Despite a rich extant literature, this paper argues that it is unclear what business models are. The authors assess three dominant conceptions of business models in the academic literature: as transactional structures, value extracting devices and mechanisms for structuring the organization. To overcome the shortcomings of these approaches, they draw on theories of performativity, social typecasting and managerial cognition. They propose an alternative conception of business models as performative representations that work in three ways: as narratives that convince, typifications that legitimate, and recipes that guide social action. Rather than actual features of firms, business models are representations that allow managers to articulate and instantiate the value of new technologies.