10 Creative Ways Startups Apply The Business Canvas Model


I'm going to assume this is not your first rodeo with the Business Canvas Model or BMC. If you already did dive into the details of how to create and implement one for your own business or idea, then you're familiar with “WHY” is the BMC a standard in the business world.

Still, way back in 2009 when Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur wrote Business Model Generation, they couldn't have imagined all the different applications users would come up with for their Business Model Canvas.

If you're lacking ideas, or you might need some extra inspiration to get those creative juices flowing, then this article will provide you with 10 unique and practical applications of the BMC that we've observed firsthand in our global community of entrepreneurs and mentors.

—Are you ready to get creative?

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1. Alignment

Onboarding new team members is always considered a chore —how do you effectively communicate how does your business operates, and most importantly, why is it unique?

While a quick chat might start a spark, there's nothing as intuitive and simple as the Business Canvas Model to engage new collaborators in your mission.

We always saw the BMC as an alignment tool, but it is always a surprise to learn how many leadership teams worldwide use the BMC as an onboarding tool for CEO's or senior executives. The basic premise around this idea is what we call “Alignment Workshops”. Think about them as group onboarding sessions where the whole team can contribute around a fresh member's perspective or impressions on your Business Model Canvas.

The benefits?

Not only will the workshop provide an immediate understanding of the entire organization in one workshop, but it can also allow for creative avenues you might have missed. In an Asian company, for example, the “new hire” was indicated to sketch out the company's business model. While the results may vary, it can provide the whole team with a new outlook on tired problems and new value to be found on unconscious corners.

2. Shared Language Across functions

The BMC provides a solution for that elusive concern that started millennia ago, the difficulty of communication under different “languages”.

Using the BMC as a compass, departments across the company can benefit from a simplified and effective understanding of how other departments operate and generate value for the company. People from marketing, technology, engineering, operations, finance, and so on can all work together around a BMC and have a shared language to discuss their ideas.

If you're not entirely sold on this idea yet, I suggest you to think about your own company. How many issues could've been solved by cross-function examining and idea generation? Isolation of departments is a great way to kill a functioning business, while the contrary is a recipe for long-term success and incremental improvements.

3. Understanding Customers

Let's throw another unconventional idea your way. Let's imagine you're providing a B2B service, many companies are realizing that the BMC is also a diagnostic tool for their customers.
By drafting a customer's business model canvas, you can better understand where your product fits into their ecosystem and how it might (or not) work to generate value for their needs.

On that note, the BMC can also be helpful as a part of your pitch to other companies. By outlining how you can help develop better value propositions and/or better deliver their solutions in the context of their audience's needs.

4. Understanding Competition

We just discussed how the BMC can be used to analyze your own customer's business, but what about your competition? The only way to get an edge on the market is to understand where your company stands in relation to the others in the same space.

The Business Canvas Model allows you to get an inside look into your competition's systems, value propositions, and logistics chain. Something that may prove useful when developing your product or thinking of ways to remark that unique differentiator.

In summary, this increased understanding of your competitive landscape allows you to act accordingly and design a better business model.

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5. Strategizing

Every year, employees sit around to embark on an essential mission —to create and design the OKR's (organizational key results) for the coming year.

Strategic Planning is one of the primary ways we've seen companies use the BMC int heir regular strategic planning and developing cycles. They use it to create a blueprint of their strategy. The BMC provides a clear foundation and direction for the conversation at hand. At the very least, it will give your whole team food for thought on what can be changed, improved, or discarded away.

Retrospective -When used as a strategic tool, users apply the BMC to outline the avenues that the company has taken in the past to deliver its value. If new opportunities or threats are on the horizon, then the BMC can be developed with new building blocks that would be indicated with color grading. Again, the interesting trend here is that the Canvas Model is increasingly used as a co-create strategy with people from around the organization. New perspectives are gold mines, so why let them go to waste?

Strategic Planning per Business Function is another way to expand on what each business unit is doing yearly to improve the company's standing. By using the BMC this way, each department has free rein on going as in-depth as they would like on new ideas that may or may not be followed through by the end of the strategic planning cycle.

6. Portfolio of Business Models

Time to get a little crazy, or like we love to say, entrepreneurial. A particularly fascinating area or application of the BMC is the idea of developing a portfolio of business models, ranging from improving existing business models all the way to inventing new business models. Yep, sometimes starting from scratch is what can actually take your game to another level. And while product and brand portfolios are relatively well mastered in large organizations, business model portfolios are an entirely new phenomenon.

