Sara Alsadi

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On November 23, 2015, Sara A commented on Blue Apron: Digitizing the Food Chain :

Thanks for the post Chrisoula. I cooked for the first time last Spring semester (aka as Winter at HBS) through ordering Blue Apron. I used it because I got a promotion and then after ordering 2 more times, I stopped because it was pricey. Then I tried HelloFresh and Plated (which is my favorite) also using promotions. Then I deactivated all because it was all very expensive and cooking was time consuming, and the recipes they all sent were for the most part very complicated. Blue Apron is not special among the 3 options of ready-to-cook ingredient delivery. On the contrary, it offers the same price for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, which never made sense to me. What happened now is that I actually learned a few dishes over the summer, and now I just buy my own groceries. The problem with Blue Apron is that you have to receive 3 meals and cook them all before the vegetables start going back, which was very tough with HBS life, so most of the time I ended up throwing one of the 3 meals. I think Blue Apron needs to do more work to identify sticky customers from ones who are like me, and try to find ways to increase value for its customers through offering easier to cook recipes that are still flavorful. I think for people consuming meat, it is less tricky, but for me, I always had one meal that I could not eat because I did not like the main ingredient. On top of that, the company has to deal with delivering fresh ingredients in a timely manner, which is costly and could result in a lower number of customers, as I heard some people’s concerns about having meat being sent over mail and whether that would impact its quality.

On November 23, 2015, Sara A commented on Uber’s Use Of Data As A Competitive Advantage :

Thanks for the post Jonathan. Although the data that Uber holds is important, I believe that it does not have significant competitive advantage when compared with Google Maps, which holds trip data of everyone, not only Uber riders. I am not sure what percentage of the population uses Uber, but even its current customers probably multi-home, indicating many gaps in its data. The information is still valuable in terms of increase in demand for cabs from one point to another by time, but that will remain only relevant for this specific service, and will not help the company compete in the logistics business, as that is a complete different business altogether and requires storing as well as having people move packages to customers in a timely manner as well as route optimization, which is beyond Uber’s current data sets and analytics capabilities.

On November 23, 2015, Sara A commented on Bikes, Data and the Crowd :

Interesting post David! I never knew that they actually move bikes from one stop to another using trucks, but that makes a lot of sense. I think that the data collected by Hubway is valuable, but that still does not include the actual routes taken by people while they are biking, and I wonder if that would increase the value of analytics for them. Currently, Hubway has two data points at the start and end of the trip, but probably does not know what happens in between, which could teach them a lot about the demand side and allow them to identify potential new stops that have high demand of stops (if someone stops the bike somewhere else and not at one of Hubway’s stops). I have never taken one of their bikes because I find it expensive for a one time use, so I agree with you that they should use different pricing models and promotions to push people to take a bike from a stop that has many bikes. This might also decrease the need for them to relocate bikes using trucks, which I imagine is very costly. It would be valuable for them to understand how much money they spend to move bikes from one place to another, and what other things they could be doing with that money to increase customer base or number of trips per person through advertising and reduced pricing. They could also use people to relocate their bikes, just like Uber uses drivers and their cars, but in this case, Hubway owns the assets, but can reward a customer with a free bike ride if they can relocate the bike for them. Of course, this becomes tricky as it will be hard to distinguish between a customer willing to pay for the trip and one who is not, and hence only giving the offer for the latter to have a free ride to move the bike for Hubway.

On November 1, 2015, Sara A commented on Anheuser-Busch: Innovating Beer Through Crowd Sourcing :

Thanks for the post Drew. I think that the problem with testing consumer products through crowdsourcing campaigns is a risky way to introduce new products to the market, as the sample size of people who actually tried this product is a small fraction of beer consumers, which would result in a result that is not representative of the actual market preferences. To have more relevant data points, the company should try to involve beer enthusiasts who actually truly understand beer and have different taste profiles, which would result in varying viewpoints that could lead to outcomes that are more relevant for the company. I think the best way to do this is by testing the taste profiles of people who are interested, and having various beer tasting tests to ensure that people can tell the different between their favorite beers. This way, the company would ensure that people that are affecting the results of their campaign actually truly understand beer and can add value to the outcomes being provided. I am not sure that this would create a better product, but it would be slightly better than bringing in a random set of people who might not be able to tell the difference between different beers and understand what they like/ dislike about a beer vs another. The only challenge with this is getting people involved in a campaign that is more time consuming that a random tasting, and might require providing different incentives, such as money or adding names of people who contributed to the product description, which could bring a lot of pride to beer enthusiasts.

