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img_3249-smallMy mind can’t process classic “business plans” (you know, the 20 page Word documents with marketing and sales plans, financing plans, planning the plan plans…)   About a year ago, I sketched out a Visual/Circular Business Plan.  Now, since I’m introducing the idea to my PebbleStorm “Come Play With Me” group, and now I’ve updated it…

One of the biggest differences in this plan, compared to a classic plan, is that there is no specific time line. You could add some rough time estimates in as rings (like tree rings). There is, more importantly, a logical progression of small projects and goals that lead to larger ones, like stepping stones.

Consider that you, today, are in the middle. The innermost ring is your first or next babystep.  The outermost rings are your vision.  It’s not meant to be perfect, accurate or a ‘project plan’ – it’s a simple way to have fun giving your vision a shape and substance that is easily explained both to yourself and others!

Oh – and if you do one, you have to share it with me 🙂   And most importantly: have fun with it!


And some video…

An Example By A Reader

From Todd Clark, of

I recently stumbled onto your site and loved the creative business plan you developed.

I just sat down tonight to do the same because tomorrow, at my group mastermind session, we are to present our business plans for 2012. I’m gonna hav a good time with this one!   I am sharing it with you ’cause you said to do so on your planning page.

It’s not a great photo of it…butt (not a typo), you get the gist.
T H A N K   Y O U.
What a great approach!
Here’s Todd’s art… (click to enlarge).  By the way he’s clearly great at art (much better than I in his way)…you do not need to be ‘good’ at art to do a fun version for yourself!

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One thing I know about myself: I like circles 🙂 I draw them in my notebooks constantly, to frame or communicate different ideas. Maybe it’s related to Buddhism (“everything is interconnected”), or the circle of life, or…

As I mentioned before, I personally can’t do classic business plans, so I often find myself coming up with new templates or designs to make a business plan that I can use.

It ain’t pretty (yet)

…but I have a sketch for a “Visual Business Plan” that is actually circular, not linear:

Each pie piece is a major foundation of the business. For example, I mapped out on here four core PebbleStorm foundations: writing, community, business mashups and “practice” (the experiences, learning and results that come from actually living the system.)

One of the biggest differences in this plan, compared to a classic plan, is that there is no specific time line. I will add some rough time estimates in as rings (like tree rings). There is, more importantly, a logical progression of small projects and goals that lead to larger ones, like stepping stones.

The inspiration came to me during the first PebbleStorm dinner, when Alisa Chompupong suggested using a water drop pattern to map out a vision board, with yourself in the center and ever-expanding goals propagating outwards. Here’s one of the pictures she found:

I’m excited to play and explore with this idea and format!

UPDATE: Seen the new version of the visual business plan?

A Visual Business Plan v2.0 (Updated w/Video)

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(I woke up this morning with my head buzzing on a topic – well, a few, as usual – that have been germinating the past few days. Ideas and conversations and people come to me, and I just keep writing things down in a notebook I carry around until a bunch of the pieces click in my head into something bigger, and I feel energized to write about it.)

Yesterday, I had tea at Lettus Cafe in San Francisco (I love it!) with another new, amazing friend – Nancy Allan, who I serendipitously met through Ken Sawyer of SaintsVC. She recently moved to Mill Valley (just north of San Francisco) from Los Angeles, to start a new business that she’s been thinking about for a year. She has a bunch of ideas for meaningful products. I’ll let her explain them here herself when she’s ready 🙂

Nancy Allan & “Products that bring inspiration and sacredness into people’s homes and lives”

Nancy has been thinking about and incubating on the side (not full-time) her business ideas for a year. She hasn’t yet crystallized a simple way to describe her unique genius, though she at least has the ‘puzzle pieces’ and clues in front of her that will make it up. For example, she mentioned casually last night a phrase that resonated and feels like a puzzle piece: “products that bring inspiration and sacredness into people’s homes and lives.”

My unique genius, if you’re wondering, as of May 2008 is “changing the way people think about work and helping them make money through enjoyment.”

Thoughts on business plans

At one point while we were talking, the topic of business plans came up. I have never been able to do a formal business plan. You know, the 20 page Word document that lays out sales, marketing, finance in dry language. Nancy, who has a lot of ideas, doesn’t have a formal plan either.

I can’t do them because I literally could not do it…but my brain just doesn’t work that way. I’d rather pour acid into my eyes than do a ‘classic’ business plan. Ok, before the business plan nazis “you have to be anal and organized!” jump on me, I will tell you yes, you need to think through topics such as: what are your strengths and passions, your unique genius? Why do you want to start a business, and what do you want out of it? What’s the vision of the business? What are your next (baby)steps in making it more concrete and real?

What works for you, and how you want to write and organize your thoughts, will be different from everyone else. Search out and digest examples of what others do, and then take bits and pieces to do your own thing in a way that feels right. And by the way, for some people doing that 20 page classic plan is exactly the right method for them (just not for me).

The PebbleStorm business plan – open to the world

I do have a VERY clear (to me) plan posted for the world to see:, and the long-term outcome/results of PebbleStorm is Project 2057. (Oh – was I supposed to be secretive and fearful about sharing my ideas, protecting my trade secrets? Whoops). Seriously – that is THE PebbleStorm business plan and vision. It’s obvious that I wrote, and am writing, it just for myself…since that’s the most important audience when you begin something from scratch. If you believe and enjoy something, others will to. Writing on the wiki has been one way I gradually help the vision, ideas and business model take on more and more concreteness over time. It’s also a sandbox to play with new ideas and ways of expressing them.

