How Companies Make Money

  • Search Search Please fill out this field.

What Is a Business Model?

Understanding business models, evaluating successful business models, how to create a business model.

  • Business Model FAQs

The Bottom Line

Learn to understand a company's profit-making plan

what is business model meaning

Yarilet Perez is an experienced multimedia journalist and fact-checker with a Master of Science in Journalism. She has worked in multiple cities covering breaking news, politics, education, and more. Her expertise is in personal finance and investing, and real estate.

what is business model meaning

The term business model refers to a company's plan for making a profit . It identifies the products or services the business plans to sell, its identified target market , and any anticipated expenses . Business models are important for both new and established businesses. They help new, developing companies attract investment, recruit talent, and motivate management and staff.

Established businesses should regularly update their business model or they'll fail to anticipate trends and challenges ahead. Business models also help investors evaluate companies that interest them and employees understand the future of a company they may aspire to join.

Key Takeaways

  • A business model is a company's core strategy for profitably doing business.
  • Models generally include information like products or services the business plans to sell, target markets, and any anticipated expenses.
  • There are dozens of types of business models including retailers, manufacturers, fee-for-service, or freemium providers.
  • The two levers of a business model are pricing and costs.
  • When evaluating a business model as an investor, consider whether the product being offered matches a true need in the market.

Investopedia / Laura Porter

A business model is a high-level plan for profitably operating a business in a specific marketplace. A primary component of the business model is the value proposition . This is a description of the goods or services that a company offers and why they are desirable to customers or clients, ideally stated in a way that differentiates the product or service from its competitors.

A new enterprise's business model should also cover projected startup costs and financing sources, the target customer base for the business, marketing strategy , a review of the competition, and projections of revenues and expenses. The plan may also define opportunities in which the business can partner with other established companies. For example, the business model for an advertising business may identify benefits from an arrangement for referrals to and from a printing company.

Successful businesses have business models that allow them to fulfill client needs at a competitive price and a sustainable cost. Over time, many businesses revise their business models from time to time to reflect changing business environments and market demands .

When evaluating a company as a possible investment, the investor should find out exactly how it makes its money. This means looking through the company's business model. Admittedly, the business model may not tell you everything about a company's prospects. But the investor who understands the business model can make better sense of the financial data.

A common mistake many companies make when they create their business models is to underestimate the costs of funding the business until it becomes profitable. Counting costs to the introduction of a product is not enough. A company has to keep the business running until its revenues exceed its expenses.

One way analysts and investors evaluate the success of a business model is by looking at the company's gross profit . Gross profit is a company's total revenue minus the cost of goods sold (COGS). Comparing a company's gross profit to that of its main competitor or its industry sheds light on the efficiency and effectiveness of its business model. Gross profit alone can be misleading, however. Analysts also want to see cash flow or net income . That is gross profit minus operating expenses and is an indication of just how much real profit the business is generating.

The two primary levers of a company's business model are pricing and costs. A company can raise prices, and it can find inventory at reduced costs. Both actions increase gross profit. Many analysts consider gross profit to be more important in evaluating a business plan. A good gross profit suggests a sound business plan. If expenses are out of control, the management team could be at fault, and the problems are correctable. As this suggests, many analysts believe that companies that run on the best business models can run themselves.

When evaluating a company as a possible investment, find out exactly how it makes its money (not just what it sells but how it sells it). That's the company's business model.

Types of Business Models

There are as many types of business models as there are types of business. For instance, direct sales, franchising , advertising-based, and brick-and-mortar stores are all examples of traditional business models. There are hybrid models as well, such as businesses that combine internet retail with brick-and-mortar stores or with sporting organizations like the NBA .

Below are some common types of business models; note that the examples given may fall into multiple categories.

One of the more common business models most people interact with regularly is the retailer model. A retailer is the last entity along a supply chain. They often buy finished goods from manufacturers or distributors and interface directly with customers.

Example: Costco Wholesale

Manufacturer

A manufacturer is responsible for sourcing raw materials and producing finished products by leveraging internal labor, machinery, and equipment. A manufacturer may make custom goods or highly replicated, mass produced products. A manufacturer can also sell goods to distributors, retailers, or directly to customers.

Example: Ford Motor Company

Fee-for-Service

Instead of selling products, fee-for-service business models are centered around labor and providing services. A fee-for-service business model may charge by an hourly rate or a fixed cost for a specific agreement. Fee-for-service companies are often specialized, offering insight that may not be common knowledge or may require specific training.

Example: DLA Piper LLP

Subscription

Subscription-based business models strive to attract clients in the hopes of luring them into long-time, loyal patrons. This is done by offering a product that requires ongoing payment, usually in return for a fixed duration of benefit. Though largely offered by digital companies for access to software, subscription business models are also popular for physical goods such as monthly reoccurring agriculture/produce subscription box deliveries.

Example: Spotify

Freemium business models attract customers by introducing them to basic, limited-scope products. Then, with the client using their service, the company attempts to convert them to a more premium, advance product that requires payment. Although a customer may theoretically stay on freemium forever, a company tries to show the benefit of what becoming an upgraded member can hold.

Example: LinkedIn/LinkedIn Premium

Some companies can reside within multiple business model types at the same time for the same product. For example, Spotify (a subscription-based model) also offers a free version and a premium version.

If a company is concerned about the cost of attracting a single customer, it may attempt to bundle products to sell multiple goods to a single client. Bundling capitalizes on existing customers by attempting to sell them different products. This can be incentivized by offering pricing discounts for buying multiple products.

Example: AT&T

Marketplace

Marketplaces are somewhat straight-forward: in exchange for hosting a platform for business to be conducted, the marketplace receives compensation. Although transactions could occur without a marketplace, this business model attempts to make transacting easier, safer, and faster.

Example: eBay

Affiliate business models are based on marketing and the broad reach of a specific entity or person's platform. Companies pay an entity to promote a good, and that entity often receives compensation in exchange for their promotion. That compensation may be a fixed payment, a percentage of sales derived from their promotion, or both.

Example: social media influencers such as Lele Pons, Zach King, or Chiara Ferragni.

Razor Blade

Aptly named after the product that invented the model, this business model aims to sell a durable product below cost to then generate high-margin sales of a disposable component of that product. Also referred to as the "razor and blade model", razor blade companies may give away expensive blade handles with the premise that consumers need to continually buy razor blades in the long run.

Example: HP (printers and ink)

"Tying" is an illegal razor blade model strategy that requires the purchase of an unrelated good prior to being able to buy a different (and often required) good. For example, imagine Gillette released a line of lotion and required all customers to buy three bottles before they were allowed to purchase disposable razor blades.

Reverse Razor Blade

Instead of relying on high-margin companion products, a reverse razor blade business model tries to sell a high-margin product upfront. Then, to use the product, low or free companion products are provided. This model aims to promote that upfront sale, as further use of the product is not highly profitable.

Example: Apple (iPhones + applications)

The franchise business model leverages existing business plans to expand and reproduce a company at a different location. Often food, hardware, or fitness companies, franchisers work with incoming franchisees to finance the business, promote the new location, and oversee operations. In return, the franchisor receives a percentage of earnings from the franchisee.

Example: Domino's Pizza

Pay-As-You-Go

Instead of charging a fixed fee, some companies may implement a pay-as-you-go business model where the amount charged depends on how much of the product or service was used. The company may charge a fixed fee for offering the service in addition to an amount that changes each month based on what was consumed.

Example: Utility companies

A brokerage business model connects buyers and sellers without directly selling a good themselves. Brokerage companies often receive a percentage of the amount paid when a deal is finalized. Most common in real estate, brokers are also prominent in construction/development or freight.

