Growing quickly? 5 tips to maintain your startup's culture

One of the difficult challenges facing startups as they transcend the boundary from concept to small and medium-sized companies and beyond, is the ability to retain the familial vibe and “can-do” attitude that makes their organisations successful. While change is inevitable, just like product development, sales, and business operations, cultural change can and should be planned by making it part of your business strategy.

 

1) Your culture is your brand

In every interaction you have, whether it be a sales meeting or interviewing potential employees, the values and behaviours displayed by you and your employees leave an impact on your company brand. Therefore it is important that you are clear and consistent regarding how you want your business to be perceived in the market, what values you want to be recognised for and how you differentiate yourself from competitors…

 

2) Understand what makes you great

By creating and understanding your cultural identity, your business has a framework for making decisions, engaging with customers, setting priorities and working as a team. Whether these are written down as “company values” or a “culture commitment” may depend on the size or the culture strategy of the business. Most importantly, though, is that everyone understands what is in line with these values and what is not.

 

If you are coming up short on what contributes to your culture then ask your employees. Collect feedback or run a short survey to gain a sense of general trends and benchmarks.

 

3) Live your values

When you set your company values – live them. Model them consistently throughout your business (for example, in client interactions, monthly one-on-one meetings and out-of-work activities) and reward values and behaviours that are in line with company strategy, while creating disincentives for those that are not. As leaders, you will initially have the most impact on shaping the culture.

 

Hiring “cultural-fit” (employees who are specifically chosen with the group’s culture in mind) is another way to maintain your company vibe. While experience and professional background is always crucial, seek like-minded individuals who aspire to a similar company vision, beliefs and way of working.

 

4) Communication is king

As a business grows there is the potential for company hierarchy to dilute healthy communication and an individual’s perception of impacting the business through access to senior leaders. For this reason it is important to maintain channels or forums for this type of communication to continue. This might be as simple as an “open-door policy” or more structured methods like scheduling time for employees to share improvement ideas. Maintaining small teams (even if part of bigger teams) will also give members the security, support and manager-access of small business structures.

 

Regular one-on-one meetings are another great way to explore and reflect on:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What could we improve?
  • What things are you looking forward to?
  • What do you need to make your work easier for you?
  • How are your relationships with your peers?
  • Do you understand the business strategy and where you fit in?
  • What makes you stay?
  • How can we support your career interests?

Note that even though your employees may be aligned in culture and values, each of them may have his or her own individual communication style. Try to tailor your style to address these differences.

 

5) Share your vision and its reasoning

Share the vision and strategy, and enable people to understand and have emotional investment in the direction of the business and the decisions being made. Having access to the reasons behind decisions and understanding where their role and outputs fit into the wider strategy of the business show that they are performing meaningful work and contributing to the success of the business as it grows.

 

Summing up

While this may seem to some like time and energy that could be better spent on driving income generating initiatives, in reality this could be no further from the truth. Investing in your company’s culture will reap long-term performance and financial rewards, and help to safeguard your company’s most precious resource – its people.

 


Modern Slavery - it is closer than you think

Modern slavery refers to slavery as it exists in the world today, which entraps people through forced labour, being owned or controlled by their employer, dehumanised or treated like a commodity, or physically constrained.  More than 40 million people globally are in modern slavery.

In March, TDi was invited to Stop the Traffik’s inaugural modern slavery conference.  This came about because the Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament last year. Stop the Traffik campaigned for years to make this happen. The Act is a landmark achievement which will push significant reforms across many sectors.

The conference covered modern slavery from a range of perspectives to create a comprehensive understanding of the issue but focused in particular on forced labour in supply chains.

We heard from an on-the-ground activist, Government representatives, organisations addressing modern slavery within their own supply chain, and practitioners who provide ethical supply chain solutions.

