Business Model 101 – Value Creation Model

Writing a business model is one of the important requirements while trying to build a business (or a startup if you will). In this post and more to come, I hope to make this concept as simple as possible for the aspiring tech founder.

Goal of a business

The goal of a creating a business or startup is very simple. It hinges on 2 basic ideas. First is to create value for other people/businesses and second is to make money while creating/delivering that value. Off course, we will be changing the world in the process.

Essentially then, a business model is a brief document that breaks down what problem we are solving, how we intend to solve the problem, how we will make money solving the problem and how this process can be repeatable. As such Business Models are broken down into 3 major parts:

  • Value Creation Model
  • Profit Model
  • Logic of the Business.

PS: To make this real, we will use a hypothetical example of Nigerian startup (Lasgidi Tech School) that wants to solve the skills shortage and tech education problem. In this post, we will tackle the value creation model.

1. Value Creation Model

Under this section, we want to answer the question of what problem we are trying to solve. Here we must ensure we have an understanding of the problem and we should have supporting evidence that the problem is real and exists. The only way to prove this is by supporting our claims with data. Almost every problem can be supported with data. For instance, does Nigeria have a child mortality problem? Well data from WHO says so

#Where to get Data?

Data is key in working out your business model. This could as well be the most difficult part of your business model. There is even an article here that says your startup will die without data. Harsh but True.

Data does not come cheap though. Sometimes you will have to part with some cash to get the data you need. It is important to note this because some companies out there have invested time and resources in market research. And selling this research is what they do to recover their costs (its part of their business model), so we can’t really blame them.

Data availability also depend on your industry, for instance, for Fintech businesses, the Central Bank of Nigeria has some solid data on their website for people that care. For health, I suppose the Federal Ministry of health will have as well.  Some data you can get freely by sounding out friends and family.

For some data however, we can as well learn to do some extrapolation ourselves. For instance, if Nigeria has a middle class population of 50 Million, can we estimate that 10 – 20% of that number will be interested in paying N100 for a product or service per month?  You won’t always be 100% accurate, but hopefully your investors can challenge that data and point you in the direction of a more accurate data. (If they are really worth their salt).

#The problem Lasgidi Tech School wants to solve

With respect to our fictitious start up, the question is does Nigeria have a Tech Talent problem? This is an important section and it does not matter how grand our idea or the problem is, we must be able to put numbers to this problem (real or estimated). Our Lasgidi Tech School can state the problem thus:

“There is a high demand for tech skills in Nigeria today, according to Lasgidi Research, there is currently 1 developer for every 20 software development job in Nigeria and it is estimated that the country will need at least 15 million developers by 2020”

In that sentence, we have been able to pass across the fact that there is a IT skills shortage in Nigeria. We also support this with data from our fictitious research company. We have also been able to put numbers to the problem. We will use this numbers later in estimating our market size. However, this essentially tells our investors that there is a market for this sort of problem we want to solve. I ask lots of startups about this and they tend to go blank. It is important to figure this out. This will be the premise for our Lasgidi Tech School.

#How will Lasgidi Tech School Solve this problem?

By creating a school that will train and mentor x number of developers annually. Yeah, Lasgidi Tech school has an innovate way of teaching pioneered by its co-founder. First of its name, first of its kind .

Have the founders of Lasgidi tech school had prior experience in Technology education? or have they just been hard core developers themselves and they hope to give back to the society (while also making money)? What makes them qualified to solve this problem?  This will reflect in the quality of how they plan to tackle this problem. This experience could be that of one of the co-founders or they all probably have done some work along these lines.

Now, assuming there was a company doing this exact type of work but we feel we can do better, then we can state here how we are going to create differentiated value. i.e Can we do a better and more efficient job than say an Andela is currently doing?

Can we create world class developers for much less? with lesser overhead cost or with a better learning experience than competition currently has? Or we feel the Andela model will not scale beyond level X? Lasgidi Tech School should be able to answer these questions.

#Who are our customers?

Who are those that want this problem solved and are willing to pay for it? For Lasgidi Tech School, the question is who are the segment of the population that are willing and passionate about becoming world class software developers? Already we have addressed the demand side by saying above that the country needs 15 million developers by 2020. Now we need to address the supply side.

Certainly not the entire 180 million Nigerians. Our solution will likely appeal more to the youthful population, between the ages of 15 and 35. That immediately tells us what our market is. An example is that as at 2011, 43% of Nigeria’s population is less than 15 according to the PRB. 5 years later, this segment of the population would be in their teenage years.

We can also go the route of how many university/polytechnics graduates does Nigeria produce annually? If we say 400, 000, over the last 5 years, we would have had 2 million graduates who will still be less than 35 years old.  If we also consider that we have another 5 million young people that are not able to get into the Universities, Can we say our customer segment will be around 7 million people? This is our Total Addressable market (TAM), but knowing that not all these people want want to learn how to code, and some are already in other jobs, we will need to further reduce this number to our Served Addressable Market (SAM). i.e those that are interested in learning how to code, with or without other jobs and who also have basic computer education out of our 7 Million Total Addressable market.