Example: ReMax

There is no "one size fits all" when making a business model. Different professionals may suggest taking different steps when creating a business and planning your business model. Here are some broad steps one can take to create their plan:

  • Identify your audience. Most business model plans will start with either defining the problem or identifying your audience and target market . A strong business model will understand who you are trying to target so you can craft your product, messaging, and approach to connecting with that audience.
  • Define the problem. In addition to understanding your audience, you must know what problem you are trying to solve. A hardware company sells products for home repairs. A restaurant feeds the community. Without a problem or a need, your business may struggle to find its footing if there isn't a demand for your services or products.
  • Understand your offerings. With your audience and problem in mind, consider what you are able to offer. What products are you interested in selling, and how does your expertise match that product? In this stage of the business model, the product is tweaked to adapt to what the market needs and what you're able to provide.
  • Document your needs. With your product selected, consider the hurdles your company will face. This includes product-specific challenges as well as operational difficulties. Make sure to document each of these needs to assess whether you are ready to launch in the future.
  • Find key partners. Most businesses will leverage other partners in driving company success. For example, a wedding planner may forge relationships with venues, caterers, florists, and tailors to enhance their offering. For manufacturers, consider who will provide your materials and how critical your relationship with that provider will be.
  • Set monetization solutions. Until now, we haven't talked about how your company will make money. A business model isn't complete until it identifies how it will make money. This includes selecting the strategy or strategies above in determining your business model type. This might have been a type you had in mind but after reviewing your clients needs, a different type might now make more sense.
  • Test your model. When your full plan is in place, perform test surveys or soft launches. Ask how people would feel paying your prices for your services. Offer discounts to new customers in exchange for reviews and feedback. You can always adjust your business model, but you should always consider leveraging direct feedback from the market when doing so.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, consider what competing companies are doing and how you can position yourself in the market. You may be able to easily spot gaps in the business model of others.

Criticism of Business Models

Joan Magretta, the former editor of the Harvard Business Review, suggests there are two critical factors in sizing up business models. When business models don't work, she states, it's because the story doesn't make sense and/or the numbers just don't add up to profits. The airline industry is a good place to look to find a business model that stopped making sense. It includes companies that have suffered heavy losses and even bankruptcy .

For years, major carriers such as American Airlines, Delta, and Continental built their businesses around a hub-and-spoke structure , in which all flights were routed through a handful of major airports. By ensuring that most seats were filled most of the time, the business model produced big profits.

However, a competing business model arose that made the strength of the major carriers a burden. Carriers like Southwest and JetBlue shuttled planes between smaller airports at a lower cost. They avoided some of the operational inefficiencies of the hub-and-spoke model while forcing labor costs down. That allowed them to cut prices, increasing demand for short flights between cities.

As these newer competitors drew more customers away, the old carriers were left to support their large, extended networks with fewer passengers. The problem became even worse when traffic fell sharply following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 . To fill seats, these airlines had to offer more discounts at even deeper levels. The hub-and-spoke business model no longer made sense.

Example of Business Models

Consider the vast portfolio of Microsoft. Over the past several decades, the company has expanded its product line across digital services, software, gaming, and more. Various business models, all within Microsoft, include but are not limited to:

  • Productivity and Business Processes: Microsoft offers subscriptions to Office products and LinkedIn. These subscriptions may be based off product usage (i.e. the amount of data being uploaded to SharePoint).
  • Intelligent Cloud: Microsoft offers server products and cloud services for a subscription. This also provide services and consulting.
  • More Personal Computing: Microsoft sells physically manufactured products such as Surface, PC components, and Xbox hardware. Residual Xbox sales include content, services, subscriptions, royalties, and advertising revenue.

A business model is a strategic plan of how a company will make money. The model describes the way a business will take its product, offer it to the market, and drive sales. A business model determines what products make sense for a company to sell, how it wants to promote its products, what type of people it should try to cater to, and what revenue streams it may expect.

What Is an Example of a Business Model?

Best Buy, Target, and Walmart are some of the largest examples of retail companies. These companies acquire goods from manufacturers or distributors to sell directly to the public. Retailers interface with their clients and sell goods, though retails may or may not make the actual goods they sell.

What Are the Main Types of Business Models?

Retailers and manufacturers are among the primary types of business models. Manufacturers product their own goods and may or may not sell them directly to the public. Meanwhile, retails buy goods to later resell to the public.

How Do I Build a Business Model?

There are many steps to building a business model, and there is no single consistent process among business experts. In general, a business model should identify your customers, understand the problem you are trying to solve, select a business model type to determine how your clients will buy your product, and determine the ways your company will make money. It is also important to periodically review your business model; once you've launched, feel free to evaluate your plan and adjust your target audience, product line, or pricing as needed.

A company isn't just an entity that sells goods. It's an ecosystem that must have a plan in plan on who to sell to, what to sell, what to charge, and what value it is creating. A business model describes what an organization does to systematically create long-term value for its customers. After building a business model, a company should have stronger direction on how it wants to operate and what its financial future appears to be.

Harvard Business Review. " Why Business Models Matter ."

Bureau of Transportation Statistics. " Airline Travel Since 9/11 ."

Microsoft. " Annual Report 2023 ."

  • How Companies Make Money 1 of 23
  • How IBM Makes Money 2 of 23
  • How Micron Makes Money 3 of 23
  • How Snapchat Makes Money 4 of 23
  • How Spotify Makes Money 5 of 23
  • How X (Formerly Twitter) Makes Money 6 of 23
  • How Uber Makes Money 7 of 23
  • How Alibaba Makes Money 8 of 23
  • How Amazon Makes Money 9 of 23
  • How Lockheed Martin Makes Money 10 of 23
  • How Nike Makes Money 11 of 23
  • How Starbucks Makes Money 12 of 23
  • How Bank of America Makes Money: Consumer Banking 13 of 23
  • How Berkshire Hathaway Makes Money 14 of 23
  • How BlackRock Makes Money 15 of 23
  • How JPMorgan Makes Money 16 of 23
  • How Square (Block) Makes Money 17 of 23
  • How Visa Makes Money 18 of 23
  • How Does Robinhood Make Money? 19 of 23
  • How Acorns Makes Money 20 of 23
  • How Chime Makes Money 21 of 23
  • How Credit Karma Makes Money 22 of 23
  • How Reddit Makes Money 23 of 23

what is business model meaning

  • Terms of Service
  • Editorial Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Your Privacy Choices

Cart

  • SUGGESTED TOPICS
  • The Magazine
  • Newsletters
  • Managing Yourself
  • Managing Teams
  • Work-life Balance
  • The Big Idea
  • Data & Visuals
  • Reading Lists
  • Case Selections
  • HBR Learning
  • Topic Feeds
  • Account Settings
  • Email Preferences

What Is a Business Model?

  • Andrea Ovans

what is business model meaning

A history, from Drucker to Christensen.

A look through HBR’s archives shows that business thinkers use the concept of a “business model” in many different ways, potentially skewing the definition. Many people believe Peter Drucker defined the term in a 1994 article as “assumptions about what a company gets paid for,” but that article never mentions the term business model. Instead, Drucker’s theory of the business was a set of assumptions about what a business will and won’t do, closer to Michael Porter’s definition of strategy. Businesses make assumptions about who their customers and competitors are, as well as about technology and their own strengths and weaknesses. Joan Magretta carries the idea of assumptions into her focus on business modeling, which encompasses the activities associated with both making and selling something. Alex Osterwalder also builds on Drucker’s concept of assumptions in his “business model canvas,” a way of organizing assumptions so that you can compare business models. Introducing a better business model into an existing market is the definition of a disruptive innovation, as written about by Clay Christensen. Rita McGrath offers that your business model is failing when innovations yield smaller and smaller improvements. You can innovate a new model by altering the mix of products and services, postponing decisions, changing the people who make the decisions, or changing incentives in the value chain. Finally, Mark Johnson provides a list of 19 types of business models and the organizations that use them.

In The New, New Thing , Michael Lewis refers to the phrase business model as “a term of art.” And like art itself, it’s one of those things many people feel they can recognize when they see it (especially a particularly clever or terrible one) but can’t quite define.

what is business model meaning

  • AO Andrea Ovans is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

Partner Center

  • Search Search Please fill out this field.
  • Building Your Business

What Is a Business Model?

PeopleImages / Getty Images

A business model is a plan describing how a business will make money. It is an outline that explains the company’s revenue and cost structure, and how it expects to turn a profit—or at least sustain itself as a going concern.

Key Takeaways

  • A business model is an outline of how your business will generate a profit. The plan includes important information like target market, market need, and details on business expenses.
  • There are lots of types of business models, and models can be combined as well. You’re probably familiar with some of the more common ones like manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and franchise. 
  • When creating a business model, you should be clear about who your target customer is and how you’ll reach them. You’ll also want to know specifics about what you’re selling, and what sets you apart from your competition.

