Introducing BM Stack

On July 1st I came up with the idea of building a web app to let some entrepreneurial minded friends and me quickly draft up business models ideas, and let us discuss those ideas, and then improve them.

On October 2nd, 2010 I managed to fix many creeping bugs and get the application to a usable state. Then on October 4th, 2010 I started my new job at Microsoft.

Since the start of the job I haven’t touched the code once, but more recently it’s been nagging at me to do something with it.

Put me out.

“But you look ugly.”

Put me out anyways.

“But you still have empty pages and broken images.”

Put me out anyways.

“But I don’t have any time to improve you or even fix bugs.”

Put me out anyways.

“But the application has features I haven’t made clear and it’s confusing.”

Put me out anyways.

So after all that, it came down to putting it out there in the state it’s in, or keeping it secret and guaranteeing that nobody would ever see it or use it.

It may not be pretty, but I’ve damn well put enough hours into this, so somebody is going to use it!

What BM Stack Lets You Do

BM Stack lets you work together with teams to build business model canvases.

Overall, BM Stack is organized like a Basecamp. You can send invitations to others on your team, either in your company or from other companies, and those new users will join your account. You can share projects in BM Stack with people in your own company only, or with others, though not publicly.

Business model canvases are organized into projects. Each project can have multiple business model canvases, and each canvas keeps track of its history in version numbers.

Even if you share projects and canvases with people from different companies, you can also mark particular canvases and updates as private. Those private updates and canvases are only visible to people in your own organization.

When you have a team that is working on new canvases or having discussions in the system, you have the option of subscribing to updates to those items by email.

The Canvas Tool

The canvas tool was certainly the hardest part of the application. I focused more time here than on any other single aspect of the application. I’m neither a good designer or developer, and this was a challenge that required both sets of skills.

Even with it’s flaws, when I compared to the other business model canvas tools that exist on the web, I think it’s the best. The other tools I’ve seen were poorly developed, confusing, and they didn’t help me make business models.

I wanted BM Stack to feel like you could make business model canvases on with the tool in the same way that you would make them on the whiteboard. The very first way this comes out is in the way still move notes around from canvas block to canvas block. The tool let’s you do this quickly and simply.

The tool lets you very quickly add new notes to the canvas. Some of the canvas tool is modelled after TeuxDeux. When I though saw how easy it was to add multiple tasks to TeuxDeux, I got excited at the thought of doing that for business model canvases and how it might make a digital canvas more fun to use.

Each time you hit enter, you add your note, and right away you can start typing the next one.

Just like real life, post-its come in more colours than just yellow. When I read Business Model Generation I liked the idea of using different colours to represent different layers of a business model. An example of this is using two colours to describe both the customer facing and B2B facing parts of a business model. So, I found a swatch on COLOURlovers of post-its and added the option to let you change the colour of your canvas notes.

This took some time. Not because it was technically difficult, but because there wasn’t an intuitive way that was clear to me that made sense for  changing a note’s colour. I wanted it to be easy to change the colour when you wanted, but then of hid that extra option to save space.

Infact, I also added the option to add additional comments to the bottom of each note, but then later removed it.

Overall the canvas was the most challenging part of the application to build, and I still don’t think I’ve nailed the perfect configuration for controlling elements on the canvas. At one point I had gotten very creative with jQuery mouse event functions like “click”, “mousedown”, “mouseleave”, “mouseout”, etc…

Keeping it simple made it work the best, and made it work the fastest.

As the author of the canvas you can add tags to your canvas, and add a description to help explain it.

The tagging is very basic and uses a simple Django library. You can add tags split by either spaces or comments. When you browse your canvas the list on the side will show you how many canvases have a tag, and you can quickly filter to just those canvases.

Authors of canvases can edit the canvases they have made, or they can also edit a canvas and save their work as a new version. People who didn’t make a canvas can only save their work as a new version.

Also, the app uses Gravatars for all your profile pics in case you don’t have one.

Future Plans

My plans for this app are frozen indefinitely.

Implementing features that would let teachers at business schools easily review and give feedback on the business models of their students came up early as a simple way of turning this application into something helpful for a lot of people. My experience in reading Business Model Generation and learning about the Business Model Canvas are a part of the foundation for working on this project after all.

One thing I want in the short term to create are guides for users of BM Stack. Not only could BM Stack be a tool for startups to build up their business models, but it could also fill the role as a tool for those new to the tool, and to help them experiment and learn.

I think everyone can always use fresh ideas when it comes to the business model canvas. 

Expect some things to break and to be broken. Just don’t expect me to fix it soon.

You can create an account and get going here: http://bmstack.com/signup

Malcolm

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3 Comments

  1. cool stuff, I like the simplicity you’ve created. Any chance of open sourcing this implementation?

  2. @Andrea Thanks! Like I said it’ll probably be a good idea for you to buy me coffee and for me to go over the canvas tool and ideas from the BM Gen book.@Van Maybe. I’ve been around open source long enough to know that open sourcing a unengaged project makes it hard to live on. I have no real goals that conflict with open sourcing it, but I think if anything, I would want to see people interested in doing something with the code before open sourcing it. Thanks for your intrest though!

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