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

Carl is the Founder and CEO of StartupDevKit, a membership-based online startup incubator and accelerator. He's built a huge incubator-based platform with hundreds of the best curated and original startup resources to help anyone from idea-stage creators to recently launched startups develop and grow easier, smarter, and faster.

Carl is also the author of the book Startup Survival Secrets (coming soon), 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.

Being that 99% of startup accelerator applicants don’t get accepted and 90% of startups fail, both the platform and the book are here to help the worldwide startup community thrive. Carl has built the entirety of the StartupDevKit website and the Incubator Platform on his own.

Carl is a jack of all trades when it comes to startups and marketing (with exceptions to a few types). He's built StartupDevKit almost entirely on his own -- setting up the membership platform, designing the site and creating graphics, writing all of the site's content, writing over 30 long-form articles, curating hundreds of startup resources in 17+ verticals and about 100 subcategories, curating lists, doing the marketing, customer development, all of the back-end stuff -- you name it.

Carl is a serial founder and has been building and growing startups since 2007. He’s been a founder, marketing and startup consultant, marketing director, WordPress website creator, a technical IT recruiter for an intrapreneurial recruiting startup, and has dabbled in technical support as well.

Carl earned a certification in Inbound Marketing from HubSpot Academy, earned a certification in Google Analytics from Google, and earned a Bachelor's Degree from Binghamton University (SUNY) in Political Science. As a young adult, Carl achieved Eagle Scout rank in the BSA and led a top-ranked Counter-Strike team throughout college called Performance, until he began his last year of his college started in 2007 and started his first startup, EduDating.

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