Pinky and the Brain

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On November 20, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on CVS Health’s ExtraCare Program: Four Feet of Data Analytics :

I’m surprised CVS hasn’t leveraged this data for a more socially beneficial effort versus trying to sell us more things that we don’t need. I know whenever I get one of those 4-foot-long receipts, I start to question myself – maybe I do really need to buy more beauty products?! I’m just not so clear as to how this is enhancing consumers’ lives. You mention that the program offers coupons for things you already buy. This hasn’t happened to me – it’s generally for complementary products that I normally don’t buy, but might consider with a coupon. The pharmacy data would be particularly telling. HIPAA laws would probably prohibit this, but I bet there would be a way to help those on multiple anti-depressants to find more natural ways to handle anxiety and depression. It’s a shame that so many people are living emotionally drug dazes because of Big Pharma.

Another potential opportunity for CVS would be to make using the coupons easier. The algorithms behind the program are incredible, but we are expected to clip and save these coupons for the next time. Seems like a mismatch. I usually forget, and I am super frugal. There should be a way to seamlessly connect the coupons to the rewards card, that way you don’t have to remember to bring the coupon.

On November 20, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Using Data to Monetize Mother Nature :

While Weather has an incredible wealth of consumer data, I feel that it’s a shame it is ultimately going to be used to advertise. Sure, it helps a retailer like Nordstrom target consumers more easily, but in reality it’s targeting people to sell them more things they don’t need. If you need a winter coat, you don’t need an advertisement to tell you that. This is true of all advertisements, I feel. Call me cynical, but I would love to see Weather leverage this data for more socially conscious efforts.

For example, I could see IBM pooling this data with the data they collect in their data analytics efforts in transportation – reducing traffic congestion, adjusting HOV lane pricing based on demand and re-routing traffic based on real-time data. I could see pooling weather data with traffic data as a means of preventing major traffic disasters before they happen.

On November 20, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on RAW IS EVERYTHING: Using Data To Start My Own Skincare Company :

First of all, what you are doing is awesome and I really admire you for speaking truth to power!

This sentence in particular really stuck out to me: “The average woman puts 515 chemicals on her body every single day. Up to 79% of women report having sensitive skin, and 97% of women believe personal care products should be regulated.” I am right on board with this, yet I still use many of the chemical-laden products that I am used to. I am trying to switch over, but I find that sometimes the more natural products aren’t as effective. I think part of it is that I am hesitant to believe that a natural product could work just as well, if not better, given the lack of side effects. The industry is sticky in this way. Once a woman finds a product that works, she is hesitant to drop it for something else.

One question I would have is how to overcome this initial hurtle – will you take a similar approach to selling as you did with your survey testing? I think that this could really drive adoption by offering a risk-free means of trying out a new product. Maybe it’s even a multi-stage trial period, which involves trying one product, providing feedback, and then receiving another that is even closer to what the user needs. So the product evolves from “learning” from the consumer. Seems like each product would be customized in this case though!

Another fascinating question would be how to apply data collected from the physical body in creating these natural products. I’d love to know how putting chemicals on our skin effects different organs in a real-time way. Maybe this is a marketing video with the help of a skin care scientist / specialist? Food for thought.

On November 1, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on White House Petitions: “We the People” gone wrong :

The government started this initiative to placate the masses, convincing us that we actually have a say when in reality, we don’t. It’s like bread and circus during ancient Rome. Entertainment for us so we don’t make a fuss about what’s really going on (massive corruption and massive spending).

The response of citizens is even more interesting. The fact that the Death Star petition was signed by so many people suggests that they don’t really take the government seriously. It’s a sign of the times – trust in government has plummeted, and most of us think it’s a joke given what’s really going on behind closed doors is not subject to a democratic process, and we only know half-truths from what we are fed via the media.

I know this is cynical but it’s very strange the government would spend time and resources on this.

On November 1, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on ShopShareCrop: How to support a closed food loop economy :

This is a brilliant idea! I find it very interesting because the majority of consumers eat fruits and vegetables when they are under-ripe. Bananas are a perfect example. They are truly ripe when they have brown spots and no green tips, but the majority of people eat them when they are under-ripe, which can cause digestive distress. I suspect this is the same for many other types of fruits and vegetables.

I think there’s a lot of potential here to scale this (of course, this is HBS, we have to scale…). Once the user base becomes large enough, I could imagine a central warehouse where people could drop off and pick up overripe food. It reminds me of “The Dump” when I was a kid. We would take our trash there each week, in addition to used household items, such as old clothing and furniture, to place in the “Swap Shed.” I could see a food swap central location. This is very similar to what Trader Joe’s is trying to do, selling expired food at huge discounts.

The only issue I see is liability – what happens when someone gets sick? Does the app’s reputation ruin? Or do people take it with the territory?

On November 1, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Pandering to Beauty Junkies :

To everyone’s point about consumers sharing in commercial success, I think there’s an analogy in licensing art. I have a friend who is a designer for a Hobby-Lobby-type firm, and they often purchase designs from independent designers to use on their products (such as figurines, place mats, carpets, you name it!). The artist gets a stream of royalty income, and the firm doesn’t have to pay in-house designers as much AND gets the cream of the crop, in theory, since they aren’t limited only to the designers they hire full-time. I could see Julep’s consumers potentially becoming freelancers, and maybe Julep would not have to have as many R&D people in-house. The only issue with this is that make-up is more about mixing chemicals than design.

