What’s Better? Lean/Business Model Canvas or Executive Summary?

When you’re starting a business and even more so a startup, you’re going to need to write up some type of plan of how you’re going to go about your business.

Traditionally, business plans have been what people created.

But now, because they’re also traditionally long, and because businesses need to be more flexible, business plans are a less attractive option for planning your business.

What the business-savvy startups turn to now are lean business model canvases and executive summaries.

But they have each have pros and cons. There are two types of canvases and the executive summary is used for either your own purposes or for investors.

Below I discuss the differences between these options and what it means for you.

Lean Business Model Canvas

The great thing about lean business model canvases is that they are super simple and nicely laid out. It’s even simpler than the regular business model canvas that’s mentioned in the next section.

You can use this lean business model canvas several ways.

1) By saving and printing it out and writing on it with a pen or pencil. Pencil makes it easier to edit, though.

2) Type text over it on an image editor

3) By going to leanstack.com and signing up for a free account to make your own. The downside is that everytime you want to edit it, you have to go back and log in to Lean Stack’s interface. So if you want to do that, then I suggest you bookmark that site into your toolbar so you can get back to it easily.

lean business model canvas for startups

You can’t get much leaner and more basic than this template without sacrificing important information about your startup or business.

The final caveat is that canvases aren’t what investors ask for. They ask for executive summaries or business plans (which should be on the shorter side) and pitch decks.

Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas has one more category, but they’re not all the same as the lean canvas. In fact, there are several differences.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re just different and used for different things.

What they have in common:

  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams
  • Customer Segments
  • Channels
  • Value Proposition

Business Model Canvas

The differences between the business model canvas and the lean business model canvas are that the business model canvas has categories of key partners, key activities, customer relationships, and key resources.

Whereas the lean business model canvas has categories of problem, solution, key metrics, and unfair advantage.

The lean business model canvas is better suited for startups, as it drives towards necessary ingredients of a successful startup.

And the business model canvas is better for more traditional businesses.

If you want to use this canvas then you will need to print it out or write over it in an image editor.

Executive Summaries

Executive summaries only require a word processor, and there are quite a few of those, from Word to Open Office to Google Docs, etc.

You use the same content as you would with a lean business model canvas, but it’s displayed vertically on a page and you can edit it easily.

It also shows management and fundraising sections where the canvases do not.

The other major difference is that you can write more information down in an executive summary. You can’t write that much with a canvas.


So what’s better? There is no straight answer.

Figure out what your needs are.

If you have a startup that isn’t seeking venture capital or angel investment, then I’d use a lean business model canvas. You can always copy that information down and expand upon it within an executive summary.

However, if you want to seek capital, then you’ll need to have an executive summary.

Executive summaries and business plans should not be created as plans that are set in stone and neither should canvases.

Your startup should be able to evolve and pivot if need be and that’s why your summary or canvas should be flexible as well.

Use what suits you best for your situation.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to best move your startup forward and get tons of resources for early entrepreneurs like you, then you might want to check out StartupDevKit’s incubator membership.

What format do you like more (executive summary or lean business model canvas) and why?

Carl Potak

About Carl Potak

Carl is the Founder and CEO of StartupDevKit, a membership-based online startup incubator and accelerator.


Carl is a serial founder and has been building and growing startups since 2007. He’s been a founder, marketer, political campaign manager and consultant, startup consultant, marketing director, WordPress website creator, and a senior technical technical recruiter for a Fortune 500 recruiting firm.

In 2007, Carl started his first startup, EduDating, a dating website for students and alumni, but it unfortunately failed because the technical requirements were too great to get it off the ground then. This experience gave way to his next startup called HireTicket, a video interviewing platform, but he could not continue after his co-founder stole all of their seed money. He then went to work as a technical recruiter and shattered the firm's growth records. He wanted to continue working on startups and simultaneously started working with CoFoundersLab, the leading platform for startup founders to find other startup founders. There, he was doing social media marketing, strategy, and sales part time. After CoFoundersLab was acquired for the first time, he and the founding team left. Carl went on to become the director of marketing for the fintech startup OnTrajectory, a retirement and life planning tool. Carl consulted for other various startups and and then left OnTrajectory to start StartupDevKit.

Carl has a certification in Inbound Marketing from HubSpot Academy, a certification in Google Analytics from Google, and earned his Bachelor's Degree from Binghamton University (SUNY) in Political Science with a minor in sociology.

As a young adult, Carl achieved Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts and went to college for political science and graduated from Binghamton University for his major. He worked on several high-profile campaigns in New York throughout college and after he graduated in 2008. In addition, he created and led a top-ranked tournament-winning Counter-Strike team throughout college called Performance. Carl left it once he began his last semester of college in 2008 when he decided to start his first startup, EduDating.


Aside from his passion for business, Carl enjoys hiking mountains, playing drums with his band of talented friends and family, hanging with friends and family, listening to music, politics, Magic: The Gathering, watching and following the Yankees, Marvel and DC movies and shows, and going to museums among other things.

Carl's Role in Building StartupDevKit

Most recently, Carl built StartupDevKit's Startup Incubator Platform almost entirely on his own -- with hundreds (growing to thousands) of awesome curated and original startup resources that empower founders worldwide. The platform helps people anywhere from the idea-validation stage to recently funded startups in the growth-stage. In addition, the platform currently consists of 19 verticals and about 100 subcategories.

Carl has written all of the site's blog content thus far (over 30 mostly long-form articles on startups and marketing) which has helped over 15,000 startups. StartupDevKit ranks highly among some of the other most regarded accelerators and startup blogs on Google and has several #1 listings on Google. The content he's written is used by university entrepreneurship programs, cited all over the startup industry, and even other accelerators.

Startup Survival Secrets, the book

Carl is the author of the book Startup Survival Secrets, a book he's been writing which is about the top 20 reasons why startups fail, the root causes for each of those reasons, how to prevent them, and what to do instead. He started the writing process for the book in late 2016 and aims to have it done in the first quarter of 2020.

Being that 95-99% of startup accelerator applicants don’t get accepted and 90% of startups fail overall, Carl developed both the platform and wrote the book to help the worldwide startup community so that people have greater access to resources and wisdom for startups.

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