Step-by-Step Guide + Excel Worksheets
This proven process combines essential information, questions, and checklists developed by experts, to help you quickly develop and assess the potential of your business startup idea.
Life’s too short to build something nobody wants
The Lean Canvas Workbook is intended as a place to facilitate and capture your thinking about a new business opportunity.
It’s also a place to explore and plan ways of testing your business ideas and models.
The quality of your creative and analytical thinking, and your experiments will ultimately determine how much value you’ll derive from these battle-tested processes.
Lean Thinking has been developed by experts over many years, and this guide and workbook are based on their wisdom, successes and failures.
Many experts and publications have been the source of this tutorial and links to them and more resources have been included at the end of this tutorial.
Some things to keep in mind...
Problems Matter Most Keep the problems you identify as the true north of your thinking. Consistently be aware that best business models are about solving real problems that somebody has often, and is willing to pay to resolve.
Generate Alternatives The enemy of excellence is often just a good idea. Sometimes, we never find the best solution because as soon as we find a “good idea”, we stop thinking and generating alternatives. Alternatives that could be better, simpler, cheaper, elegant, or more effective.
With Lean Thinking you can explore multiple alternatives, based on different ideas and Customer Segments to gain insights from each one; then compare and decide which is your best option.
Separate generating ideas from judging them. Don’t get attached, get evidence.
Focus on Now Predicting the future is hard (usually impossible). Don’t bother. Focus on what you know right now. What are the most risky assumptions and hypotheses that you need to test before moving forward.
Be Concise Lean Workbook cells are intentionally designed to contain just a few words to focus you on being concise. Sometimes it’s a good idea to write in long form, then hone it down to a short statement that distils the core information, idea, or concept, then add that to the cell.
Get it Down Try to draft a complete Lean Canvas in one session, even if you have to leave some sections with a question mark and a comment about why it’s a challenge.
There are likely to be many unknowns and questions. Some sections like “Unfair Advantage” may take significant time to think about, and investigate. It’s better to get something down than struggle to always get the “right” answers.
At this stage, it’s about articulating your thinking and assumptions. The worksheets can evolve over time, and you can always come back to add more, and iterate, later.
The Lean Workbook is a framework that takes a problem-solution first approach to put new business ideas into perspective.
Startups can use it to clarify their thinking, develop strategies, and validate their assumptions to avoid costly mistakes and failures that waste time and money.
Capturing your thinking in simple grids and worksheets makes it easier to create and compare different business models, then decide where to start, and track lessons learnt along the way.
The worksheets provide flexible, high-level models to explore and evaluate business ideas, before the detailed planning that comes after your ideas evolve and are tested.
You can easily add Lean Budget Estimates, Lean SWOT Analysis, Lean Personas and other worksheet templates later, when you’re ready…
Here are the steps…
It helps to follow this sequence, then iterate.
Switch to the Customer Segment Worksheet
What is your business idea that solves a problem for a potential customer?
Everything starts with an idea.
You probably already have some ideas about the problem, solution, and customers that you believe create an opportunity.
In the Customer Segment Worksheet, use 2-3 words that describe your product or service idea as a working title to get started.
It doesn’t have to be perfect; it may just be a placeholder you can come back to as your lean process unfolds.
Select the Idea title cell > Add your Idea…
2. Customer Segments
Who are the potential customers for your business idea?
In the Customer Segment Worksheet, brainstorm a list of possible customers you imagine using or interested in your product or service. Break down broad segments into narrow ones.
You may need to create a Lean Canvas for each Customer Segment because elements of your business model may vary considerably by segment.
Rate each Customer Segment then select the one you understand best or find most promising to start with.
Initially, take a guess at these values. As you deepen your understanding building a canvas and through experiments you can update the ratings as needed.
Ease of Reach
How big is the customer segment?
Add Customer Segments to the list > Rate each one…
Switch to the Lean Canvas worksheet
Select a Customer Segment from the drop-down list
3. Early Adopters
Who has the problem, knows they have a problem, and is actively seeking a solution?
Who is using an existing alternative, is unsatisfied, and is looking for a better solution?
There are a small number of Early Adopters who are the first people willing to try your product or service.
They are so in need of a solution to their problem, or an improvement, they’re willing to try anything, including an unproven product like yours.
Briefly describe your ideal customers, that are easy to reach, and eager to get a solution to their problem, as soon as possible.
Add Early Adopters…
What are the problems that your Customer Segment encounters?
