A Canvas That Tells a Story: KISS Canvas (v5.0)

[This is part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

Struggling to map your business model because you have lots of stakeholders / customer segments?

The Keep It Super Simple (KISS) Canvas takes your complex, multi-sided business model and turns it into an easy-to-understand story. Each row answers a key question about a stakeholder. Each column represents a stakeholder: payers, users, channel partners, employees, etc. One can easily turn a KISS Canvas into a pitch deck for investors by simply creating slides that mirror the content in each row.

Let’s look at an example for Magic Mops:

Image of a KISS Canvas for a fictitious mop company. An accessible version is available by access the template and clicking on the Example: Manufacturing tab.

Here we have a company that makes ergonomic mops used by janitors who work for commercial cleaning companies who purchased the mops through a distributor. These stakeholders have very different pains and incentives. Magic Mops must have a viable business model for all three stakeholders or their company will fail.

The KISS Canvas, in one page, highlights:

  • Who each stake holder is and what motivates them
  • The value that must be delivered
  • The relationships needed to find, convert, & retain them
  • The value each provides Magic Mops

KISS’s Questions

  • Key Stakeholders – Who do you serve? Each stakeholder gets their own column to keep their information clear.
    • Type – Stakeholders tend to fall into predictable categories: the one who pays you, the one who uses the product, the one who connects you to the customer, etc. It is important to know each type’s needs.
    • Persona – Describe the archetype that represents the key traits of this the stakeholder.
    • Pains – What problems do they have?
  • Value Proposition – What do you offer?
    • Benefits – What promises are you making to your customers?
    • Competitors – Who else is solving the problem?
    • Advantages – How are you superior at solving the problem?
  • Relationships – What kind of relationships will you have with each segment?
    • Find – How will you make people aware of your solution? This is often called marketing or promotion.
    • Convert – Once aware of you, what process will they go through to use/pay for your solution? This is often called sales.
    • Retain – Once someone is using your solution, how will you retain their loyalty?
  • Financials – How does the money (and value) flow?
    • Value Model – What value does each segment provide you in return for your product (money, attention, referrals, etc.)?
    • Pricing – How much do you charge?
    • Cost Structure –  What are the costs associated with serving this stakeholder?

Best Practices

  • At the start erase every assumption about a solution from your thinking so that you can (1st) expand the universe of the potential stakeholders, then (2nd) discover all the different stakeholders’ personas, in order to determine (3rd) their primary migraine-sized pains, and then (4th) bring to bear the benefits that your solution might/must provide.
  • Be clear & concise by staying within the size limit to the boxes.
  • Consider everything in a box as a hypothesis waiting to be validated by actual interactions with customers.
  • Don’t agonize. Filling in the canvas should take 30-90 minutes. Then go test the hypotheses with customers, update the canvas, and repeat as needed.
  • Indicate validated hypotheses by changing their background color to be a darker shade of its original color.

Why KISS instead of the BMC?

30-page business plans are great for established businesses and terrible for startups that need to iterate quickly. 15+ years ago the Business Model Canvas (BMC) changed everything by giving us a 1-pager to help quickly document and test the key hypothesis behind our business models. The BMC was a quantum leap forward.

However, my students and I often struggled with the structure of the canvas. While it was superior to a business plan it was relatively hard to read & use. You literally needed a map to show you how to read it – start here, jump to there, then jump down to here…

A picture of the Business Model Canvas showing how you start in the center and then jump from area to area, not in an intuitive way.

A second major pain point is that if you have multiple customer segments or stakeholders, you need to use different colored sticky notes. I found that trying to filter out the information visually was very difficult, as you can see from this actual canvas I developed for a startup accelerator I was running in 2015…

A Business Model Canvas showing multiple customer segments. Each one with its own color. Some sections are crowded with up to 7 different colors of sticky notes.

Get Your Own (free!)

If you would like to use the KISS Canvas, you may do so completely for free as they are licensed under creative commons :).

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Gratitude

The KISS canvas was inspired by Alex Osterwalder’s The Business Model Canvas. My great thanks to the many people who have contributed to the KISS Canvas design over the years. Two who I need to particularly call out for their awesomeness are Rick Plaut and Kelly Minton.

A canvas to help Business Services teams innovate

If you work in a business services company (consulting, accounting, legal, etc.) and are in charge of evaluating ideas for innovation, most of the tools you’ve heard of don’t work. The same is true if you are trying to quickly show junior staff value each of your service lines offers to your clients and to your firm. So I created the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) Canvas for Business Services.

