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Looking to build a startup? The Business Model Canvas can help.

By: David Brim

Recently I was a judge in UCF’s business model competition. I’ve judged multiple business plan competitions in the past, but the business model competition was very different. Rather than focus on the business opportunity, the unique offering, team and likelihood for success; the business model competition focuses on the journey that the entrepreneur has been through to arrive at their current state.

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

The business model competition is based on lean start-up principles. The belief is that a start-up is in continual exploration to uncover a scalable  business model.

Most successful start-ups don’t end up doing exactly what they had planned initially. There are many lessons that start-up entrepreneurs go through along their journey. As a result of these lessons a series of pivots, or course adjustments, are made by the entrepreneur to help their startup better adapt to their respective environment (or find a new environment that fits them best).

Developing a full business plan can take substantial amounts of time and in the end may be invalidated once you actually get into the market and learn.

The business model canvas is used to help start-ups consider the major aspects that comprise their proposed venture and business model.

I’ve added a copy of the business model canvas below:

After proposing an initial business model you should then develop key assumptions to test before investing substantial amounts of time and money in a venture. I’ll give a personal example.

Background for example: Several months back my start-up Bright Impact, a solution for assessing the impact of service learning programs in higher-ed, was approached by an NBA team. They desired to track their corporate social responsibility impact through our tool.

I didn’t want to immediately customize our software for that sports team because we would be going into a completely different market, become distracted from current objectives and potentially stray away from our brand positioning. At the same time I didn’t want to ignore a big potential opportunity if our product could solve a large need that another market had.

I decided to create a test to validate my assumption.

My assumption: Large corporations, including professional sports team, could benefit and would pay for Bright Impact to assess their CSR activities.

My test: I arranged a meeting with CSR decision makers at Universal, Disney and the Orlando Magic and held a focus group. During the focus group I presented mock-up designs of what Bright Impact would look like when customized for them.  I then presented a survey and had each of the decision makers answer the survey individually then we discussed the answers together as a group.

Results: After the meeting I realized that this market was not the best to pursue at this time. Rather than be discouraged I was very thankful for the opportunity to save myself and company a lot of time and money. One indicated that they already had developed proprietary ways and software to collect this data. Another mentioned that their CSR reporting has become less important in recent years. The final one mentioned that it took over a year to just approve a new niche Facebook page and the sales cycle for selling this type of solution would likely be very long.

As entrepreneurs it is easy for us to have a vision and believe that the world should conform and change to be exactly what we envision. It is important to truly understand the markets that you are seeking to sell into and the pain you are looking to solve.

In our case one professional sports team reached out to us, but that doesn’t mean the whole market has this pain and would be willing to pay for the solution.

Whether you are a new entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur or an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial employee within a corporation) it is important to understand how to construct potential business models, develop assumptions and test those assumptions before investing time and resources into building something you think a market will want.

It is a lot easier up front to just build it and think customers (and cash) will come…but the world doesn’t work that way.

If you utilize the business model canvas then develop assumptions and tests you are a lot more likely to make better decisions. Though you may experience entrepreneurial growing pains early on, it will save you a lot of pain and frustration in the long run.

I think it is great that UCF has introduced this new competition. Utilizing the business model canvas and lean start-up methods is a great skill for any entrepreneurs to learn. This year’s judges were Robin Phelps (Business Consultant and previous tech entrepreneur), Doug White (Founder and Marketing specialist at Dream Tree Agency), Christine Ortiz (Ed reform enthusiast and founder of Founder & CEO at [ ]schools) and myself.

This year’s winner of the UCF business model competition was Oluwafunlola Falade, who passionately explained his journey and love / hate relationship with the business model canvas. Congrats Falade!

Falade UCF business model competition

Pam Hoelzle, Oluwafunlola Falade (UCF Business Model Competition winner) and Cameron Ford

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy the post I shared a few weeks back: The business plan template that helped me to win over $18,500.

