The best innovations come from collaboration. Yet most attempts at collaboration fail. Most corporates blame the lack of strategic alignment or maturity. Most startups blame bureaucracy and internal politics.
And they’re both right: most of the time, there’s some building block missing. When you buy furniture, you wouldn’t leave half of the pieces “for later”. But with collaboration, that often happens. Neither startups nor corporations come with an Ikea-like manual.
That’s why we’ve decided to put together the elements of startup-corporation collaboration. After 25+ programs, we’ve seen a lot of what can go well, and a lot of what can go wrong. And many of the pitfalls are predictable, to some extent.
Because of this, I’m writing a book about startup-corporation collaboration, which will come out in a few months. Every time I’ve spoken about it, and about the tool at its core, I’ve gotten waves of enthusiasm. So much, that I’ve decided to write up this blog post with a summary of the tool itself. So, meet the (startup) collaboration canvas!
The canvas itself
Collaboration depends on many inter-related elements. We’ve tried to capture them in the canvas, so that you talk about the relevant topics from day 1. This is how the collaboration canvas looks like:
The elements of collaboration
Let’s go through the different elements one by one:
Your collaboration is only good business if there’s some value added in the market at the end. There has to be an end customer. It can be the corporation’s customers. It can be the startup’s customers. Or it can somebody inside the corporation. This should be crystal clear. It should also be specific: “everybody” is just another word for “I don’t know who”. Talk about who gets the most value, who would be willing to pay for your service, etc. Who are your early adopters?
What problem are you solving? How’s the world broken, that you’re capable of fixing together? What’s the current situation? What does the end customer dislike? What’s painful? Think about what makes the customer go out of their way. What are they currently doing to solve that problem? If they’re not doing anything, it’s not actually a problem, is it?
What benefits does the collaboration bring to the end customer? Why is it relevant to bring it to the market? What are the benefits that the collaboration brings to each one of you as partners? What’s the value for the corporation? What’s the value for the startup? The collaboration will only work if everybody gets something.
What new costs appear because of the collaboration? Who pays for them? What new sources of revenue appear because of the collaboration? Who gets them? Who shares what with who? Does anybody pay the other party in the collaboration? Who pays for the development of the collaboration? You need to talk about money early on.
You want to make sure you’re the right partners from early on. What makes the startup the best partner for the corporation? What makes the corporation the best partner for the startup? Uniqueness needs to go both ways. Otherwise, you don’t have any good reason to push through the difficulties. What makes your partnership unique? Think about how this scales early on.
What sort of relationship will the startup and the corporation have at the end of the process? How will the final deal look like? What sort of values will you have together? What sort of communication? It’s easy to get stuck on pilots and trials, but none of those make sense if the end game is not clear. Talk about the terms early on.
Who should take part in the discussions from either side? Who are the relevant people from the corporation? Which are the relevant departments? Who will need to take part later? Also, who are the relevant people from the startup? Who makes decisions? Who advises the decisions? What information do they need? Involve the right people early on.
What are the core technologies that provide the value? What are the core features that solve the main problem for the user? Who brings each one of those to the collaboration? How well developed are they? It’s easy to get excited and start growing the solution. It’s easy to ask “could it do X” and delay the whole process. Focus on the core early on and leave the noise out of the discussion.
Every innovation has risks. Every collaboration has risks. Collaborating in innovation, we have both! What concerns does each side have? What worries us if it goes wrong? Which questions do we need to address? What topics do we need to find more about? Both parties should be transparent and raise concerns early on. And the good part of it is that they’re only concerns. Most times we can either address them or test them in a controlled environment.
How do we measure the success of our collaboration? How do we measure the value? And how do we measure our concerns? We often want to try out the solution in a controlled environment first. What numbers will tell us that this collaboration is bound for success? Numbers can be hard on us or show us that we’re right. Use them to your advantage, and don’t use metrics that you don’t know how you’ll use.
Filling up the canvas
We’ve designed the canvas for you to fill it with your team. Startups can fill it. Corporations can, as well. And yet, the best use of it is when both sides fill it together. That’s when all the assumptions come on the table, and you’re forced to talk about the difficult things.
That’s why we’ve put the elements together in a visual manner. You should use post-its. You should write in big letters, so that you don’t write too much. And you should move post-its around, even throw some of them away every now and then. This is normal, healthy even.
We’ve made the canvas as well so that it makes visual sense. It has a very specific direction: you should fill it from left to right (people who write from right to left, feel free to mirror it!). You can also fill it up from top to bottom.
And because they’re inter-related, you’ll have to go back and forth every now and then. This is also normal, even healthy to do.
Also, the elements on the left are more abstract. They relate to the market and are less under our control. Elements on the right side, we can decide on. It’s up to us to fix the pieces the right way.
It’s important to state that most of what we put on the canvas will be assumptions to start with. And as the collaboration goes on, things might change. As you speak with different departments, things might change. As you speak with customers from different customer segments, things might change. And as you pilot, things might change. This is normal, healthy even.
Using it with other tools
Many of you at this point will recognize familiar parts of the canvas. Indeed, it draws a lot of inspiration from the Business Model Canvas and the Lean Canvas. Both of them are great tools for modeling your business. Yet both tools are missing something when it comes to collaboration.
We haven’t tried to make this canvas like the other two. Instead, we’ve tried to make it logical, intuitive, actionable, and specific to collaboration. It’s focused: it’s missing everything that’s not related to the collaboration. That makes it complementary to the other models. Yet, you can take advantage of the overlap (value proposition, problem, etc.). For startups, you can alternate between your company’s lean canvas and collaboration canvas. This is normal, even healthy.
Let’s make this tool amazing together!
As you see, corporate-startup collaboration has many moving parts. The collaboration canvas is a great tool to look at them from one angle at a time. And in a visual way.
We’ve used the collaboration canvas in the past with great feedback. We’ve gotten fintechs and banks to define their collaboration. And to do so in months instead of the usual years. That’s why we’ve decided to share it here, for you to use. And to write a book about it, with the collaboration canvas and much more.
I’d love to hear how it helps you bring value to end consumers together! Don’t be shy to get in touch with me with stories, questions or suggestions. Anything that helps me know how you’ll use the collaboration canvas will help me write a better book!
I’m looking forward to your emails!