Business model expert at, Dr Timber Haaker, on future proofing your business

When you set out on a career path you tend to have a general idea of where you would like to go and dreams of what you would like to become, sometimes it can be a bit of a surprise. This is certainly the case of Dr Timber Haaker, advisor for Innovalor and business model expert.

What brings a PhD in applied mathematics to a job that strives to drive SMEs forward? Is there a connection? There are more similarities than first thought, “That is a bit of a stretch you might think! I’ve always had a general interest in financial and economic matters and if you think about applied mathematics, modelling is really essential part”

“After my PhD which was on physical forms of applied mathematics I started working for an investment company we would make models for pension funds and applied mathematics and economic matters there. From there I moved to a telecom operator and they started using business models, so I moved from applied mathematics modelling to financial modelling to business modelling.”

From then on everything fell into place a passion for developing and analysing business models was born, “All modelling is about developing, analysing and then testing the model. If you think about a business model, testing and analysing is to do with the value towards customers on one hand, on the other hand it is the value towards the business owner and their partners. In the end it has to add up, you need a good story, customers, and the numbers have to add up at some point to make it viable.”

Innovative tools

Timber became involved in the platform from his experience as a business advisor and researcher. He turned his hand to creating practical tools for SMEs. These tools are all built and gathered to help overcome common questions and issues faced by entrepreneurs when innovating their business. These questions were identified during a 3 year research amongst SMEs throughout Europe.

“As a result –, therefore, provides a number of hands on and efficient tools that business owners can use to find the answers to fairly common questions. Questions like ‘I want to start a business’ or ‘I want to grow my business’. The platform guides people to these questions and then provides with the tools that help them answer these questions. Business owner and startups can create a hands-on action plan to innovate their business themselves, without having to call upon (expensive) consultants for advice. We have tried to keep it as simple as possible and include many examples so it does not take too much time and they give an answer that is actionable.”

“The platform also offers a lot of case studies from fellow entrepreneurs that show you how they deal with these common issues. In that sense it provides inspiration through others and hands-on tools enable you to work by yourself or together with a business advisor. You can see that it has worked for someone else and makes you think, ‘I should give this a try’.”

There are many business schools around Europe that can provide knowledge and tools, but they tend to focus on big corporations. The platform is bringing this knowledge to SMEs according to Timber.

“The platform is developed within the ENVISION project (Angele spoke to you about it) with 9 partners that as well as providing tools do research into the practice of business model innovation for SMEs. The have found that 39% of SMEs in Europe are involved in business model innovation and these companies tend to perform better than others, showing its importance.”

“The research also shows that SMEs find it quite hard to make a business model, to find time for it and ways to put it together. Our tools can really help them to make a business model and make them more effective, more successful. Finding the right tools helps to innovate more efficiently and if you work on business model innovation you are more successful than others.”

Past, present and future

Business models are not set in stone, and even the best laid plans can become derailed Timber explains, “Competition of course is the most important challenge here. At, we think about a local bakery as an example and if it finds itself surrounded by two supermarkets who also bake bread throughout the day, how to cope with that. Competition is quite important.”

“In terms of the long term plan, you need to be agile and flexible to change. The lack of agility can force companies to stick with doing their business the way they did for tool long and their business model can derail.”

“Sometimes you need a bit of money to change and invest, so access to finance can also hinder a changing business model. Funding can be a huge problem.”

What can you do about these problems? Can you plan for this in your business journey? The team and platform are there to help you anticipate and plan for the future.

“There is one tool that helps you understand your business environment and how it is changing it’s called a PESTLE analysis. PESTLE is an acronym standing for Political Economical Societal Technology Legal Environmental these are different perspectives which you can look at your business environment.”

“There can be technological changes like the internet that can impact your business. For political changes, even in The Netherlands we talk about Brexit every day, it is a big change that can impact your business. With this analysis you can look at your business through these different perspectives and see what things are happening around you. The tool can help you to plan your business towards the future.”

“For example, the changes with personal data and GDPR in the European Union, if your business is involved with storing personal data you need to be very careful. You need to check it is OK with these new laws coming into effect next year. You have to anticipate these types of changes. We have already mentioned Brexit, in The Netherlands we have strong ties to the UK and it is a big concern here. What will a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit mean for my business? If you are aware of these changes you can possibly anticipate the impact and make changes to your business model.”

“Another tool is business model road mapping. It helps you to move from an existing business model to a new business model. You may have done your analysis and know where you are now and where you want to go, but what are the intermediate steps to get from here to there. The business road map helps you understand the activities and steps you need to take to make that change.”

The is a great platform for tools to future proof your business, Timber explains how future proofing your business will make you more successful.

“If we look at making your business future proof there are two key understandings. The first is to understand what your business model is and we have some tools on that help you describe your business model in a clear and structured manner that help you communicate it to share the idea of your business model.”

“The second is to understand the world around you using something like a PESTLE analysis (see above). If you now have the understanding of where your business is and what is happening around you, you can try to understand how the changes will impact your business. We call this a business model stress test. If you have a clear picture on the impact of your business you can anticipate how you can change your business model to make it more robust or future proof.”

The advice the gives to SMEs is to future proof their businesses and it is something Timber and the team have taken on board.

“We have tried to apply our own tools to the platform itself. We are looking into a number of business model options to make the platform self-sustainable and to make sure that it remains available for free for European SMEs for as long as possible.”

Part of making the available to as many people as possible is through creating a booklet.

“I am one of the people involved in creating a booklet which includes all the templates we have made as well as case studies of SMEs around Europe. It is just another way we can make our content available to SMEs. We also have a business model card deck, which are in a variety of European languages, they are downloadable on the site.”

The perfect business model?

The perfect person to ask if there exists a perfect business model is business model expert, Dr Timber Haaker and he has a slightly disappointing answer.

“No, not really. It is always dependant on the context, on your product, on your market. There is no such thing as a golden business model. Relating to one of our tools, the deck of cards, we collected 52 business models that have been tried and tested by many companies. It is a great way to find a business model that works for you. You can see on the back of the card which company that business model has worked for. You can look at the idea of that particular model and see if it can work for your business. So, to answer your question, there are at least 52 perfect business models out there!”

Interview by Dominic Lill, editor, Talk Business