Monthly Archives: August 2016

Business Plan That You Need To Know

A business plan is essentially a more detailed version of your business model. A business plan has been traditionally understood as a physical document, although increasingly this view has changed as business plans have migrated online. The business plan format very much depends on the context and business plans are often verbalised via presentations where a presenter pitches their business plan to an audience. Business models are more likely to take the form of either simple verbal descriptions or one page visual representations which can either be produced before a business plan or as part of the same planning process.

Alexander Osterwalder, co-author of Business Model Generation, agrees with the link, arguing that:

‘..when you have designed and thought through your business model you have the perfect basis for writing a good business plan.’ 

It is also worth noting that there are increasing numbers of business plan critics who argue that their composition is too time consuming and that people need ‘to get building’. Some of this criticism has come from software developers (many of whom are proponents of the Lean Start-up Methodology).  I personally feel their arguments are a little simplistic and that entrepreneurs need to map out a viable business model and a business plan in tandem. I also think that the arguments are more valid in an Internet business context, where it is relatively easy to bootstrapa low-cost website which can be used for feedback and constant iterative development.

If you are looking to build a new business and are about to draft a business plan, you should also spend time working out your optimum business model as well as drafting a visual representation of it.  You can use the following framework to map same. In recent years there has been significant innovation in the range of business models, and some of them may be of relevance to your offering. Finally, it is also worth noting that some business models such as the Internet bubble model have largely had their day. Very few investors will invest in businesses these days that have advertising at the heart of their business model.

Things coming to an end

The launch of the Zilok website in the U.K. (May 2008) reaffirmed to me that the way we have been consuming for many years in Western Society is changing. The raison d’être for Zilok goes something like this:

“Why own a ladder or a drill when you only need to use it once a year and you can rent one from a neighbour for a very low cost?”

I think of my parents’ generation, and a combination of increased disposable income (relative to their parents), significant marketing and the growth of retail parks meant that most of their generation have garages full of items that rarely see the light of day. However, our world is changing. In recent years there has also been an increase in single-person households, as well as a growth in apartments and flats with less square footage for storage than the houses of our parents. It’s not simply a case of why buy a ladder to use once a year but also a case of if I buy it, where do I store it?

The notion of community has also changed and urban dwellers are more likely to access an online community than knock next door to borrow something.

The Internet has also served to reduce transaction costs across the board. It is now easier to search for a wide range of (long tail and /or obscure) products and services from a PC. The days of driving around calling into different stores are well gone. On the supplier side it has removed the need for providers to have a physical presence in the various markets that they serve, or to carry a lot of stock in these stores.

Finally there is a greater environmental awareness amongst consumers and an increasing amount of purchase decisions now include a weighting for the environmental impact of their purchases. Websites such as The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard seek to promote sustainable production and indeed consumption –again seeking to promote shared ownership, product reuse and seeking to educate people about the impacts of their purchase decisions.

As a result of these changes, there is a raft of emerging offerings that blur the lines between products and services as we have traditionally known them. The message for entrepreneurs is that environmental changes and changes in consumer behaviour create business opportunities. The next ‘big idea’ is more likely to be a simple tweak to an existing product or service rather than an idea concocted in a garden shed!

Zilok

Zilok takes advantage of a number of relatively recent developments, not least the Internet (and in particular Google Maps), to enable you to search for things and then to rent them from a neighbour. They claim that the average drill is used for just 12 minutes of its lifetime, and hence, rather than owning a drill for example, users should consider renting one.  This all makes sense of course.  When I was younger, product ownership was pretty much ‘for life’ or until the ‘thing broke’. Most of you will be familiar with the notion of an attic overflowing with Christmas decorations and a shed packed full of ladders, tools and the like.  Nowadays, services like Zilokand Hirethings raise serious questions about both the need to always buy products and the need to hold on to them for life if we do buy them. Of course plant and tool hire is not something new; however, while the outcomes are the same, the processes used to achieve the outcomes are very different, as are the value propositions.

In short, paying a neighbour $10/ a day for a drill rental which is arranged over the Web is pretty compelling for some people.

When you Arrive Late to the Party

Relying on academic management literature for guidance can be a fickle business. For example, while “first-mover advantage” was once lauded as the optimum strategy for market entry, it was shortly displaced by its close cousin “second-mover advantage”. The thought went that the “second mover” could learn from the mistakes of the pioneering entrant who was likely to run out of money while trying to educate the market. Of course, some of these initial pioneering entrants did not run out of money and ended up dominating their space, thus striking a blow for advocates of being a “second mover”.

For “first movers” there are a number of poster boys, like Twitter, the micro-blogging platform, which has become so dominant that successful market entry by a direct competitor would be difficult to comprehend. The launch of the iPad created the tablet market, which did not exist prior to its launch but has since been flooded with entrants. For some cash-rich entrepreneurs, with the pockets, vision and patience of someone like Steve Jobs, the lack of a market is an opportunity rather than a problem. However, in the majority of cases, there may be no competition because there are structural reasons why a market does not exist (such as a lack of demand or a market size that is currently too small to serve profitably). In other words, the entrepreneur may simply have misread the opportunity!

For “second movers,” you can generally enter the market without the cost of the first mover. A subsequent entrant can study the incumbent when deciding how to design and position their offering. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Competition also helps from a marketing perspective – trying to educate and attract a market on your own is a very costly exercise. However, in some cases the first mover is so dominant, subsequent entry would not be advised.

In other instances market entry is not always so easily defined. A recent example from the U.S. is the almost simultaneous market entry of Gowalla and FourSquare, both location-based social networking sites. These were soon followed by Rummble, and a host of others.

For entrepreneurs the lessons are clear – there are different things to be aware of when you start your business, in terms of market entry. If the market does not yet exist you need to ensure you have deep pockets as marketing is likely to be extremely costly. You also need to be confident that you are not ‘misreading the opportunity’.