The conference finished off with a series of practical workshops so attendees could start addressing modern slavery in their own workplace, at either an individual or organisational level.  TDi’s CEO, Anthea, ran a workshop on private and public partnerships to create shared value as an innovative solution to develop ethical supply chains.

The conference was a call-to-action for organisations to identify and address modern slavery in their supply chains that could be summarised in the following three steps:

 

  1. Identifying the connection to the problem

Modern slavery is an issue that affects all of us, whether we know it or not.  The conference dispelled the commonly held myth that modern slavery is associated with forced sex labour.  This does make up an awful part of modern slavery, however, the majority of people – 64% – are enslaved in the supply chain, which is reinforced by the demand for cheap consumer goods.  As much as AU$17 billion gets spent on ‘slavery tainted’ products/services in Australia every year.

Therefore, in a business context, modern slavery needs to be identified in the deep layers of an organisation: their partners and supply chain. Again, highlighting how close to home the problem really is, one speaker noted the modern slavery that exists on our doorstep.  Globally, 40 million people are affected by modern slavery, and upwards of 30 million are in the Asia Pacific region, some even in Australia.

 

  1. Taking ownership of the problem

Actually, at a macro level, Australia is playing a decent part in eliminating modern slavery from the system.  We are the second country (after the UK) to have had a Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament.  The Act requires organisations of $100 million to report on their risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and supports smaller organisations to voluntarily report. To read the Act, click here.

One point raised during the conference, however, was an overreliance on the Government to hold all responsibility for responding to the issue – but what about our role as individuals or organisations?

To provide perspective, we heard an account from one organisation who were very publicly vilified after slavery was found in their supply chain.  They used the crisis to overhaul their systems and set an example for and promote what good practice looks like.

Another organisation that spoke, Elevate, works with companies to assess the risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and implement solutions to remove it.  In Elevate’s own words it has to go beyond compliance to integration.

Our CEO, Anthea, provided a proactive and innovative solution: creating an ethical supply chain through shared value. Using the YuMi Tourism Program as an example, Carnival Australia has built a more inclusive and equitable supply chain, which provides access and any required training for Indigenous tour operators to fairly be procured at Carnival’s destination ports in the South Pacific. Like Elevate’s motto, shared value projects are a truly integrated solution which ultimately looks to create cultural change at a large scale.

 

  1. Taking the first step and leading with courage

So once you’ve identified the problem, and you can see a solution, how do you go about creating the change?  At the conference, this was again addressed at an individual and organisational level.

One of the workshops at the conference was about how to be a champion for change within your organisation. Modern slavery is a confronting (and shameful) subject that is hard and costly to solve.  It takes the courage and persistence from an internal champion to lead change. This comes back to point one and two – identifying and owning our part in the problem.  One anecdote that really drove this home was a quote from a victim of modern slavery. She said “they [criminals who create slavery conditions] are just bad people doing bad things, but where are the good people doing good things?”.

It also takes courage for an organisation to be the externally-facing champion for change.  From the perspective of the organisation who had experienced the crisis around slavery in their supply chain, courage was key to turning the situation around.  To borrow from Brene Brown, they had to continually enter the arena against scepticism of the public, media and activists until they had built a track record that proved otherwise.

 

 


Creative Ways to Refresh Your Business Model

This blog was written by Isaac Jeffries, an associate of TDi. 


Designing new business models is exciting – conversations full of optimism and intrigue, especially when you get the gut sense that this idea is a winner

It’s important that we don’t fall in love with our first idea. Yes, it’s a good idea, and there are several aspects that will probably succeed. But an idea being exciting does not mean that it has earned permanence.

It’s more likely that this idea contains the DNA of a highly successful model, but it needs to go through some refinement in order to get it out.

What we should talk about is persevering with the essence of the business, whilst letting go of some particular details.

It’s called “Pivoting”

Keeping one foot planted on the ground, then moving the other around to find a better position.

“An awful lot of successful technology companies ended up being in a slightly different market than they started out in. Microsoft started with programming tools, but came out with an operating system. Oracle started doing contracts for the CIA. AOL started out as an online video gaming network.”

