Best Practices

Lean canvas - why it's the best tool for startups

Table of contents

The startup journey was never an easy one and it’s an open secret that 75% eventually failed. One of the main reasons that these startups failed is creating a product, or an app, that never resonates with the market.

The basic principles of supply and demand apply to startups. If you’re creating apps that no one’s taking up, you’ll fail. Surprisingly, many of these startup owners are backed with business plans and a business model.
Here’s the brutal truth.
A manual-thick business plan helps your funding pitch but is meaningless in aiding you in testing out ideas and hypotheses in the early stage. Neither does a conventional business model canvas help in the early stage of a startup.

Thankfully, the introduction of the lean canvas increases the odds of success for startup founders. The principle is based on the lean startup, an innovative transformation of the conventional business model validation.

So, if you’re going to launch an MVP with a high success rate, you’ll want to plan it out with the lean canvas. 

In this guide, I’ll show you how it’s done. 

What is a lean canvas


At the early stage of startups, ideation and testing are pivotal for success. The lean canvas is an innovative effort by Ash Maurya, where he repurposed the conventional business model canvas to suit startups’ needs.

The lean canvas allows a problem-solution strategy to be easily described on paper. It helps to put ideas into perspective and serve as a guide for startups to validate their hypotheses. The lean canvas’s ultimate goal is to help startup founders avoid costly failure, where they built products with no takers.

Understanding customers is key to startup success, and the lean canvas is revised to reflect this. It allows founders to construct the business model in a way that revolves around the customer, instead of focusing on strategies suited for larger companies.

Besides that, using the lean canvas also allows you to explore how your competitors are solving existing problems. It helps you to offer a better solution, which stands out from the crowd. 


Lean canvas vs. business model canvas

So, how does lean canvas differ from the business model canvas, where it was evolved upon. The business model canvas, which was created by Alexander Osterwalder, is based on the following 9 columns:

  • Key partners
  • Key activities
  • Key resources
  • Value proposition
  • Customer relationships
  • Channels
  • Customer segments
  • Cost structure
  • Revenue streams

The business model canvas was designed to help existing businesses to strategize operations between various stakeholders. It was never meant to be a tool for a lean startup.

Meanwhile, the lean canvas adopts the same structure from the business model canvas but makes the following changes to the columns:

  • Key partners → Problems
  • Key activities → Solutions
  • Key resources → Metrics
  • Customer relationships → Unfair advantage

By amending the 4 columns, the canvas is now an actionable document for startups. Instead of being used for strategic alignments, the lean canvas is now suited for actionable approaches in validating ideas, measuring, and determining the startup’s edge. 


Why Lean canvas is the best option for startups

  • Quick creation and update - The lean canvas is a 1-page document that can be quickly drafted and updated.
  • Easily shareable - Founders can easily share the lean canvas with partners, team members, and other stakeholders.
  • Concise - It isn’t cluttered with unnecessary information. Just plain, simple ideas that are straight to the point.

Understanding The Lean Canvas Structure

As a tech-startup owner, the lean canvas helps you to support the development of the MVP. It keeps the problems, solutions in perspective, and allows you to discover if the market will potentially accept the product.

Here’s what each column means and how to fill it up.

Customer Segments

Here’s where you define the target group of consumers you’re serving, and they’re paying in return. 

There may be more than one group of customers that fit into this section. For example, renters and buyers are typical customers for a real estate app but don’t forget sellers, landlords, and agents who are also parts of your business and may use the product. The latter parties may not necessarily use the app, but are equally involved in the business process.

Don’t focus on the end customer who’s “buying a home” when creating the app. Think of all the parties that could be involved.

If you’re serving more than one customer segment, it may be feasible to create one lean canvas for each. 

Problem

List down the top 3 problems that you’re trying to solve in this column. The problems help you to devise the solutions.

To make it easier, put yourself into the customer’s shoes. Think of what they are going through in their daily routine and their challenges in getting jobs done. 

For example, it’s hard to find a trustworthy agent in the real estate industry. Finding the perfect property often involves dozens of viewing. There are also hassles in documents signing and moving-in. 

