THNK Venture Design

April 16th, 2014
Article by: Auke Ferwerda
THNK Venture Design

Somewhere at some point, all businesses have been thought out. In the old days someone may have turned over a beer coaster, napkin or envelope, and jotted down what was to be the essence of an enterprise. Nowadays there are more and more frameworks that seek to take this creative leadership practice of sketching out your business to the next level. Some of these approaches, most notably those presented in Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Generation and Eric Ries’ Lean Canvas, have garnered a lot of interest and have at least for the moment, become the tools of the trade for the (tech)startup community.


In the THNK creative leadership program every participant also works on a venture, an acceleration project of their own choosing. It can be a social venture, a business or an in-company project. As part of their creative leadership, the participants seek feedback on their thinking behind their approaches and thus share their concepts with each other. In the preparation of this, a one-page venture template provides a standardized way to do this both attractively and effectively. More importantly a good venture template forces the creative leaders to think through their approach along different dimensions.


The template we use, called the THNK Venture Design, borrows from and builds upon proven elements of the above-mentioned canvases. It offers an expansion in a few areas we consider to be essential from the perspective of creative leadership, while still trying to avoid the pitfall of over-complication.

venture design

In the THNK Creative Leadership Program, every participant also on a venture project of their own choosing, which we call an “endeavor.” It can be a social venture, a business, or an in-company project.

Venture design comes after initial concept creation

Designing your business is not the first thing you do. The idea comes first. And an idea will need to be developed into a concept. We use the non-linear process of our Concepting Flow to generate and develop innovative ideas. Somewhere in that process, where exactly depends on each individual, you will want to start designing your organization also. Enter the Venture design template.

So the THNK venture design generally comes into play for creative leadership after a few of the cornerstones of an idea have been hewn into the ground. It can be used to structure the process of adding missing pieces to the puzzle, to test for completeness or to identify strong points and weak or even blind spots in your thinking. As such, it really is a snapshot of where you stand, that can be quickly understood by anyone who happens to be looking over your shoulder.

The THNK Venture Design canvas

As you can see below, the THNK Venture Design is designed as a circle existing of 10 elements that typically play a role in a venture. Every concept will attribute a different weight to each element, depending on the key challenges at hand, and of course there might still be specific issues that the creative leadership of a venture face that are not addressed by the canvas. Let us walk through the elements one by one.

venture design

The THNK Venture Design canvas is designed as a circle existing of 10 elements that typically play a role in a venture.

1. Problem

Most venture ideas aim to address one or multiple problems. Here you make both the problem and your proposed solution explicit while being as succinct as you can.

2. Target users

The problem(s) you have described at the first element may affect one or several user groups. It may well be that different users within your concept have different problems and therefore require different solutions. Here you identify each user group. This element therefore potentially adds several layers of depth to the venture design: one layer for each user group/ problem combination.

3. Value Proposition

In the value proposition you outline how you intend to deliver value to your users; these can be functional benefits, but can also be about the level of service or experience connected to the product. A value proposition also should take potential thresholds, such as costs into consideration; a concept has an attractive value proposition when the benefits for adopting the solution outweigh the costs by a disproportionate margin. The value proposition is often based on several assumptions about what users value most in a service or a product. The degree to which you can test this quickly and adapt to it is a serious predictor of success in the long run.

4. Delivery Model

The delivery model outlines your intended approach to reach your various target user groups. Through which channels both in the virtual and physical world. Be as specific and precise in your logistics as possible.

5. Income streams

The income streams element requires you to list expected sources of revenue, per group of target users. Income streams are closely related to the value proposition, as ventures that offer a lot of value to their target users are much more likely to convert interest into hard currency.

6. Cost Advantage

Any initiative, particularly innovative endeavors will require cash investment. During an early investment phase, keeping costs on a tight leash is one of the most difficult and the most essential challenges a creative leader will have to face. So apart from creating transparency in your costs, the question how you will keep your costs down without sacrificing on quality is as diabolical as it is important.

7. Assets, Skills and Partnerships

By answering the question which key assets, skills and partnerships you have or need to have in order to succeed, you create clarity in your organizations current USP’s and effectively help you create a to-do list that helps you prioritize.

8. Leadership Team

Ask any investor about the key success factor for any early stage venture, and they are likely to point towards the entrepreneur or the entrepreneurial team standing at the helm. Creating the right creative leadership team for any venture in terms of skill set, motivation and experience is more often than not the make or break factor.

9. Pivot Points

A pivot point is generally the moment when creative leadership finds out “that the horse they are riding, is dead.” Although difficult and confronting, there is merit in looking ahead and being able to shift your bets, before it’s too late.