- Marc Andreessen, Entrepreneur

Pivoting is tough to swallow, because it starts by accepting the idea that:

“We won’t survive where we are, but we might thrive somewhere slightly different”

This comes with the excitement of future success – there are several ways in which we can pivot, and there’s a good chance one of them will work if we think this through.

However, it requires a risk seeking disposition – a willingness to try something that might not work.

Here are some useful questions to prompt your thinking:

What if we had to offer the same value proposition to the same customer, but through a different product/service?

What if we had to offer the same product/service to a different customer segment – what would be different about the value proposition?

What would happen if we gave our core product away for free? Where else would we make money?

What if our service delivery had to move to an entirely digital platform? How could we serve customers without ever meeting them in person?

What partner activities could we do better ourselves?

What headaches could we remove through outsourcing? Which resources and activities could be palmed off?

If we wanted to massively increase prices tomorrow, what would need to change within our customer segments and service delivery? What would a premium model look like?

What problems will our customers be concerned about in five years’ time?

You’ll be surprised by the opportunities that sit slightly to the side of your idea.

Better yet, you’ll be surprised at how a small change can open up a whole new market, and yet other drastic changes may not diminish your value proposition at all.

Remember, experiments are your best friend. If your gut instinct is right, an experiment will back you up.

By being proactive, we can spare ourselves a lot of wasted energy and emotional stress, and quickly find our real audience.


Try it for yourself. Ask your team:

Are our customers validating our current business model?

If not, which parts are being validated?

Which elements (product, price, customer, design) are up for grabs in a pivot?

Using a Business Model Canvas, what would 3-4 different pivots look like on paper?

How can we quickly and cheaply test our new assumptions?

If our tests come back with good news, are we prepared to try something new?


Isaac Jeffries is TDi’s first ever employee, and has with over 180 impactful businesses around the world. He’s currently designing and building social enterprises in India, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He writes at isaacjeffries.com


Business Model Alarm Bells

This blog was written by Isaac Jeffries, an associate of TDi. 


Filling in a business model canvas is a means to an end – creating a company that is desirable, feasible and viable.

If there are any issues with the idea, let’s get them out on the table now – in an environment where they are easy to address, or we can convince ourselves to steer clear of a potential disaster.

Alarm bells create panic. They also save lives.

By understanding the issue early, we give ourselves the best chance of survival. Sometimes it’s a false alarm, like when your hot shower sets off your smoke detector. That’s why we approach these alarm bells with optimism and curiosity – either there’s no issue, or we get to find our weaknesses and fix them.

Here are some examples of Alarm Bells and Red Flags that should prompt further exploration.

“We only have one customer”

The issue here is that you have all of your eggs in one basket. One huge customer can kickstart a business, but they can’t be relied upon. The model needs to be appealing to a deeper market of customers, so that one customer doesn’t have unfair leverage over prices and contract terms.

If the idea is only appealing to one customer, maybe it’s not a strong idea?


“We are dependent on one staff member”

Bootstrapping is the art of improvising with limited resources, and it’s the best way to start a new business.

Over time, bootstrapping creates bottlenecks – if only one person can deliver your value proposition, then they become irreplaceable. That means the business can’t grow quickly, and there’s a great deal of risk around that person leaving.

You either need to be able to afford to recruit specialised staff, or become great at training new people in your methodologies.

Otherwise your founders can never step back from day-to-day operations, and you’ve created a job instead of a business.

“We operate a lot of channels”

It’s easy to engage with your customers on a number of fronts – email, web, shopfront, social media, package delivery, etc.

However, it is challenging to do these well.

Can you dedicate enough energy and attention to master each of your channels? If not, it’s time to start making cuts, getting back to the essential elements and over-delivering on each interaction.


“We have lots of key activities”

As above, it’s hard to be truly great at thirteen different things. Too many activities divide your energy and attention, leading to mediocrity across the board.

