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On May 4, 2017, pvuong commented on CircleUp – Disrupting VC/PE with Big Data Investing :

Thanks Afaf for your question! The indie CPG brands are not big enough for traditional PE and does not have the return profile (unicorn potential) that VC would be looking for. Meanwhile, they suffer from mispricing by traditional lenders (banks requiring personal guaranteer and underwrite personal risk vs business risk) and long funding cycle, limiting growth.

I agree with you a lot Kat. I myself, 3 months after professing my love for the app, have ‘churned’. For me it comes down to the lack of newness in the routine. It appears that for fitness, a platform strategy is more conducive to long-lasting success.

On April 29, 2017, pvuong commented on The VOID: is this real life? :

This sounds super fun! We should totally go sometime! I like how it combines the social adventure component of Escape the Room with the immersive experience of VR. While content and stage will be the largest cost drivers, it stands to be a long-lasting entertainment option. I could see it licensing out its “plays” to franchises and the likes. Products like this helps the VR/AR industry get adoption quickly, which is encouraging.

This is incredible. But I couldn’t help but wonder how this business can make money and sustain themselves. Most troublesome are private prisons, which I believe get paid per prisoner – what is their incentive to reduce their pipeline of future business? For public prisons, I am not quite sure how the incentives are structured for management but can’t imagine easy adoption knowing the stigmatism associated with prisoners. Their best bet is probably well-funded anti-incarceration nonprofits, which I’m not sure exists.

Interesting. While I agree with your reasons why it was not a success, I learned at HBS that whenever something doesn’t make sense to you, try to figure out why it makes sense to the other person. I am curious in what scenario would the B2C buzz works for Google and what did they get wrong about their assumptions?

On April 6, 2017, pvuong commented on Friendly Score: Using Social Data to Build Credit Profiles :

One fact you may find interesting is Affirm, which used to claim it uses social data to underwrite, no longer does so and told everybody that it doesn’t. To fend off ‘gamers’, one fix could be to weigh the relationships based on the date they are established – the longer the better. The concern then is whether or not you can extract that data from the social network. Not sure if it is industry trend but LinkedIn shut down its API, potentially as it was expanding its business models to other products and services and eat the lunch of startups that used to rely on its API. Not unconceivable why Facebook wouldn’t do the same, especially as they are pushing their Messenger product that does include payment and ecommerce functionalities.

and what about all the federal forms that tell me to write in allcaps!!?

So happy you wrote a post about Zest! I think they are a phenomenal team with promising model. Quick update on the business model, they are looking at a significant pivot to B2B with ZAML and I won’t be surprised if they start winding down their balance sheet of Basix loans (yup, they keep it on their balance sheet).

Regarding anti-discriminatory credit compliance, they won’t use variables such as gender, race, etc as direct input but how far they are at making sure the other variables are not significantly correlated with protected class is unknown.

Firms that rely on alternative underwriting keep their models close to their chest – the only way we can perhaps tell is looking at their team’s credentials. Firms that have Palantir teams or backed by Peter Thiel, Jon Lonsdale, Formation 8 or Google are worth a longer look than other in my opinion.

Quirky seems to be in the fad business that QVC is in, but without the inventory-light model of QVC! Compared to kickstarter, demand as indicated by likes isn’t credible as they did not cause any opportunity cost to the voter as committing even a small amount of capital to a project on kickstarter. This reminds me of MOOCs, a case of having market demand but no profit model because of the lack of friction in the transaction.

On March 22, 2017, pvuong commented on CrowdMed: Solving medical puzzles :

Do you have insight into why the product is priced as an subscription? Seems out of the ordinary to me given this is a one-time occurrence, unless physicians are also buying subscription to get access to a larger community. In which case, does crowdmed compete with industry conferences and the likes? I wonder if there is negative externalities from paying out medical detectives. As you said they are probably not motivated by money and in my opinion certain things should have no price because you just can’t afford them 🙂 taking away detective compensation will reduce the prices charges to subscribers, opening access to this great product.

On March 22, 2017, pvuong commented on Quantopian – Crowdsourcing Investment Algorithms :

Thanks for the post Dan! As you mentioned that winning strategies expire quickly, isn’t it more the reason that Quantopian exists to continue supplying the market with new strategies? I disagree slightly with NP’s assessment of the adverse selection. There are other reasons, mostly of convenience or access, preventing a quant to submit their trading strategies directly to an asset manager. That includes lack of awareness how good their strategies are, and the lack of data and back testing mechanism. If Quantopian is able to build good relationships and create good experience with the quants, for the hobbist quants, i see it is a very viable “playground”

On February 28, 2017, pvuong commented on Ethereum: fueling the hype around blockchain? :

One of the best posts I read today! I’ve been fascinated by blockchain and glad this company exists to help populate more applications of blockchain technology. My intuition for the business model is a Platform-as-a-service model, ‘hosting’ whichever application on its blockchain technology platform. This way as long as the applications exist and the company does its job of supporting it, it earns revenue. Pricing could be tiered based on the ‘volume’ of records being created on the ledger. I see a mid-market play here as the big institutions such as JPMorgan, etc. are already very aggressive in developing their own and has the capital to do so.

