I was first introduced to the Business Model Canvas during business school in Steve Blank‘s class. We used it to quickly evaluate and brainstorm start-ups as part of his Customer Development process. It appealed to my philosophy that less is more, and I found it very efficient at aligning a conversation and keeping it focused.
However, I’ve been using it for a couple years now and find a consistent breakdown in the conversation when multiple customer segments are introduced. The reason for this is that each segment drives unique attributes to the other building blocks on the canvas.
Consider, for example, a software start-up that is making a gamification platform. One segment they might consider is marketers of experiential products. The value proposition to them would be improved engagement and compliance with their product experience. Another segment they might consider is users themselves, creating their own challenges with the value proposition being helping them achieve their personal goals.
Now consider what happens as you begin to evaluate the other elements of the canvas. Revenue? Advertising for end-users, licensing for businesses. Relationship? Self service or communities for end-users, personal for businesses… What happens is as you go through the other building blocks, each attribute starts being stated conditionally based on the segment until the canvas becomes unusable.
Constraining the Canvas by Solution
What I’ve found effective to address this is to do one canvas for each logical grouping of Value Proposition and Customer Segment. Start with those two boxes first, and when moving to the other boxes pay attention to someone caveatting their attribute by use-case. When that happens, pull that value prop and customer segment onto it’s own canvas and keep that one focused on that solution.
To help bring it all back together, I use a distinct color on an attribute if it is shared across the other canvases. So for example, if a key activity is the same no matter what value proposition is being delivered, then I might write that attribute in green so it is quickly identifiable as being shared. This has an added benefit too if you are using the model to decide between pilots or minimum viable product features, because the solutions with shared attributes are likely to allow you to leverage your investment and quickly pivot even if that solution fails.
I’ve found the constraint of one solution per canvas to make the conversation more focused, efficient and understandable. For one client, we had six different canvases we were maintaining at one point. The ability to keep the relationships clean far outweighed the overhead of doing the canvas multiple times. Give it a try and let me know how it works out!