Linear Vs. Platform Business Models In A Nutshell

Linear business models create value by selling products down the supply chain. Platform business models create value by enabling exchanges among consumers.

Has the business world changed?

In the old business era, the business that dominated the business world were linear business models.

Nowadays, platform business models have become the dominant form of businesses as they can scale quickly and grab market shares more efficiently compared to linear business models.

Where a linear business might still be a great model for small organizations and startups, however, as companies scale, platform business models enable them to scale more efficiently to grab larger shares of the total market.

Related: Dissecting Platform Business Models With Nick Johnson [Lecture]

What’s a linear business model?

A linear business model creates value by selling products or services down the supply chain. Thus, its value starts by controlling the supply chain.

This concept is critical to understand as a linear business model would start from the assumption that the value is in the supply chain, and as it grows it can grab more market shares, by controlling more pieces of it. Also, a linear business model that scales will want to own more assets, thus it will require more capital to be managed.

Also, a linear business model has to be closed and controlled by definition, as this is the way value can be captured. Those logics do not apply to platform business models; let’s see why.

What’s a platform business model?

platform business model unlocks value for its end users and consumers by enabling them to interact and transact smoothly with the other side of the transaction, be it another consumer or a producer.

Therefore, a platform business model won’t own assets, but it will make it possible to its end users to exchange things. In short, platform business models take their value from network effects. This means the platform business model scales way more efficiently than a linear business model because it’s able to reduce its transaction costs also as the scale reached is massive.

In other words, where linear business models hardly scale to the total size of the market, platform business models not only might scale to the size of the market; but they might actually expand these markets altogether.

Key similarities

  1. Value Creation: Both linear and platform business models aim to create value for their customers and end-users.

  2. Profitability: Both models seek to generate revenue and achieve profitability, though the methods and mechanisms may differ.

  3. Customer Focus: Both models require a focus on meeting customer needs and delivering products or services that satisfy those needs.

  4. Scale: Both models have the potential to scale their operations and expand their reach to serve a larger customer base.

Key differences

  1. Value Delivery:

    • Linear Business Model: Linear models create value by producing and selling products or services down the supply chain. The value is generated by controlling the entire supply chain and delivering the end product to consumers.
    • Platform Business Model: Platform models create value by enabling exchanges among consumers or between consumers and producers. The value is derived from the network effects and interactions facilitated by the platform.
  2. Asset Ownership:

    • Linear Business Model: Linear models often require asset ownership, as they involve controlling the supply chain and owning physical assets to produce and deliver products.
    • Platform Business Model: Platform models do not require asset ownership. Instead, they leverage existing resources and enable users to exchange goods, services, or information.
  3. Scalability:

    • Linear Business Model: Linear models may face scalability challenges as they expand, requiring more capital and resources to control the growing supply chain.
    • Platform Business Model: Platform models are highly scalable due to their reliance on network effects. As more users join the platform, its value increases, and transaction costs decrease, enabling efficient scaling.
  4. Open vs. Closed Systems:

    • Linear Business Model: Linear models tend to be closed systems, where value is captured within the organization and its supply chain.
    • Platform Business Model: Platform models are open systems that thrive on network effects and collaboration between users, creating a virtuous cycle of value generation.

Key takeaways

Linear business models focus on controlling the supply chain and creating value by producing and selling products or services.

In contrast, platform business models enable exchanges among consumers and create value through network effects and interactions.

Platform models are highly scalable, leveraging existing resources and facilitating efficient transactions, while linear models may face challenges as they grow and require more capital and resources.

As the business landscape evolves, platform business models have become dominant, offering greater efficiency and market share grabbing potential compared to traditional linear models.

Read next: 

Other key resources:

Business models case studies:

Platform business models case studies

Amazon Business Model

Amazon has a diversified business model. In 2021 Amazon posted over $469 billion in revenues and over $33 billion in net profits. Online stores contributed to over 47% of Amazon revenues, Third-party Seller Services,  Amazon AWS, Subscription Services, Advertising revenues and Physical Stores.

Doordash Business Model

DoorDash is a platform business model that enables restaurants to set up at no cost delivery operations. At the same time, customers get their food at home and dashers (delivery people) earn some extra money. DoorDash makes money by markup prices through delivery fees, memberships, and advertising for restaurants on the marketplace.

Etsy Business Model

Etsy is a two-sided marketplace for unique and creative goods. As a marketplace, it makes money via transaction fees on the items sold on the platform. Etsy’s key partner is comprised of sellers providing unique listings, and a wide organic reach across several marketing channels.

Uber Business Model 

Uber is a is two-sided marketplace, a platform business model that connects drivers and riders, with an interface that has elements of gamification, that makes it easy for two sides to connect and transact. Uber makes money by collecting fees from the platform’s gross bookings.

Uber Eats Business Model

Uber Eats is a three-sided marketplace connecting a driver, a restaurant owner and a customer with Uber Eats platform at the center. The three-sided marketplace moves around three players: Restaurants pay commission on the orders to Uber Eats; Customers pay the small delivery charges, and at times, cancellation fee; Drivers earn through making reliable deliveries on time.

Read Next: Business Model Innovation, Business Models.

Related Innovation Frameworks

Business Engineering


Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Types of Innovation

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Technological Modeling

Technological modeling is a discipline to provide the basis for companies to sustain innovation, thus developing incremental products. While also looking at breakthrough innovative products that can pave the way for long-term success. In a sort of Barbell Strategy, technological modeling suggests having a two-sided approach, on the one hand, to keep sustaining continuous innovation as a core part of the business model. On the other hand, it places bets on future developments that have the potential to break through and take a leap forward.

Diffusion of Innovation

Sociologist E.M Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovation Theory in 1962 with the premise that with enough time, tech products are adopted by wider society as a whole. People adopting those technologies are divided according to their psychologic profiles in five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Frugal Innovation

In the TED talk entitled “creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits” Navi Radjou defined frugal innovation as “the ability to create more economic and social value using fewer resources. Frugal innovation is not about making do; it’s about making things better.” Indian people call it Jugaad, a Hindi word that means finding inexpensive solutions based on existing scarce resources to solve problems smartly.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Idea Generation


Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

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