As a programmer, I have come to value the benefits of having good tooling for whatever job I'm doing, and those of mastering them. With some years in the craft, I've already have quite a nice toolbox/toolbelt, with a selection of tools (software) I enjoy being productive with.

But as would-be entrepreneurs, a good deal of our time revolve not around code but more around ideas, business plans, partnerships, product definitions or other business stuff. And my business toolbelt is almost as empty as my technical toolbelt is furnished. I got an old hammer, but I almost never use it, and when the only tool you have is a hammer...

Fortunately, we did stumb on the "Business Model Generation" book, and the book is in itself the nice red toolbox every handyman dreams of. Of course, you have general advices and stories from entrepreneurs around the world, but the tools are where the book is worth its weight in gold (and its a pretty heavy book).

Our first "signposted" brainstorm evening did start on the "business model canvas". Until this moment, the only document we had faced was some sort of long word template, with spaces to describe your team and project values, SWOT aspects or financial previsions (back in the reliability oriented world). The business model canvas is everything those are not (and conversely): non-sequential, collaborative, fun and relation-oriented.

Shortly described (from wikipedia), the canvas is a placeholder where you place post-its in 9 different zones:

  • Key Activities: the activities necessary to execute a company's business model.
  • Key Resources: the resources that are necessary to create value for the customer.
  • Partner Network: the business alliances which complement other aspects of the business model.
  • Value Proposition: the products and services a business offers, the reason why customers buy from a certain firm and not from another.
  • Customer Segments: the target audience for a business' products and services.
  • Channels: the means by which a company delivers products and services to customers.
  • Customer Relationship: the links a company establishes between itself and its different customer segments.
  • Cost Structure: the monetary consequences of the means employed in the business model.
  • Revenue Streams: the way a company makes money through a variety of revenue flows. A company's income.

Having dutifully reproduced the canvas on the biggest white sheet we could find, we did begin, a little awed by all those empty zones. We knew some points already, as preliminary discussions already happened between Christophe and I, but this was the first time we were trying to organize them a bit.

The experience was insanely good: oriented by the canvas simple but powerful structure, we not only organized many of our thoughts, but several new ideas emerged, in domains we had not covered to this moment. The "holes" in our offer also becomes evident enough to see what could close them. All in a short, dense and fun evening. Most of our discussion since this moment revolves around this structure, that we are now busy to structure around precise products.

I know that our first ideas will most probably never became successful products. But writing and playing with them did really start our creative phase.