Ask yourself: what business are we really in?

Which activities are best done by our team, and how do we handball the others to a key partner?

“We can’t articulate why customers will choose us over our competitors”

Your value proposition needs to be more appealing than your competitor’s. If you can’t explain why your offer is better for your customers, how on earth will they reach that conclusion on their own?

Don’t forget your hidden, dangerous competitor; it’s called “Doing Nothing” and it’s both cheap and easy.

People don’t care for 10% improvements – your idea needs to be significantly better than what’s currently on offer, or else people will stick with what’s comfortable.


“We are all things to all people”

You can’t please everybody. It’s better to have a smaller, loyal customer base who love you than to try and be generally liked by the entire market.

Kevin Kelly talks about the need to have “1,000 true fans” who will be your core customer base and act as your evangelists. Find your niche and delight them.

As Seth Godin said – nobody gets a Suzuki tattoo.

“Our customers aren’t paying anything”

It’s worth remembering in life – if you use a service and don’t pay for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Yes, we need to engage and delight the end user, but we also need to thoroughly understand the motives of the person who is paying our invoice. What are they looking for? How do they make decisions? How do they measure success?


“Customers only make one purchase”

Repeat customers are efficient – by winning them once we can enjoy a stream of sales. It’s much cheaper to retain a customer than it is to bring on somebody new.

If our model doesn’t allow for repeat business, then we need to constantly engage new prospects. It also means that our customer base may dry up over time – meaning we may exhaust our market just as we approach our breakeven point.

“We can’t find enough customers to do much testing”

If you can’t find enough people for a test, then there’s either an insufficient market or you’re looking in the wrong places. Your model should respond to a real pain point – one that is shared by a large enough niche.


“We need to push uphill to make sales”

People need to want what you sell. Sure, you might need some momentum, but things should get easier over time as you find your tribe and build a base of happy customers.

If you’re always twisting arms, maybe it’s time to adjust. Seth Godin said it best – find a business you can push downhill.

“Our model relies on generosity/altruism”

Generosity is fleeting; a brief and refreshing experience for your customer, not the main basis of their decision making.

We want to pair social good with something that solves a problem for our customer. Charity is quickly exhausted, whereas self-interest stays motivated forever.

If this is our main value proposition, then we either need to dominate at customer acquisition or customer retention, preferably both.


“We have a high breakeven volume”

Life becomes stressful when it takes a lot of sales to break even. The danger is that you find a heap of customers who love you and yet you still go bankrupt.

By structuring the model so that it takes fewer sales to break even, we give ourselves the best chance of survival. It might be time to explore a switch to variable costs, renting rather than buying, and forming clever partnerships.

“Our model requires large upfront investment”

As Robert Herjavec says, you want to invest to support the sales, not to create the sales. That is, make something popular then invest to decrease your production costs. If you invest before you’re popular, you take a huge risk that you can’t afford to get wrong.

If you can’t avoid the upfront costs, at least do some serious testing to validate that there is a strong market who are delighted by your price points.


If any of those sounds all too familiar, it’s time to experiment some new business model designs. Grab a canvas or a whiteboard, and dream up something slightly mad – new customers, new value propositions, new ways of delivering your service, new price points.

Isaac was TDi’s first ever employee, and has worked with over 180 impactful businesses around the world. He’s currently designing and building social enterprises in India, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He writes at isaacjeffries.com


Using the Business Model Canvas

This blog was written by Isaac Jeffries, an associate of TDi. 


The Business Model Canvas is a tool that helps create and assess business ideas. It’s free to use – all you need to do is print one out, or grab a whiteboard or sketch one out on a sheet of paper. You can download one at strategyzer.com/canvas.

A canvas is a visual description of your idea, creating clarity for your team, your investors and yourself. It won’t magically make your idea profitable, and it won’t do the work for you. Instead, it makes you ask good questions, and good questions enable great ideas.

