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Startup Discontinuity – Canvas Part 2

January 7, 2012

The business model canvas has become ubiquitous in startup environments, but has yet to develop much traction as an analytical tool in larger organizations.[1]  That’s ironic, because using the canvas at a large organization is much more straightforward.  To use it productively in a startup environment, it’s first necessary to overcome a confusing discontinuity:

A startup is not just a smaller version of a large company

It’s more like a precursor entity

Piper Cubs are pretty different from 787s, but only in superficial ways.  Both carry people through the air to their destinations, using engines that generate forward motion, wing structures that generate lift, and flaps that allow directional changes.  In contrast, caterpillars don’t eat or move or defend themselves or reproduce in the same way as butterflies. They’re designed not to be but to become butterflies.

In exactly the same way, startups are designed not to be but to become companies.  So in a startup context, a filled-out canvas is not a description of reality but a set of guesses or hypotheses.   A startup can use the canvas to keep track of current hypotheses, or to keep track of what they’re actually doing week to week, but using it for both purposes invites confusion.

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