Definition and Examples of a Business Model

A business model is an outline that breaks down the ways that a company makes its profit. It identifies the target market, the market’s need, and how the business will serve its customers. The plan also includes the costs incurred from expenses like producing and marketing the product. There are multiple types of business models, each tailored to fit the unique needs of various businesses.

An example of a business model is one in which the concepts are split into two categories—business ideas and business resources. Under the business idea category lies products and services, target audience, competition, differentiation, advertising, and sales. Business resources, meanwhile, are what’s needed to make the idea work and can be divided into ownership, staffing, facilities, financial model, funding, and balance sheet.

A business is unlikely to be successful unless all facets of the business model provided in the example above allow it to be competitive in its marketplace. 

Types of Business Models

Here are a few commonly used business models that you’re probably familiar with. 

Manufacturer

This type of business model is when a company makes a product from raw materials or assembles prefabricated items to create new merchandise. The business can sell the items directly to consumers itself, which is a business-to-consumer (B2C) model, or it can use a business-to-business (B2B) model in which it sells to other businesses. 

An example of a B2C manufacturer would be a shoe company that sells its products directly to customers. A B2B manufacturer would be a business that sews dresses and only sells its products wholesale to other businesses, which then sell the dresses to the general public. 

Distributor

The distributor business model is when a company purchases inventory from a manufacturer and sells it to either a retailer or directly to the public. A common challenge that distributors face is picking the right price point that allows them to make a profit on the sale, but still offers competitive pricing. An example of a distributor would be a company that buys soft drinks from a manufacturer and sells those beverages to restaurants at a higher price.

There are many different types of business models and multiple models can be combined to create a new approach.

Retail business models are those used by companies that buy inventory from a manufacturer or distributor and sell those products to the public. Retailers can range from a single mom-and-pop shop to huge chain stores—they often have brick-and-mortar locations, an online store, or both. 

An example of a retailer would be a hat store that buys the products from a distributor. A limited selection of the hat store’s products is available at its brick-and-mortar storefront, but its full inventory can be purchased online. 

The franchise business model can be applied to other business models, like the ones we just discussed. The franchisee takes on the business model of the franchise and with it, the latter’s pre-established processes and protocols. Examples of popular franchises include McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and 7-Eleven.

When developing your business model, identify your target customer and how you’ll reach them. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with what you’re selling (costs, margins, features, benefits, etc.) and what your competitive advantage is .

SCORE. “ Do you have a Successful Business Model? ”

SCORE. “ Develop Your Business Model by Answering These 4 Questions .”

  • Product management
  • Business planning

What is a business model? (Plus, how to define yours)

Last updated: March 2024

Business models distill the potential of a business down to its essence. Companies across every industry and at all stages of maturity need business models. Some rely on lengthy processes to build complicated models, while others move quickly to articulate the basics and take action. Either way, having the discipline to work through this planning tool forces internal alignment.

You must build something that real people with real needs will find value in and pay for — otherwise you do not have a lasting business. Brian de Haaff Aha! co-founder and CEO

For established enterprises, a business model is often a living document that is reviewed and adapted over the years. For companies launching products and services or entering new markets, a business model helps ensure that decisions are tied back to the overall business strategy . And for early-stage startups, a simple one-page business model enables founders to explore the mechanics of a business and how you anticipate it will be successful.

Defining and documenting a business model is an essential exercise. Whether you are starting a new venture, expanding into a new market, or shifting your go-to-market strategy , you can use a business model to capture fundamental assumptions about the opportunity ahead and tactics for addressing challenges.

Forward-thinking companies integrate their business model into all aspects of the organization — from recruiting talent to motivating employees. That is why many choose tools that make it possible to quickly build and share a business model. In Aha! software, for example, there are multiple ways to build a model and connect it to everyday work. One of the quickest ways is by using our whiteboard template — featured below.

Get this business model whiteboard template — with a free trial .

Business model large

Start using this template now

You can also try a similar template that is built into the product strategy section of Aha! Roadmaps . Or you can download free Excel and PowerPoint business model templates in this guide .

This article covers the basics of business models, from core concepts to best practices. Jump ahead to any section:

Definition of a business model

Business model components

Business model vs. business plan.

Different types of business models

Pros and cons of different models

Analyzing competitor business models

Business model templates

How to build a business model

What is the definition of a business model?

A business model defines how a company will create, deliver, and capture value.

A business model answers questions that are crucial for strategic decision-making and business operations. Creating a business model for your startup or product means identifying the problem you are going to solve, the market that you will serve, the level of investment required, what products you will offer, and how you will generate revenue. Pricing and costs are the two levers that affect profitability within a given business model.

A business model is part of your overall business strategy. Some business models extend beyond economic context and include value exchange in social or cultural terms — such as the intangible impact the company will have on a community or industry. The process of constructing and changing a business model is often referred to as “business model innovation.”

15 elements of a brilliant business strategy

This is why innovation programs fail

There are three main areas of focus in a business model: value proposition, value delivery, and value capture. The proposition outlines who your customers are and what you will offer. The delivery details how you will organize the business to deliver on the proposition. And the capture is a hypothesis for how the proposition and delivery will align to return value back to the business.

what is business model meaning

The components of a business model include everything the organization needs to document and internalize so that the team can implement all three value focuses. This includes the market in which you operate, organizational strengths and challenges , essential elements of your product or products, and how you will generate revenue.

Below are some components to include when you create a business model:

Vision and mission : Overview of what you want to achieve and how you will do it.

Objectives: High-level goals that will support your vision and mission, along with how you will measure success.

Customer targets and challenges: Description of target customers (written as archetypes or personas ) and their pain points.

Solution: How your offering will solve customer pain points.

Differentiators: Characteristics that differentiate your product or service.

Pricing: What your solution will cost and how it will be sold.

Positioning and messaging: How you will communicate the value of your offering to customers.

Go-to-market: Proposed approach for launching new offerings and services.

Investment: Resources required to introduce your offering.

Growth opportunity: Ways that you will grow the business over time.

Positioning vs. messaging

  • What is value-based product development?
  • What is a go-to-market roadmap?

What is a business roadmap?

Business models and business plans are both elements of your overall business strategy. But there are key differences between a business model and a business plan.

A business model is seen as foundational and will not usually be reworked in reaction to shorter-term shifts — whereas a business plan is more likely to be updated based on changes in the economy or market.

Related: Business plan templates

What is the benefit of building a business model?

Innovation is about more than the products or technologies that you build. The way that you operate your business is a critical factor in how you stand apart in a crowded marketplace. The benefit of building a business model is that you can use the exercise to expose and exploit what makes your company unique — why choosing your offering is better for customers than any alternatives and how you will grow the business over time.

Many people associate business models with lengthy documents that describe a company’s problem, opportunity, and solution in the context of a two-to-five-year forecast. But business models do not need to be a long treatise.

A one-pager is just as effective for distilling and communicating the most important elements of your business strategy. The concise format is useful for sharing with broader teams so that everyone understands the high-level approach. Done right, a business model can become a touchstone for the team by outlining core differentiators to promote and defend in the market.

Related: A more comprehensive business model builder

What are the different types of business models?

There are many different types of business models. Below are some of the most common business models with example companies for reference (take note of the companies that appear in several categories):

Did you keep track of the companies that appeared in several of the business model examples? Good. You now have a grasp of how complex enterprises with vast portfolios of products and services often employ many business models within the same organization.

Consider a company like Apple, which manufactures and sells hardware products as well as offering cloud-storage, streaming subscriptions, and a marketplace for other applications. Amazon, whose offerings range from retail (with the acquisition of Whole Foods) to marketplace (Amazon.com) to subscription services (Amazon Prime and Amazon Music) to affiliate, also features in different categories. Each division or vertical will have a distinct business model that reflects the nuances of how it operates while also supporting the corporate business model.

Related: The product manager vs. the portfolio product manager

Pros and cons of different business models

Some types of business models work better for certain industries than others. For example, software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies often rely on freemium business models. This makes it easy for potential users to experience the value of the product and incentivizes paid conversions via access to additional features.

