down and 100% focused. Second–those who use the current stage or success as a platform and then work on building the next one.

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The latter caught my attention. For one, I was an early adopter of XP and the whole agile philosophy (the current focus on trying to create a process around it almost kills it!). It also fits in well with iterative development for a startup and business, and the whole idea of a minimum viable product to start with.

So what do platform builders do differently?

For starters, they have no notion of a dead-end-job. Or a bad deal. They’re eternal optimist-meets-opportunists. There’s something to learn everywhere, from everyone, and everything.

A guy attending auctions as someone’s assistant picked up a good knowledge of the grades of the commodities on auction there, and cues about people’s motivations! Someone in a very operationally heavy sales role maintained data about all those he met, the cars they drove, and their interests. Many a successful entrepreneur has gone chasing seemingly pointless opportunities in the past as much to understand them as to make something of them. Everywhere you look there are opportunities to understand food-chains, find potential partners, validate your thoughts and ideas, get inputs and even find customers for the future!

The platform builders are always on the lookout for the next level, but very focused on what needs to be done – both strategically as well as tactically – for the current, relatively more achievable goals. They’re risk takers who cut down the risk!

A developer who created a point solution for publishers with nothing else in mind but making basic housekeeping easy got serious traction, and can now think of offering a wider offering to the same customers, or a deeper offering to bigger players – he’s got the platform to pick a direction now.

The owner of a large coffee estate I came across risked all to buy it out had only one goal – to make it debt free only from the operational profitability. He now has a very professionally run estate, enough redeemed timber and enough surplus cash to plan the next larger platform.

Each business can have a grand vision and a stellar business plan, but – deep inside – many rarely believe it will actually happen.

A platform builder rarely plans for such a huge future right from the word go. Even if there’s a possibility at the back of their mind, they limit their visibility to more manageable targets and keep aside all ambition, all plans for the time-being. The achieving of the current set of goals is important, and they will make their peace with that forever if need be.

Of course, once the current level of ambition is reached, it serves as a platform to spot or look for new opportunities. It enables bigger risk taking, now with the learning and confidence of past mistakes, past success and possibly the financial cushion that the existing business provides. There is very likely a vast array of skill sets, best practices and most of all, relationships to build upon to get to the next goal. And determining the goal itself is less of a wild shot in the dark because one understands more about the business and the number of variables is at least known, if not reduced.

This process can continue forever. That’s the beauty of treating wherever you are in life as a springboard to do whatever it is you want to next. Business ambition, personal or social goals, anything.

And being happy having achieved level as you continue to do this is also a great way to find a certain level of contentment and satisfaction even as you chase bigger dreams.

Image credit: crises_crs via Flickr.

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