10. Learning Loop

The success of any venture depends on its agility based on its ability to learn fast and learn often. This means adapting swiftly and habitually to changing market circumstances and insights. Most early stage organizations do not have the habit of measuring their success on a daily basis, nor have they spent enough time thinking about the key indicators that define their success. They therefore miss out on a big learning opportunity every day.

venture design
Creating the right creative leadership team for any venture in terms of skill set, motivation, and experience is more often than not the make or break factor. Click To Tweet

What makes this different

A cursory glance at the THNK Venture Design model is unlikely to give away our adaptations straight away, apart from the unusual shape. Rather than the sandbox view found in most canvases, we have chosen to adopt a circular flow. We believe great business models are in a permanent state of flux, as they continuously adapt to incoming intelligence on performance. This is why we placed the 10th element, the learning loop at the center of our model. With every iteration, element number 10 feeds into a new cycle of the model. The purpose of the model is therefore not so much to offer a snapshot of the status quo to just hang on the wall, but to provide incentive to continuously research and adapt.

The other elements

The first three elements, the problem, the target users and the value proposition, are quite similar to other models, in that they outline the essence of a concept. Creative leadership needs to have clarity around the essence of their concept, as the lack of it will affect every conversation they have around their business. And especially throughout the incubation stage of their business, talking well about their business will be a core competence for creative leadership, as they seek to engage users, customers, investors and other stakeholders.

One could even expand these elements by separating problems and solutions, or for instance early adopters and ‘regular customers’ like some models do. However, we felt we could contract some of these subcategories without forgetting about them and add a few core elements elsewhere to increase the overall strength of the model.

venture design
Creative leaders need to have clarity on the essence of their ideas and concepts. Click To Tweet

Steering for cost advantage

Creative leadership in any startup will have to deal with cost; in fact, lack of oversight in the cost department is ultimately the not so stealthy serial killer among startups. This is why we don’t want you to just list your costs; we want you to use your creative leadership skills to think about how your costs can actually help you outperform the competition from day one. Whether this involves moving your development to India or cutting down on office space or cappuccino consumption: low cost essentially means longevity, flexibility and therefore optionality.

The importance of a creative leadership team

Ask any investor about their motivations to invest or not invest in a venture, and it is very likely that the creative leadership team is among the key factors. Entrepreneurs singlehandedly make or break companies. Although arguably not part of the concept for a business, the synergy between an idea and the commitment and qualities of the team that is pursuing it, determine that fate of any initiative in the marketplace. Moreover, team dynamics good or bad, can lead to accelerated growth or a premature finish respectively. By thinking actively about the ideal fit between concept and colleagues, chances for success can increase dramatically in a short period of time.

Foresee your own pivots

Amongst start-up investors there is a lot of debate on how many times a startup should pivot before it can become successful. This may well be a mix-up between cause and effect as the creative leadership needed to pivot is often a logical consequence of a healthy survival instinct combined with the ability to learn from what is working and what not. Even for experienced entrepreneurs it is difficult to hit all pins in the first strike. The challenge here is not so much how to predict a pivot, but being ready by increasing your awareness of the market assumptions you have ‘baked’ into your idea and through anticipation of a variety of scenarios. The key question for creative leadership here is: if your venture does not develop as quickly as you anticipate, what are the levers you are going to move to create success nonetheless.

venture design
The creative leadership need to pivot is often a logical consequence of a healthy survival instinct combined with the ability to learn from what is working and what not. Click To Tweet

The healthy habit of gathering performance data

For creative leadership gathering performance data from your customers, your team, your partners etc. on a daily basis can be as confrontational as it is essential. Many aspiring entrepreneurs take too long before they face their music. There is a tendency to be too busy working in the business to be working on the business. The creation of a dashboard with Key Performance Indicators for your venture is the first step, the next one is to regularly monitor these KPI’s, and the third step is to take action on that data rather than rationalizing the findings away. Finding out what works and what needs fixing offers the best guidelines for coming out on top. This is why the learning loop is at the beating heart of our model.


Ultimately, the value of any tool depends on the skill of the hands of its user. For creative leadership there is a lot of merit in condensing a new venture concept to its essence. However, with this tool creative leadership should aim to have a big pile of the proverbial coasters, napkins or envelopes to turn around, for the use of the venture design tool is not a one-off exhibit of entrepreneurial prowess, but more like a regular training of one’s entrepreneurial muscle. There is of course no certainty, which is part of the very nature of creative leadership, and so, of course the THNK Venture Design template offers no guarantee upon completion, but much rather, it sets a concrete point of departure for focused further development, growth and pivoting.

To develop and perfect your own venture design, join the THNK Creative Leadership Program, a 6-month part-time learning journey to help you realize your fullest creative leadership potential and scale your world-changing enterprise.