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On November 20, 2016, elyse commented on Pill Popping Made Easy :

Good points! Elderly patients aren’t as likely to have a smartphone (or even hear about the startup to begin with), so I agree there are some barriers to adoption with that target market. Luckily, PillPack allows caretakers or family members sign up on behalf of a patient to get him or her started. I would argue that it is still a better solution than the patient having to sort through multiple pill bottles themselves and remember the right quantities needed for each type of pill. I really like your idea of partnering with hospitals and nursing homes as that would help PillPack gain market share faster and garner the support of experts in an industry where word-of-mouth matters. With licensed professionals administering the pill taking, PillPack would also benefit from a higher compliance rate (patients actually taking the pills at the right times) and therefore more satisfied customers.

Wow, it’s incredible to see how mobile technology is making a difference in a traditionally hands-on, machine heavy industry. I’m particularly inspired by Rhubix’ ability to improve worksite safety and am reminded of the case we recently read on the unfortunate fatality rates in mining. I would challenge Rhubix to expand its focus from enabling efficient project management at construction sites to providing critical mapping and real-time data to improve safety at sites for oil, mining, disaster relief and rescue efforts. I think its existing technological infrastructure can be leveraged to create effective solutions for these use cases, too. For Rhubix’ current solution, I think one of its key benefits for general contractors is the cost/budget tracking and delay management. Many projects are at risk of going over budget midway. Rhubix could help contractors make better decisions around raw materials procurement during a project by flagging these costs and modeling several ways for them to save money by switching to another supplier. Rhubix could partner with its suppliers to provide real-time price data and receive a share of resulting profits.

On November 20, 2016, elyse commented on No Personal Trainer? No Problem! :

Great find! I think the app itself is a powerful mechanism through which Equinox can learn more about each customer and customize the health improvement experience in several ways. (1) Equinox should leverage its technology and resulting data to generate new revenue streams with partners in other parts of the health management chain. For example, Equinox could partner with food manufacturers to market appropriate supplements and snacks based on customers’ specific workout history. (2) Equinox could leverage technology to engage those who don’t already frequent gyms and bring them on as new customers. Going to the gym can be daunting for those who are out-of-shape, and an in-home app experience with virtual workout videos and mobile alerts/reminders can help beginners start working out and eventually lure them to the facility. For the seasoned crowd, Equinox can partner with celebrity fitness gurus to provide exclusive in-app content like workout sets and diet plans that users can unlock for a fee. (3) Lastly, many corporations have incentives for employees to stay healthy such as gym subsidies or team fitness goals. Unfortunately solutions are often outdated and require employees to manually input progress on a desktop site. Equinox could charge companies for deploying a co-branded mobile app platform where employees can team up to workout and receive class discounts for reaching fitness goals.

On November 20, 2016, elyse commented on Streetline – Leading the way for ‘Smart Parking’ :

Having lived in SF, I empathize with how much time is wasted circling around looking for open (and legal) parking spots! I’m glad that Streetline is finding creative and eco-friendly ways to solve this issue. In terms of cost sharing, I think high-traffic cities will be on board with helping integrate the parking sensor technology throughout their streets as the 2-year ROI timeline is short and demand-based pricing may allow them to actually recoup costs more quickly. With this technology, cities will also be able to reduce the number of parking enforcement workers they employ, saving them approximately $33K per worker per year [1]. As an additional revenue stream, I think Parker should target shopping centers (e.g., Westfield) and event companies (e.g., Coachella) where they can purchase Parker-only spots and charge higher fees to app customers in exchange for convenience. One concern I do have is how Parker will address issues such as troubleshooting meters or fixing broken sensors — cities may not have staff with the technical expertise to go out in field and address these issues. I wonder how Parker will allocate resources to help fix technical issues in a timely manner so that offline time does not negatively impact revenue.

