Why Business Design Matters for Startups

Articulating what a business stands for, and why it is unique, is the first step in the journey, though it’s also one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs.

Articulating what a business stands for, and why it is unique, is the first step in the journey, though it’s also one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs. Additionally, having no entrenched values or established practices means startups are well-placed to design a business model that is future-focused and more flexible – which helps them adapt to changing customer needs.

Of course entrepreneurs have vision, but as a founder, you’re also caught up in a whirlwind of fundraising, product development, marketing and recruitment, and it’s easy to lose sight of what your company stands for in the first place. Being able to see the direction beyond those day-to-day hurdles is paramount.

Why business design?
Even with a strong idea in hand, you may struggle to communicate the story of your company, and why it matters to your audience. When it comes to securing investment and support from stakeholders, those who succeed tend to be the ones who have the best stories to support their business plan. As well as being a sales and marketing tool, a well-defined vision is also a filter for effective decision-making. It helps you set your company on the right strategic path and highlights where you should focus precious resources.

With a forward-thinking founder at the helm, startups have the energy and passion to move in new directions. This may be exciting, but it can also be a block to your long-term success. Once past these crucial early stages, many find that their brand and value propositions have actually been poorly defined and, as a result, customers find them confusing, contradictory or simply uninspiring.


"Startups can gain a huge commercial advantage by applying the principles of business design because it has the ability to help teams picture complicated business models and plans before placing their bets."

The story of HP’s new premium logo began in December 2008 when the American tech giant commissioned British creative agency Moving Brands to redesign its entire corporate identity. Today Moving Brands has branches in San Francisco, New York, and Zurich, but back then it was just a single London studio that was fortunate enough to have been noticed by one of HP’s higher-ups. I spoke to Moving Brands CEO Mat Heinl, who served as the creative lead on the HP brand redesign, about the challenges of the assignment and how his company worked to overcome them.

“We got going very quickly,” says Heinl. “Less than two weeks. For the scale of this work, that is very rare; this type of engagements can sometimes breach a year just to get going.” It may have been an auspiciously rapid beginning, but Heinl and his partner Hanna Laiko, the consulting lead who’d previously worked at Nokia, soon confronted the full spectrum of HP’s enormous global hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Everyone from the CEO and board of directors, through the marketing chief and executive vice presidents, down to regional bosses and design and marketing leads was considered a stakeholder in the redesign. Listening to Heinl describe an endless litany of meetings with “somewhere in the hundreds of people” at HP, I’m impressed that his team at Moving Brands was able to accomplish anything at all. And Moving Brands was only the lead agency on the project — HP had also hired a lot of other external help, whose wishes and advice had to be taken into account.

More powerfully still, it makes revolutionary new concepts tangible; future product ideas that are hard to grasp or have no direct analogy, for example. Business design enables leaders to visualize their strategy in a way that the team, investors, and customers all understand, even before the product is ready to launch.

Creating a concrete vision
Compared to traditional business strategies and frameworks, which can be abstract, rational and dominated by numbers, this model creates a more concrete vision for the business and product. In turn, this supports the construction of a coherent and holistic customer experience – increasingly a major differentiator and advantage for startups.

It places heavy demands on your time, it can be stressful and unpredictable. There will be many highs and lows, and this is why having a well-defined culture pays off. Cultivating this at the start sows the seeds for explosive growth. It will serve as the bedrock for healthy and ethical people policies and is a strong competitive asset to be used when attracting the most in demand and talented employees.

A multi-disciplinary approach
As a creative company, Moving Brands has always taken an innovative and integrated approach to business strategy and experience design in the way we work. Bringing together a mix of strategic, creative, and technical thinkers and makers, business design provides a framework for teams to make powerful decisions and act quickly. It’s particularly beneficial in the fast-paced moving world where change is permanent, competition is fierce and customer expectations evolve constantly.

Whether defining a new product or service or developing the business model, it’s important to take an objective “outside in” view and test ideas and concepts early to uncover any gaps, opportunities or flaws. Questioning whether that product or idea answers an unmet need in the market. This continuous testing and refinement of prototypes reduces unnecessary spend and helps create a more compelling value proposition.


"Business design, a combination of creative and strategic thinking, is closely aligned with fast-paced startups, since it relies on the kind of agile thought processes that appeal to dynamic entrepreneurs and their teams."

Instead of dwelling on theoretical, strategic scenarios (which are hard to explain and grasp) it focuses on quickly bringing to life and evaluating the impact of concepts and strategies. The killer advantage it brings is the ability to demonstrate what the customer experience will be, right near the beginning of the process. This way, it can be clearly understood by an entire business, from top to bottom.

The results of applying business design
This was certainly the case when we worked with tech startup, Madefire, an app that brings digital comics to mobile, gaming and VR devices. Right from the start, our team worked with the founders to hone their business ideas, articulate their story and develop a unique value proposition. Their journey has gone from featured in the App Store, to signing major partnerships with Marvel and Magic Leap. Madefire now has the business and design tools and confidence to develop current and future products, while building strong relationships with investors, employees and customers.

At the other end of the scale, we have worked with IBM to define their own business design service offer. Although this was an established organization within one of the world’s most storied corporations, they also saw the value of storytelling and visualization to help define the focus and the future of this offer.

In our own business design engagements, we bring together methodologies from business strategy, customer insights brand definition and experience design to create agile, customer-focused models that respond to the ever-changing requirements of the “moving world.”

Read more insight and perspectives on the moving world here.