007 Ways to Digitally Spy on Your Competition

By: David Brim

In business it is often said that only the strong survive.  The businesses that adapt to their environment the most effectively greatly increase their chances of surviving, or better yet thriving. But so do the companies resourceful enough to learn from them.

Developing trade secrets, creating innovative offerings, and tracking market changes can take a lot of time, money and effort. Many companies, both large and small allocate substantial sums of money towards these initiatives to win. Yet there are others that lurk in the shadows – Spying on companies large and small to uncover key insights to help their business grow at a fraction of the cost.free-vector-james-bond-007_068002_james-bond-007

Now before some of you get worked up on the ethics of this topic, I want to state that I am not advocating for unethical business activities.

Monitoring your competitors, or other successful companies that you may look up to, can be equated to studying Lebron James to learn his best moves to incorporate them into your game.

There are many levels of spying. Today, we’re talking about using digital marketing tools…it’s not like we’re encouraging you to sneak into a team’s locker room during warm-ups to steal play-sheets like a certain patriotic football team that will remain nameless..(Had to sneak that in there. I am a Steelers fan!)

The internet has equipped us with the power of anonymity and empowered us to access vast amounts of information at our finger tips. We have the ability to use both, along with our many smart connected devices, to spy on our competition.

Here we go…

The activities you are about to participate in are of a highly classified nature. Use absolute discretion while executing this mission.

Agent, your mission if you choose to accept it, is to breach the digital footprint of your competitors, monitor them from a distance undetected and utilize the latest technology to extract key information. Deploy what you have learned to advance your organization…and take over the earth. Well, maybe not the last one…but at least use it to gain market share your industry 😉

Below are a few considerations to help you on your way…

  1. Follow without being detected – stalk competitor social media and third party web profiles.
  2. By following the social media properties of your competitors you can uncover updates on product releases or changes, new industries they are exploring, existing customers and new potential customers.

    You can also monitor their company profiles on websites like Glassdoor (reviews from employees), Google Maps (Reviews from customers),  Amazon (if they are selling products there), etc. Understanding what customers like and don’t like about your competitors and their products can be a great learning experience for you. Often times people purchasing a product may say something like  – “I like this product, but it would be great if it had this” (or was more durable, wasn’t so expensive, had different colors, etc). These are all opportunities for your business to learn and grow. It’s one of the best focus groups you could ask for.

  3. Subscribe to competitor email newsletters
  4. Companies use email newsletters to communicate with their potential customers, partner organizations, and investors. Consider subscribing to their competitor email newsletters or blogs – use an email that is not clearly identifiable.

  5. Mine competitor websites
  6. Websites reveal a great amount of information about a company. Take your time going through the websites of your competitors. Determine how they are positioning their company in the minds of their customers. Uncover what they are doing well, and what you think they can improve on – then review your own website and make adjustments.

  7. Understand what keywords they are targeting
  8. Your competitor may have invested in search engine optimization, or be utilizing paid search advertising. Consider checking their URL on a service like www.keywordspy.com,  www.spyfu.com or even the free Google keyword tool located in Adwords. What  keyewords are they targeting? Are these keywords you should be targeting as well?

  9. View Competitor Back links 
  10. There are great tools out there that allow you to see links pointing to your competitor websites. Why should you care? The web is made up of links. It is what makes the digital world click.  By browsing these links you can not only see what is being said about your competitors, but identify potential places that you may be able to obtain a link from. SEO algorithms regularly change, but obtaining quality links from good sources is never a bad thing and can significantly help your rankings in search engines.  Consider these tools to view your competitor back links:

  11. Set up Keyword Alerts for competitor company names, products, key personnel, etc.
  12. There are many great online monitoring tools that exist. These tools crawl websites, social media profiles, and forums looking for specific keywords that you specify. Consider using an online monitoring tool to monitor your competitor company names, key employees, brands, products, etc.  Consider utilizing free offerings such as SocialMention.com, or Google Alerts. For the experienced spy, that wants the best…consider premium offerings such as BrandWatch.com or Trackur.com. For more resources, consider this great list of social media monitoring tools.

