r cai

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Hi! Thanks for writing this post! Chef Irene is someone I admire and think she is truly an amazing advocate and leader for many small restaurant business owners to follow.

I think it’s incredible how she has innovated to expand revenue channels using both partner organizations like OTP, creating home meal kits for her scallion pancake sandwiches, and offering online dumpling making courses. She is an example of how leadership can really be a key differentiating factor for restaurants even in an industry where many people feel that quality of food is the reason why a restaurant will survive or not.

She was also “prepared” in the fact that she was already on some of these delivery platforms and was able to pivot and re-direct her efforts in this way. Many of the small restaurants haven’t partnered with the GrubHubs, Caviars of the world, for one reason or another, and have spent the past 3-4 weeks just building that capability alone. Furthermore, it also reminds me of how much the team you’ve built matters. I’m not sure about Irene’s team per say, but would believe that she inspires individuals to follow her and also help build these new channels during this time.

Thanks for a great post! While I feel that Zola is feeling the impact of this crisis, I feel that they are actually in a much better position than many of the businesses that they serve. For one, the venues likely don’t have pandemic crisis insurance and so many of them have to make the decision on what to do now that many weddings in 2020 can’t happen. I imagine they will likely try to re-book many of them, but given how far out weddings are booked, this may be a difficult task.

Given that most of Zola’s revenue comes from registry, I think that it makes a lot of sense for them to offer discounts or price matching during this time. Many other retailers like bed bath beyond, williams & sonoma are having massive sales, and so if someone was to purchase off a registry, they might go to those other sites first rather than using Zola directly.

Lastly, I think there will be a sub population that decides to get married anyways during this period (either small ceremony or on Zoom). I think there’s an opportunity for Zola to be involved in those weddings, perhaps do features, blog posts, and of course provide the registry for the weddings that do happen in 2020.

Thanks for sharing! I find this industry fascinating and it will be interesting to see how in-studio classes approach digital after the COVID-crisis is over. Your post reminded me of two things..
1) Delivery partners for restaurants such as DoorDash or Uber Eats perhaps play a similar role to ClassPass here. ClassPass was able to provide a resource for its studio partners to connect with a larger user base and access a digital platform perhaps faster than they could build their own. This is particularly useful for the smaller businesses. However, I worry about the larger businesses such as Barry’s, Flywheel, etc using this crisis to develop their own digital capabilities and will no longer need ClassPass over time.
2) Class Pass has changed its pricing model and structure a few times over the life of its business. I’m curious how it will price “digital” vs “in-studio” experiences as it relates to their points system. I know Barry’s launched a digital version of their workouts and many users complained it cost too many points. I”m not sure if this is set by Class Pass or by Barry’s, but think it’ll be interesting as perhaps both digital and in-studio offerings are offered on Class Pass.

On April 22, 2020, r cai commented on Airbnb – using AI to evaluate if a guest is trustworthy :

Super interesting! I think the way that Airbnb has used technology in the past to further product development makes sense, but wonder if the question of trusthworthiness is best solved by using an AI algorithm. I wonder if there are certain questions or have a deposit option for the owners that are more concerned about verifying their guests. In addition, I feel like this would have different reactions from different countries and could employ different strategies globally. Some countries might be less concerned to know that Airbnb is sifting through their public profiles while other individuals from countries might be very concerned.

On April 22, 2020, r cai commented on Improving Representation in Media through Machine Learning :

Love this unique way of applying technology! It’s great to hear they are taking into account factors within the script (status, # lines, types of lines) in the algorithm instead of purely looking at this from a numbers basis. This gives more comfort that they are thinking about misrepresentation more broadly and how that will affect generations that see the movies and content that Disney and Universal create.

I know this industry tends to be highly competitive (i.e. streaming war, battles over shows/actors, etc) so I hope an initiative like this can unite the industry together to address this issue.

