Everyone in the tech world talks about business models. But I’ll bet that if you quizzed a random sample of these people, you’d find that they really don’t know what a business model is. I did just that with my students at UC-Berkeley. Most raised their hands, and MBA student Blake Brundidge’s attempt to answer the question was a valiant one—but none of them really had a clue. The only one who got the answer right was Lionel Vital, a Stanford student gatecrashing my iSchool class.
The reality is that a business model is like the old saying about teenage sex: everyone talks about it all the time; everyone boasts about how well he or she is doing it; everyone thinks everyone else is doing it; almost no one really is; and the few who are are fumbling their way through it incompetently. (Yes, I know things have changed.)
I’ll tell you what a business model is, in case you are quizzed by your investors.
But first, let me answer the big question that is surely on your mind: what is a Stanford student doing at Berkeley? It may be that our classes at Berkeley are much better than those at Stanford. That is probably why Lionel approached me at the beginning of the semester and begged to be allowed to audit my class. To Lionel’s credit, he scored better than any of the Berkeley students. So perhaps some Stanford kids are a little smarter, but Berkeley students get better education? I know that our students certainly have a lot more fun. You just have to visit the campuses to note the stark difference.
Step one in building a successful business is to learn what products or technologies your customers really need and are willing to buy. This is an iterative process that I explained in this piece. The vast majority of technology startups fail because too few customers buy or use their products. So don’t underestimate the importance of validating and testing your ideas.
Developing the right product is hard. But what is harder is building a good business model. Fortunately, there’s nothing magical about a business model. It’s simply the nuts and bolts of how a business plans to generate revenue and profits. It details your long-term strategy and day-to-day operations.
Entrepreneurs put together elaborate business plans showing optimistic market-share projections. Even 1% of a billion-dollar market seems lucrative, right? Wishful thinking is great, but when it comes time to create your business model, you need to be realistic. The challenges differ from industry to industry, but here are seven basic components of a business model: