New business ventures often face the challenge of how to be truly differentiated. In his book Running Lean, Ash Maurya offers a new take on differentiation by introducing the concept of unfair advantage. He quotes Jason Cohen:
A real unfair advantage is one that cannot easily be copied or bought.
The leadership team at Avondale has been discussing a potential new venture around private equity (PE) investing. We want to help investors dissatisfied with the traditional private equity model link up with businesses that want to grow but require capital and management transformation.
We set a goal of writing down this business model in 20 minutes, because we do not want to waste time on something that absorbs resources but creates no value. We've already summarized the key elements of the 20-minute business model and identified our target customers and channels. We also defined our Unique Value Proposition and proposed solution, as well as our revenue streams, costs and key metrics.
We are in the home stretch, with only a few minutes left! We must answer our final question: What is our unfair advantage?
As Jason Cohen points out, unfair advantage can come from a number of sources, including:
In-depth knowledge or skills that are critical to the problem domain. Basically, this means being well positioned to understand a problem, create a solution, and continue to innovate faster than others.
An example of this is Google's focus on developing the best search engine. For this to be an unfair advantage, you must "refuse to lose" on a difficult-to-achieve capability.
Professional services providers often rely on experience that allows them to serve as a leading authority in their service domain.
This is the network of customers and partners who make up the ecosystem of your users. Facebook, Apple and the Android ecosystem all rely on their communities to add value -and an unfair advantage--to their products.
Other unfair advantages include a dream team, exclusive access to a channel/customers, the right expert endorsements, or a leading reputation for customer service.
So what is the unfair advantage we seek in serving investors who are dissatisfied with the traditional private equity model? We see three advantages that may be hard to replicate:
We think these advantages add up to a unique value proposition that will create an unfair advantage with our target investors. If we execute well, we should have no shortage of willing investors and value-creating deals.
Whew! Having articulated our business model in 20 minutes, we can now look back on the experience. Overall, we have found this approach very valuable. With 1-2 hours of effort, we can put forth two or three business model alternatives that can spark a robust debate amongst our management team. We have also brought these models to potential investors and operating partners to gain their feedback and gauge their interest. In the last few weeks we have already iterated our model and how we articulate it several times as a result of feedback from our potential customers.
When we consider new business ideas in the future, we will definitely use this lean business model approach again to quickly iterate our plan and get to something that works.
What do you think of the 20-minute business model approach? How will you use it in your business? Please let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.