Template (click to view Google Sheet version)

All of the key information you need to do a basic assessment of an idea’s potential, or to communicate your business model quickly, fits in about 500 words (one page). Some highlights:

  • For the Client (in Green)
    • What clients you’ll sell this to and if they represent an economically interesting opportunity.
    • How committed the initial clients are to embracing the innovation.
    • The value proposition for each key stakeholder at your Clients’ organizations.
  • For your company (in blue)
    • The value proposition to the key stakeholders in the business units (BUs)
    • The level of commitment from that business unit to champion this innovation.

Example (click to view Google Sheet version)

The Story It Tells

For the client: A set of current clients who build and run renewable energy facilities have a problem. If we can solve that problem, there are a much broader range of clients with similar problems, so there looks to be a sizable market opportunity. Clients’ senior managers spend too much time and capital when screening sites, hurting project IRR (internal rate of return). The innovation addresses this challenge by eliminating poor sites quickly and cheaply, increasing the IRR for each site. While there are lots of alternate ways to solve this problem, the proposed software+consultant solution gives clients the best of both worlds. They get better data quickly, and when there is a question that software can’t answer comes up, consultants with deep expertise are a click away.

For the consulting firm: One business unit is already committing staff to test this idea out, and if it works there are a lot of other business units that could benefit from it. Partners in the firm are losing work to competitors that can do it faster and cheaper. A software site screening tool tied to the firm’s consultants would get them in the door earlier on projects, increases margins at the early stages, and streamline and win more the intensive work on the projects later. The firm could use some of the existing software solution on the market, but doing so would not increase the productivity of their workforce and drive their margins.

What this Canvas Does Not Cover

This tool does not worry about 10,000 other things that matter, but are not critically important at the start. Marketing, sales, revenue models, and partnerships aren’t covered because most business services companies only want innovations that leverage their existing systems and partnerships.

This tool has proven to be effective at allowing junior staff to run initial screens of idea submissions. This saves senior people time to work on the most high-potential ideas.

Get your own copy of the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) Canvas for Business Services.

A Canvas That Tells a Story: KISS Canvas (v3.1)

A newer version (4.0) was release in June of 2021, read about it here.

For historical reasons, here is the v3.1 post…

[This is part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

Why

30-page business plans are great for established businesses and terrible for startups that need to iterate quickly. 15 years ago the Business Model Canvas (BMC) changed everything by giving us a 1-pager (or 4×3 foot poster) to help you quickly document and test the key hypothesis behind your business model. The BMC was a quantum leap forward.

However, my students and I often struggled with the structure of the canvas. While it was superior to a business plan it was relatively hard to read & use. You literally needed a map to show you how to read it – start here, jump to there, then jump down to here…

In a Nutshell

And so was born the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) Canvas. Each key stakeholder (payers, users, channel partners, etc.) gets their own row. Read the columns in each row from left to right and you’ll find the facts of the business model layed out in a logical narrative structure. In fact, it tells the story of your business, as you would in a good pitch. The bottom of the canvas holds the “waterfall of wisdom” where you store your invalidated hypothesis, so you can easily remember and tell the story of what you’ve learned in your startup journey. No map required.

At the highest level, this KISS canvas tells the following story just by reading from left to right: We help [key Stakeholders] by providing [value proposition]. We find, earn, and retain their trust by [relationships]. This is economically sustainable because of [financials].

Example:

We help the blind and visually impaired by empowering them to connect with their fully sighted friends and family as equals. We find, earn, and retain their trust through word-of-mouth and strategic partnerships with nonprofits that serve the blind. Customers pay us an $8 monthly subscription.

And today, after 3 years of field testing, I’m proud to roll out version 3! It has two variants. The first is…

KISS Canvas (Lite)

This variant is for people at the “I have an idea” stage.

KISS Canvas (Lite)
  • Key Stakeholders – Who do you serve?
    • Segments – Name each of the groups of people you will deliver value to: payers, users, channel partners, etc. Each gets their own row.
    • Deciders – Describe the actual people (COO, front-line employee, Head of New Products, etc.) who make the decisions for each segment.
    • Pains – What problems do they have?
  • Value Proposition – What do you offer?
    • FeaturesHow will you solve their problems?
    • Benefits – What promises are you making to your customers?
    • Competitors – Who else is solving the problem?
    • Competitive Advantages – How are you superior at solving the problem?
  • Relationships – What kind of relationships will you have with each segment?
    • Marketing – How will you make people aware of your solution?
    • Sales – Once aware of you, what process will they go through to use/pay for your solution?
    • Retention – Once someone is using your solution, how will you retain their loyalty?
  • Financials – How does the money (and value) flow?
    • Value Model – What value does each segment provide you in return for your product (money, attention, referrals, etc.)?
    • Pricing – How much do you charge?
    • Cost Structure –  What are the costs associated with running your venture?
  • Waterfall of Wisdom – When you disprove a hypothesis, have it “fall” vertically down into the Waterfall of Wisdom. Each hypothesis in the waterfall represents something you thought was true… and found out it was not! That’s the beginning of wisdom :).