Your idea needs to solve real problems for a Customer Segment with a new or better solution than existing alternatives.
Articulate the problems well. A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
Describe the top 1-3 problems you believe your selected Customer Segment needs solved.
5. Existing Alternatives
What existing alternatives are available to the Customer Segment that solves their problem?
How do existing alternatives fail to deliver value or the best solution?
Unless you are solving a brand-new problem, most problems have existing solutions.
There may not always be an obvious competitor. For some customers, email is a competitor to collaboration tools because they do not feel enough pain to seek an alternative solution.
A problem that is worth solving, is a problem that is painful despite existing alternatives.
Add Existing Alternatives…
What are the top 3 features of your solution?
Define the best solution to your customers problem as late as possible, to effectively judge if you have discovered a problem worth solving.
At this point, with untested assumptions and hypotheses it may be unwise to fully define a solution. Instead, list the solution’s top feature or capability next to each problem.
Add a Solution…
7. Unique Value Proposition
What is the single, clearly compelling message that states why you are different, and worth attention?
Why would a customer choose your solution over other alternatives?
What is unique about what you provide?
Describe how the solution you propose is valuable and uniquely different from every existing alternative available to your target Customer Segment.
At this stage, focus on Early Adopters in the Customer Segment.
Your product or service idea is not ready for the majority of customers yet. If you try to target all potential mainstream customers, your messaging is likely to end up being too broad and diluted.
Get inside the head of your customers and focus on the key result and benefits they will have after using your product to solve their problem. Perhaps describe your customers the way they may describe themselves.
A great way to develop your UVP is by studying the UVPs of the relevant brands, and ideally ones you use yourself. Visit their landing pages and promotions to analyse how and why their messaging works.
You may like to create a list of UVPs and then keep refining them for each Customer Segment.
Finding your UVP can be one of the greatest challenges because it must distil and communicate the essence of your value, as a business offer.
It’s hard to get it right, so guess, start with version one, and iterate from there.
- Targets Early Adopters using a bold, clear, and specific message
- Customers are identified or clearly implied
- Links to the #1 Problem you identified as worth solving
- Distils the essence of your Solution, with a difference that matters
- Describes the Key Feature
- Defines the Key Benefit
- Promotes the Final Benefit
- Designed so it could be a headline on your landing page.
Automate dozens of the daily tasks required to run a successful drop-shipping business with an integrated, turnkey platform that allows users to focus on marketing, and growing their eCommerce stores.
Customers eCommerce Store Owners using drop-shipping
Problem Complex and time-consuming daily tasks for drop-shipping
Solution Integrated drop-shipping service
Key Feature Automated daily drop-shipping tasks
Key Benefit Allows users to focus on marketing
Final Benefit Grow your eCommerce store
Difference Turnkey platform.
Customers eCommerce Businesses requiring signed documents
Problem Turnaround time and cost of getting documents signed
Solution Automated and integrated Document eSignature system
Key Feature Electronic signature process
Key Benefit Eliminates paper-based document signing
Final Benefit Fast turnaround time at much lower cost
Difference Connects to all systems.
Add your Unique Value Proposition…
8. High Concept Pitch
How would you illustrate the focus of your business in one line?
A high concept pitch is designed to illustrate the focus of your business model in a sound bite.
It is intended to be a one-liner that brings to the listener, an idea about your business focus, and leaves them wanting to know more…
Create one by:
- Combining familiar concepts as an analogy or comparison
- Describing the essence of a customer experience
- Posing a provocative question or statement
Analogy The Netjets of Car Services
Experience Hire a chauffeured car in 5 minutes with one click, for less than a taxi
Provocation What if private cars were taxis?
Add a High Concept Pitch…
How will you go to market and sell your Solution to Customers?
Channels are the way you reach Customer Segments.
Establishing a Channel to potential customers starts on day one.
At the early stage, focus on channels carefully to avoid wasting time, energy and money.
There are many Channel options, but only a few are applicable to your start-up stage, while others may be more viable later.
Pull messaging allows potential customers to find you.
Content Marketing is a great way to test parts of your Problem/Solution by building a channel early to combine Content, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and social media using inbound channels like blogs, white papers, and webinars.
It does take substantial time and some cost, but over time, the investment pays valuable dividends by creating real assets that may also become your Unfair Advantage.
Examples: Blogs, Social Media, YouTube, Product Hunt, SEO, eBooks, White Papers, and Webinars.