For example, it will ask you why you hold your current assumptions.

  • It will ask you if there are other people who could be your customers.
  • It will ask if there are other reasons behind why people buy from you.
  • It will ask if there are other ways of structuring your team.
  • It will ask if you’re charging the right amount.

Most importantly, it will keep you accountable: all the little comforting lies we tell ourselves are hard to ignore when they’re out on a single page.

The canvas is made up of nine boxes, which we’ll briefly look at here.


Customer Segments

Our first task is to understand is “Who is our customer?” Without that piece of information, all the other parts of the canvas are useless. You can’t design a good model without this knowledge; a strategy is only “good” if it matches our customer’s preferences and budget.

What is a customer?

A customer is somebody who you need to persuade and delight, because they are the person who is making a purchase decision. In every business that’s having social impact, there are three types of people:

A Customer – who makes the decision and pays us money.

An End User – who ends up experiencing our product/service

A Beneficiary – the person or group who are better off because of our product/service.

For your business, these might all be the same person, or it could be three different people. We can describe customers through Demographics and Psychographics. Demographics are the kind of thing you’d fill in on a census. Descriptors like age, gender, height, race, location, wealth, maybe even occupation.

e.g. “We’re selling to 45-year-old women who live in the outer suburbs”

Psychographics are invisible and powerful – attitudes, world views and beliefs. This could be who our customer votes for, how they feel about homelessness, how conscious they are about their “footprint”, what sort of ideas they value and how they make tradeoffs.

e.g. “We’re selling to environmentally conscious consumers who enjoy herbal tea and minimalist design”

Value Proposition


There’s an old expression in marketing: People don’t buy products and services; they buy enhanced states of being.

Put more simply, people don’t buy ¼ inch drill bits, they buy ¼ inch holes.

The first thing we need to do is create a unique value proposition for each customer segment. Several people can buy the same product at the same time for completely different reasons, and we need to understand each of them.

Our customer has positive things they want to achieve (Gains), and negative things they wish to avoid (Pains).

Value Proposition is a neat description of how our business creates these gains or relieves these pains.

For example:

Louis Vuitton sell leather goods, but what do they really sell?

Status. Success. Elegance. A symbol of the elite.

You can buy a fake Louis in Bali, but it won’t give you the same feeling. The real value proposition is the story we tell ourselves and the image we project to the world.

The Big Issue sell a magazine, but what do customers really buy?

A warm feeling. A genuine, meaningful interaction. The feeling of giving a hand-up.

In fact, if you ask The Big Issue’s customers about their purchase, they mostly don’t care for the magazine itself. It’s a means to an end; a non-confrontational way of helping a person in need.

Customer Relationships

Not every business engages with its customers in the same way. Some build a loyal following, whereas others are temporary and transactional. Some sales require an appointment or face to face conversation, whereas others are purely electronic. Some brands are cheeky and playful, some are proud and formal, whereas others are totally plain.

None of these are right or wrong, but they do need to match our customer and value proposition.

This box is our chance to identify:

  1. Is this a short term or long term engagement?
  2. Is this a personal or automated relationship?
  3. Are we focused on acquiring customers or retaining customers?
  4. What tone do we use when talking to our customers?


Channels

A channel is your method of bringing happiness to your customer. Technically speaking, it describes the way you physically deliver your value proposition to each customer segment.

There are two types of channel to consider for your business.

The first one is your acquisition channel – how you first encounter and entice your customers.

The second is your delivery channel – how you physically provide the benefits to your customers.

It could be online, via word of mouth, over the phone, a retail space on a busy street, etc.

You won’t have to invent a new channel – instead you’re choosing the most appropriate channel for your customer and their desired value proposition.

Key Resources

What does your business depend on? What can’t you afford to lose?

These irreplaceable elements are Key Resources, the vital ingredients and components that are required for your Value Proposition to exist.