KISS Canvas (Full)

If you are past the I-have-an-idea stage and ready to really develop your business model, then you’ll need to start answering much more detailed questions in each section. If that is you, then check out the full version of the KISS Canvas, where just about all the top-priority questions for a startup have been laid out in step-by-step, fill-in-the-blank fashion…

KISS Canvas (Full)

Examples (inspired by real startups):

Get Your Own (free!)

If you would like to use the KISS Canvas, you may do so completely for free as they are licensed under creative commons :).

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Introduction to the KISS Canvas

[This is part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

The KISS (Keep It Super Simple) Canvas (inspired by Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas) is a 1-page (or 4×3 foot poster) to help you quickly document (and then test) the key hypothesis behind your business model.

If you like to read, keep scrolling. For video lovers, click below!

OK, let’s dive in. It looks like this…

KISS Canvas-Easy2Read

The KISS canvas tells a story in the way entrepreneurs should pitch, with the most important elements first (on the left).

  • The Customer – Who do you serve?
    • Segments – Who are all the groups of people you will serve? Buyers, users, referrers, etc.
    • Pains – What problems do they have? Which are most important?
  • Value Proposition – What do you offer?
    • Features – How will you solve your customers problems?
    • Benefits – What promises are you making to your customers?
    • Competitive Advantages – Who are your competitors and how are you better at solving your customers’ Pains?
  • Marketing & Sales – What kind of relationships will you have with customers?
    • Get – How will you find and acquire customers?
    • Keep – How will you prove you kept your promises?
    • Grow – What new promises might you make?
  • Financial
    • Value Model – What value do customers provide you in return for your product?
    • Cost Structure –  What are the costs associated with running your venture?
  • Beard of Learning – When you disprove a hypothesis, move it to the bottom. If you’re using sticky notes they will eventually form chains and completely cover the bottom of your canvas. It kind of looks like your canvas grew a beard. Each sticky in that beard represents a hypothesis the student thought was true… and found out it was not! Thus the name my students gave it, the “Beard of Learning” :).

This Canvas is by no means a complete map but I have found it is the foundation of everything else that is to follow. To get a better feel…

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas 8. Value Models

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

What price should you charge for your product? How should people pay you? What value do non-paying customers provide you? All of this is covered in the Value & Revenue model column of the KISS Canvas.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Every customer segment pays
  3. Understand customer expectations
  4. Know your models
  5. Choose your pricing strategy carefully
  6. Discover your price point(s)
  7. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 7. Grow (Research & Development)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

If your flagship product is a success, what next? This section of the canvas helps you think through what new products you might offer and what new customer segments you might approach. This video explains some of the core concepts…

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Add “sizes”
  3. Solve your customer’s other problems
  4. Bring your existing product to new customer segments
  5. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 6. Keep (Customer Retention)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

This section of the canvas helps you think through customer retention. Once you a customer purchases your product, how do you prove to them you have kept your promises?

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro & Keeping your customers is the right and smart thing to do
  2. Make your benefits visible
  3. Scorecards make benefits visible
  4. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 5. Get (Marketing & Sales Channels)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

This section of the canvas helps you understand the many different ways you can find and cultivate relationships with your customers (AKA marketing & sales). Here is a video explaining the how to use this part of the canvas and tips for understanding and strengthening your hypothesis around customer acquisition.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Decide: direct or indirect
  3. Decide: physical or digital
  4. Discover key channel metrics
  5. Decide how you’ll generate leads
  6. Determine cost to acquire a customer
  7. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 4. Competitive Advantages

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas]

This section of the canvas helps you find and own your niche! Here is a video explaining the how to use this part of the canvas and tips for understanding and strengthening your competitive advantage.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Know your competitors
  3. Don’t underestimate the status quo
  4. Competitors are free R&D!
  5. Advantages stem from Benefits
  6. Create a Competitive Landscape Map
    1. TOOL: Get a blank Competitive Landscape Map
  7. Seek barriers to entry
  8. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.