Push messaging reaches out to potential customers.
Advertising, promotions, and keyword competition is so fierce and expensive that without a tested value proposition it’s rarely viable to spend time or money on outbound messaging.
It may be appropriate in some cases, to start connecting with influencers.
Examples: Google AdWords, Print/TV Ads, Trade Shows, Cold Calling, and Public Relations
10. Revenue Steams
How will you generate revenue?
What products and services are customers willing to pay for?
Briefly describe your anticipated Revenue Streams.
A good place to start is by understanding the revenue models of existing alternatives, or relevant others in your market sector. Competitors can also often validate market and revenue potential.
- Selling a product
- Selling a service
- Selling access
- Selling membership
- Selling advertisements
- Licensing intellectual property
- Charging Agent or Broker fees
- Subscriptions – recurring monthly, yearly
- Microtransactions – low-cost usage based
- Free Tier – Upgrade to more features, users or instances
- Affiliates – referral fees
Add Revenue Streams…
11. Cost Structures
What will be the primary expenses for your business?
What is the cost of customer acquisition?
How will costs scale with growth?
Cost structure identifies the expenses which are essential for your business model to work.
Finding a scalable business model means estimating the cost to deliver your solution plus an attractive margin.
List the main Cost Centers in your business model then later use the Lean Budget Estimates worksheet to create high-level estimates for your Revenue and Costs.
Typical Cost Centers
- General & Administration Fixed and variable costs for running the business
- Minimum Viable Product Testing your assumptions and hypotheses
- Research & Development Developing the Solution
- Sales & Marketing Operating the Channels to market
- Licensing Fees
Add Cost Structures…
12. Key Metrics
How do you measure the success of your solution?
User Behaviour Metrics
The most important numbers #
- Acquisition (or Awareness) # People discovering your product, service or company
- Activation # People taking the actions you want them to
- Revenue # People willing to pay for your product or service
- Retention # Activated users continuing to engage with your product or service
- Referral # Users who like your product or service enough to tell others about it.
- Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
- Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
- Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR)
- Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
- Revenue Growth Rate (RGR)
- Sales Conversion Rates (SCR)
Add Key Metrics…
13. Unfair Advantages
What advantage can you design, create, or incorporate that cannot easily be bought and copied?
How do you position your business and defend the value you create and deliver?
What can you do to maintain a competitive advantage?
Anything worth copying will be copied.
As soon as you launch (or before), your business model is open to scrutiny and competition.
An unfair advantage may be one or a combination of elements that disadvantage, delay, or create barriers for your competitors. Some competitive advantages won’t be there for long.
- Acclaimed Expertise
- Asymmetric Business Models
- Exclusive Agreements
- Expert Endorsements
- Insider Information
- Personal Authority
- Strategic Influencers
- Subject Matter Experts
- Unique Partnerships
Add Unfair Advantages…
Review, Rinse and Repeat
Create and Compare
Develop a Lean Canvas for each of your most promising Customer Segments.
After generating alternatives, compare them to determine which business model to start working with in the following worksheets and steps.
Your objective is to find a big enough market you can reach, with customers who need your product, who are willing to pay a price you can build a business around.
Here are some criteria ranked in order of importance:
A. Customer Pain
Select Customer Segments with Early Adopters that have at least one of your top three problems and need your product or service the most.
B. Ease of Reach
Forging a path to potential customers is hard. If one Customer Segment is easier to access than another, consider it carefully in the early stage, because it may be quicker to test assumptions and find a problem worth solving with a viable business model.
C. Potential Price
Pricing is largely driven by the Customer Segment.
Select a segment that will pay the highest price so you will need fewer customers to reach breakeven.
D. Market Size
Select Customer Segments that offer a big enough market, or are a direct step to a market that is big enough to build a profitable business.
Select a Lean Canvas to work with going forward…
Switch to the Traction Calculator worksheet
Set the Traction Calculator variables
What Traction is required to achieve your Revenue Target?
Traction is the rate at which a business increases customers and revenue.
The purpose of the Traction Calculator is to take a bottom-up approach to modelling the Leads, Customers and Revenue based on these variables:
- Revenue Target $
- Customer Price $
- Customer Payment Schedule
- Lead Conversion Rate %
- Customer Conversion Rate %
- Growth Rates for Year 2 and 3.
1. Revenue Targets
What revenue would indicate minimum success?
Estimate what Revenue you would need to call the business a success.
