Recently, I spent time at the most international and diverse university of Germany, the Jacobs University in Bremen with Prof. Steven Ney. I did a seminar on entrepreneurial design. The students were trained already to use the canvas and the course was great. However, their inability to leave blanks on the canvas was striking. What do I mean by this?
We do not like blanks. Long pauses in a conversation confuse and stress us. And since we do not like blanks we fill them. In a conversation, we do small talk. On the canvas, we just fill in the blanks with a kind of small talk as well.
Small talk on the canvas is to just fill in something which sounds good, but has no base, no facts supporting it, not even being a smart idea. If we do not know exactly who our customers are, we wirte Business-to-Business customers or advertising in the box to communicate with our customers. B2B sounds sophisticated but for an entrepreneur who wants to build something on top of her canvas, this is useless at best, dangerous at worst.
While small talk is socially accepted and even expected, filling the blanks on the canvas is dangerous since it pretends we have solved this problem and we move on to another building block to fill. That is deadly if you really want to execute your idea into reality.
A good test is to go back to the four essential questions or a business model.
- What excites your customers?
- How do you create the value for your customers?
- How do you earn money?
- Who is on our team and why?
Try to answer these questions in one and two sentences each and test them with somebody outside your team. Does she understand you? Would a customer think: “Wow what a great idea, how can I become a customer?” Would your pitch motivate people to spent time with you and your idea?
Designing businesses is not just an exercise where you have to fill all blanks on the canvas. It is not a school exam where answering all question is a key to an A.
Designing a business is art. Designing is an endless process to gain insights, to ideate, to develop assumptions based on insights, to challenge your assumptions, getting more to the point, to test with customers and accepting that a blank can be left for some time as a blank. Having a blank on the canvas is better than to have some useless small talk on the canvas.
And this phenomenon, I have seen a lot when I work with would-be entrepreneurs regardless of their age. Fight this! Withstand small talk on the canvas! Leave blanks blank!