The 6 Elements of Truly Transformative Business Models

The 6 Elements of Truly Transformative Business Models

The 6 Elements of Truly Transformative Business Models

A business model that can link a new technology to an emerging market need is the key to industry transformation. When Apple coupled the iPod with iTunes, it revolutionized the audio devices market. But most attempts to introduce a new model fail. The authors did an in-depth analysis of 40 companies that had launched new business models in a variety of industries, and here they present the key takeaways from their research.

They looked for recurring features in the models and found six: personalization, a closed-loop process, asset sharing, usage-based pricing, a collaborative ecosystem, and an agile and adaptive organization. No model displayed all of them, but having a higher number of features usually correlated with a greater chance of success at transformation. (The taxi service Uber can claim five of the six.)

Companies that are thinking about changing their business model or entering an industry with a new model can rate themselves on the six features to assess the likelihood that they’ll be transformative.

We usually associate an industry’s transformation with the adoption of a new technology. But although new technologies are often major factors, they have never transformed an industry on their own. What does achieve such a transformation is a business model that can link a new technology to an emerging market need.

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MP3 technology is a classic case in point. Early MP3 devices represented an order-of-magnitude increase in capacity over magnetic tapes and CDs: Users could carry thousands of songs on a small device. But MP3 players revolutionized the audio devices market only after Apple coupled the iPod with iTunes in a new business model, swiftly moving music-recording sales from the physical to the virtual world.

What, exactly, enables a business model to deliver on a technology’s potential? To answer that question, we embarked on an in-depth analysis of 40 companies that had launched new business models in a variety of industries. Some succeeded in radically altering their industries; others looked promising but ultimately did not succeed. In this article we present the key takeaways from our research and suggest how they can help innovators transform industries.

Definitions of “business model” vary, but most people would agree that it describes how a company creates and captures value. The features of the model define the customer value proposition and the pricing mechanism, indicate how the company will organize itself and whom it will partner with to produce value, and specify how it will structure its supply chain. Basically, a business model is a system whose various features interact, often in complex ways, to determine the company’s success.

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In any given industry, a dominant business model tends to emerge over time. In the absence of market distortions, the model will reflect the most efficient way to allocate and organize resources. Most attempts to introduce a new model fail—but occasionally one succeeds in overturning the dominant model, usually by leveraging a new technology. If new entrants use the model to displace incumbents, or if competitors adopt it, then the industry has been transformed.

Consider Airbnb, which upended the hotel industry. Founded in 2008, the company has experienced phenomenal growth: It now has more rooms than either InterContinental Hotels or Hilton Worldwide. As of this writing, Airbnb represents 19.5% of the hotel room supply in New York and operates in 192 countries, in which it accounts for 5.4% of room supply (up from 3.6% in 2015).

The founders of Airbnb realized that platform technology made it feasible to craft an entirely new business model that would challenge the traditional economics of the hotel business.

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