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Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model Hardcover – Sep 1 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 7.2.2009 edition (Sept. 1 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422126692
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422126691
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #223,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“...it is both a handbook for those already on the way to building a successful business as well as encouraging others to think they could do it.” - The Financial Times, September 30, 2009

From the Back Cover

“This is a fantastic book. The stories are excellent . . . deep and insightful . . . and the storytelling is real. Getting to Plan B isn’t as much about second tries as it is about the authors’ helping you understand what it takes to drive an early-stage company to success.” - Bill Campbell, Chairman, Intuit

“This great book will guide business leaders and help them stay focused as they transform their plans. Whether they are reshaping a new business model, or executing a quarterly strategy review in an ongoing business, this book will help leaders overcome the unpredictable waves and obstacles that stand in the way of their envisioned goals.” - Takaaki Hata, Partner, Globis Capital Partners, Tokyo

“Getting to Plan B is the definitive handbook about the mind-set and moves required to lead any company in our messy and ever-changing world. This is more than the most useful book I’ve ever read on entrepreneurship: Mullins and Komisar challenge and redefine how organizational strategy and innovation ought to be managed in any company. - Robert Sutton, professor, Stanford University, and author of The No Asshole Rule

“Getting to Plan B is a treasure trove of clear, practical lessons for entrepreneurs. It is real-world, hard-hitting, and prescriptive—not the fuzzy theoretical stuff found in too many business books. Komisar and Mullins repeatedly challenge conventional wisdom with experience and insight. This is a must-read.” - John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

“John and Randy perfectly capture the trials and triumphs of entrepreneurship. They weave in antidotes that can be successfully applied. I wish this book was published a decade back—I could have used it as an entrepreneur. Now as a venture capitalist I would suggest this as required reading to all my CEO’s.” - Vani Kola, Founder, Indo U.S. Ventures, Bangalore

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Format: Hardcover
“[T]his is not a book about ‘business planning.’ It’s a book about, in a sense, ‘business discovering.’”

Business planning is a major industry, with management consultants, industry experts, and other finance professionals all spending significant time attempting to predict the future of a firm. Mullins and Komisar, on the other hand, have a much more simple principle. Try things. And if they don’t work, try something else.

This simple point flows from a fairly profound observation. Big businesses may be wrestling with “Big Data”, they point out, but entrepreneurs usually have a want of data; they don’t even have enough information to know if their guesses and assumptions are correct. Instead of recognizing their limited data, however, many entrepreneurs leap immediately into business planning, writing up 50 page business proposals. By the time they find out their idea doesn’t work, they’re already mentally committed, and fail to properly adapt to new information.

The best entrepreneurs, however, remain open to Plan B. They test their original assumptions, and use the data they get to modify their plans as necessary, sometimes changing their entire product, as with the founders of Paypal, who started off trying to market a cell phone encryption method, for which they posted a free demo of a payment system online. When the demo proved more popular than the encryption, they adapted, and the rest is history. Experiment, measure, analyze, repeat.

For someone with a business idea in mind, the book is an excellent walkthrough in carefully keeping an eye on your business model while maintaining flexibility. For those not interested in entrepreneurship, the book can feel repetitive, but there are still some interesting points.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars 49 reviews
77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book on iterating to improve business models, and how different elements affect the financials of the company Jan. 16 2010
By Anders Sundelin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The book, written by John Mullins and Randy Komisar, contains several important lessons, primarily for start-up entrepreneurs, on developing successful business models. Though very repetitive around a few key ideas, the book is well worth reading especially for those who want to better understand how the business model is reflected in the different financial statements. with interesting examples from: Amazon, Apple, Celtel, Costco, Dow Jones & Company, eBay, GlobalGiving, GO airlines, Google, Oberoi Hotels, Pantaloon, Patagonia, Ryanair, Shanda, Silverglide, Skype, Southwest Airlines, Toyota, Walmart, Zara and ZoomSystems.

The book in three bullet points:

* The business model concept is in the book defined as the pattern of economic activity comprising of five key elements that together determines the viability of any business. The five key elements being the revenue model, the gross margin model, the operating model, the working capital model and the investment model. Companies are successful when the five elements work together.

* Getting to Plan B is about the process of discovering a business model that works, with the assumption that the initial plan is most often wrong. The discovering process can be made systematic by constantly formulating different hypothesis and measurements and continuously follow up and iterate the business model into a new Plan B.