Many social media platforms make money through advertising. By providing full access to the platform for free, these companies attract more users. In turn, this creates a more valuable audience for advertisers and increases revenue for the business.

How do you analyze a competitor’s business model?

Business analysts and investors will often evaluate a company’s business model as part of due diligence for funding or market research . You can apply the same tactics to analyze a competitor’s business model — with a few caveats.

Public companies are subject to reporting requirements. This means that the business must regularly disclose financial and performance data to the public — these disclosures occur quarterly and annually. The data includes everything from gross revenue, operating costs and losses, cash flow and reserves, and leadership discussions of business results. Designed to protect and inform investors, these reports can provide you with the information you need to understand the basics of the company’s business model and how well it is performing against the model.

Private companies are not required to reveal business data publicly. Investors or partners may be privy to certain aspects of the company’s performance, but it can be difficult to understand exactly what is happening from the outside. Some analysts or business websites will attempt to “size” a business or market by looking at a variety of factors — including the number of employees, volume of search terms related to the core offering, estimated customer base, pricing structure, partnerships, advertising spend, and media coverage.

Once you have identified relevant alternatives to your offering and gathered all of the information that you can find, a good way to analyze a competitor’s business model is to conduct a competitive analysis.

You do not want to spend too much time thinking about other companies when you could be focused on your own. A simple SWOT analysis is a helpful way to map out strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that were revealed during your research.

Competitor analysis templates

  • How to price your product
  • How to position your product

Below are three types of business model layouts available in Aha! software that you can use to succinctly assess what is possible and what challenges could arise for your business.

Whiteboard business model template

Articulate the foundation of your product or service in a whiteboard-style format. The focus is on capturing key elements like why the solution is worth buying (messaging), pain points of the buyers (customer challenges), and ways you will grow the business (growth opportunities).

Business model canvas

This business model canvas included in Aha! Roadmaps uses drag-and-drop components within a flexible layout. You can rename or hide components as needed. And you can create as many strategic models in your workspace as you would like.

How to craft a product strategy in Aha! Roadmaps

How to use the strategic model template in Aha! Roadmaps

Free Excel and PowerPoint business model templates

Aha! Roadmaps helps businesses map out their strategy directly within the software. This is an example of a business model created in Aha!

  • Lean canvas

Similar to the business model canvas, the lean canvas in Aha! Roadmaps takes a problem-focused approach to create an actionable business plan. It is most commonly used by startups and entrepreneurs to document business assumptions. The focus is on quickly creating a concise, single-page business model. It documents nine elements, including customer segments, channels used to reach customers, and the ways you plan to make money.

Aha! Roadmaps helps businesses map out their strategy directly within the software. This is an example of a lean canvas created in Aha!

How to build a business model in 10 steps

Crafting a business model is part of establishing a meaningful business strategy. But a business model is essentially a hypothesis — you need to test yours to prove that it will actually provide value. Many startup founders especially underestimate the costs and timeline for reaching profitability.

1. Identify your target market

Who will benefit from your offering? What characteristics do prospective customers share?

2. Define the problem you will solve

What is the problem that you are solving? What are the pain points of your potential customers?

3. Detail your unique selling proposition (USP)

What will you build and how will you support it?

4. Create a pricing strategy

How much will you charge for your offering? What factors will go into choosing your price point?

5. Develop a marketing approach

How will you market your product and reach target customers? What channels will you choose for go-to-market?

6. Establish operational practices

How will you streamline processes and procedures to reduce overhead and fixed costs?

7. Capture path to profitability

How will your business generate revenue? What level of investment will be required and what fixed costs exist?

8. Anticipate challenges

Who are your competitors? What opportunities and threats exist for your business?

9. Validate your business model

Was your hypothesis correct? Does your business model solve a problem the way you thought it would?

10. Update to reflect learnings

What can you do differently in the future to ensure greater success?

Your business model will ultimately guide your organization and influence your product roadmap. Give it the deep thought it deserves — questioning your core assumptions about how you will generate value and how your team will work towards achieving shared goals.