Very interesting post Austin! I am surprised by the data analysis that you provided and it has opened my eyes to a problem with Yelp that I was unaware of. I think the real problem might be the way Yelp attracts customers to write reviews, as the data that we see is only from users who are actually interested to write a review about a restaurant. It would be interesting to see whether users of Yelp write a review when they are happy or disappointed. It could be the case that users only spend the time to write a review if they felt the food and the restaurant was worthwhile spending a few minutes to write something positive. I personally would only spend the time (which I never did) if the restaurant was outstanding or extremely disappointing. For example, I have written one review only on TripAdvisor when I was very unhappy with the experience because I felt that other people really need to know how bad the hotel was. Another problem is how subjective the review process is and how most people might feel in the middle about things in life in general, and it would be interesting to see whether that is actually the case. As for personalized recommendations, that would be truly valuable, but it would require users to state their preferences, which is time consuming and people might not want to invest time in the process if they have no proof that it would be valuable. I would personally prefer to ask people directly about their favorite restaurants in a city when I am traveling, or I would use Google search to look for options and take the time to read about the restaurant and check their menu. Generally speaking, I get a better feeling about a restaurant by looking at their menu and photos, which gives me a good sense of whether the food might be good.

On November 1, 2015, Sara A commented on Wikpedia – can the pioneer stay relevant? :

Thanks for the post FB. I think what differentiates Wikipedia is the fact that it has a huge first-mover advantage, which helped it accumulate a large amount of information about almost everything. However, it is unclear who owns the information, and whether it can be transferred to other websites that can spend time to ensure the consistency and quality of information. Although Google presents a summary of words searched, this will not replace Wikipedia as it is only a short summary and it is not available for every word searched, causing it to be slightly unreliable as a consistent source of information. I believe that the website has built a strong brand name of providing information about everything; yet, with question marks regarding the reliability and quality of information. For example, for academic and professional research, Wikipedia will never be the source to look at, but I think that it will continue to have a strong presence for everyday search until another company builds an encyclopedia that is as comprehensive and that creates more stickiness to its platform by incentivizing users to add and edit information, which Wikipedia currently does not provide.

On October 5, 2015, Sara A commented on Go-Jek : Uber for motorcycles in Indonesia :

This is an interesting case Cal K.

Overall, I think that Go-Jek should have created ways to increase barriers to entry by developing a loyalty program that would have allowed its users to have status with the company. This would preserve their market share better once price wars start. Since the customer base is very price sensitive, I think that most customers would eventually op-out for the cheaper offering especially that any of these companies will not be able to enhance their customer service significantly compared to the other. If GrabTaxi keeps the price war for a long time, I would expected them to easily win the majority of market share.

I took some bike taxi rides this summer. They were not the safest (no helmet, old bikes) but the experience was not unbearable, so I can’t see how much more premium can a bike ride be.. I think it might be time for Go-Jek to enter other markets fast and create barriers to entry. If I were Makarim, I would have sold my business to to Tan.

On October 5, 2015, Sara A commented on Open but not Free – OpenTable’s Monopoly of Reservations :

Also, I would imagine that Facebook can easily compete with OT through leveraging the huge user base from both diners and restaurants (they only need the infrastructure, and they have the money to invest in it). Which makes me think why they haven’t done so already..

On October 5, 2015, Sara A commented on Open but not Free – OpenTable’s Monopoly of Reservations :

Thanks for the post Caribou.

It is interesting that one player has such a huge market share with little competition for almost two decades. However, there are a few points that could hamper its ability to continue to create and capture value in the future:
– Some diners cancel reservations last minute without any clear consequence. This hugely impacts the restaurant’s revenues and could affect the relationship between OT and the restaurant. What does OT do to minimize this and compensate restaurants?
– There are some restaurants that are not yet available on OT, which makes the platform less attractive if a diner faces that issue multiple times
– OT only allows you to make a reservation at one restaurant for a specific time slot. However, if diners are undecided about the location, they could use a second platform or call the second restaurant directly to book a table. Therefore, for diners that are booking large group dinners or will decide last minute, it becomes less of an attractive play

There are some of the issues that I believe other players could take advantage of to break the cycle of OT having such a huge market share

Ximena, thanks for the interesting post. I would think that Uber continues to be more successful due to its creative marketing campaigns that raise awareness of the brand through supporting local causes. For example, Uber used the trash crisis in Beirut (where the trash collection company stopped all activities and trash started accumulating on the streets) to market itself. Uber Beirut partnered with recycling companies and then offered free services where customers can order an Uber car for trash pickup for a short period of time. This certainly helps raise brand awareness and makes them stand out as the socially responsible brand of choice. As for drivers working on both sides, I heard a rumor that Uber has been paying drivers to work with Lyft and cancel rides on customers, which might hamper Lyft’s ability to grow since that damages their reputation (I do not necessarily believe that, but such tools could be used by any of the two companies, and I think they are unethical and illegal, so let us hope that they aren’t). Having a player like Uber to compete against is very tough, but that does not entirely destroy Lyft’s ability to continue to operate as the second largest player. If I were Lyft, I would start offering a loyalty program to create more stickiness. Uber has partnered with SPG, but I am yet to understand how that works and whether Uber customers collect SPG points with every ride taken.