It could be a person, like the founder or a vital team member.

It could be a special building or location.

It could be your equipment and machinery.

It could be your intellectual property, like a trade secret or a unique recipe.

It could be a patent, that stops imitators.

It could be your brand, a name customers recognise and trust over the rest of the market.

We want to identify our Key Resources, so that we can protect them. Our model should be reinforced, so that one person leaving the company doesn’t shut down the business, or so that we don’t make decisions that harm our value proposition.


Key Activities 

What needs to get done in a typical week in order to keep the model running? How will you and your team spend your time?

  • Chasing customers?
  • Manufacturing a product?
  • Delivering a service?
  • Managing a network of contractors?
  • Delivering stock to other stores?
  • Operating your own sales channels?
  • Partnership brokering?
  • Recruiting new team members?

Which activities can’t be easily substituted? Every company does some accounting, but accounting isn’t generally a key activity – unless you’re an accounting firm.

The same goes for recruitment, cleaning, advertising and running events.

The things to list are the activities that must be done to a 5-star standard in order for your value proposition to be possible.

Key Partners

Your idea sits in a value chain – the complete process by which a product or service is made and delivered. There’s a good chance that you don’t do everything yourself; someone either sits before you or after you, and we need to keep them happy.

For example, someone else might create the raw ingredients that your company combines into something special.

Maybe you’re borrowing some retail space from a larger organisation, or you’re stocking your product in other people’s stores.

Perhaps you have people who refer you a lot of customers, or have an advertising platform that helps people discover your business.

Maybe you require permission from a regulator, someone who isn’t paying you but who can make your life miserable if they get upset.

Partners are great. A good partnership can transform your sales – by either increasing your traffic, or doing something better than you could do it yourself. Dependencies are dangerous, because they present significant risk. If we have a key partner who could sink our business with a single decision, then we either need to find a backup or create a retention strategy.

By identifying these dependencies early, we can find ways of defending against disaster.


Cost Structure 

We need to get a sense of our financials, to see if we actually make money from each sale, and quantify how many sales are required to break even.

That’s why it’s so important to understand our cost structure – it tells us the total amount we’re due to spend, but also the format in which we spend it.

For example, we need to know which costs are one-offs, and which are ongoing.

We also need to understand which costs are fixed, and which costs are variable.

There are two rough principles worth noting here:

Fixed costs are generally more economical than variable costs.

Variable costs reduce your breakeven point.

If you’re a large company, moving to own your own methods of production can save serious cash. It can also be a huge distraction, or assets you don’t want on your balance sheet. If you’re a small company, moving production to a partner creates variable costs, which is a much safer way of operating. It also makes you reliant on that partner, which can get tricky.

It’s easy to let invisible costs sneak up on us; things like the cost of acquiring a new customer, or the cost of retaining an existing customer.

By understanding how much these things cost, we may discover that some customer segments just aren’t worth chasing – we spend more on keeping them than the revenue they generate. This is the benefit of knowing our key financial metrics – the numbers than indicate the health of the business. Much like our own health, early detection of a problem gives us the best possible chance of survival.

Revenue Streams

It’s easy to make big sweeping statements about “Oh, customers will support us because we’re social” or “People really want a premium version of (our product/service)”.

Now we need to support those claims.vIt’s not enough to simply list value propositions that sound good, they have to be worth something to our customer.

We’re looking to understand three things:

  • What does each customer segment buy?
  • How much does each customer spend per transaction?
  • How many purchases do they eventually make?

Armed with this knowledge, we can build a rough financial model and start making decisions about which customers are worth pursuing.


Those are the nine boxes; grab a canvas and have a go at mapping out your business model.

Next we’ll be looking at ways of testing and strengthening your enterprise.

Isaac was TDi’s first ever employee, and has worked with over 180 impactful businesses around the world. He’s currently designing and building social enterprises in India, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He writes at isaacjeffries.com


Why is a Business Model Important for Creating Impact?