  • What is a business model?
  • What is customer experience?
  • What is the Complete Product Experience (CPE)?
  • What is a customer journey map?
  • What is product-led growth?
  • What are the types of business transformation?
  • What is enterprise transformation?
  • What is digital transformation?
  • What is the role of product management in enterprise transformation?
  • What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
  • What is a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)?
  • What is product vision?
  • How to set product strategy
  • What is product-market fit?
  • What is product differentiation?
  • What are product goals and initiatives?
  • How to set product goals
  • How to set product initiatives
  • What is product value?
  • Introduction to marketing strategy
  • Introduction to marketing templates
  • What is a marketing strategy?
  • How to set marketing goals
  • Marketing vs. advertising
  • What is a creative brief?
  • How to define buyer personas
  • Understanding the buyer's journey
  • What is competitive differentiation?
  • 10Ps marketing matrix
  • 2x2 prioritization matrix
  • Business model
  • Customer journey map
  • Decision log
  • Decision tree
  • Fit gap analysis
  • Gap analysis
  • Marketing strategy
  • Opportunity canvas
  • Porter's 5 forces
  • Pricing and packaging research
  • Pricing plan chart
  • Pricing strategies (Kotler)
  • Product positioning
  • Product vision
  • Segment profile
  • SMART goals
  • Strategic roadmap
  • Strategy mountain
  • SWOT analysis
  • Value proposition
  • VMOST analysis
  • Working backwards
  • Collections: Business model
  • Collections: SWOT
  • Collections: Objectives and key results (OKR)
  • Collections: Product positioning
  • Collections: Market positioning
  • Collections: Marketing strategy
  • Collections: Marketing messaging
  • What is product discovery?
  • How to do market research
  • How to define customer personas
  • How to research competitors
  • How to gather customer feedback
  • Asking the right questions to drive innovation
  • Approaches table
  • Competitive analysis
  • Customer empathy map
  • Customer interview
  • Customer research plan
  • PESTLE analysis
  • Problem framing
  • Product comparison chart
  • Pros and cons
  • Target audience
  • Collections: Customer research
  • Collections: Competitor analysis
  • Collections: Marketing competitor analysis
  • How to brainstorm product ideas
  • Brainstorming techniques for product builders
  • Why product teams need an internal knowledge hub
  • Why product teams need virtual whiteboarding software
  • What is idea management?
  • 4 steps for product ideation
  • How to estimate the value of new product ideas
  • How to prioritize product ideas
  • What is idea management software?
  • Introduction to marketing idea management
  • How to gather marketing feedback from teammates
  • Brainstorming new marketing ideas
  • How to estimate the value of new marketing ideas
  • Brainstorming meeting
  • Brainstorming session
  • Concept map
  • Data flow diagram
  • Fishbone diagram
  • Ideas portal guide
  • Jobs to be done
  • Process flow diagram
  • Proof of concept
  • Sticky note pack
  • User story map
  • Workflow diagram
  • Roadmapping: Your starter guide
  • Business roadmap
  • Features roadmap
  • Innovation roadmap
  • Marketing roadmap
  • Product roadmap
  • Product portfolio roadmap
  • Project roadmap
  • Strategy roadmap
  • Technology roadmap
  • How to choose a product roadmap tool
  • What to include on your product roadmap
  • How to visualize data on your product roadmap
  • What milestones should be included on a roadmap?
  • How often should roadmap planning happen?
  • How to build a roadmap for a new product
  • How to build an annual product roadmap
  • How to build a brilliant roadmap
  • How to customize the right roadmap for your audience
  • How to build an agile roadmap
  • Product roadmap examples
  • How to report on progress against your roadmap
  • How to communicate your product roadmap to customers
  • What is a content marketing roadmap?
  • What is a digital marketing roadmap?
  • What is an integrated marketing roadmap?
  • What is a portfolio marketing roadmap?
  • How to choose a marketing roadmap tool
  • Epics roadmap
  • Now, Next, Later roadmap
  • Portfolio roadmap
  • Release roadmap
  • Collections: Product roadmap
  • Collections: Product roadmap presentation
  • Collections: Marketing roadmap
  • What is product planning?
  • How to diagram product use cases
  • How product managers use Gantt charts
  • How to use a digital whiteboard for product planning
  • Introduction to release management
  • How to plan product releases across teams
  • What is a product backlog?
  • Product backlog vs. release backlog vs. sprint backlog
  • How to refine the product backlog
  • Capacity planning for product managers
  • What is requirements management?
  • What is a market requirements document (MRD)?
  • How to manage your product requirements document (PRD)
  • What is a product feature?
  • What is user story mapping?
  • How to prioritize product features
  • Common product prioritization frameworks
  • JTBD prioritization framework
  • Introduction to marketing plans
  • What is a marketing plan?
  • How to create a marketing plan
  • What is a digital marketing plan?
  • What is a content marketing plan?
  • Why is content marketing important?
  • What is a social media plan?
  • How to create a marketing budget
  • 2023 monthly calendar
  • 2024 monthly calendar
  • Feature requirement
  • Kanban board
  • Market requirements document
  • Problem statement
  • Product requirements document
  • SAFe® Program board
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Stakeholder map
  • Timeline diagram
  • Collections: Product development process
  • Collections: MRD
  • Collections: PRD
  • Collections: Gantt chart
  • Collections: User story
  • Collections: User story mapping
  • Collections: Feature definition checklist
  • Collections: Feature prioritization templates
  • Collections: Marketing plan templates
  • Collections: Marketing calendar templates
  • Product design basics
  • What is user experience design?
  • What is the role of a UX designer?
  • What is the role of a UX manager?
  • How to use a wireframe in product management
  • Wireframe vs. mockup vs. prototype
  • Analytics dashboard wireframe
  • Product homepage wireframe
  • Signup wireframe
  • Collections: Creative brief
  • Common product development methodologies
  • Common agile development methodologies
  • What is agile product management?
  • What is agile software development?
  • What is agile project management?
  • What is the role of a software engineer?
  • What is waterfall product management?
  • What is agile transformation?
  • Agile vs. lean
  • Agile vs. waterfall
  • What is an agile roadmap?
  • What is an agile retrospective?
  • Best practices of agile development teams
  • What is a burndown chart?
  • What is issue tracking?
  • What is unit testing?
  • Introduction to agile metrics
  • Agile glossary
  • What is kanban?
  • How development teams implement kanban
  • How is kanban used by product managers?
  • How to set up a kanban board
  • Kanban vs. scrum
  • What is scrum?
  • What are scrum roles?
  • What is a scrum master?
  • What is the role of a product manager in scrum?
  • What is a sprint?
  • What is a sprint planning meeting?
  • What is a daily standup?
  • What is a sprint review?
  • Product release vs. sprint in scrum
  • Themes, epics, stories, and tasks
  • How to implement scrum
  • How to choose a scrum certification
  • What is the Scaled Agile Framework®?
  • What is the role of a product manager in SAFe®?
  • SAFe® PI planning
  • SAFe® PI retrospective
  • SAFe® Sprint planning
  • Sprint planning
  • Sprint retrospective
  • Sprint retrospective meeting
  • UML class diagram
  • Collections: Sprint retrospective
  • How to test your product before launch
  • What is a go-to-market strategy?
  • How to write excellent release notes
  • How to plan a marketing launch
  • Knowledge base article
  • Product launch plan
  • Product updates
  • Release notes
  • Collections: Product launch checklist
  • Collections: Marketing launch checklist
  • How to make data-driven product decisions
  • How to measure product value
  • What is product analytics?
  • What are product metrics?
  • What is a product?
  • What is product development?
  • What is product management?
  • What is the role of a product manager?
  • What is portfolio product management?
  • What is product operations?
  • What are the stages of product development?
  • What is the product lifecycle?
  • What is a product management maturity model?
  • What is product development software?
  • How to create internal product documentation
  • What to include in an internal product documentation hub
  • Internal vs. external product documentation
  • How to build a product knowledge base
  • Introduction to marketing methods
  • What is agile marketing?
  • What is digital marketing?
  • What is product marketing?
  • What is social media marketing?
  • What is B2B marketing?
  • Collections: Product management
  • How to structure your product team meeting
  • 15 tips for running effective product team meetings
  • Daily standup meeting
  • Meeting agenda
  • Meeting notes
  • Product backlog refinement meeting
  • Product feature kickoff meeting
  • Product operations meeting
  • Product strategy meeting
  • Sprint planning meeting
  • What are the types of product managers?
  • 10 skills to succeed as a product manager
  • Common product management job titles
  • What does a product manager do each day?
  • What is the role of a product operations manager?
  • What is the role of a program manager?
  • How to become a product manager
  • How to prepare for a product manager interview
  • Interview questions for product managers
  • Typical salary for product managers
  • Tips for new product managers
  • How to choose a product management certification
  • Introduction to marketing
  • What are some marketing job titles?
  • What is the role of a marketing manager?
  • What is the role of a product marketing manager?
  • How are marketing teams organized?
  • Which tools do marketers use?
  • Interview questions for marketing managers
  • Typical salary for marketing managers
  • How to make a career switch into marketing
  • Job interview
  • Negotiating an offer
  • Product manager resume
  • Collections: Product manager resume
  • How to structure your product development team
  • Best practices for managing a product development team
  • Which tools do product managers use?
  • How to streamline your product management tools
  • Tips for effective collaboration between product managers and engineers
  • How do product managers work with other teams?
  • How product managers achieve stakeholder alignment
  • Creative brief
  • Marketing calendar
  • Organizational chart
  • Presentation slides
  • Process improvement
  • Collections: Product management meeting
  • Collections: Diagrams, flowcharts for product teams
  • Collections: Whiteboarding
  • Collections: Templates to run product meetings
  • Product development definitions
  • Marketing definitions

A product management team collaborating around a table with their laptops.

Build a winning strategy with your team

You need a winning strategy, a clear roadmap, and a strong team.

A graphic that reads "How to build a strategy roadmap" with a colorful sample roadmap in the background.

How to build a strategy roadmap

Make adjustments as plans change, show progress, and create tailored views for different audiences.

Competitive analysis thumbnail

Competitive analysis template

Capture and share high-level observations about competitors in your space.

  • Privacy policy
  • Terms of service

Business model canvas deep dive

Business models: the toolkit to design a disruptive company

In today's fast-paced business world, having a solid understanding of business models is essential for creating a successful and disruptive company. In this deep dive article, we will explore the toolkit to design a disruptive company through the lens of the Business Model Canvas.

1. What is a business model?

Definition:.

A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value. It can be described through 9 building blocks: Customer Segments, Value Propositions, Channels, Customer Relationships, Revenue Streams, Key Resources, Key Activities, Key Partnerships & Cost Structure.

Business Model History

Where did the term even come from?

The search to define what a business model is goes as far back as 1994, when Peter Drucker introduced the theory of the business was a set of assumptions about what a business will and won’t do in an article for the Harvard Business Review. He speaks about how companies fail to keep up with changing market conditions, as well as their duty to identify customers and competitors, their values and behaviour. Now considering that we've had businesses for over hundreds of years - it's pretty remarkable we only just came up with the term 'business model' a few decades ago!

In the middle of the 2002 dot com crisis, Joan Magretta  built on Drucker’s business definition to exclaim that business models are “at heart, stories. Stories that explain how enterprises work. A good business model answers Peter Drucker’s age-old questions: ‘Who is the customer? And what does the customer value?'

The shift from a business plan to business model goes hand-in-hand with the rise of personal computers and the use of spreadsheets. Entrepreneurs used to plan their businesses year by year, quarter by quarter, and write it down in a document almost like a book who’s copy is final. The change occurred hand in hand alongside the introduction of powerful new technology such as Microsoft Excel, enabling people to model them digitally and more accurately. Being able to calculate your entire profit and loss for a business was now available to you on a single Microsoft Excel page. This now meant businesses could be modelled before they were actually launched. Products or services could be done ahead of time in terms of calculating the business' recurring revenue, profit, marketing costs, advertising spend etc. in order to model the framework of the business.

This change in approach prompted the likes of Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur to invent the Business Model Canvas in 2005, the first ever visual business tool of its kind. Long gone are the days of having to come up with a long & highly unrealistic business plan,  trying to predict what product or service you'll be selling at the company five years from now!

What is the Business Model Canvas (BMC) ?

what-is-a-business-model-BMC-canvas

The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean startup template for developing new or documenting existing business models. It is a visual tool with elements describing a company’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. It provides an organized way to lay out your assumptions about not only the key resources and key activities of your value chain, but also your value proposition, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, cost structures, and revenue streams.