Think about the inception of the streaming giant Netflix, for instance. Netflix's business model, in the beginning, was very different from what we all know and love today. But don't be naive enough to think they pivoted last second to stray away from the same fate that enrolled his biggest competitor, Blockbuster. In actuality, Netflix had that plan long before the company made the shift.

And while everybody on the team knew it was the future, the technology hadn't caught up to the idea at the time. Developing a different business model canvas allowed Netflix to explore different paths for success in the long-term, which ultimately allowed it to beat everyone else in the space, at least for a few years.

As you can tell, a business model portfolio helps you understand and highlight with which business model you are making cash today and with which business models you’re going to make cash in the future. Beyond growth and cash generation, the portfolio approach also helps you understand synergies and potential cannibalization between the different business models.

Another good illustration of this business model portfolio approach is Nestlé's use of its machine and pod technology. It all started with Nespresso's innovative business model built around single portioned coffee. Today the same technology is used in its mass-market coffee (Dulce Gusto by Nescafé), its tea business (SpecialT), and even for its baby formula (BabyNes). While they all use the same underlying technology all of these businesses have different business models with potential synergies and cannibalization.

Looking for Help to Draft your Own BMC?

If you're a business owner, then you're familiar with the hassle to make it all fit “one way or another”. For many, it works, but it can also lead to disaster. By recruiting a mentor to aid you in your journey, you can turn your “guesses” into educated and strategic decisions that will affect your business in the long term.

Finding a mentor is now easier in the MicroMentor platform. A free network that allows you to connect with expert mentors in your industry who are eager to give you a hand to make your business more stable, profitable, and grow over time. No boundaries, no obligations, MicroMentor is mentorship made accessible for everyone.

7. Innovation

Logically, following up the development of a Canvas Model Portfolio, the team is ready for the design, test, and build of new growth engines. This application is very closely related to the original intent of the BMC, outlined in Business Model Generation and refined in Value Proposition Design.

Here, the BMC is used to interchange and visualize how different blocks may change the business model for the better. While grabbing a piece from here and there, users may create the “ultimate” business model canvas for their particular business. Think of this procedure as the search for the right business model and value proposition.

8. Dashboard

How to tell if “Houston has a problem”? The BMC seems to have given us the answer. By using it as a dashboard for teams and functions in a company, users can define a performance threshold for each indicator. It's on the green if they are happy with the performance per indicator, turns orange if there is something to look at, and turns red if there's an issue.

While this might not lead to new breakthroughs or innovation per se, it can definitely help hold the team accountable for their functions and responsibilities across the span of time. Cross-departmental collaboration is also essential to understand why might one part of the business be on “red” if the respective team cannot find the reasons for themselves.

9. Strategy Diffusion and Co-creation.

Once your BMC is looking new and shiny, it's time to get the whole team on board. The canvas plays a very powerful role in strategy diffusion because it becomes the blueprint of your strategy that shows more concretely, more clearly how you're going to implement your strategy. Unlike in the "Alignment" section, this use is especially relevant if only key members were included in the development of the business canvas model and some explanation and convincing may be required to get everybody else on the same page.

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10. Investing

Startups and small businesses find it troublesome to pinpoint the areas that require more cash flow and attention in the short term. The BMC presents itself as a way to make better investment decisions. Once you've sketched out a business model(s) and you understand the underlying business opportunity, you have a better understanding of where you should allocate resources. This is true both for improving existing business models to inventing entirely new business models. The Canvas makes business opportunities explicit and can serve as a guide to how those resources get allocated.

BONUS: Exit Strategies

For those who seek an IPO or an acquisition, the last application we'll provide here is using the Canvas in the context of exit strategies. For the first instance, when assessing the opportunity of bringing an organization to the market you can use the Canvas to determine where you are going to allocate the money, how you will create better value propositions, how you will acquire more customers, or how to decrease your costs and increase your revenues.

And finally, if you aren't going for an IPO and you want to sell the company and get acquired you will want to understand if and how your organization fits with other organizations' ecosystems. Using the canvas this way can take much of the headaches out of the equation and allow you to focus manpower on chasing the right acquisition.

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