Mental Models for Startup & Thesis Ideation — Visual Reference Guide

Ali Afridi
3 min readJan 14, 2021


A few months back, I published a compilation of 20 mental models that entrepreneurs and investors leverage to develop new venture ideas & theses. As a follow-up to that post, I’ve included a chart below that makes it easier to browse the models.

As thesis-driven seed-stage VCs, the ideation activity is an important one that we’re often engaged in. The mental models below are an important part of our toolkit to proactively develop investment and/or new venture ideas for diligence even before seeing an investable opportunity in the market.

My previous post on the topic lays out additional details about each of these models, the inputs that feed into them, and additional resources to learn more. In addition to the initial 20 models presented earlier, I’ve included 4 additional ones in this post. Suggested reads on the new models can be found below.

Disclaimer: These models are neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive. The models are helpful in developing top-of-the-funnel ideas, but developed concepts will still need vetting in order to determine whether they make sense as new ventures.

A single HD image with all 24 models can be downloaded here

Additional Reading for the new Models

Models 1–20 of this post were presented in my previous post which has more detailed descriptions, information on the inputs that feed into the models and suggested reading for each of them. Since 21–24 are new additions, I’ve included some resources where people can learn more if they are interested.

21 — Business Model Innovation

22 — Creative Imitation

23 — Decoupling

24 — Verticalization

Categorizing the Models by Key Input Insight

In my previous post, I broke out the key input insight that drove each of the mental models. I’ve updated that graphic to incorporate the newly presented models.

Thanks / Credits

  • Thanks to Chelsea Zhang & Simran Suri for the initial ideas to capture the models in a profile table and for suggesting a graphical representation respectively.
  • The example for MS Encarta shrinking the encyclopedia market (model 17) is taken from Josh Kopelman’s post on the topic.


Have a better description or example for a model or have a model you think I should have included? I’d love to hear from you — my email is [first_name] @