On April 21, 2020, r cai commented on Walmart: Using machine learning to reduce food waste :

I’m so glad to see that Walmart is addressing food waste problem head on! A few things come to mind on this technology –
1) it sounds like they are screening this on a box/group basis regarding produce given that they are using photos of shipments. I wonder it would make more sense for this technology to be able to scan for individual items within a box or shipment. I know that’s one step further, but think it would further reduce food waste
2) In the same vein, perhaps they could go one step further in helping farmers to sort the produce prior to sending it to Walmart. I did my blog post on TOMRA (a company in the Norway) that is sorting produce at the ag step. Sounds like they could partner with Walmart’s suppliers or with Walmart to improve food waste in the step right before in the overall value chain

Glad to see there are so many companies trying to tackle this issue!

On March 25, 2020, r cai commented on How Groupon failed Ali Wong, but Netflix saved her :

Thanks for an interesting read! I think there is a distinct value proposition for Groupon among the different types of customers that it serves. For businesses where people are looking for services that are “good enough”, I think Groupon does a decent job in helping to build brand awareness and trialability at low cost and low risk. To me, people are saying “did that business check the box” in terms of what I expected it to do, and then making the decision on whether to return to that business based on their analysis. However, in Ali Wong’s case – she was still in the process of trying to shape her brand and content. For this, I don’t think Groupon is the right avenue and to your point probably harms her brand more than helps it.

On March 25, 2020, r cai commented on StockX: The Stock Market for Things :

Very interesting article and StockX is definitely solving some of the problems associated with its predecessors like eBay. For me, I think disintermediation or some other aspect of low end disruption might be a threat particularly because these items can be so high priced. A 10% commission can feel fairly steep from a dollar amount if the luxury items like handbags or watches are being sold. For example, someone looking to sell a 10k watch, I might be just as suited to use StockX as a price check and then try sell it through my local watch shop. However, it seems as though StockX is trying to protect against this by providing anonymity for sellers and not providing any sort of direct messaging system between buyers and sellers which allows for more swift disintermediation.

I think the IPO idea is very unique and definitely! However, I wonder if this could actually be detrimental so some brands if the shoes do not sell quickly or at a lower price than anticipated (similar to companies on the stock market). For some companies, that might be a risk worth taking. However, I can see companies like Nike building these capabilities through their SNKRS app that allows them to test and “set” the price and have full control over the demand data.

Thanks for an interesting read! I’ve never heard of a service like this but it reminded me of two potential opportunities. First, I wonder if there is a way for them to partner with corporations. For example, at my old bank, there were people who came into do shoe shining maybe 1-2x/week for the employees. Perhaps there is an opportunity to partner with those corporations and would reduce the travel and transportation time. Second, this reminds me a lot of the wedding industry or even professional photoshoots where many artists lug their make-up, hair supplies, etc to their clients. I’m curious what the TAM is for that in Beijing and if that could be another opportunity for Beaver to explore.

It’s so impressive to see how the NYTimes really was able to switch gears and update their traditional business model by really investing in getting the digital strategy right and then backing it up with the appropriate resources, priorities and processes to execute on their strategy. Looking forward, as their competitors similarly expand towards paid premium and curated content, I’m curious as to how the NYTimes will look to differentiate itself and continue to get share of the customer wallet. This post reminds me a lot of the streaming wars in TV right now where many of the TV channels have launched their own subscription based platforms. One big question remains on how customers will react – will they be willing to have multiple subscriptions with specialized content or look for a more general content provider. I see NYTimes potentially having to compete not only with it’s more traditional sector players (Wall Street Journal, etc), specialized players (Financial Times, The Economist, etc), but also with overall content subscription (Netflix, Spotify, etc). What if Netflix launches a news channel? Will consumers be willing to have all of these platforms as the lines between content blurs?