On February 28, 2017, pvuong commented on Is Tapjoy Finding the Key to Mobile App Monetization? :

Interesting post. I do see the point of incentivized app install not being sticky for developers (almost all incentive systems can be gamed). There is a company doing similar things for mobile app advertisers in emerging markets called Jana. Their currency is airtime (they buy in bulk from telecom operators) and their platform is their app store. Install Youtube to gain 5 minutes of airtime, for example.

I wonder if more values come from the analytics Tapjoy can offer to developers around where they should install the paywall.

Interesting post how you are thinking about Google Maps as a platform (I never did, which is probably why its magical 🙂 I couldn’t help but wonder the same could be said about wikipedia and other open sourced, crowd-sourced products on the internet. Typically though, these businesses don’t make money (how many times you ignore the ‘donate’ buttons on wikipedia?) and I would have my money on google using your usage data to bolster its advertising businesses elsewhere. Google has been pushing more partnerships within its Maps product (such as ordering Uber from app) to increase its functionalities, together with the new features you mentioned (love the List function). It is hard to imagine another mapping platform beating Google after they have invested so much into Maps.

Because of its free and extremely prevalent nature, I wonder if we should look at the public utility aspect of Google Maps and how comfortable we are with leaving it in the hand of a privately owned corporation. I don’t want to be a regulation person but the same concern has been brought up regarding Facebook’s new mission statement. Ben Thompson makes a good case that as long as the owner of such public utility such as your social graph or map remains a profit-driven entity, they would be dissuaded from becoming political as doing so is alienating and damaging to its business. Just a thought.

Thanks for your comments! They are very insightful. Prosper does share loan performance (at a very high level) in monthly blog post on their website. Not made to be comprehensible to a non-finance person.


Yes there are currently lots of talks about digital discrimination. They do ask for borrowers’ zip codes which is sensitive under the Fair Credit Repoting Act as they could be telling of your socioeconomic status. However, do remember that they are also capturing your annual salary. I am sure they are getting around that regulation somehow (zip code is also used to determined if Prosper has license to operate where the borrowers reside)

thanks Lauren. Prosper is licensed state by state for taking lenders and I believe for the borrowers as well. They do transact through Utah-based Webbank and therefore subject to their regulators . I don’t know if they sell whole loans to foreign-domiciled investors, though if securitization, their SPVs are likely to be domiciled in Cayman or one of those islands and have a diverse investor base.

The WSJ article below states that CFPB is expecting to start supervising Prosper as soon as late 2017. I know that LendingClub and other fintech such as Affirm have set up their own trade group. Fun fact, Max Levchin of Affirm is in the Advisory board for CFPB.



On February 2, 2017, pvuong commented on Minerva Schools: Disrupting the university model? :

Interesting post. I have heard of Minerva before and this reminds me of the Job to be Done concept in BSSE. I would argue that people go to Ivy League for the brand name and placement opportunities (related to brand name). I wonder what the job to be done for Minerva is. It is possible that it would occupy a completely different space in education, parallel with the Ivy League.

You didn’t mention stats for quality of intakes (SAT score, GPA, etc). Sometimes I feel like the success of the school is dependent on the quality of candidates they attract, not necessarily the quality of education they provides (just not screw up…) If Minerva can prove that their intakes are as good as other elite school, I think they have a real chance of being a very successful disruptor story.

On February 2, 2017, pvuong commented on AMC Theaters: Remaining Relevant in the Digital Age? :

I LOVE THIS. Im glad someone wrote about the movie-going experience, which is completely broken in my point of view. As a consumer, sometimes it feels like they don’t even want you there from a customer service perspective. The theater smells weird, concessions expensive and limited, you have to pay a fee to buy tickets online, etc. With streaming options widely available, I could see their position as an entertainment option collapse. We have attempted to see Hidden Figures twice this month and both times retreated to our living room watching Westworld on HBS GO 🙂 But I wonder if they have such great economic arrangements with the content producers/big movie studios that most movies still go through movie theaters first…

Interesting. I’m sure Renaissance is not the only one taking advantage of cheap computing power right now. What do you think “the dollar” is still on the side of the street? One hypothesis is the mission driven nature of tech companies where this superior computing power is likely to lie. I imagine engineers at facebook are less likely to be motivated by gaming the market as much as they do about “connecting the world”. But I could totally be wrong. I wonder if Renaissance and the likes are creating barriers to entry for others, as I imagine if a few other as good players enter the market, there will be no arbitrage opportunities left (perfect market yay!)