[1] https://www.recruiter.com/salaries/parking-enforcement-workers-salary/

On November 20, 2016, elyse commented on Stitch Fix – Transforming Retail Through Personalization :

Interesting! I had heard rumblings about Stitch Fix while I lived in NYC, and your post really helped highlight what makes the startup unique. Personally I think the market for a subscription fashion-focused BirchBox may be limited, and I see more profit potential in Stitch Fix’s unique data analytics and curation technology. I like your idea of focusing on key retailers, and I would suggest that as part of their expansion strategy, Stitch Fix could license their analytics technology to Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. These companies are already leveraging digital innovation by integrating virtual dressing rooms throughout retail stores so that customers can “try on” different clothing. Retailers could leverage Stitch Fix in this part of the customer decision journey by recommending similar style clothing that customers can purchase from the store. Based on its predictive analytics, Stitch Fix would enable retailers to more effectively sell relevant products to their customers during the consideration stage, and potentially allow them to rely less on expensive on-the-floor salespeople.

On November 20, 2016, elyse commented on Fishing for Fish Data: Digitizing Aquaculture :

Gina, thanks for the glimpse into this new aquaculture innovation — I had no idea that digital drifter pods existed! I admire Kampachi’s vision to leverage digital to overcome issues in fish farming, but I have a few concerns that I hope they are planning to address. 1) The upfront capital required to produce and deploy this technology is significant, and I am wary that they will not be able to recoup the costs through premium pricing in the near term. After all, if consumers are willing to pay a much higher price for digitally-farmed fish over traditionally farmed fish, I think they would opt to buy wild fish. Even if Kampachi is able to invest in educating consumers on the value of digital farming, consumer preferences will be slow to change. 2) Kampachi will face barriers to entry as they expand this initiative from a local experiment to federal waters in other states. Kampachi will need to obtain permits from numerous marine organizations, which will compromise their ability to scale quickly. 3) One of the highest costs for fish farmers is the feed, and I worry that in an open-ocean context, some feed will be lost, which wouldn’t be an issue in typical closed-pen farming. As a result, Kampachi would need to procure more of the expensive feed or invest more in R&D to develop a way to reduce this inefficiency. Overall, I’m excited to see the use of these new technologies and hope they are able to make an impact in our ever-diminishing fish supply.

On November 7, 2016, elyse commented on Burger King’s sustainability efforts: barely trying :

Wow, what a shame. I agree with you that Burger King needs to act quickly to pursue more sustainable business practices, for obvious environmental reasons but even from a purely competitive perspective. In fact, I am surprised that industry regulatory groups have not already called them out. In the consumer package goods industry, the largest players such as General Mills and Unilever were ousted for not employing sustainable practices, and I would not be surprised if Burger King soon faced the same reputational fate and lose that gold crown.

To mitigate, I would supplement your points and suggest that Burger King commit to sustainably sourcing 50% of its beef by 2020. After all, McDonald’s has already begun purchasing sustainable beef this year, and Burger King needs to make a firm commitment to compete and uphold its reputation. In order to do so, Burger King should partner closely with its beef suppliers and patty processors to investigate the beef production process being used and enforce rules that ensure that practices like overgrazing (which negatively impact climate change) do not occur. Lastly, Burger King should exam its full product life cycle from farm to table to measure its GHG emissions and proactively report its 1) shortterm and longterm targets and the 2) changes and methodology they plan to employ to reach those goals.

On November 7, 2016, elyse commented on Stylish and Sustainable: Can Zara’s Fast-Fashions be Both? :

Thanks for bringing this topic to light! I was shocked to hear that apparel is the #2 industrial polluter. Overall, I think Zara has been hypocritical in addressing sustainability head-on with initiatives like leveraging recycled materials and yet failing to operate in an environmentally responsible way through its core business model. For example, even within the fast-fashion segment, Zara changes its designs once every two weeks, which is six times more often than its competitors [1]. This frequent turnover means that Zara also contributes higher than average rates of harmful emissions through its use of trucking and international air freight. Fundamentally, Zara’s core differentiating point as an on-trend, quick and affordable fashion house inherently conflicts with the ability to maintain an environmentally conscious business model. As such, I have doubts whether Zara is truly committed to sustainable practices or whether innovations like its energy-saving store models are just a marketing ploy.

I completely agree with you that Zara needs to hone in on its supply chain and raw materials procurement and share quantifiable metrics on its progress towards sustainability. I hope Zara can follow Nike’s example and pursue opportunities to (1) integrate its raw materials suppliers more directly with its manufacturers as opposed to outsourcing and (2) strategically design its clothing to require less material overall to help reduce its carbon footprint.

[1] https://www.tradegecko.com/blog/zara-supply-chain-its-secret-to-retail-success

On November 7, 2016, elyse commented on Climate Change and the Tea Industry :

Rahil, thanks for the insightful post. I’m an avid tea drinker and had no idea that tea prices will increase by such a staggering percentage over the next decade. It is reassuring to see that TGB is taking a proactive approach to explore many potential solutions from pest-resistant options to improving water resourcefulness. I was particularly curious about rainwater harvesting and how this process can be implemented. Interestingly, Mana Organics group is preparing to install a rainwater irrigation system based on extensive analysis and AutoCAD design in the Assam region [1]. It would be fascinating and mutually beneficial if TGB could serve as a pilot client to help Mana test and scale the solution more broadly.

Fortunately, TGB is a $2B company with plenty of risk-taking ability and resources to expend on this research process. I worry instead about the Indian farmers with smaller landholdings and whether they can continue to compete in the tea market if one season of extreme weather wipes out their quality crop. As you mentioned, TGB has started an initiative to train farmers on sustainable practices. Given your research, I would be interested to hear which of these alternative methods you think will be particularly successful in helping local farmers mitigate against crop loss in a cost-effective way? I think methods like drip irrigation and soil management will not be enough to overcome climate-related risks and that farmers will need to employ higher cost methods like new irrigation equipment and monitoring technology to weather the storms.

[1] http://mana-organics.com/

On November 7, 2016, elyse commented on Whole Foods – Natural & Organic. Sustainable? :

Whole Foods is my favorite supermarket because of the wide variety of fresh local produce, and I am pleased to see that they have taken numerous measures to become a more environmentally-sustainable business. I agree with you that pricing is one of the most significant value-chain risks they face. After all, consumers already perceive the company as expensive (aka “Whole Paycheck”), and their reliance on high quality ingredients means that they may be forced to raise retail prices despite their efforts to lower them over the last two years. I think you posed an effective mitigation to source more products locally and take advantage of longer growing seasons, which would help them control supply more easily.

That aside, I am also concerned about reputational risks. Whole Foods’ CEO Mackey has been notably outspoken about his climate views, even claiming that “Climate change is perfectly natural and not necessarily bad […] Most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend and I believe we will be able to successfully adapt to gradually rising temperatures” [1]. These statements detract from Whole Foods’ credibility as an industry leader in sustainability and threaten its ability to persuade retail partners to take sustainability seriously as you suggested they should. I wonder, can Whole Foods successfully get retail partners to sign the Climate Pledge and enforce industry-wide sustainability practices if they do not “talk the talk”? In my opinion, Whole Foods needs to better align its external communications with its sustainability efforts in order for the industry and even its own suppliers to commit resources to mitigating climate change risks.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/whole-foods-ceo-climate-change_n_2511482.html

On November 7, 2016, elyse commented on Is Chipotle facing a guacapocalypse? :

As a Californian and guacamole fanatic, I am glad you did not want to pursue alternative menu items like the recently revealed pea-based guacamole (What sacrilege!). I agree that Chipotle should work closely with its suppliers to improve avocado yield. Still, I wonder if focusing on Californian and Mexican suppliers will be enough to offset the fact that climate issues are expected to persist while avocado demand itself increases by ~3% YOY [1].

I would argue that Chipotle should also aggressively pursue new supplier partnerships in locations like Chile and Colombia to ensure that they have enough avocados to meet future demand. Just last week, the USDA proposed allowing imports from Colombia in order to avoid price hikes for US consumers. In that regard, I think Chipotle should band together with its competitors to help these alternative suppliers increase quality yield to meet US import standards. Colombia for example had previously been unable to meet phytosanitary requirements and waste treatment issues in enough volume to be a key avocado supplier to the US [2]. Chipotle could leverage this issue to not only secure new supplier relationships but also build its reputation as an environmentally-conscious company.

Lastly, though Chipotle claims they will not raise menu item prices despite the guacapocalypse, I am hesitant to take its word at face value. After all, similar fast casual restaurants like Qdoba have already publicly claimed they are having trouble keeping up with avocado demand, and it was only two years ago that Chipotle raised guacamole prices by 8 to 11% in various locations.
I would love to hear your thoughts, maybe over a burrito bowl in Boston!

[1] http://www.freshplaza.com/article/156557/OVERVIEW-GLOBAL-AVOCADO-MARKET
[2] http://fortune.com/2016/10/28/usda-avocado-shortage/