Posts Tagged ‘strategizing’

Can you copy a business model? Groupon and its clones

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Particularly on the web, we see a lot of copies of successful business models. How many clones are there of Groupon? How many competitors and incumbents wanted to copy Amazon in the late 1990s and failed? The core question is: Is it possible to copy a business model? In this post, I will elaborate on this topic.

Business Model Copycats

During a recent interview for a bachelor thesis, I was asked: Under which circumstances is the transfer of a business model e.g. from a different country or from a competitor a useful strategy?

I must admit, I am skeptical about the outright transfer of business models from one firm to another. The reason is very simple. A business model is more than its technical components like your value chain, revenue model, your product etc. The business model also includes soft factors like the value proposition, your values and corporate culture or your core competencies. Remember the definition of core competency: core competencies have to be rare, difficult to copy and valuable.

Many strategists, VCs and purely analytical people think that it is easy to copy a business model. What they forget is that a business model is not just a technocratic combination of components, in fact, humans are involved with their values, cultures and hidden assumptions. You can copy the hard components, but the human aspect of a business model –values, culture, tacit knowledge – is difficult to copy.

Business Model transfer from Start-ups to Start-ups

The case is different for startups where (more…)

Business Models, Long Range Planning, Baden-Fuller and latency

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Long Range Planning, a prestigious academic journal on strategy, discovered the topic of Business Models and Strategy. It dedicated a whole Special Issue to Business Models. I have mixed feelings regarding the Special Issue. On the one hand it is great that academia takes up such an important topic; on the other hand, it is shows again that academia is a self-referential system which has a strong bias to not-invented-here syndrome since most authors do not reference earlier works that were published outside their closed community of Strategy professors. Sad. Many of the ideas I have read at other places before.

Already in May, I have heard that Long Range Planning had published a Special Issue on Business Models. Today, I got hands on it thanks to Andres Sundelin from The Business Model DataBase.

You can access the article via http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00246301 as a guest. Very interesting topics like “Business Models as Models” by C. Baden-Fuller and M. Morgan or “Business Models, Business Strategy and Innovation” by D.J. Teece are included, so the Special Issue is definitely worthwhile reading.  That is the happy part of the Special Issue.

C. Baden-Fuller, M. Morgan, Henry Chesbrough and business model

What makes me sad about the issue is the closed and self-referential world of the academia in Strategy Research. The topic was broadly covered in early 2000 at least in two Ph.D. theses, I know. However, so far I have found only two citation to Alex Osterwalder’s work in the article “Business Model Innovation: Opportunities and Barriers” by Henry Chesbrough and in the article by Wirtz & al.. Thanks Henry, that you take your open innovation approach also your research. Thanks Bernd.

I hoped to find some background on Business Models in Baden-Fullers and Morgan’s article. Negative. They seemed to have not heard from Osterwalder before, they do not cite him. They are not mentioning ideas of Gary Hamel on business concept innovation from 2000, a concept very close to business model innovation. They cite only their own kind. They still live in their closed community where it is extremely important from whom the idea is coming, even when the original idea is 10 years old and not even cited. That is what I call a long latency!

Origin of business model thinking

The origin in business model thinking dates back to the information management researchers that were building information systems. To do so, they needed models of the reality. They talked about data models, process models, enterprise models and later about business models. When the first Internet entrepreneurs were talking about their strategy, they talked naturally about their business model since that was a language familiar to them. From there, the term transcended to Strategy. E.g., I wrote my Ph.D. thesis exactly at this crossing of information systems and strategy. My supervisors were Prof. Beat Schmid, background in computer science and Prof. Georg von Krogh, a strong researcher in Strategy. Quite a balancing act.

Business model is just a model of a business

When I was writing from 1997 to 2000 my Ph.D. thesis, Prof. von Grogh told me that I needed a unit of analysis for my research. I know the traditional culprits like industry or firm but they did not fit into what we saw in the New Economy. Industry boarders become meaningless; competition came from competitors you had not even heard before.

Therefore, my answer to Georg was very simple: I used the business model as my unit of analysis. He said fine. Just define it. Well, easy said difficult done. I was positive at the beginning that there must be something since we all got Masters of Business Administration so Business should be defined. Nope. Not really.

And again, it was Peter Drucker who had worked on this. He asked the simple questions “What business are you in?” and “What is the purpose of a business”.  And this is exactly what a business model should answer when used for.

[If you want to know something about the origins of business model thinking and my contribution to the topic read chapter two of my Ph.D. from summer 2001 at Google Books. I translated part of that chapter for a workshop Prof. Yves Pigneur and Alexander Osterwalder (a German speaker) organized in summer 2002, when they started their research on business models. (added Jan. 5th, 2017)]

Chesbrough and Rosenbloom (2002) explain the antecedents to the business model concept in their article “The Role of the Business Model in Capturing Value from Innovation: Evidence from Xerox Corporation’s Technology Spinoff Companies”. It is interesting that it was not the academic world that saw the necessity to have the business in focus for strategy but the real world. The business is where the competition is. Welcome to the real world.

Let’s commit a thoughtcrime

Friday, August 21st, 2009

In formulated strategy we use a lot of words like innovative, based on core competencies, market driven, customer centric, operational excellence, best-in-class, top quality, leveraging existing brand, etc…. You named it and of course business model and business model innovation are now part of these buzz words. Are they still meaningful or did we forget the deeper concepts behind the words? Do we use the technocratic jargon to signal others that we are the experts?

doublethink by duncan

As I have argued in my last post, I think we use in strategy and in management in general too many generic and meaningless words. And I think we use also too many meaningless graphs and pictures to say nothing as a matter of fact. Visualization does not help you if your strategy is bad. Sorry, Alex for this 😉 .

Every decent firm claims in restructuring that it is concentrating on its core competencies when divesting or closing parts of its firm. Well, and often it is the same firm that argued some time ago that it was necessary to buy this now divested firm since it wanted to offer full service to its customers. We have so many words for “Sorry, it did not work. We just could not make it work”. Why are we so afraid about the truth?

Management Newspeak

In management we have invented Newspeak. Original, Newspeak is a fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language. While in Orwell’s novel the government tries to introduce Newspeak to the people in order to make the people more compliant to its will, in the case of management it is our own fault. We managers use our own Newspeak and we have taken all meaning out of it. (more…)

Does a customer care about your corporate strategy?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

The question what  a good strategy is is difficult to answer. With hindsight it is easy: A good strategy is one that works. But in foresight? Many formulated, intended strategies are plain boring, generic and not customer centric, but focused on investors. Many business model innovators on the other hand have clear strategies that are focused on customers and on the value proposition.

Boring strategies

“We earn a premium on our cost of capital”

“We form the best team in industry”

“We help our customer to be more successful”

“We ensure sustainable development”

Have you found out which company has these pillars for its strategy?

Probably not. The strategy is so generic and interchangeable that it fits for almost any large company.

Are you attracted as a customer to this company?

Probably not, since so many companies claim to help customers to be more successful.

Does this spur emotions in you?

Definitely not! It is just plain boring!

How about this company: It claims that it is driven by “passion of success” that rests on “four cornerstones”: “superior brands”, “superior supply chain”, “superior talent in lean organizations”.

Do you know which company it is?

No, since it is so generic. It could stand for many companies in many industries. It is boring. It does not give the company any real purpose to exit.

Value centric strategies

So how about this:

“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (more…)

Slides: Growth by business model innovation (2 part)

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

These are the slides of the second part of my lecture I gave at Leuphana University in Lüneburg in May. The first set of slides you find here.