  13. Remember, Tomorrow Never Dies
  14. Change is the one constant in life. Don’t just check out your competition one time and stick your head in the sand. Every minute of every day social media posts are occurring, press releases are being submitted, blog posts are being published, website content is being changed and more. Some of these are likely from your competitors.

Final Briefing

There are many that discuss the power of the “First Mover Advantage” – the idea of getting to market first with a new offering, innovation, message, or positioning. While being the “First mover” can have it’s benefits, remember…Pioneers were often the ones that met their demise with arrows in their back when exploring uncharted territory.  Spying, or should I say “learning”, from competitor wins, successes, innovations, and marketing efforts can help you establish a stronger position to win in your respective marketplace.

Now it is time to put these suggestions into practice.

So get your favorite drink (shaken or stirred), open that laptop or smart device, put on some James Bond music and get to work.

Remember the success of your organization is resting on your shoulders.

Good luck Agent.

I crafted this originally as a guest post for Access Information.

An Introduction to Paper by Facebook

By: katlin

If you’re one of the many who hasn’t downloaded Paper by Facebook because your friends are saying they don’t like it you’re missing out on a great app. Facebook is letting you build your own portable, beautiful and totally customizable newspaper.

Let’s face it, people are probably just saying they don’t like the app because it’s new and every time Facebook changes something people jump on the ‘I hate it’ train. So, let’s take a little journey through setting up your newly established Paper app…… (more…)

How To Handle Social Media Complainers

By: katlin

The odds that your company will one day experience the ‘social media complainer’ are high. Even more so if you are involved in the service industry. So, what do you do when an unhappy customer decides to let you have it online?

Well, first you need to identify what type of complainer you are dealing with and then follow through accordingly. We thought this infographic would be perfect for helping you handle social media complainers, just in time for the holidays…. (more…)

What color is this? An interesting debate.

By: jessica

What color is this?

Recently a friend posted an image of a solid color on Facebook with a simple question:

What color is this?

Not a question you might ask yourself too often, but you may be surprised how many different variations, practices and methods there are to answering that question.

There were a variety of answers…. (more…)

Analyzing search trends to gain insight into customer demand

By: David Brim

Search Engine Optimization…we’ve all heard of it.

When most people think of SEO they think of getting keywords to the top of Google to bring targeted traffic to a website. Fundamentally that is the main purpose of SEO, but very few people consider other ways that SEO can be utilized to help your marketing, innovation efforts and overall business strategy…. (more…)

10 CSS Tricks for All WordPress Designers

By: Dave

Awareness vs. Persuasion: Taking A Leap Towards Strategy

By: katlin

When it comes to your marketing strategy are you aware of what your ultimate goal is? Are you trying to get people to make a choice or will you profit simply by making your presence known?

Most companies use a mix of awareness marketing and persuasion marketing tactics when reaching out to new customers but if you aren’t sure which is best for you or when to use them often times your message  can become jumbled and consumers will either forget your brand all together or remember it for the wrong reasons. So, before you begin it is important to know what you are trying to say – the message is the first and most important step…. (more…)

10 Reasons Why Men Should Join Pinterest

By: katlin

Okay men, I see you slowly starting to warm up to the idea of creating an account on Pinterest. However, some of you need a final push and that is just what I am here to do.

I am ready to tell you how to create the manliest Pinterest boards possible so that you can stop peering over your girlfriend’s shoulder or stealing her phone to browse through her recipe, DIY (…one day), and meme boards. Let’s get started…… (more…)

The Best time and day to post on Social Media

By: David Brim

Over the last couple days I’ve been asked by several clients…what is the best time and day to post on social media?

The truth is that it depends on who you are seeking to reach and engage with. There is no general time across all markets and social networks. Who you are targeting and where they spend their time are definitely key questions to answer before determining when to post…. (more…)