Canvas Everything.

Find the balance between independence, collaboration, and iteration.


I like the business model canvas. It’s lean. It’s simple. It’s powerful.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more effective way to capture thoughts about your business.

I dare say, it’s democratic.

But most non-profit folks believe biz development is over their head. (How many times have you been told “Nonprofits should run themselves more like businesses”?) We expect the constraints of our limited experience with business will preclude us from delivering a really great product at profit.

This may be true.

Or, maybe it isn’t.

I suppose a non-profit could hire an outside consultant for market analysis. This person could lead the conversation and help the team arrive at some conclusions. They’d probably offer great insight and next action steps.

But the problem with this isn’t just that it’s expensive.

It also creates an unhealthy reliance on outsiders for skills.

Even the most well-intentioned and oft-experienced consultant or coach has experience of a particular ilk. Maybe they were successful in finance. Maybe they worked in healthcare. Maybe they worked in hospitality or franchise management.

Either way they’re probably awesome. But there are limits.

And if we had to balance blindly trusting domain experience with faith in your team, which would you prefer?

There isn’t an easy answer to this, but I’d put my faith in my team because I have to work with them daily. Insights from every conversation connect to breakthroughs in other areas of the project.

I don’t know if I would have said that before I discovered the business canvas, and I doubt I could convince many outsiders that a rag-tag group of non-profit pirates could have a lot to say about market capitalization, fixed-cost analysis and unique value propositions.

But since a business model canvas captures behaviors experienced business people do intuitively, we don’t have to be analysts to gain insight into our business.

And so we can “lean” on the canvas for a nudge in the right direction. And since we can seek the canvas’ guidance any time we want (we’ll be canvasing monthly in small groups and quarterly as a large team), there’s no cost besides our own time. And usually it’s time well spent.

The business model canvas as practice democratizes product development by providing objective guidance to inquiry and launchpads for further research.

We know more now then before doing it. We’ll know more by the time we do it again.

You won’t be an expert about business after the process. But you will be more of an expert in your business after the process.

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