Remember that different markets may have different problems.

Unique Value Proposition

The unique value proposition is a statement of how your app is different from other competitors. It serves as an argument for why customers should choose your product over others.

An effective UVP can be derived by focusing on the benefits when the problems are solved. For example, it could be as simple as “Get a home of your dream with no effort”. 

Get feedback from the early adopters to ensure that you’re striking the chords with the UVP.

Solution

You’ve got the problems listed, and now it’s time to offer solutions. 

Expect changes on what you’ve filled up as the probable solutions. Testing and refining are part of the Lean process.

At this point, there are no right or wrong solutions. You can brainstorm for ideas with your co-founders, team members, or family to get a list of probable ideas. 

For example, the tedious document signing and payment process when buying a home can be solved by digitization with an eSign and Payment systems.

Channels

A functional product will never be successful if it never reaches its intended audience. Channels are where you list the possible methods of marketing the app to the target customer.

You’ll be spoilt for choices as social media, mass media, digital publications, brick & mortar advertising, and more are possible ways to get the message out. However, the key is focusing on where your audience is.

If you’re targeting young professionals who are hoping to rent an apartment, running ads on Facebook is a good bet if most of them are on popular social media.

Revenue Streams

Every startup should eventually make a profit. Here’s where you’ll want to have an estimate of the earnings from the app and your pricing strategy.

As in the case of real estate, offering apartments with lower quality could be a good move if you’re targeting students. The lower margin is compensated by the high demands in areas with colleges. 

On the other hand, selling penthouses may offer a higher margin, but you’ll have to spend more effort in customer service and premium services.

Cost structure

When you’re running a startup, it’s important to be clear of the cost involved. List down the fixed and variable cost it takes to bring the MVP into life. 

As your startup progresses, the cost may change to support the operation. Adjust the cost structure accordingly.

Among others, building a real estate app also involves marketing and user research, which will incur logistics, transportation, and labor expenses. 

Key Metrics

You can only know if your app is heading in the right direction if you measure it against a preset of expectations. These expectations are listed down in this column.

While it’s preferable to have quantifiable metrics, there are occasions where you'll need to be creative in measuring non-quantifiable metrics. For example, you can’t track word-of-mouth success rate, but you’re able to track mentions on the app on social media. 

For a real estate app, registration and request for viewing are good indicators of interest. When the users start booking properties over it, you know that you’ve got the problem-solving part right.

Unfair Advantage

An unfair advantage is something that cannot be easily met by your competitors. 

Do you have a team of domain experts, ready buyers, or an extensive network that is more than ready to market the product? 

This often eludes many founders initially but may become apparent when you’ve got feedback from the early users. If you can’t think of any, revisit this column as you progress.

How we’re able to help

lean canvas

At Uptech, the lean canvas methodology is pivotal in our product development approach. The mentioned examples are taken from our experience of creating lean canvases when building MVPs. 

We can vouch that they work for the founders we work with. As the startup grows, they’ll revisit and update the canvases, and it helps their team stay on the same page. It keeps the team focused, which is crucial as a startup spurs ahead. 

Here’s an example of lean canvas for you to see how the whole picture may look like. 

Summary

It’s fair to say that adopting a lean canvas for your startup is the least you can do for success. Don’t launch an app without having established the structure of the canvas. If you’re still in doubt of using lean canvas in product development, drop me an email here, and I’ll be glad to help.

Free Product Roadmap Template

By opting in you agree with your information being stored by us in relation to dealing with your inquiry and to get an email with News, Blog Posts and Offers from Uptech. Please have a look at our Privacy Policy.
You can unsubscribe anytime.
Thank you!
Open Google Sheets.
Download Excel Spreadsheet.
By the way, we prepared a case study on how we saved $ 50K with design sprint
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Free Checklist to Build An On-Demand Delivery App

Download our checklist to make sure your project goes as well as the case study above.
Thank you!
Download your check list.
By the way, we prepared a case study on how we saved $ 50K with design sprint
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

have a project
for US?

Let’s build your next product! Share your idea or request a free consultation from us.

contact us
You may also read