Introducing the Ownership Model Canvas

A new tool to re-align business success with ownership

Danny Spitzberg
Published in
5 min readAug 3, 2021

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Wealth equality depends on designing for the ownership side of business. This post introduces a new tool for the job — the Ownership Model Canvas — with instructions and an example from the music patronage platform Ampled. This tool was co-created with Start.coop Co-Director Greg Brodsky, supported by the Cooperative Development Foundation, and informed by conversations and tests with dozens of allies, listed below. If you need any help, let us know!

Update, Aug. 2, 2022: see this article for an in-depth how-to on the OMC V1.1!

What makes a business successful?

Alex Osterwalder, creator of the Business Model Canvas, says the key to success is simple: delivering value to customers. According to his book, which has been downloaded more than 5 million times since 2005, “a business model describes the rationale of how a company creates, delivers, and captures value.” But without considering who owns the company, this limited definition puts founders and investors over customers, workers, and other stakeholders who make the business succeed.

Consider Amazon. Jeff Bezos owns 11% of the company. Due to Amazon’s business model efficiency and growth, Bezos became 70% wealthier since the pandemic and was worth $211b as of July 26, 2021. Meanwhile, the average employee salary was $28.5k, around $14 per hour. But if Amazon employees had the same stock, profit-sharing, and other benefits as employees at Sears, “the Amazon of its day,” they’d each have $400k. Imagine what else might be possible if Amazon included workers and community members in ownership and decision making.

The case of Amazon makes two things clear:

  1. According to the Business Model Canvas, Amazon is doing fine.
  2. We need a new tool to design for business ownership.

Because it omits ownership, the Business Model Canvas benefits those privileged enough to be an investor or founder in the first place. As a result, most business models widen the racial wealth gap and perpetuate economic inequality.

To see — and to change — how different stakeholders share the wealth generated by entrepreneurship, we need to add a new canvas. One that focuses not just on the business model, but on the benefits of ownership.

Introducing the Ownership Model Canvas

The question of business ownership is always on our mind. Start.coop is a business ownership accelerator. In working with startups since 2018, and for years before that, we’ve found that founders lack practical tools, training and examples necessary to design cooperative ownership at scale. So in 2020, in collaboration with allies in the cooperative and shared ownership movement, we started designing an Ownership Model Canvas.

We created the Ownership Model Canvas for co-ops and especially would-be co-ops to move faster with lower chances of failure:

  • Save time and money with lawyer intake and legal fees
  • Get clarity early by focusing on key questions
  • Start testing ideas with member-owners
Design your ownership model by filling in this blank canvas

Here’s how it works:

  • The OMC shows how to connect the member-owners, the benefits they get, and the expectations for their contributions.
  • It distinguishes member-owners from non-owner stakeholders who may be advisors, and who might also want to invest financially.
  • Finally, it also includes member-owner governance rights and financial rights to make it easy to see the benefits of shared ownership for a business — and where tradeoffs may exist.

Hard-earned lessons made easy

Aligning purpose and ownership is a superpower for mutualistic businesses, but success doesn’t come easy — it takes careful planning and experimenting. Having a model helps pull it all together.

One of our favorite examples is Ampled, a music patronage platform and a Start 2020 graduate. Its cofounders Austin Robey and Collin Lewis worked for two years to get a working platform and user base, including hundreds of hours at legal clinics in New York, a timebank for tracking worker contributions, and many more DIY solutions. Working through the OMC, Austin recreated Ampled’s model in 30 minutes.

“I’ve spent two years thinking about these questions, and there were lightbulb moments for all of them,” Austin told us.

More importantly, Austin also used the OMC to identify a key area for improvement— connecting contributor compensation to ownership for long-term commitments. See Ampled’s ownership model at the end of the OMC template.

How to use the OMC

In a nutshell: copy the blank canvas template, fill in it, and discuss it with stakeholders.

The template includes instructions, but here’s a quick summary:

  1. Define member-owners and non-owner stakeholders. Your ideal member-owners are often stakeholders who are most central to achieving success; not all stakeholders need to be co-owners! Then, fill in the rest of the canvas and connect key components, like Benefits ⇄ Expectations.
  2. Find opportunities to serve member-owners. Identify relationships you can leverage for long-term benefit, like the link between Guidance and Governance Rights or Investments and Financial Rights.
  3. Share what you learn. Once you have a draft, discuss it with key stakeholders and connect it back to your business operations. You may also want to consult a lawyer who can help you develop your bylaws, restructure your equity, or create new structures like a trust.

Get started on your model by using the OMC template here.

The secret is to start

Designing for ownership can seem like a waste of time for startups; why not build a successful business first, and then share the wealth? We created the OMC to show how including member-owners early can create benefits early and over time. The secret is to start.

Need help getting started? Here’s a step-by-step how-to of how to build your own Ownership Model Canvas. For more help launching your co-op, try our free Lean Co-op course; Module 5 covers this material in more depth.

Enjoy designing your ownership model, and let us know how it goes!

Special thanks to everyone who offered their feedback on V1.0 of the OMC: Jessica Mason, Katie Michels, Camille Kerr, Austin Robey, Nathan Schneider, Jason Wiener, Morshed Mannan, Simon Pek, Hilary Abel, Lauren Ruffin, Nick Ellis, Lindsay Gaskins, Mara Zepeda, Jennifer Briggs, Daniel Fireside, Priya Parrish, Tomás Quinonez-Riegos, Matt Epperson, Camille Canon, Tani Olhanoski, Luni Libes, Keith Ippel, and Yichen Feng.

The Ownership Model Canvas is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Danny Spitzberg

User researcher for a cooperative economy · Freedom through simple tools and co-ops