On February 11, 2020, r cai commented on Peloton: Winning the fitness battle, losing the economic war :

Thanks for this thoughtful post! I’m also curious to see how the Peloton strategy shakes out over the long term, but I think one aspect that is missing here is the value of the trainers and instructors that Peloton has built. While other studios like soul cycle and barry’s might have similarly loyal followings, Peloton through it’s digital app and in-person classes has allowed people to feel like they have a “personal trainer”. In my mind, the value proposition is less about the community feel and more about having a personal cheerleader to guide you through workouts and the convenience to do it at your own time and in your own space (or at the gym). For the trainers, it’s given them a broader more global stage to encourage and empower which is what their taught to do. I think the new competitors coming out have yet to be a serious threat as most of them are addressing a specific type of workout (HIIT, rowing, boxing). Peloton in seeing this has been expanding it’s selection of classes across a variety of exercises yoga, outdoor running, meditation, etc.

I agree your question on how big can this truly grow and will they be able to figure out the economics are questions worth digging deep into, and will ultimately determine Peloton’s fate..

On February 11, 2020, r cai commented on Stitch Fix – Fashion’s Most Innovative Retail Company :

It’s interesting to read about Stitch Fix in the context of when it began and compare it to the state of the retail / shopping industry today. In thinking about where it began, I agree with you that it absolutely changed the way that people “consume” fashion and shop and that it led to many of the imitators who are now encroaching on Stitch Fix’s space today. It was also able to wake up an industry that wasn’t really paying attention to digital and sparked brands to be aware that they should think about owning their own customer relationships in a more personalized way.

Another point that your post highlights is the need for the tech to be integrated throughout the company. By founding Stitch Fix and labeling it as a tech company, the employees are positioned to think about how they can best use the data they have to make decisions and create value. In the more traditional retail companies, like Nike and Nordstrom, they have struggled in integrating digital across all aspects of the company and it begs the question of the best way to integrate if not creating a new startup. Can companies like Nike really get others (internal and external) to view them as a “tech company”?

Another trend that I’m seeing across some of these articles, and one that I believe exists here, is that companies tend to look at “tech” as their salvation, their ability to disrupt a market (in this case) or get them out of a pickle (in other cases). While the tech for Stitch Fix is absolutely crucial to their business model, I wonder if Stitch Fix got so focused on developing their tech and AI that they forgot about the rest of the business model. In some ways, tech can be a low barrier to entry and others can build the capabilities that were once a company’s competitive advantage. I wonder if Stitch Fix could have created high barriers for entry in other aspects of its business model – like its customer base. For example, what if Stitch Fix had perhaps added a social element to the platform, developed closet sharing capabilities, clothing recycle, to keep their customers more sticky. I think it seems that while digital technology can transform a company and even an industry, it’s only a short while before other aspects of the business must also continue to innovate in order to stay competitive and relevant.

Hi Walter,

I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful post on the Swiss watch industry (especially as my husband is planning to go into this “dying” industry next year). While I do agree that the Swiss watch industry is facing challenges in attracting younger consumers who are interested in wearables and smartwatches, I think that it’s important to distinguish what type of digital innovation these companies pursue. Like some of the comments above, I believe that for the higher tier luxury watch brands, it does not make sense for them to compete in the smart watch space and instead should look to differentiate themselves from techy, social aspects of smartwatches. In that vein, I would advise them to focus on what makes them special – the art and craftsmanship that goes into a mechanical timepiece. One that isn’t mass produced, and builds its own social community among its unique owners. What I would suggest, however, is that they invest in updating the way that they interact with their consumers to communicate through more social platforms, centralized customer databases, dynamic pricing, etc.

The group of watch brands that may be under fire, may be the Fossil watches of the world which compete with Apple watches in price and lack in utility. Some of those brands have decided to partner with tech companies to introduce their own more fashionable smartwatches, but it’s still unclear whether that is a good strategy. It will be an interesting battle nonetheless especially as companies like Apple expand to further categories in the consumer space.