* The starting point for a new business model is to learn from successful examples worth mimicking in some way and examples to which you explicitly choose to do things differently, where the ultimate judge is the customers and the cash flow generated from your business model.

A brief summary of the different chapters:

1. Don't reinvent the wheel, make it better - the concepts of analogs (successful predecessors), antilogs (predecessors that you want to differ from), and Leaps of Faith (beliefs about answers with no evidence) is covered with the key take out to learn, mix and match to create your own business model, to experiment to test different hypothesis to prove or refute them.

2. Guiding your flight progress - the concept of dashboarding (a systematic way to guide experiments and track results) is presented with examples showing that measuring of specific parameters or results increases the focus of the company's activities, and that the dashboards, including parameters and goals, need to evolve over time based on the learnings they uncover.

3. Air, food and water - the chapter, focusing on revenue models, hits home two important points: the importance of resolving customer pain or providing customer delight, and the need for actual evidence of how customers are likely to respond. To develop a revenue model questions that need to be asked are: Who will buy? What will they buy? Why will they buy? How soon, how often, and how many will they buy? With what effort and cost on your part? At what price will they buy, and on what basis will they pay?

4. Avoiding rocks and hard places - the topic for the chapter is gross margin models; the spread between the price at which products and services are sold and the cost of selling those (COGS). The key messages with the chapter is that digital technology enables gross margin models in which COGS approaches zero, that a superior gross margin model creates leverage that can be applied differently depending on strategy, and finally the fact that pricing decisions should be value-based and not cost-based.

5. Trimming the fat - is a short chapter on operating costs; all the day-to-day costs that must be incurred in addition to COGS. Key ideas are that by doing things differently in relation to other actors in the industry, operating cost can be lowered or eliminated, and by starting the analysis at the most costly or scarcest resources in the industry areas for business model innovation might occur. Another key point is that adding costs might also enhance the customers' experiences and willingness to pay premium prices, so cost cutting is not always the answer to profitability.

6. Cash is king - is according to me one of the more important chapters in the book as the balance sheet, working capital and cash management is often forgotten in business model discussions. Different industries and business models requires different amount of working capital (the cash a company needs to keep the business running) and all elements in the business model have implications for the cash generated and the cash consumed. From page 139: "Failure to earn a profit won't put you out of business, as long as you still have cash. But if you run out of cash, even if you are profitable, you'll be gone in a heartbeat"

7. It takes money to make money - focus on the investment needed to get the business started and through the period until it can generate enough cash itself, and the general goal (there are exceptions) is to find a way to get to breakeven with as little investment as possible. The authors mention some of the many trade-offs involved with external funding from different sources, but primarily focus on venture capital. The conclusions are: Less investment means giving away less of the business, less credibility lost when leaving a business model for another, and fewer sleepless nights if you've mortgaged your house.

8. Can you balance a one-legged stool? - tries to summarize, at least on a conceptual level, the different elements of the authors' definition of a business model, and their implications on one another. The conclusion is that the revenue model, gross margin model and operating model directly affect the working capital model, and these four models directly affect the investment model.

9. Getting started on discovering your Plan B - ends the book where it started with a focus on the talented and visionary entrepreneur. In the beginning of the book there were statements such as "Intuitively, as is almost always the case for committed, passionate, entrepreneurs, they felt that the answers to all five questions were yes" (p29) and in the end "dreaming your entrepreneurial dream" (p214).

A quick comparison with some other popular books on business models:

* The Ultimate Competitive Advantage: Secrets of Continually Developing a More Profitable Business Model by Mitchel, Coles, Golisano and Knutson, has a heavier focus on marketing with some ideas and questions relating to one-sided business models, so if you are looking to "sell more" perhaps you like this book.

* The Profit Zone: How Strategic Business Design Will Lead You to Tomorrow's Profits by Slywotzky, Morrison and Andelman, has a heavier focus on profitability and the changing areas in which high profit is possible to keep, it is a quick read.

* Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape by Henry Chesbrough has a heavier focus on technological innovation in the context of business models and also covers the important area of Intellectual Property in relation to open business models.

* Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Osterwalder and Pigneur, atempts to introduce a standard language and format for analyzing and innovating business models based on the business model canvas. The book that was co-written with 470 practitioners is a great book to learn about different business models and tools for business model innovation.

All in all, the book is somewhat repetitive and rather long for the ideas it delivers, but with many interesting examples and important chapters on gross margins, operating costs and cash flow, it is well worth reading and a good complement to other books on business models not going into the financial details.