This estimate is only intended to give you an insight into the number Leads required and a Growth curve with just a few variables.
Later, you can develop a budget to estimate costs, break-even, etc. for a more detailed model.
Add a Revenue Target…
2. Customer Price
What is the cost for Customers?
Learning from Price
In the early stage, it’s all about getting a Learning Return on Investment (LROI).
It’s important that pricing hypotheses be tested early, as part of validating your business model.
As an example with software, if you start with a single, free time-based trial, it helps to time-box your pricing experiments to force a value-based conversion decision that allows you to learn and iterate faster.
When starting out, your unlikely to have enough information to know how to correctly price or segment features into multiple plans and they can easily waste time and effort, and make learning more difficult.
Setting a Price
What you charge for your product or service is complicated and very important to get right and is often, more art than science.
Pricing is all about setting the right perception.
Your Minimum Viable Product should address the top problems customers have identified as important to them and deliver enough value to justify your price. MVPs should deliver value and not be a half-baked or buggy product.
You may consider the argument that communicating pricing creates unnecessary friction in the early, learning stage and should be avoided.
While this thinking may have some merit, it delays testing critical assumptions around pricing, which is one of the riskiest and most important parts of your business model.
It’s better to be upfront if you intend to charge for your product because it begins:
- Determining your customers
- Setting the right expectations
- Raising the customer commitment
- Generating cash flow
- Signalling your branding and positioning
- Testing a risky part of your business model.
Testing a Price and Payment Schedule
Existing Alternatives can create reference points for customers, so understand and position your price accordingly. If alternatives are free, customers tend to be quite price sensitive.
If you are solving a new problem where there are no obvious reference points, look for other products your customers purchase that they may relate to, guess a price, and refine from there.
Select the Customer Payment Schedule you believe most attractive to the Customer and viable for you.
Example: 14-day Free Trial Plan: $15/month for 1 User
Add a Customer Price…
3. Customer Payment Schedule
What payment schedule will be most viable and attractive to customers?
Determine the payment schedule that will be most attractive, particularly to Early Adopters.
Consider the payment schedules for Existing Alternatives and how Customer Segments may already paying for comparable products and services.
Add a Customer Payment Schedule…
4. Lead Conversions
How many Leads could you convert to Opportunities?
Leads are people that engage with your brand in some way like visiting your website.
A Lead is converted to a potential customer (Opportunity) when they actively show interest.
The Lead Conversion rate is calculated by dividing Opportunities by Leads.
If from 100 Leads > 10 are converted to Opportunities, then the Lead Conversion rate is 10/100 = 10%
Add a Lead Conversion rate % …
5. Customer Conversions
How many Opportunities could you convert to Customers?
Sales Conversion Rate
The Sales Conversion rate is automatically calculated by dividing Customers by Leads.
If from 100 Leads, 10% converted to Opportunities, then 10% of those are converted to Customers, the SCR is 1%
Add a Customer Conversion rate % …
6. Growth Rates
What could be your Growth Rates in Year 2 and Year 3?
Growth rate is measured by Customer and Revenue increases over time.
Problem-Solution Fit happens when you have proved your value proposition addresses your target customers’ jobs and problems, but do not have enough evidence, that enough of your target customers are prepared to pay for it to sustain growth and profitability.
Product-Market Fit happens when enough of your target customers are buying, using, and telling others about your product to sustain growth and profitability.
Add Growth Rates…
Switch to the Experiments Plan worksheet
Experiments are the most effective way to learn about the potential of your business idea.
Experiments reduce uncertainty, risk of failure, and wasting time and money.
Good experiments test hypotheses, answer important questions, can be replicated, and will produce useful and comparable data.
Experiment results will include Quantitative and/or Qualitative data.
Experiments are undertaken in three phases: Plan > Run > Assess.
Develop your hypotheses and design your experiments:
- Hypothesis represent assumptions that pose risk if they are wrong
- Design explains how the experiment will be run, who and what is being tested
- Metrics capture the data points that will be assessed as part of the experiment
- Success Criteria are the thresholds that determines if the experiment is a success.
- Execute the experiment design that tests the hypothesis and captures the evidence.
- Results document the results from evidence obtained running the experiment
- Insights document any insights that can be derived from the results
- Decisions made as a result of the Insights
- Actions required to proceed, if any.
What do you assume to be true?
Hypotheses are statements you create to test assumptions, and prove or disprove their validity.
Assumptions are things you believe to be true, or certain to happen, without definitive proof.