#Estimating the market size for Lasgidi Tech School

Investors like to hear you have a large market to address. So if I have a solution in Agriculture that helps farmers harvest more efficiently, will an investor put down his cash in my solution? The question is how many people have this problem and how often will they use my solution? Probably they will only remember to use it during every harvest season, perhaps once or twice in a year? That isn’t big enough to some investors. Off course the story might change if we have 20 million farmers who will use the solution at any harvest period.

Investors want to hear that this is a Nx billion dollar industry. So how do we reach this valuation? We do some basic maths. For Lasgidi Tech School, let us say we have 7 Million people in our TAM and conservatively, we have 3 million people in our SAM. If everyone in our SAM is willing to pay N100, 000 for our training, this immediately gives us a market that is worth N300 Billion Naira. We will learn about Cost structure in coming posts, but this is an attractive revenue for any company.

Off course since there are competitors in the market, this pie gets smaller by the time you estimate that competition will take around some of this as well. But you get the idea. Our assumption is based on the premise that we will serve everyone in our addressable market segment and we take all the pie. Investors will consider this and how you aim to solve the problem uniquely before they commit their cash.

#What is our Lasgidi Tech School Value Chain

Value chain is all the activities we perform and components we need in order to deliver value to our customers. Can we perform all the activities alone or do we need 3rd party companies along the way? An e-commerce company might need a payment gateway (to accept card payments) and a delivery company in order to be able deliver value to its customers. They might also choose to build all the components end to end themselves.

An example value chain for a manufacturing ‘company A’ can be like this:
1. We make the product
2. We engage distributors (who already have retail outlets) and give them our products in bulk at a discount
3. This distributors sell to the supermarkets and the retail outlets.
4. Retail outlets sell our products directly to customers.

This shows company A relies on the distribution companies in their value chain to be able to deliver their product/value to end customers. Compare this to another value chain for company B where:

1. We make the product
2. We open our own branded kiosks and outlets
3. Our sales people will market and sell our product directly to the customers.

Here company B owns the entire value chain.

Choice of value chain is at the core of the business model and it could make or doom the business. So what will be Lasgidi Tech School’s value chain? To deliver the training, Lasgidi tech school could partner with existing training companies, they could build their own classrooms (just like competition is doing) or they could just be in the business of providing trainers on request to customer site. In the latter case, they become an asset-light business model since they are not investing in major assets/equipment upfront.

#What is Lasgidi Tech School’s Go to Market Strategy?

This answers the question of how we intend to reach these customers? Are we marketing directly do these young people (e.g during their convocation ceremony). Are we using social media tools Facebook, Twitter to reach out and market to these potential customers since we know they are very social?

Are we partnering with another company to bundle our training with their other products? E.g For every Indomie noodles you buy, you earn 10 training points, and when you reach 10, 000 training points, you are entitled to a free Tech Training from Lasgidi School.

Or do we partner with the universities and polytechnics? Do we partner with Job companies like say Jobberman to bring this training to our customers? Lasgidi Tech school must be able to answer these questions and settle for either direct or indirect go to market strategy, and who says they cannot combine both?

In the next post, we get to the moment of Truth and talk about the Revenue model. Can we make money from this and is it a business that will scale?

>>I’ll like to here what you think, so please read and pass on. Much later I hope we can pick a really company and try to dissect their business model. Obrigado!

10 kobo tips for Nigerian Pre-Startups!

I am usually very careful when using the word ‘startup’. The growing tech media in Nigeria have adopted the word ‘startup’ wholly as it is being used in Silicon Valley for every tech idea someone’s trying to execute. I am of the opinion that this generalisation isn’t fair for most ‘startups’ in Nigeria.

According to Wikipedia:

“a startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organisation designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model…A critical task in setting up a business is to conduct research in order to validate, assess and develop the ideas or business concepts in addition to opportunities to establish further and deeper understanding on the ideas or business concepts as well as their commercial potential”

You don’t do the above with water and air. You need some resources which include some tech skills (depending on what you’re trying to achieve), some cash and human resources (business guy or guys, mentors etc). While it is possible to start with an idea, usually ideas alone are not enough.

There are two categories of ‘startups’ in Nigeria.

The first group, you can actually call the startups. They deserve the sticker ‘startups’. There are actually only a handful of these in Nigeria as at today. They actually have some resources to throw around. They have a handful of developers and they can go to market very fast. Because they have some resources to play with, they launch startups serially, with all their startups running from the same pool of resources. These group know their numbers, they have business guys and can brandish graphs, stats and figures to prove their point. These group can actually afford to go from idea to execution and they represent the people behind the startup rhetorics/wave in Nigeria. But they are sadly very very few.

(PS: These guys are also domain hoppers. They have probably registered all conceivable .ng domain names)

The other group (startup-wannabes) consists of young, talented, ambitious and often inexperienced folks who have the raw ideas of changing the world. They are hip, skilled in one of two programming languages, they are often in touch with the latest in tech. They have broad knowledge of technologies but not deep enough to create something outstanding. Off course they sabi clone too.