It assists companies in aligning their activities by illustrating potential trade-offs by comparing them to one another and being able to see the bigger picture of their overall business framework. It's essentially taken Peter Drucker's hypothetical concept of a business 'model' and turned it into something much more tangible, that we can now see visually and use as a tool to consider all the different aspects of a single business model.

The Business Model Canvas explained in a short 2-minute video:

Why use the Business Model Canvas?

what-is-a-business-model-whyuse

Create a shared language

This concept can become a shared language that allows you to easily describe and manipulate business models to create new strategic alternatives. Without such a shared language it is difficult to systematically challenge assumptions about one’s business and innovate successfully.

Simple, visual and practical

The canvas is perfect for any good discussion, meeting, or workshop on business model innovation and creates a shared language. We need a concept that everybody understands: one that facilitates description and discussion. We need to start from the same point and talk about the same thing. The challenge is that the concept must be simple, relevant, and intuitively understandable, while not oversimplifying the complexities of how enterprises function.

Discover opportunities

By going through the process of listing the different parts of your business on the canvas, you begin to visualise and understand the different relationships between the nine building blocks that make up the tool.

Iterate quickly

Whether you’re using sticky notes on a real life Business Model Canvas or you’re designing your business model on the Strategyzer app , you can iterate on your designs very quickly. The tool enables you to prototype a first version and simply keep iterating until you’ve tested enough ideas to find product-market fit.

Read more: 14 Ways to Apply the Business Model Canvas

2. The 9 building blocks of The Business Model Canvas

We believe a business model can best be described through nine basic building blocks that show the logic of how a company intends to deliver value and make money. The nine blocks cover the three main areas of a business: desirability, viability and feasibility. The business model is like a blueprint for a strategy to be implemented through organizational structures, processes, and systems. Let’s take a look into the three different sections:

building-blocks-DFV-canvas

Desirability

Value propositions.

The Value Proposition's Building Block describes the bundle of products and services that create value for a specific Customer Segment The Value Proposition is the reason why customers turn to one company over another. It solves a customer problem or satisfies a customer need.

Each Value Proposition consists of a selected bundle of products and/or services that caters to the requirements of a specific Customer Segment. In this sense, the Value Proposition is an aggregation, or bundle, of benefits that a company offers customers. Some Value Propositions may be innovative and represent a new or disruptive offer. Others may be similar to existing market offers, but with added features and attributes

Customer Segments

The Customer Segments Building Block defines the different groups of people or organizations an enterprise aims to reach and serve Customers are the heart of any business model. Without (profitable) customers, no company can survive for long. In order to better satisfy customers, a company may group them into distinct segments with common needs, common behaviors, or other attributes. A business model may define one or several large or small Customer Segments. An organization must make a conscious decision about which segments to serve and which segments to ignore. Once this decision is made, a business model can be carefully designed around a strong understanding of specific customer needs.

The Channels Building Block describes how a company communicates with and reaches its Customer Segments.

Channels are customer touch points that play an important role in the customer experience. Channels serve several functions, including:

  • Raising awareness among customers about a company’s products and services
  • Helping customers evaluate a company’s Value Proposition
  • Allowing customers to purchase specific products and services
  • Delivering a Value Proposition to customers
  • Providing post-purchase customer support

Customer Relationships

The Customer Relationships Building Block describes the types of relationships a company establishes with specific Customer Segments. A company should clarify the type of relationship it wants to establish with each Customer Segment. Relationships can range from personal to automated. Customer relationships may be driven by the following motivations:

  • Customer acquisition
  • Customer retention
  • Boosting sales (up-selling)

Revenue Streams

The Revenue Streams Building Block represents the cash a company generates from each Customer Segment (costs must be subtracted from revenues to create earnings).

If customers is the heart of a business model, Revenue Streams are its arteries. A company must ask itself, For what value is each Customer Segment truly willing to pay? Successfully answering that question allows the firm to generate one or more Revenue Streams from each Customer Segment. Each Revenue Stream may have different pricing mechanisms, such as fixed list prices, bargaining, auctioning, market dependent, volume dependent, or yield management.

A business model can involve two different types of Revenue Streams:

  • Transaction revenues resulting from one-time customer payments
  • Recurring revenues resulting from ongoing payments to either deliver a Value Proposition to customers or provide post-purchase customer support

Cost Structure

The Cost Structure describes all costs incurred to operate a business model. This building block describes the most important costs incurred while operating under a particular business model.

Creating and delivering value, maintaining Customer Relationships, and generating revenue all incur costs. Such costs can be calculated relatively easily after defining Key Resources, Key Activities, and Key Partnerships. Some are more cost-driven than others. So-called “no frills” airlines, for instance, have built business models entirely around low cost structures

Feasibility

The Key Resources Building Block describes the most important assets required to make a business model work Every business model requires Key Resources. These resources allow an enterprise to create and offer a Value Proposition, reach markets, maintain relationships with Customer Segments, and earn revenues.

Different Key Resources are needed depending on the type of business you are building. A microchip manufacturer requires capital-intensive production facilities, whereas a microchip designer focuses more on human resources. Key resources can be physical, financial, intellectual, or human. Key resources can be owned or leased by the company or acquired from key partners.

Key Activities

The Key Activities Building Block describes the most important things a company must do to make its business model work. Every model calls for a number of Key Activities. These are the most important actions a company must take to operate successfully. Like Key Resources, they are required to create and offer a Value Proposition, reach markets, maintain Customer Relationships, and earn revenues. And like Key Resources, Key Activities differ depending on business model type. For software maker Microsoft, Key Activities include software development. For PC manufacturer Dell, Key Activities include supply chain management. For consultancy McKinsey, Key Activities include problem solving.

Partnerships

The Key Partnerships Building Block describes the network of suppliers and partners that make the business model work. Companies forge partnerships for many reasons, and partnerships are becoming a cornerstone of many business models. Companies create alliances to optimize, reduce risk, or acquire resources. We can distinguish between four different types of partnerships:

  • Strategic alliances between non-competitors
  • Coopetition: strategic partnerships between competitors
  • Joint ventures to develop new businesses
  • Buyer-supplier relationships to assure reliable supplies

3. Types of business models

In 2009, Amazon expands from platform to sales by launching Amazon private labels. It copies third-party sellers who created successful businesses by sourcing products absent from Amazon’s platform. Amazon sees this as an opportunity to create its own line of products.

Amazon Business Model

In 1999 Amazon launched its third-party seller marketplace and established itself as an incredibly successful e-commerce platform for other retailers. In 2007 Amazon began to use its platform to sell its own electronic devices (Kindle e-reader) and expanded to private label products under the AmazonBasics brand. While many companies aim to shift from sales to platform, Amazon executed are verse shift from platform to sales. With its private label business Amazon started to compete with third-party suppliers who are also customers of its e-commerce business. Amazon continuously expanded its private label product catalog with a wide selection (from electronics to clothing and everyday accessories) and lower prices.

The term “freemium” was coined by Jarid Lukin and popularized by venture capitalist Fred Wilson on his blog. It stands for business models, mainly Web-based, that blend free basic services with paid premium services. The freemium model is characterized by a large user base benefiting from a free, no-strings-attached offer. Most of these users never become paying customers; only a small portion, usually less than 10 percent of all users, subscribe to the paid premium services. This small base of paying users subsidizes the free users. This is possible because of the low marginal cost of serving additional free users.

In a freemium model, the key metrics to watch are:

(1) the average cost of serving a free user

(2) the rates at which free users convert to premium (paying) customers

Flickr Business Model

Flickr, the popular photo-sharing Web site acquired by Yahoo! in 2005, provides a good example of a freemium business model. Flickr users can subscribe for free to a basic account that enables them to upload and share images. The free service has certain constraints, such as limited storage space and a maximum number of uploads per month. For a small annual fee users can purchase a “pro” account and enjoy unlimited uploads and storage space, plus additional features.

Multi-sided platforms, known by economists as multi sided markets, are an important business phenomenon. They have existed for a long time, but proliferated with the rise of information technology. The Visa credit card, the Microsoft Windows operating system, the FinancialTimes, Google, the Wii game console, and Facebook are just a few examples of successful multi-sided platforms. We address them here because they represent an increasingly important business model pattern.