Start with Hypotheses that represent the highest risk to your venture, if they are wrong.
Seek to develop at least one Hypothesis for each Canvas Section.
A well designed Hypothesis is:
Focused to clearly define the Who and What is to be tested
Distinct by design to test only one thing
Binary to return an unambiguous, valid or invalid result.
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Consider your Assumptions then add your Hypotheses for testing
How will the Experiment be run?
Design Experiments that gather evidence to prove or dismiss Hypotheses.
Here are some different types of Experiments to consider:
Discover by Exploration
Customer Interviews are script based and designed to explore their jobs to be done, problems, unmet needs and willingness to pay for a solution.
Partner & Stakeholder Interviews are script based for stakeholders and potential channel or delivery partners to explore their interests and roles in the market.
Discovery Surveys contain questions for customers, partners and stakeholders.
Search Trend Analysis investigate trends based on keywords, content and sites traffic using tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest.
Discussion Forums Reviews seek out relevant topics to identify related questions, responses, sentiments and issues.
Discover by Interest
Online Ads promote the value proposition to a customer segment with a call to action like join the waitlist, free whitepaper download, paid survey, etc.
Email Campaign is a series of email messages with compelling content and a call to action.
Social Media Campaign is a series of social media messages with compelling content and a call to action.
Validate with a Passive Prototype
Explainer Video is a short video that explains the business idea and value proposition.
Feature Stub is a small animated example of a feature that has a simple interaction where clicks and/or comments can be recorded.
3D Print is creating a prototype with a 3D Printer.
Product Sheet is one page that describes the product and specifications as it will be when it’s available.
Landing Page is a web page that describes the value proposition with a call to action.
Storyboard is a sequence of illustrations that walk a user through an interactive experience.
Validate with an Interactive Prototype
Feature MVP is a Minimum Viable Product with one or very few key features that function effectively.
Mash-up MVP is a Minimum Viable Product with features that are integrations from existing components and services.
Concierge is a customer experience where the value is showcased but obviously delivered manually by people.
Wizard of Oz is a customer experience where the value is showcased but it is not obvious that it is a mix of technology and manual effort by people.
Describe your Experiment
What data will you capture and how will it be measured for assessment?
Metrics are about how you measure things.
First, decide what you want to measure, and then how it will measured.
Define the evidence you plan to capture during the Experiment and how it can be measured to relevant to the Success Criteria.
- Customer Interviews: Problems not being resolved by existing solutions
- Search Trend Analysis: Search volume of target keywords in the USA
- Feature MVP: Customer interest by Waitlist Signups.
Add your Experiment Metrics
4. Success Criteria
What will be criteria that determine if the Experiment has been a success?
The Experiment will be deemed a success based on reaching a threshold of evidence.
The threshold may be defined by the number of positive responses in interviews, volume of keyword search results, clicks on landing page, pre-orders, or any point that makes the Experiment Results meaningful and the basis for clear Decisions.
- 80% confirm that Problems are not being effectively resolved by existing alternatives
- Global Search volume for target keywords is 35,000/month in the USA
- 100 Waitlist Signups
Add Experiment Success Criteria
What are the results from the Experiment?
The Results are a summary of the experience and evidence captured from the Experiment.
The summary will contain Qualitative and/or Quantitative data that succinctly describes the Experiment outcomes, and provides a basis to develop Insights.
Add Experiment Results
What are the insights from the experiment Results?
Insights are clear, accurate and deep understanding developed during Experiments or from assessing the Results that will inform Decisions.
Insights can be about customers problems, behaviour or situation, market forces, channel operations, relationships or any area covered in the business model.
Add Experiment Insights
What conclusions and decisions can be made from the Insights?
The first Decision is to set the Hypothesis Validation to either Valid or Invalid based on the Results and Insights.
Many decisions will flow from there about your business model, and if more hypotheses and experiments are required.
Add the Decisions
What actions are required?
After reviewing the experiment Results, Insights and Decisions it’s time to determine next steps.
Depending on the outcomes, a range of actions may be appropriate:
- Develop a new Hypothesis
- Design a new experiment to get evidence that may have been missed
- Update the product roadmap
- Rethink the business model, or create a new one
- No further action
Add the Actions
These experts have published a wealth of information and insights that have assisted the success of countless startups and business developers worldwide.
The Lean Canvas developed by Ash Maurya, is adapted from The Business Model Canvas (businessmodelgenerator.com) and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0