On September 15, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

Esty, thanks for the comment.

I agree that is one of many challenges Airbnb needs to think about. That is a threat to other similar businesses as well, but it is slightly easier for Airbnb to monitor this since they can oversee the interaction between host/ guest directly in the app. Also, some hosts only provide their phone numbers once the booking is confirmed, which could help Airbnb monitor cancellations that happen after payment is confirmed and try to analyze consistent trends from hosts or guests.

On September 15, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

europeanfederalist, thanks for the comment.

I believe that the offering of Airbnb is very diverse and does not have a consistent flavor across different rooms, which means that they could implement some of my suggestions like the Keyless Access for hosts that use their houses as vacation houses and rent them through Airbnb for the rest of the year. This segment generates a lot of revenues from Airbnb guests and should therefore allow its guests to have an experience that mimics hotels in terms of access so that they are not stranded outside the house in a country where they know no one, or potentially cannot speak its language.

On the contrary, I believe that Airbnb’s brand name and diverse customer base from all over the world would still be an attractive competitive advantage over local/regional/national rental platforms, so I think that they would continue to list their rooms on Airbnb along with using the rental platform to have access to a large pool of guests in case the rental platform does not have interested guests.

On September 15, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

Britt, thanks for the comment 🙂

I agree with you that they need to potentially split the offerings and create a slightly separate platform for business travelers. However, I believe that some rooms could be found across the two platforms if they meet both requirements.

Yes they are a winner, but I am worried about their future.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

hbs2016, thanks for the comment.

I agree that Airbnb is doing the right thing to enter new markets, but I am not sure doing that and these improvements are mutually exclusive. They can have local teams focusing on different initiatives as needs. For example, Uber’s offering varies depending on the market in terms of offering (Blackcar, UberX, UberPool, etc.). UberPool was initially introduced in San Francisco and has expanded after the initial testing phase. Moreover, they have a partnership with Starwood Preferred Guest to establish a loyalty program and allow users to user their points across the two platforms. I believe that Airbnb, which is as innovative in its model as Uber, should have signed a deal with Uber before SPG to further expand and use the brand name, but maybe that would not have been possible, as Uber might have used SPG for the branding. Therefore, I think that in some markets, Airbnb should already start implementing some of my suggestions to meet customer expectations and increase its market share of business travelers.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

Thank you Shashank for the comment.

I agree that without disrupting the business traveler segment, growth will be limited over the long term. They should test multiple options and potentially vary their approach for different markets.

As for keyless entry, I was suggesting that they should request hosts to install keys and pay for the costs, which would remove the hassle from Airbnb and move it to them, aligning with the general business model.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

As for the property sharks, Airbnb can monitor the identity of hosts, and should ensure that hosts are actually personal owners and not real estate firms. To be able to create communities of hosts for business travelers, it should include a feature that allows users to look for multiple rooms within a close proximity and then allow the user to book them at once in the same booking, with various check-in and check-out times, or allow users to search for units near a unit rented by another Airbnb users (their friends) to make sure that they can all be in the same area even if they do not book all at the same time.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

Carine, thanks for the comment.

As mentioned in my response to #1 National Cranberry Fan, I was suggesting that hosts invest in the locks, not Airbnb – it is not very clear in my post.

As for the competition with hotel brands, they are currently competing directly with them in the tourist segment, but less so in the business segment, which generates a large portion of their revenues. 10% of Airbnb’s guests are business travelers, and I think that it should improve its offering to cater for more of these travelers on the longer term as it reaches a point were growth in other segments is limited. Moreover, hosts might already be users of Airbnb and it would be easier to start offering them a service to use during the business trips that is as convenient as hotels in terms of access and services. It is a far-fetched goal, but if achieved in at least some markets, the hotel industry will be further disrupted, and hotel chains will admit that they are being impacted.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

CSS thank you for the comment.

I think that there are specific amenities that travelers expect and would appreciate, like bed sheets, towels, and toiletries. I agree that wifi might be a premium offering in some places, but travelers appreciate light traveling, and for that reason, I expect the majority to expect these basic amenities to exist across rooms regardless of whether its a cheap or luxurious place.

