When is the best time to begin thinking about your business model?
If you are wondering about how your business will generate revenue and profitability to grow, then start if you haven’t already. But first let’s clear up some myths that plague early stage founders and intrapreneurs when they start tinkering with a new idea:
1. “Thinking about business models in the beginning is a waste of time and energy. Build something big that people love, and the business model will follow.”
We’ve heard this objection frequently when we suggest that now is the time to start thinking about your business model. We’ve heard this objection from a particular type of Venture Capitalist who invests in consumer internet businesses that are only valuable after they achieve large user growth and engagement. These kinds of investors encourage founders to build first, postpone the business model discussion – because they know that ultimately, advertising, or some form of freemium/paid model, will be the default business model. “If you get that kind of user growth and engagement there will be some way to monetize” is a common refrain.
Let’s be clear: the mantra is “user growth first, monetize later” – but by all means start thinking and planning for your long game.
So as long as you acknowledge that you are in one of these businesses, then focus on user growth first. But don’t be upset when one day you realize you are actually in advertising.
2. “Business model thinking will cramp our creativity.”
One of the most popular tech events in New York City, NY Tech Meetup, forbids audience participants to ask about business models. Demo night is for demonstrations of technology, and you will receive a boo or hiss if you ask the demoers how they might imagine making money from their idea. We still go to NY Tech Meetup, and we suffer, silently.
For prototyping, side projects, art projects, explorations of code and ideas – don’t cramp your creative thinking with business model scenarios. But as soon as you get a hint that your exploration might become your livelihood; start thinking about the business model. We’re not suggesting you do something so uncool as to mention the business model on a stage where such concepts have been forbidden, but be ready to invite potential interested backers and partners and valuable customer discovery that will follow you after a successful demo.
3. “It’s all imaginary at the beginning, why bother figuring out the business model now, it’s going to be a complete guess.”
We counter by saying to you that it’s all imaginary at the beginning. But how you form your business will be shaped by the thoughts you choose to think, and the methods you adopt at the start. Your estimates of your total addressable market may be off by a factor of 10, your pricing estimates for subscription fees may be off by a factor of 100. But by putting some numbers out there, and seeing the shapes and contours of what might become will give you a sense of where to focus, and what to build and test first.
Mark Suster, one of the more prolific and wise blogging VCs, even encourages you to create a financial model.
“Here’s why. Your financial model tells a story. Let’s take your revenue line. It should talk about how many customers you think you will acquire and how much you’ll charge for your product. If you can’t estimate the former then I would suggest you haven’t done your homework before building the product. Do you really want to spent $100k building a product to discover through Customer Development that the market is too small?”
If you are asking us, no, you don’t want to do that.
In sum, the best time to start thinking about business models is soon after you form the initial vision of an idea. What kills many early stage startups and corporate innovation projects – they are solutions in search of a market need that does not exist. Most of the other reasons for failure, such as “ran out of cash” “get outcompeted” and “pricing/cost issues” are components of a business model.
So get started, now. Join the Reason Street Business Model Adventure, where we
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