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May 11, 2011


Review – Business Model Toolbox (for iPad)

by brainoids

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Savvier iPad programming might have mitigated the downside, but I’d be surprised if we see a major rewrite.   The interface is locked to iPad screen size, this is evidenced in the PNG graphic export (a PDF export would be nice).   A zoomable, vector-based interface would have been nice rather than fixed size.

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:

  1. The ability to filter by assigned colors, to focus attention on individual value props or customer segments
  2. PDF export
  3. A native file format, so that canvases can be shared between users
  4. Adding in the (latent?) feature to sort costs, not just revenues, by customers or value props
  5. Adding an “annotation and markup layer” (arrows, highlight boxes, etc) to help show connectivity within models, as is done in the book
The developers have opened up a very nice feature voting/discussion forum at uservoice.   Props for excellent customer relations!
Overall, I would continue to recommend the book and canvas, and for repeat users, the app.  However, set expectations on the app at the right level.   Its output also isn’t quite polished enough to serve as “final presentation material”.   Before the app came out, I ended up hacking the free PDF document, turning it into an OmniGraffle template, to allow for really polished presentation of finished canvases.   The app increases the interactivity of canvas development, but at the cost of some polish and design.
Addendum:  by request, here’s a link to the OmniGraffle template of the Business Model Canvas.    I’m pretty sure the Creative Commons share-alike license allows me to both remix and redistribute.
16 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 11 2011

    Do you mind sharing the OmniGraffle template? I love that program and have thought about that myself. Great review. Thanks for taking time to review the app.

    • May 11 2011

      Eric – sure thing, the Creative Commons license seems to let me both remix and redistribute. The file is at:

      Thanks for visiting! – DB

      PS – for folks who use the template, here’s a tip: the font “DigitalStrip” (available a number of ways, including via the “Comic Life” application on MacOS X) looks great as the fill-in-the-blanks font for the canvas. It gives a sense of handwriting/brainstorming, and is thick and inked enough to be visible and stand out from the background/annotation fonts. It’s a great way to clean a draft canvas up nicely for presentation…

      • Michael
        Dec 7 2011

        Hi Dennis

        I’m unable to open the respective link, opens in textedit.. Excuse my ignorance as I have tried to google a solution,


      • Dec 7 2011

        Hi Michael – Interesting, even when I download it myself back to my Mac it shows up as a vanilla document with a .graffle extension. What worked for me was launching OmniGraffle first and then opening the file from OG, rather than double clicking … let me know if that works; if not I’ll try a different mechanism like sending to you by email … hope this helps!

      • Michael
        Dec 7 2011

        I only have OG on iPad (which I’ve tried to open the linked file with yet no luck).. On my mac, the zip file also opens as a graffle and hence a bit stuck.. If you don’t mind emailing, it would be much appreciated,


  2. May 18 2011

    Hey Dennis,

    Thanks for taking time to review BMTBox! Many of your assumptions are correct – and your biggest point that is is a 1.0. glad you’ve recognized that and been kind on the rough edges while we take time and polish things up!

    Two things:
    1. The free canvas is going back up shortly, just down this week while we update the site. We’d never take that away purposefully.

    2. Can you share your great list of critical features on the drawing board for future versions? Would love to have you credited with whatever comes out next!

    Thanks again,

    • May 18 2011

      Wow, thanks for posting Alan! And absolutely yes, please anyone reading this, apply the “version 1.0” filter to anything I’ve written. I should really underscore, any nits for me are totally subordinate to how psyched I am to have the tool available in iPad format. *Period*

      Fantastic news about the free canvas. Just based on my own experience I really think viral advocacy will be a big tool in promoting the tool, so anything that supports that is a plus…

      PS – your uservoice site is awesome. Nice!

      – DB

  3. Jul 24 2012


    Great review on the Business Model Toolbox iPad app. I do think is a great tool, but find the price a bit high. But then again people must be paid, and probably it’s worth getting it if you are serious about a successful startup.

    One favor, recently closed and your Omnigraffle link no longer works, could you post it somewhere else like in Dropbox?

    Thanks a lot! And yes we are in the middle of this Business Canvas process now, so most likely we will use this tool. However for early work, we do prefer a physical whiteboard or even a giant piece of paper! We are even thinking of buying this, but it’s significantly more money, so the iPad and paper will suffice for now 😉


    Joseph Hurtado
    Founder Agile Lion Corp

    • Jul 24 2012

      Twitter contact is @agilelioncorp

    • Aug 1 2012

      Joseph – thanks for the catch on mobileme and sorry for the lag in replying!

      I’ve followed @agilelioncorp – if you follow me back we can direct message emails to get set up to file share the .graffle template on DropBox – great idea!



      • Aug 2 2012

        Thanks Dennis! I followed you back also, and DMed you too.
        Let me know when you have the Graffle template set-up in Dropbox =)



      • Dec 30 2012

        any Dropbox link for the graffle template? Thanks.

      • Jan 9 2013

        Great idea … let’s see if this works: (haven’t shared publicly using Dropbox before)

      • thiemehennis
        Jan 9 2013

        works! Thanks a lot!

  4. marcio silva
    Sep 26 2012

    Hey Dennis… Is the Canvas stencil for Omni still available some where?


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