These group however haven’t learnt the art of execution. They tend to start multiple projects without seeing any of them through. They jump from event to event, project to project, idea to idea, depending on which catches their fancy at any point in time. The folks in these group launch Betas that stay Beta for many months, and even years with no concrete plans for the next level.

Also, rather then wait it out with one good idea, they move on to other ideas without spending enough time to see their first idea/project gain traction. Unfortunately, they also call themselves startups. Putting themselves in the same category as the first group. This group should rather be called pre-startups. Some can graduate to startup level, while others just implode.

Enough said. I have 3 advice for the second group, the pre-startups. If you think you or your ‘startup’ fall in the second group, take note of these things. Unfortunately, folks with plenty tech skills tend to fall into the second group. So this advice is for me as well.

1. Starting and not finishing

I hardly visit Facebook these days, but when I do, I read through silicon Africa and Creative Tech groups. On these groups, I see a lot of hurriedly executed projects discussed that never gets finished. Some of them very good and others, not so good. A handful of them go under even after people have taken time to give them ideas on how to make their product or service better.

Its either the Facebook or twitter login is not working or a page outrightly says “under construction”. I tried one with an invalid email and it got the email registered. This is totally unfair on users who are trying to check out and possibly sign up for the service. I’d like to see more projects actually get completed. A nice sounding domain name is not enough, we need to learn to start finishing whatever it is we start guys.

2. Trying to do more than one thing

Another reason ’startups’ in the second group never make it to production is because they try to do many things. They try to add many assumed features which delays launch. I look forward to when startups wannabe in the second group focus on one thing and do it very well. Off course, it is natural to be afraid a competitor will clone your service and add your missing features. Yup, but then, competition is good and you’d better launch with 1 functionality and gain some users rather than not launching because you aren’t ready with the 65th feature.

3. Terrible UI

Common guys its 2014!. I have also noticed we have a pathetic UI problem. There are templates written all over the sites launched by these second group of startups. Arguably because of limited time and resources and not having a dedicated UI Engineer. Templates are not bad, it’s the art of beautifully integrating them into your own logic/functionality that is still missing.

If you are short of UI designers or you can’t afford one, frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap and Zurb foundation are out there to help you out. Please use them.

Nigeria’s Tech Talent Problem

Phew! Writing almost a year later!

I had a discussion with a friend recently. He has this grand idea that will change entertainment in Nigeria and to launch, he needs a website. A web app if you may. My friend is a very good graphics designer. He already has a mock up of what he wants the website to look like. He presented it to me and it looks great.

Just like any useful web app though, my friend needs developers/programmers to write the functionalities for the website. I’m aware of the acute shortage of good developers in Nigeria myself, however I had thought what my friend wanted to build isn’t too difficult, he’d easily find one or two developers to whip it together. I personally could have helped if my hands weren’t so full. To maintain this blog sef na war.

A few days after I took my friend to meet a potential partner/investor in his idea, I asked what his timeline for launch was. As a proponent of “release early, release often” I buzzed my friend on google talk on why he hasn’t launched his website already. Here is part of our conversation:

Me: Dude wassap when are you launching?
My friend: Soon
Me: How soon?
My friend: After $5000. I need $5, 000 plus to pay the foreign developers.
Me: Uhn?!!! Oin?

Yeah, you read that right. Five thousand dollars.

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Calling every clone innovative

Often times, in a bid to celebrate African/Nigeria tech success, we miss the point. Not having Facebook or Path or the next big thing created by an African, we look around the web desperately for any tech success story to engage the growing African internet users. In the drive to create sensational news for “top ten” and “top twenty” new things , we lower our innovation bar by celebrating clones and startup-wannabes who don’t solve any meaningful problem.

The Mona Lisa is a great painting, would you call it innovation if I created a clone of it that looks so much like it? Where do we draw the line?

Don’t get me wrong. It is important to sing our own song and blow our own trumpet (when we actually make something that is worth the noise). It is crucial to motivate the upcoming youngsters and make them see that tech success is within their reach. In passing the message however, we do not want to make the mistake of telling them it is super-cool to create another Facebook wannabe or a twitter wannabe. Or worst still, to clone the few actual innovative tech products that has made the African or Nigerian “top ten” in the past.

Competition is good

Competition is good. It helps to broaden the ecosystem, it reduces the possibility of having a business monopolize the market and ensures customers always have a choice. However, is it worth the fight to be a cloned-competition with no answer to the USP question? What makes your product different from the competition?

An example is the Linux market. I use the Linux OS everyday and there are hundreds of clones already (distributions or flavor, choose your own). Do I need to hype another clone of the OS as being the African in thing? hell no! The existing clones are already what you are trying to be. Free, Open, customizable….the list is endless. How exactly do you plan to make your own clone better for me? Because I am an African, I do not want an African OS. I want a fully functional OS. If you can answer the question, I’ll then probably be able to use your own clone too. That is the question cloned products in the African tech space are not answering.

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