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Building business models through simple rules

Sunny Li Sun (Robert J. Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA)
Jianqiang Xiao (School of Business, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)
Yanli Zhang (Management Department, Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, USA)
Xia Zhao (Department of Management and Marketing, California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA)

Multinational Business Review

ISSN: 1525-383X

Article publication date: 11 October 2018

Issue publication date: 29 October 2018



How do entrepreneurs use simple rules to build their business models? Based on an inductive study of three Chinese Internet and technology firms, the authors find that business models emerge from simple rules that entrepreneurs learn from their experience. Simple rules also guide entrepreneurs to actualize and exploit opportunities in the marketplace, and they can help business models evolve through market feedback, especially in internationalization. This paper aims to delve into the black box of entrepreneurial decision-making and offer a better depiction of the business model development process in uncertain and fast-changing environments and thus provide guidance for future entrepreneurs.


Following the case method (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2003), the authors first present a thick description of characteristics of three companies and the dynamics of their business models. They then code these descriptions into first-order measures. Finally, they aggregate these measures into abstract constructs. They constantly compare the theoretical constructs and the emerging theory with the existing literature on business models.


The authors generate three key insights from the findings: business models emerge from simple rules learned from entrepreneurs’ experience, simple rules help entrepreneurs exploit and actualize opportunities in the marketplace and simple rules help businesses expand and evolve business models through market feedback, especially in internationalization.


This paper falls into the intersection of strategy and entrepreneurship – an emerging new field of strategic entrepreneurship – and is concerned with how businesses create and sustain a competitive advantage while simultaneously identifying and exploiting new opportunities. The authors bring people – the individual decision-makers for businesses – back in strategy research and depict a more realistic picture of the behavior of successful entrepreneurs and their business model development process.



Sun, S.L., Xiao, J., Zhang, Y. and Zhao, X. (2018), "Building business models through simple rules", Multinational Business Review, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 361-378.



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