There isn’t much in there yet about revenue and margins blah blah blah. There’s a LOT of information that’s still either in my head or in notebooks that I just haven’t transferred into there yet, but will over time as the topics become ready to be relevant to me and the business.

Back to business plans

I did do the Silicon Valley version of a business plan back in 1999, which is an overview of the vision and business in 12-5 Powerpoint slides (like But I’m not even doing that for PebbleStorm, because it’s not right for me or for PebbleStorm. Although I anticipate doing some more formal planning like that in the future, once PebbleStorm matures and becomes more complex. Right now it’s just me behind the curtain with a few key collaborators. Nice and simple, yay! 🙂

For others, a formal plan (in whatever format) can be a very valuable exercise to think through and practice communicating about your business. And for some it’d be more painful than sticking needles into your eyes. You do need to work to uncover your unique genius, and have intentions/vision, and write down your plans and ideas…but do it in a way that works for you. If you have never done it before, look at some example business plans. Take pieces or practices that resonate and try them. Avoid the parts that you can’t stand. Jealously guard your enjoyment of the process, even the process of making your ideas tangible and real (which is really the whole point of the plan). Putting ideas and plans on paper, even as notes, makes them more real.

When you have a business partner vs. when you’re solo

When you’re working on something by yourself, it’s easier to just do what you want with your planning. However, if you have a business partner, it becomes critical to get onto and stay on the same page with them. Now you need to agree on what the mutual way to best lay out the common vision and how each person wants to contribute to it. In Silicon Valley, that’s usually a 12-15 slide Powerpoint deck or a wiki, or perhaps a whiteboard that stays up and is updated regularly. But you have to do something to keep the communication coming and to maintain alignment between the partners.

Guy Kawasaki on business plans (and don’t let planning get in the way of DOING)

As another sample perspective, Guy Kawasaki has some great points about business plans here. If you’re starting your own organically grown business, take his perspective with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that he’s a technology world investor, and is reviewing business plans from companies that want him as an investor.

I’m going to pull out a quote that I is very important:

A study recently released by Babson College analyzed 116 businesses started by alumni who graduated between 1985 and 2003. Comparing success measures such as annual revenue, employee numbers and net income, the study found no statistical difference in success between those businesses started with formal written plans and those without them…

“What we really don’t want to do is literally spend a year or more essentially writing a business plan without knowing we have actual customers,” says William Bygrave, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., who says he generally advocates “just do it.” Entrepreneurs must be nimble, and will be more apt to stick with a flawed concept they spent months drafting, he adds.

Planning and visioning is valuable, but be aware ofif you let it become an excuse to procrastinate and it get sin the way of doing something about the business. Keep up the babysteps!

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When I tell people about PebbleStorm, a common question is “how will it make money?”

It’s a good question.

And I have no idea.

And I don’t care (yet) – both because I already have income, and I’m doing what I LOVE in a way that excites both myself and other people (notice – it has to excite ME in addition to others!).

As it takes off organically, the business model will come naturally. Trying to force it to generate revenue too early would harm its true potential in these early, delicate stages. Sure, I have lots of ideas/intentions on how it’ll happen – events, sponsorships, a book/books, workshops, getting paid in equity or a percentage of revenue for companies we help found or grow, subscriptions, etc. – but I’m leaving myself totally open for whatever makes the most sense at the right time. It’ll come with patience.

Making it easy to be patient!

Why make life hard on myself? I have another source of income to allow me to not care about when PebbleStorm starts generating revenue. Last year, I started BlackBox Revenue with a partner who also is, Erythean Martin. BlackBox helps b2b companies with sales forces create predictable revenue (Cold Calling 2.0 presentation).

Klia Bassing & “Visit Yourself”

Sometimes it makes sense to quit a job and your source of income to start a new company – but often it doesn’t! Klia Bassing is an entrepreneur in Washington D.C. who started a ‘bring meditation classes into the workplace’ company, I love it!

We talked a few months ago. She’s working on the business full-time, and it’s still early enough that it wasn’t bringing in enough income to sustain her indefinitely – she was using up her savings. I suggested getting a part-time contracting job to give her some breathing room while the business continued to make progress. A few days later, after digesting this, Klia wrote back:

Klia Bassing: “It was shocking to think about taking a part-time job because I had it in mind that that would be “failing”…going backward in a business that used to support me entirely (but in an unsustainable way, with me as the only teacher/service provider). After a bit of grieving, the clouds cleared and going back to consulting at the World Bank–or wherever–a few days a week just felt like self-care of my financial and mental well-being.”

Jealously guard your enjoyment

Why kill yourself? Why not find ways to make starting a company easier on yourself, so that you love it and stay EXCITED about it…and so that your excitement will infect others? Creating growth through consistent excitement and enjoyment is a much surer path to success (now and in the future) than growth through bitter, unhappy, unyielding determination.  If you’re stressed and unhappy, it will reduce your creativity and motivation and leave a bad taste with your clients or business partners.  Jealously protect, love and nurture your enjoyment of your work!

Project 2057

April 17th, 2008

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This 50-year vision came to me in a flash on August 9th, 2007, at lunch with Zaw Thet in Palo Alto. Ah I can remember the moment like it was yesterday 🙂    I wondered, what kind of big, hairy audacious goal would help inspire and focus not just myself, but the entire PebbleStorm community?pebblestorm-project-2057-sketch-small

[1] Help 100 million people make money through enjoyment

[2] Help them create $1 trillion in new wealth

[3] Find ways to measure and increase their happiness with work

I’ve only updated Project2057 a couple of times since August07: the original point 1 said ‘change the way 100 million people think about work’…which has since evolved to the “Help 100 million people make money through enjoyment”.