Review – Business Model Toolbox (for iPad)
Several months ago I reviewed Business Model Generation, a handy book and toolbox for preliminary sketching and development of, well, business models. I was particularly intrigued by the book as it is simple enough to help untangle “business 101′s” for my customer base of engineers, scientists, and assorted government-side bureaucrats (of which I am one). The author of this book has recently released version 1.0 of the accompanying iPad app, so … here’s the review. The short form – if you’ve already been converted to the virtues and value of the “business model canvas” (at left), and use it regularly, Version 1.0 of the toolbox is probably worth the $29.99 ante-up.
If you’re dabbling and think it might be useful (perhaps after reading the 72 page free short summary of the book available on the website), I’d still recommend it, though with the caveat that you should set your expectations based on a version 1.0 software release.
Before digging in, a couple of quibbles to go along with the release. Both center around the fact that the iPad app release actually makes it almost harder to advocate for greater pickup and use of the Canvas tool.
- The price – $29.99 is OK for the already-converted, power users, but it begs the question of why a “lite version” isn’t on the street as well. Just in using the paper canvases, I have found many people who would probably be motivated to spend a few dollars to experiment with the canvas – but not $30. The authors may be missing a customer segment. I hope they consider a Light version or lower app costs once they recover their development costs.
- The free downloadable canvas temporarily disappeared from the BMG website – but has reappeared now on wikipedia - so strike that quibble! Huge props to the authors and developers for continuing to make the Canvas available with a Creative Commons license.
On to the review:
The iPad app interface is reasonably user friendly, and certainly supportive of individual, offline experimentation with business models. However, as a substitute for printing a wall sized version of the canvas and working collaboratively through models, it is “not yet there”. Even with an iPad2 and video mirroring to a projector, I just don’t see the app as an equal substitute – yet. So my recommendation is to treat it as an individual / personal tool. The experience is about as claustrophobic as one would expect taking an exercise intended for wall-size collaboration, down to iPad-size screen resolution, would be. That’s not necessarily bad, just set your expectations right.
Making up for the interface limitations is the inclusion of a very nice underlying cost/revenue model. The model is heavily biased towards “unit sales” type models, rather than services or levels of effort, but it can be retrofitted. Extremely nice features include binning revenues according to different customer segments, value propositions, etc. It appears that future versions will allow costs to be binned and sorted similarly, but that feature doesn’t seem to be available yet. Adding an actual rubber-to-the-road calculation engine underneath the canvas itself is a real value add and worth paying for. The interface to access the model isn’t seamless, but it is clever.
Critical (but incremental) features which would spice up a version 2 would include:
- The ability to filter by assigned colors, to focus attention on individual value props or customer segments
- PDF export
- A native file format, so that canvases can be shared between users
- Adding in the (latent?) feature to sort costs, not just revenues, by customers or value props
- Adding an “annotation and markup layer” (arrows, highlight boxes, etc) to help show connectivity within models, as is done in the book