We work with a lot of companies in varying states of maturity. Some prospective clients come in with workflows, user identities and fully vetted business models — they just need an objective, expert hand to finalize strategy and design. Some folks come in with nothing more than a fantastic idea and a basic blueprint of how to bring that idea to life. For the latter group, it’s key to help them fully flesh out their concept and market viability before we move into any concrete planning or strategy.
One of the best tools for realizing this particular stage of the process is a business model canvas. There are traditional business model canvases out there, but The Lean Canvas created by Ash Maurya (author of Running Lean) is tailored specifically to the entrepreneurial venture and is a great way to help a client unlock some surprising ideas about their product.
Adapting the basic structure of the business model canvas first pioneered by Alex Osterwalder, Maurya is more focused on identifying the problem a product is trying to solve, rather than the ideal solution the product represents. Maurya says:
Once you understand the problem, you are then in the best position to define a possible solution. That said, I purposefully wanted to constrain entrepreneurs (through the use of a small box on the canvas) because the solution is what we are most passionate about. Left unchecked, we often fall in love with our first solution and end up cornering ourselves into legacy. Keeping the solution box small also aligns well with the concept of a “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP).
The Minimally Viable Product is so important, and one that a lot of entrepreneurs aren’t advised to follow. Instead of falling prey to “feature fever,” we’re always advising our clients to start small and to start smart. The MVP forces product owners to distill their product to its most basic structure. What is the key problem that needs to be solved…and what is the essential functionality users need in order to realize the solution to that problem?
The Lean Canvas also breaks down the potential input and output of a product. What is the known overhead? What are the expected sources of revenue? These are great paths towards understanding if there’s room in your business plan to roll-out a free beta version — making space to find early adopters (who can become product advocates) and collecting real-world user data and feedback.
These last two pieces of information are critical for building out a product’s next phases. Which features are being demanded by the users? Which features are now no longer relevant based on the actual user base? The product owner can now very wisely spend money on an even better, more essential version of their product.