This blog was written by Isaac Jeffries, an associate of TDi. 


Think about your favourite brands. What made you a fan of their work? Was it the way they went the extra mile to delight you? How their pricing structure saved you some money? How they solved a pain point? Maybe they created positive social impact?

The fact is, every successful business you can think of runs on the back of a well-designed business model. This applies to every type of organisation – including charities, social enterprises and internal teams within larger companies.

What do we mean by a Business Model?

We’re describing how your company can constantly remain Desirable, Feasible and Viable.

These are the Three Lenses of Innovation as coined by IDEO, and every good business needs to exist at the centre of the diagram. We call them Lenses, because they’re a way of examining one aspect of your business. Each lens will highlight different strengths and weaknesses, and by looking at all three, we can create strong ideas that make money.


Desirability is about understanding your customer, what motivates them, how they engage with you and what makes/breaks a purchase decision.

We need to be desirable to our customer, or else we’ll have no sales.

Feasibility is about how you make everything happen behind the scenes. This includes hiring the right people, using the right tools, working with the right partners, and focusing on the right set of activities.

We need to run in a way that’s constantly feasible, or else we’ll implode.

Viability is about the dollars; how many we earn and how many we spend. No matter your legal structure, you’ll need a surplus to survive –there has to be some money left over at the end of the day.

We need to be viable, or else we’ll go bankrupt.

You’ll probably find it easy to tick off two of the three. That third one is the killer, and it can’t be ignored.

“A Business Model is an elegant expression of how all parts of your business work together for success”

— Paul Steele, co-Founder of TDi

Intent

Before we dive into the business model design process, we want to explicitly describe our intent, so that we can then design a business model that can deliver on that mission.

In other words: Why do you want to start this business?

Or if you’re already up and running: Why does your business exist?


J.P. Morgan famously said that behind every decision are two reasons – the good one and the real one. Let’s be frank about the real reasons. What factors are driving your decisions?

Is it about making money?

Is it about creating change?

Is it about building your dream job?

Is it about building an empire?

Is it about a decision made by your board?

Is it about building something you’re proud of?


This isn’t some cliché mission statement; rather it’s a simple description about why you’re building this business.

That way, we know what elements are up for discussion, and which are untouchable.

Here are some examples we often hear at TDi from impact-driven businesses:

“We want to create stable lives for young people, which comes from stable jobs and stable relationships”
“We want to create a cash cow that provides $100k of surplus to fund our charity”
“To change the way people think about the clothes they buy”
“To build a job that provides me with freedom and excitement”
“To prevent waste from ending up in landfill”
“To fulfil the Christian Mission, and spread God’s word”
“To create new business units that ensure (our organisation’s) longevity”

None of them say “To create a cool bar on High St that sells $18 cocktails” or “To sell minimalist mid-priced Swiss watches online”

They might each be a great how, but not a clear enough why.


This process helps everyone understand which elements are flexible – the things that we can happily change if the idea doesn’t look like it will work.

With this knowledge, we can design a business model that complements and delivers on our intent, whilst remaining open minded about which customers we serve, what we offer them, and how they pay us.

The Canvas

Our idea needs to sit at the heart of these three lenses. Designing a business like this is tough, and it will take a fair few goes to get it right. That’s what is so good about a canvas – it’s disposable, it’s free and it’s quick to do. We can create an idea, test it, and then fix any weaknesses. Nine boxes sound like a lot, however these are simply better ways of describing our three lenses.

Desirability is explored through Customer Segments, Customer Relationships, Channels and Value Proposition.

Feasibility is explored through Key Resources, Key Activities and Key Partners.

Viability is explored through Cost Structure and Revenue Streams.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at each box of the canvas, and get you through your first iteration.


Isaac was TDi’s first ever employee, and has worked with over 180 impactful businesses around the world. He’s currently designing and building social enterprises in India, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He writes at isaacjeffries.com