What exactly are multi-sided platforms? They are platforms that bring together two or more distinct but interdependent groups of customers. They create value as intermediaries by connecting these groups. Credit cards, for example, link merchants with cardholders; computer operating systems link hardware manufacturers, application developers, and users; newspapers link readers and advertisers; video gaming consoles link game developers with players.

The key is that the platform must attract and serve all groups simultaneously in order to create value. The platform’s value for a particular user group depends substantially on the number of users on the platform’s “other sides.” A video game console will only attract buyers if enough games are available for the platform. On the other hand, game developers will develop games for a new video console only if a substantial number of gamers already use it. Hence multi-sided platforms often face a “chicken and egg” dilemma.

One way multi-sided platforms solve this problem is by subsidizing a Customer Segment. Though a platform operator incurs costs by serving all customer groups, it often decides to lure one segment to the platform with an inexpensive or free Value Proposition in order to subsequently attract users of the platform’s “other side.” One difficulty multi-sided platform operators face is understanding which side to subsidize and how to price correctly to attract customers.

Multi-sided platforms bring together two or more distinct but interdependent groups of customers. Such platforms are of value to one group of customers only if the other groups of customers are also present. The platform creates value by facilitating interactions between the different groups. A multi-sided platform grows in value to the extent that it attracts more users, a phenomenon known as the network effects.

Let’s take a look into Google ’s multi-sided business model.

Google Business Model

As a multi-sided platform Google has a very distinct revenue model. It makes money from one Customer Segment, advertisers, while subsidizing free offers to two other segments: Web surfers and content owners. This is logical because the more ads it displays to Web surfers, the more it earns from advertisers. Increased advertising earnings, in turn, motivates even more content owners to become AdSense partners. Advertisers don’t directly buy advertising space from Google. They bid on ad-related keywords associated with either search terms or content on third party Web sites. The bidding occurs through an AdWords auction service: the more popular a keyword, the more an advertiser has to pay for it. The substantial revenue that Google earns from AdWords allows it to continuously improve its free offers to search engine and AdSense users.

Google’s Key Resource is its search platform, which powers three different services: Web search (Google.com), advertising (AdWords), and third-party content monetization (AdSense). These services are based on highly complex proprietary search and match making algorithms supported by an extensive IT infrastructure.

Google’s three Key Activities can be defined as follows:

1. Building and maintaining the search infrastructure.

2. Managing the three main services.

3. Promoting the platform to new users, content owners, and advertisers.

More platform business model examples: Visa, Google, eBay, Microsoft Windows, Financial Times

In 1999 Salesforce.com disrupts the customer relationship management (CRM) arena by offering CRM-as-a service over the Internet. Salesforce unlocks a new market and continuously strengthens its business model with new innovations.

Salesforce.com was founded in 1999 with the goal of “making enterprise software as easy to use as a website like amazon.com.” Salesforce pioneered the software as-a-service (Saas) for customer relationship management tools. The company didn’t stop there and has constantly improved its services and business model. We distinguish between two, non-exhaustive phases: the early business model in 1999 and extensions starting in 2005.

Salesforce Business Model

Subscription

In 2006, Spotify launches a free online music service to compete against freely available, pirated music. Its main revenue source comes from users upgrading to a premium subscription.

Spotify is a music streaming platform that gives users access to a large catalog of music. It uses a freemium revenue model that offers a basic, limited, ad-supported service for free and an unlimited premium service for a subscription fee.

Spotify relies heavily on its music algorithms and its community of users and artists to keep its premium experience delightful. Its premium subscriber base has grown from 10% of total users in 2011 to 46% in 2018.

From the start Spotify saw itself as a legal alternative to pirated music and paid song purchases on iTunes. Spotify pays a significant portion of its revenue in the form of royalties to music labels. It has paid close to $10 billion in royalties since its launch in 2006.

The company accelerated the shift from music downloads to streaming and disrupted Apple iTunes in the process. For the first time in company history, Spotify made a profit in 2019.

Spotify Business Model

4. What is business model innovation?

Business model innovation describes the innovative processes and rationale of how an business creates, delivers and captures value as opposed to how to create a new product or service. It's about fundamentally rethinking your business around a clear, new customer need, and then realigning your key resources, processes and profit formula with this new value proposition.

It’s not easy approach to take when making decisions as it pushes people out of their comfort zones. But the results can be dramatic, providing a real competitive business advantage - and we're seeing this sort of disruption a lot more often. Internet technology giants such as Amazon as world-class at demonstrating this kind of business acumen, where the founder Jeff Bezos even describes his company as 'the best place to fail in the world', referring to his company's approach to coming up with new business ideas.

Take Amazon Web Services for example: A project grew out of the company's need to improve their own tech stack performance. The American company went on to create Amazon Web Services to offers customers reliable, scalable, and inexpensive cloud computing services, paying only for what they used. Within 5-years would go on to totally dominate the cloud computing market and make Amazon over $10bn.

Read the case study we put together for Amazon Marketplace, using the business model portfolio to tell the story of how they validated their business idea: Patience is a Virtue: An Amazon Case Study in Three Parts . Otherwise you can read about the differences between organizations such as Amazon and Nestle .

4. Business Model Patterns

In the following section we outline a pattern library that is split into two categories of patterns: invent patterns to enhance new ventures and shift patterns to substantially improve an established, but deteriorating business model to make it more competitive.

www.strategyzer.comhubfs01-Hero-BusinessModelPatterns

Invent Patterns

Codify aspects of a superior business model. Each pattern helps you think through how to compete on a superior business model, beyond the traditional means of competition based on technology, product, service, or price. The best business models incorporate several patterns to outcompete others.

Shift Patterns:

02-HiltiShift-HiltiShiftCase

Codify the shift from one type of business model to another. Each pattern helps you think through how you could substantially improve your current business model by shifting it from a less competitive one to a more competitive one.

Applying Business Model Patterns

Understand patterns to better perform the following business model activities:

Design and assess

Use patterns to design better business models around market opportunities, technology innovations, or new products and services. Use them to assess the competitiveness of an existing one.

Disrupt and transform

Use patterns as an inspiration to transform your market. In the following section, we provide a library of companies that disrupted entire industries. They were the first to introduce new business model patterns in their arena.

Question and improve

Use patterns to ask better business model questions, beyond the traditional product, service, pricing, and market-related questions. Regardless, whether you are a senior leader, innovation lead, entrepreneur, investor, or faculty, you can help develop superior business models based on better questions.

03-InventPatterns-BusinessModelPatterns

Frontstage Disruption

Market explorers: unlock markets.

Develop innovative value propositions that create, unleash, or unlock completely new,  untapped, or underserved markets with large potential.

Be a pioneer and unearth new revenue potential through market exploration.

Channel Kings: Access customers

Radically change how to reach and acquire a large number of customers. Pioneer innovative new channels that haven’t been used in your industry before.

Gravity Creators: Lock in customers

Make it difficult for customers to leave or switch to competitors. Create switching costs where previously there were none and turn transactional industries into ones with long term relationships.

A great product isn’t enough to bring a flock of customers to your door. You must design a superior business model to attract and retain customers into your ecosystem. Switching costs have enabled industry leaders such as Adobe, Salesforce, Microsoft or Rolls Royce to lock customers in and outcompete other players.

Backstage Disruption

Resource castles: build moats.

Build a competitive advantage with key resources that are difficult or impossible for competitors to copy.

Activity Differentiators: Better configure activities

Radically change which activities they perform and how they combine them to create and deliver value to customers.Create innovative value propositions based on activity differentiation.

Scalers: Grow faster

Find radically new ways to scale where others stay stuck in conventional non-scalable business models.

Profit-Formula Disruption

Revenue differentiators: boost revenues.

Find innovative ways to capture value, unlock previously unprofitable markets, and/or substantially increase revenues.

Recurring Revenue – Generate recurring revenues from one-time sales. Advantages include compound revenue growth (new revenues stack up on top of existing revenues), lower cost of sales (sell once and earn recurrently), and predictability.