They are certainly not a loser. They have been a winner, but I am doubting their ability to continue to be a winner if they do not pay attention to minor details. Also, if they want to sustain growth and increase penetration of business travelers (I think that currently stands at 10% of their customers), they need to introduce more products and services.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Instacart: Shopping for groceries has never been more fun :

Nazli, interesting post. Unfortunately, I stopped using Instacart after having used it twice a month over the past year. The reasons are the following isses with the service – at least since the last time I used it so that does not account for new features they might have recently added (and I foresee that Instacart might lose more customers if it does not do something about these issues):

– Once your shopper starts shopping, you cannot directly add items to the shopping list and should instead contact them directly. It actually took me a while to figure out how to message the shopper, but I believe that part of the experience is avoiding phone calls and using the convenience of the internet instead

– Delivery at the door of your place instead of a close point. This might not be the case for many people, but I live at HBS dorms and I had an incident where the shopper called me, told me she is at Aldrich, and I had to walk all the way there to pick up my things. She actually helped me carry them all the way back to the dorms, but I was shocked that she had two kids below 4 years old shopping with her.. Not that it affected my experience in any way, but I was surprised to see her shop and deliver items with her kids

– I ordered from Shaw’s and only discovered how inflated prices are when I went to Shaw’s myself one day. I think that Instacart should be transparent about how inflated the prices are. Based on my calculations, some items were more than double the price, which is the point that made me lose trust in the company – I was offended that they were ripping me off and taking an unreasonable fee

– Quality is a huge issue at least regarding fresh produce. It is interesting that they train shoppers, because from my experience, they do not seem to have trained them. I ordered raspberries once, and they were already rotting.. which is unacceptable, from Shaw’s first, and surely from Instacart’s shopper. I wrote a review and never received a response!

– The website does not include all items in the store, which is annoying for someone who orders very specific items like me. I usually have to find a picture of the product and unload it, and then spend some time over the phone to make sure they get it right. The price of the product is around $4 in the store, and they charge me double that because they think it is OK to double the price when I cannot see it on the website.. and they assume in the store too

Instacart betrayed my trust and disappointed me at multiple occasions, and hence I decided to do my own grocery shopping for the time being. Maybe I should give it one last shot, but order from Whole Foods next time.

I think that the business model is easily replicated by other companies, or by Uber/ Lyft who have started by delivering ice cream and could easily move to the grocery shopping arena. They could partner with grocery stores, who provide shoppers, and then Uber drivers pick up the items and deliver them to your door. I do not think that Uber is very far away from doing that, but that is only my speculation. Being a first mover served Instacart well, but I do not think it is sustainable given the multiple sources of competition it will face, and the many issues with its service that I have (and potentially other people have) faced.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on How is Slack killing email? :

Shashank, thanks for the interesting post about Slack.

I generally agree with most of the doubts mentioned above, but my biggest worry is the subscription fee of $6.50 per user, which is higher than Gmail App’s for Work’s $5.0. This worries me. It is also significantly higher than Asana’s (a web and mobile application designed to enable teamwork without email that I used this past summer, which seems to offer similar features to Slack) of $4.2 per user ($21 for 5 users). I do not understand the rationale behind their price point and what justifies the premium over Asana and other similar services. The company I worked for used both Gmail Apps and Asana. Gmail for email communications, and Asana for storing files and leaving comments for transitioning from one person to another (the company mostly had interns that were staying for up to 6 months, which highlighted the need for smooth handover of files). However, we never completely relied on working on Asana (which would be similar to leaving comments on Slack) as it is more convenient to exchange ideas with relevant team members directly through email. Using both for communication could cause a lot of redundancies and inefficiencies, especially when data is shared with everyone on the platform.

Another point is related to Carina’s comment about user behavior. It is a significant challenge to instill a new program that replaces a service that people have been using since the introduction of the internet. There are also other features embedded within Gmail (Chat) that enable instantaneous interaction with team members (and a lot of distractions sometimes…)

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on How Nike swooshed away from its competition :

Thanks for the post HelloSof. I agree with Charles that Nike does not seem to be targeting professional athletes and that competitors might be doing better from that perspective. Additionally, although it seems to have innovated over the past few years, it is not expanding beyond what is currently being offered by existing products. In order to be successful at driving people from using their free app without necessarily being loyal to products, it should experiment with offering access to an additional premium offering with a product purchase or multiple purchases that are above a specific value. Yet, to be able to do this, they should introduce a service beyond what is currently offered in the market. I am not sure what that could be, but competitors will eventually follow their lead and create apps as good or better.

On September 14, 2015, Sara commented on Airbnb: Stop Locking Guests Out! :

I agree that it would be a huge cost and hassle for Airbnb to install the locks, but I was actually suggesting that they request hosts to invest in the locks. These locks have a price point of below $80 (some are even at $30), so it would not be a significant cost for the host.

I was suggesting that they have been a winner so far, but since they can never know what happens in terms of regulations, they should innovate further to capture more value, especially in terms of business travelers, and keyless access is essential to this segment since business travelers could arrive at times when hosts are sleeping, so giving them the ability to check-in conveniently at any time of the day would make them more attracted to use the service.

Thanks for the feedback!