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Startup Assembly: Report of the “Business Model Generation for Startups” workshop

By Marie 26-06-2014

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The session facilitated by Sylvie Daumal, af83 UX Director, took place at af83 a few days ago with participants from a wide range of backgrounds at different stages of defining their businesses. Pedro Fernandes, Lead UX Designer, takes a look back at the session.

Pedro, for those of us who aren’t familiar with the Business Model Generation and Canvas concepts, can you introduce them in a few words?

The main idea is that a rock-solid and innovative business model is key for the success of a company. But it can be difficult to formalize it or take into account all the aspects. This is where the Business Model Canvas comes handy. It’s a strategic tool created by Alexander Osterwalder, to create new business models describing a company value proposition, infrastructure, clients, etc. in a synthetic grid. If you want to dig further this vast topic, there are a lot of resources online, for example Alexande’s book "Business Model Generation".

Can you explain how was organized the workshop?

After a quick introductionround of all the participants, the workshop started with a general overview of BM Canvas using the evolution of Amazon’s BMs as a practical example; this helped everyone grasp what each canvas component meant. Then we went straight to the heart of the session: participants were asked to create a canvas for their business idea and discuss it in pairs, as a way to check each other’s understanding of the business. Then we ended with a detailed study of the canvas, always based on real case such as Nespresso, Hilty…

What was for you the most interesting point of the workshop?

The canvas was not an end in itself. What made the workshop really interesting was seeing how once created, the canvas can be applied to map the dependencies between the different elements. This helps you articulate your assumptions, determine what must be tested, and in which order. When some conditions change you might need to go back and re-test other parts of your system.

For example you might start off thinking your key value proposition is one thing, you have market fit, you have people ready to pay for your product, only to discover some insurmountable factor related to logistics or key resources invalidates your initial value proposition, which implies having to rethink the product, test it with a new consumer group, and so on. As you do, you learn more and more about the problem space you’re exploring and start homing in on the real business opportunities, which might be very different from what you had initially imagined.

During the workshop we saw some great examples illustrating these points, such as this Stanford School BM competition video, where you can see the process in action:

Is this tool limited to entrepreneurs only, or can it help other profiles?

No, of course, it’s not limited – on the contrary! This exercise can be really useful for UX practitioners in many contexts other than startups. I’d say when it is necessary to map the key components and assumptions of an existing or future business. The way to use it aligns well with both lean startup principles and rapid iterative processes found in product development: fail early, fail often, test, learn, iterate.

If you had to sum up this session in one sentence…?

Overall an excellent session which gave participants plenty of food for thought and hopefully the will to go out there test those assumptions!

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