While this book relies, wherever possible, on up-to-date research, it also relies extensively on cases and examples. Business cases are a popular and effective way to convey complex ideas quickly and efficiently. Cases provide a narrative that helps make sense of challenging management theories and frameworks. Such examples, however, have specific limitations. What worked at one organization might not work at another; whether due to differences in the organizations or context. The oversimplification inherent to case studies may obscure important elements or issues. There is always the risk of post-hoc rationalization: making sense of something in hindsight is convenient and easy but imposes the filters of the observer out of the original context. That being said, I think the value of cases outweighs the cost, so long as we acknowledge that the choices described in cases are not meant to be applied literally and perfectly to every alternate situation.
Some cases in the book are offered up third-hand, based on desk research. I selected these organizations for one of two reasons. Some of the organizations are so well-known that most readers should be able to apply concepts without further analysis. Others, generally not well-known, demonstrate extremely specific lessons about business models that would be difficult to apply to large, familiar organizations. For these examples, I have generally tried to provide some source material to support my observations or at least to enable inquisitive readers to start their own investigation.
Many examples discussed in the book are companies I know personally. Most, like Return Path and Metalysis, are organizations I studied as part of my academic research career. Some, such as Grappl, were formed by current or former students. For purpose of full disclosure, I will note my relationship the first time each organization is mentioned in the book.
One of the reasons I feel strongly about using cases is because I have extensive entrepreneurial management experience. That includes:
As much as I love teaching entrepreneurship in the classroom, I am an academic who believes that many aspects of entrepreneurship must be experienced to be fully appreciated. Cases offer a glimpse into that context, which is often more than the theory or frameworks can provide.
Five organizations are explored in more depth. Those are Orbel Health, MRail, Ocere, Power of Youth, and Cellular Logistics. Although the ultimate commercial success of these organizations has not yet been fully determined, I have a strong positive bias towards each of these ventures. I believe, however, that my analysis in the book is objective enough for the purpose of discussing business models.
The prevalence of examples drawn from organizations based in the United States reflects the my direct experience and knowledge base. I believe that, on the whole, the lessons about business models, including business model innovation and social entrepreneurship, are generally applicable to business contexts similar to North America and Europe. My intuition suggests that most of the lessons are applicable globally, with appropriate accommodations for the cultural and socio-economic contexts in places such as China and Russia.
Every organization has a business model, and every business model can be described, evaluated, and changed.