//Anders, The Business Model Database
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Academic, Fails to Deliver Oct. 17 2010
By Mikhail Manulis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'd like to start with the conclusion, get yourself "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development" by Brant Cooper and "The Four Steps to the Epiphany" by Steve Blank, those two books will give you a real step-by-step guide to building a company. Now for the actual review.

This book is a collection of stories in the style of "Founders at Work" or "Art of the Start" or any one of the other Startup Genre books. And as such, it is interesting to read the authors analyses from an academic stand point, hence 2 starts, but it offers little advice for someone starting a company.

However, as a guide for building a business, this book can be summed up as follows:

Your first idea will fail, plan on it failing but you need to start somewhere, so get going and look for opportunities to change course or pivot in the startup parlance.

It's an important notion that has been covered on numerous blogs and in great depth, which you can read for free, without paying money for the book; just do an online search for "startup pivot" and you will find plenty of examples by industry veterans.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Model Jan. 15 2010
By Arnold A. Heggestad - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Professor of Entrepreneurship I have been a big believer in Randy Komisar. His book, The Monk and the Riddle has inspired hundreds of my students.

Much to my surprise, this is a very different book. Most new venture planning and strategy books remind you of doctoral dissertations--moving bones from one grave to the other. There is nothing new.

This is different. It challenges you to delve deeper into a venture (new or growing). What can you learn from other companies experiences. Mix and match what you learn. Figure out what you don't know and develop tests to learn.

This book is also the best I have seen in blending its unique approach to the business model--revenue, gross margin, etc. It shows how the components work together to create a sustainable business. Its examples are stimulating.

The answer to the riddle in this book is hard work and creative research and continual learning. There are no eggs.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting to Plan B, C, D, E .... Z if needed Sept. 25 2009
By Franco Arda - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Ordering this book was a no-brainer.

Every (would be) entrepreneur who has enjoyed reading Randy's ,Goodbye Carrier, Hello Success` knows Randy`s wisdom for entrepreneurs. It'd call him the ,Zen Entrepreneur` for his enlightement and razor sharp thinking (for a taste, check out Youtube ,the biggest successes are often bred from failures).

The book is about a rarely covered topic: Getting to plan B (if necessary to Z). If the founders of Google, PayPal or Starbucks had stuck to their original plan, we might have never heard of them. PayPal's plan A didn't work. Neither did B, C, D, E nor F. Plan G stroke gold.

This is not a book about ,business planning`. It's a book about, in a sense, ,business discovering`. Getting to Plan B is a structured process of discovering, over time, a fluid pattern among the five business model* elements that, working together, will make the economics work (provided the business model is sound), so you don't run out of money along the way.

*revenue model, gross margin model, operating model, working capital model & investment model.

Randy & John, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge & wisdom with us.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get this book if you are starting a business (or already run one). Sept. 14 2009
By D. B Whittle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It takes an average of 58 new product ideas to deliver a single successful new product. That is the core message of Getting to Plan B, a new book by John Mullins and Randy Komisar.

Since Plan A almost never works, it is critical to quickly learn from failure and move on to a successful Plan B (or C or D or E...). This book provides an exceptionally helpful framework for how to do this. Its power lies in its analytical framework combined with vivid examples from companies - including both for-profit and non-profit.

Contrary to popular perception, most successful businesses did not strike it rich from the beginning. A company like eBay, profitable from day one, is the exception that proves the rule (and Pierre Omidyar has said that he realizes how lucky he was). Even eBay has struggled to figure out how to make money from new business lines such as Skype. Google would not be the behemoth it is today - and might even be out of business -- if it had not discovered its own Plan B, paid Adwords. Amazon burned through hundreds of millions of dollars before it hit upon the right business model that made it profitable. Today, the jury is out on whether Twitter and even Facebook will find profitable Plan Bs that sustain their early growth.

What matters most is not the quality of the initial business plan, but instead the ability of the team to iterate successive business plans as a means to finding what works. Merely flailing about from Plan A to B to C increases the chance you will run out of cash before finding the right Plan. So the trick is to experiment quickly but intelligently, and with discipline. That is what this book helps you do.

Anyone who is thinking about starting a new business should read this book. Given the pace of change in the world, even established business leaders should read it, since the constant threat of new competition often requires even existing companies to develop new Plan Bs.

Full disclosure: My own organization, GlobalGiving, is one of the case studies in this book. My only beef is that Mullins and Komisar did not write this book years ago, which would have saved me a lot of heartache and helped me iterate my own business plan more quickly.