It's easy for startups to assign themselves to one of two categories: evolutionary and revolutionary.
Evolutionary startups take well-known ideas and concepts, make incremental changes to improve the product, acquire users, and enjoy their success.
Revolutionary startups take things a step further -- they generate completely novel ideas, not based on any prior learning. Existing companies may inspire them, but their products and offerings are not incremental improvements. They are groundbreaking and new.
Many founders appear altruistic and want to aim to create revolutionary startups. It's also easy to play it safe and start evolutionary companies. Both have their pros and cons, and both have many proven successes.
Facebook was not the first social network. MySpace, Friendster, and dozens others proceeded it. Facebook incremented on existing social networks and took a novel user acquisition approach, leading to massive success.
Netflix broke new ground. Inspired by an existing business, movie rentals, they took the entire industry digital. Millions of people, myself included, are cutting their cable due to Netflix's massive disruption. Netflix has forever changed the entertainment industry.
Often times, I hear entrepreneurs claim that they want to work on either a "revolutionary" or "evolutionary" idea. But startups should not attempt to make this distinction -- being revolutionary or evolutionary does not need to be a binary option.
Look at Apple, for example. Apple did not invent the personal computer. Apple did not invent the portable music player. Apple did not invent the smartphone. Instead, they took incremental steps combined with large sweeping changes to create truly novel technologies and products that are both revolutionary and evolutionary.
MacBooks are improvements on the standard computer, but use revolutionary manufacturing and design principles to create an entirely new experience. Apple's iPod improved the user experience of existing Walkmans while implementing a novel storage solution. And Apple's iPhone applied revolutionary touchscreen technology to a product that had been on the market for years.
As entrepreneurs go and found new companies, they shouldn't focus so much on whether their technology is novel or just incremental. Founders should focus on the most important aspect of any business: creating something their customers actually want.
Don't choose between being revolutionary or evolutionary. Build something amazing and be both.