This brings me to my next point. Given the backlash against cosmetics companies and the horrendous amount of toxins they put in our makeup, I wonder if there’s a way for consumers to design / create natural products and get licensed, given you can experiment in your kitchen?

On October 3, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Coursera: using network effects to build access to education :

Companies like Coursera play a crucial role in transforming the education paradigm in the U.S. and the world. There’s a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson ( about how our school systems fail children by forcing them into a very specific box that serves a small minority of the student population. By providing access to thousands of courses, students can choose what they want to learn and go at their own pace, rather than being force-fed by public and private educational institutions.

If companies like Coursera can continue to democratize education via network effects, many will call into question who our school system is really serving (both public and private). It certainly isn’t the students. I could see Coursera playing a huge role in bringing homeschooling into the mainstream and preparing students to enter the world by discovering their true passions and talents, rather than forcing them to learn from books chosen by state and federal authorities.

On October 3, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Fitbit is Peer Pressuring People into Buying Their Product and It’s Working :

I would agree FitBit is capitalizing on network effects, but I question the solidity and longevity of these effects. I question how many people regularly use the FitBit over longer periods of time, after the initial novelty wears off. To really have lasting network effects, FitBit would need to be something enduring, and involve ingraining a habit in the end user. For example, how many people really track their sleep patterns with this product? Once you have the data on how much you are sleeping, will you do anything with that information?

I think the network effects we are seeing with FitBit are people wanting to wear the product and show off, rather than actually use it. If this is the case, once the novelty wears off and it’s a thing of the past, the initial network effects will disappear.

On October 3, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Etsy – Beyond Brands and Boarders :

Couldn’t agree more about Etsy – it’s transformed the way artists reach their followers, and has made it easier for them to make a living doing what they love. I think Etsy is a prime example that network effects are paving the way for people to follow their passions rather than pigeonhole themselves into lives of imitation. The more artists AND consumers that join the platform, the greater the inspiration because both artists and consumers can serve as muses to other artists and consumers on the platform. In a way, one could say that the network effects of Etsy paves the way for art to become a legitimate career path and not just a hobby, which will help shift global consciousness towards embracing more right-brained ways of thinking!

I have this beautiful moonstone necklace that I bought on Etsy and could not find anything similar anywhere else online or in a brick-and-mortar. I love its uniqueness and love even more that an artist made it with love, rather than through exploitation.

On September 13, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on ClassPass: Workouts just got easier :

I think ClassPass makes a lot of sense for classes at gyms, but I wonder whether it could hurt studios in the long-run because there is a human face to potential cannibalization – part of the reason many people go to studios is because of the community, and studios differentiate themselves partially based on the community they build.

Personally, belonging to the community at a studio has been a life-changer, and the idea of using ClassPass to move from studio to studio seems like it would offer great variety, but at the expense of community. I think it would be a great way to find a studio to stay with in the long-run. Building community requires that students spend much of their time with one studio, which goes against the ClassPass model.

Another thing working against ClassPass – the importance of routine and habit. Starting to work out is very hard at first, and while we all need variety, having a regular “spot” at a gym or studio is a great way to build accountability. If no one is expecting you in class, you might be less likely to go.

As someone who was initially resistant to buying and using an e-reader, and then jumped on the bandwagon, I can understand Borders management’s reasoning – e-readers will never take the place of the smell and feel of a brand new physical book, and since web sales were not in its wheelhouse, Borders thought it was safe with its traditional model. I alternate back and forth between my Kindle and physical books, and even though I love my Kindle, I find it’s sometimes much easier to find and read a physical book. Problem is, the last place most consumers want to obtain a physical book is at a brick-and-mortar due to the cost and the inconvenience.

You say that Barnes and Noble is still around, and I think there’s a reason why, apart from digital strategy. Barnes and Noble is the Whole Foods of book retailers, and Borders did not execute to the same degree that Barnes and Noble did. Buying physical books is much easier via Amazon, but part of Barnes and Nobles’ value proposition is the ambiance while browsing in the store. You can buy a coffee, sit down in a comfy chair and literally read an entire book if you want. It’s more about the experience than the books themselves. That being said, do people actually buy books? I know many people just stop in and browse, and similar to Borders, buy the book later (and for a better price!) on Amazon. Barnes and Noble is still around, but if they can’t sell books and e-readers, they are yesterday’s news, just like Borders.

On September 13, 2015, Pinky and the Brain commented on Instacart + Whole Foods Market = Digital #Winner :

Since Instacart appeared on the scene, I have wondered why Whole Foods would agree to partner because part of Whole Foods’ value proposition is their in-market sensory experience – it’s fun to shop there (even though many items are expensive!). Going to Market Basket is an entirely different experience than going to Whole Foods, and I wonder whether Instacart might aim to target some retailers that aren’t that pleasant to shop at in the first place. Then they would capture those who don’t have time to go to the store, and those that would rather not set foot in the store.

Your point on Instacart’s target demographics (Techy Bostonians and Working Families) explains why Whole Foods might not see this as a threat, but at the same time, if we take this model to its end-conclusion (assuming everyone will ultimately want their groceries home delivered in the utopia of the future), Whole Foods will simply become a warehouse. While convenient, I think something valuable will be lost – the enjoyment of seeing the many varieties of lettuce and kale, and the ripeness of the bananas!

Furthermore, I imagine most shoppers make impulse buys, in addition to their shopping list, when going into the actual store. Does Whole Foods lose this if too many people turn to Instacart? Will their $35 average shopping basket decrease?