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

[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.

KISS Canvas 9. Cost Structure

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

What are the major cost centers of your business? When do you have to pay? Do you have any options to pay differently? What costs can kill you? All of this is covered in the Cost Structure section of the KISS Canvas.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Capital costs
  3. Fixed  & Variable costs
  4. Example: a family
  5. Summary

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.

KISS Canvas: 3. Features & Benefits

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

On to most entrepreneurs’ favorite part of the venture, the product! But to do so, we must first understand the difference between features & benefits. Benefits are what the customer wants. Features are how we give them what they want. Confuse these and you’ll keep building the wrong product or providing it to the wrong people.

Here is a video explaining the Features & Benefits columns of the KISS Canvas.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Customers buy Benefits, not features
  3. Benefits are the reverse of Pains
  4. Focus on the FIRE!
  5. Features are dictated by Benefits
  6. Know your product status
  7. Good taglines emphasize Benefits
  8. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 2. Pains

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

Once you have identified who your customers are, your next job is to gain deep insights into their pains. This video walks you through the PAIN box of the KISS Canvas, but more importantly, gives you tools for finding the pains that you must solve first if you want to succeed.

Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Pains are felt by the customer
  3. Only list pains you can address
  4. Pains must be intense
  5. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.