Bait & Hook – Lock customers in with a base product (the bait) in order to generate recurring revenues from a consumable (the hook) that customers need recurrently to benefit from the base product.

Freemium Providers – Offer basic products and services free of charge and premium services and advanced product features for a fee. The best freemium models acquire a large customer base and excel in converting a substantial percentage to paid users.

Subsidizers – Offer the full value proposition for free or cheaply by subsidizing it through a strong alternative revenue stream. This differs from freemium, which only gives free access to a basic version of products and services.

Cost Differentiators: Kill costs

Build a business model with a game-changing cost structure, not just by streamlining activities and resources, but by doing things in disruptive new ways.

Resource Dodgers – Eliminate the most costly and capital-intensive resources from your business model to create a game-changing cost structure. (Examples: Airbnb, Uber, Bharti Airtel)

Technologists – Use technology in radically new ways to create a game-changing cost structure. (Examples: WhatsApp, Skype)

Low Cost – Combine activities, resources, and partners in radically new ways to create a game-changing cost structure with disruptively low prices. (Examples: EasyJet, Ryanair, Trader Joe’s)

Margin Masters: Boost margins

Achieve significantly higher margins than competitors by focusing on what customers are willing to pay for most, while keeping your cost structure in check. Prioritize profitability over market share.

Contrarians – Significantly reduce costs and increase value at the same time. Eliminate the most costly resources, activities, and partners from your business model, even if that means limiting the value proposition. Compensate by focusing on features in the value proposition that a well-defined customer segment loves and is willing to pay for, but which are relatively cheap to provide. (Examples: CitizenM, Cirque de Soleil, Nintendo Wii)

High Enders – Create products and services at the high end of the market spectrum for a broad range of high-end customers. Use these to maximize margins and avoid the small size and extreme cost structure of a luxury niche. (Example: iPhone )

5. Business model examples

Below are 4 examples of business models. See our searchable business model examples catalog for dozens of business models analyzed using the business model canvas.

Tesla was founded in 2003 with the goal of commercializing electric vehicles, starting with luxury sports cars and then moving onto affordable, mass market vehicles. In 2008, Tesla began selling its Roadster. Its first breakthrough was in 2012 when it launched the Model S.

Tesla’s first “affordable” car, the Model 3, was announced in 2015 and produced in 2017. Prior to Tesla, the market for electric vehicles was relatively insignificant and was served by utilitarian and unremarkable models. Tesla was the first car manufacturer to view the market for electric vehicles differently: Tesla saw a significant opportunity by focusing on performance and the high end of the market.

Tesla Business Model

Learn more about Tesla’s business model by downloading your free copy of the 100-page preview of our bestselling book: The Invincible Company.

IKEA, the popular furniture company, also relies on customers as their free workforce but in a different way. Hundreds of thousands of IKEA customers assemble their bookshelves, tables, and other furniture at home after buying big boxes at big stores.

This was unthinkable before IKEA made it popular, because people used to expect furniture manufacturers to perform the assembly task. There’s a reason why customers are willing to do the work and it's because IKEA’s business model of boxed furniture offers a larger choice, immediate delivery, and all at a lower cost.

Ikea - Business Model

Read more about how Facebook, IKEA, WhatsApp, and Uber's business model make billions .

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club (“DSC”) disrupted the market for shaving products by selling directly to consumers through its online store. Because they cut out the middleman (retail), they can pass on savings to customers. DSC makes up for the lack of established brand and distribution reach by harnessing the power of viral videos and internet marketing.

Could you access your customers in an unprecedented and scalable way? How could you cut out the middleman and create direct access to your end-customers?

Dollar Shave Club - Business Model Canvas Example

Apple is one of the leading smartphone manufacturers in the world. But their product doesn’t do it all; in fact, you could argue that there are better smartphones out there. But Apple’s business model has moats that make it extremely difficult for others to overthrow them.

Apple - iPhone - Business Model

For example Apple’s app store connects its millions of iOS users with countless software developers that supply hundreds of thousands of apps searching for an audience. It's this ecosystem that's hard to copy, not the technology. Even with the best technology it is very hard to gain market share. Only Google with its Android operating system has managed to create a competing ecosystem.

Other interesting business models: AirBnb , ARM , citizenM , Dell , Didi , Dyson , Fortnite , M-Pesa , Microsoft Windows , Patagonia , Spotify , Tupperware , Waze , Whatsapp , Zara .

6. Business model tools and resources

  • Business Model Canvas template
  • The Portfolio Map template
  • Business Model Generation masterclass
  • Business Model Generation book
  • Value Proposition Design book
  • Testing Business Ideas book
  • The Invincible Company book
  • Business Model Generation Masterclass
  • Testing Business Ideas by David Bland & Alexander Osterwalder
  • The Invincible Company: Manage a portfolio of innovation

About the speakers

Download your free copy of this whitepaper now, explore other examples.

what is business model meaning

Get Strategyzer updates straight in your inbox

Team member avatar

IMAGES

  1. 4 major components of business model

    what is business model meaning

  2. Business Model: Definitions, Examples, and Types

    what is business model meaning

  3. A complete Guide on Business Model vs Business Plan

    what is business model meaning

  4. Discussing Business Model Innovation With Felix Hofmann [Lecture

    what is business model meaning

  5. Different Types of Business Models Explained

    what is business model meaning

  6. What is a Business Model & Top Examples

    what is business model meaning

VIDEO

  1. Что такое бизнес-модель компании?

  2. New World Leaked Skins But Are They Too Good?

  3. What’s your business model? 💰 #motivationalvideo #successmindset #discipline #motivation

  4. Business Model Vs Strategy

  5. Het Beste Business Model in 2024 (voor beginners)

  6. Business Model Discussion || Types Of Business Model Discussion

COMMENTS

  1. What is a Business Model with Types and Examples - Investopedia

    Business Model: A business model is a company's plan for how it will generate revenues and make a profit . It explains what products or services the business plans to manufacture and market, and ...

  2. What Is a Business Model? - Harvard Business Review

    Introducing a better business model into an existing market is the definition of a disruptive innovation, as written about by Clay Christensen. Rita McGrath offers that your business model is ...

  3. Business Model - What is it and How it works

    By definition, a business model describes the logic of how a company creates, delivers, and capture value. There are three key components within a business model: creating value, delivering value, and capturing value. This shows that the business model doesn’t revolve around money. It revolves around value.

  4. Business model - Wikipedia

    Business model. Business model innovation is an iterative and potentially circular process. [1] A business model describes how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value, [2] in economic, social, cultural or other contexts. For a business, it describes the specific way in which it conducts itself, spends, and earns money in a way ...

  5. Business Models: Types, Examples and How to Design One

    Example: A business that rents machinery like backhoes, augers and dozers to individuals for their home construction projects is using a leasing business model. 8. Franchise model. A franchise is ...

  6. What is a Business Model? - Strategyzer

    A business model is nothing other than a representation of how an organization makes (or intends to make) money. This can be nicely described through the 9 building blocks illustrated in the graphic below, which we call "business model canvas". The business model topic is very popular among business people today because in various industries we ...

  7. What Is a Business Model? - The Balance

    Definition and Examples of a Business Model . A business model is an outline that breaks down the ways that a company makes its profit. It identifies the target market, the market’s need, and how the business will serve its customers. The plan also includes the costs incurred from expenses like producing and marketing the product.

  8. What Is a Business Model? Best Practices and Examples | Aha ...

    Fee-for-service business model examples: McKinsey & Company, MedExpress, Walmart. Franchise. Builds on existing successful business and receives a percentage of earnings from franchises who invest in, operate, and promote new locations. Franchise business model examples: Ace Hardware Stores, McDonald’s, The UPS Store.

  9. Business Models: Toolkit to Design a Disruptive Company

    Definition: A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value. It can be described through 9 building blocks: Customer Segments, Value Propositions, Channels, Customer Relationships, Revenue Streams, Key Resources, Key Activities, Key Partnerships & Cost Structure.

  10. What Is a Business Model? Definition, 17 Types and Examples

    The ecommerce model includes the business-to-consumer, business-to-business, consumer-to-business and consumer-to-consumer models. Example: A jewelry maker with a small staff relies on online sales. It receives revenue without the expense of maintaining a physical store. 16. Manufacturer business model.