Jessie Cai

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EBS – thanks for this thought-provoking comment. I completely agree with you that churches that use technology tend to be more progressive in general (and thus it is that progressive mentality that drives younger people into the church). But while a progressive mindset may attract younger people, I think a progressive mindset isn’t enough to retain them. Churches need technology. Technology enables churches to communicate with millennials exactly how millennials want to be communicated with. These tech-savvy Millennials may not want to read the physical Bible or to learn about events through flyers on the wall. They want the ability to read a scripture while riding the subway via their iPhone app, to be able to donate $10 via text while waiting in line at the grocery store, and to learn about events via e-mails and Facebook.

I also agree with you that religion is facing more issues than just adapting to the digital age. Staying relevant will require much more than just technology upgrades. Technology is certainly just a start (and arguably, a prerequisite).

On November 18, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on RubiconMD: Treating Referrals :

Ryan – this was a really interesting article and company – I love how they are making the “hand-off” and diagnosis process more efficient.

One thing I was curious about was the pricing model for RubiconMD. You mentioned that specialists receive a payment per consult. I wonder if there is an equilibrium price point where we can solve for key areas of potential tension. For example: 1) specialists, if they make too much on RubiconMD, will spend more time on this online platform and less time with in-person patients (which I would argue would decrease overall quality of healthcare) and 2) specialists, if they aren’t paid enough, won’t join the platform. After all, the availability of online consultants via RubiconMD could decrease the overall pie of people who need to see specialists (and hurt specialists’ offline business). Although specialist demand typically far exceeds specialist supply, I am also worried about rural specialists with less demand – will this alienate them? If specialists are spending all their time on the RubiconMD platform, will this just make the demand > supply problem worse?

Amrita – great article and topic. Flywheel was especially impressive in this space given they were a first-mover in bringing technology to fitness. I absolutely loved your suggestions of pedaling sensors and the electric bike.

In addition, what do you think about providing chest-strap heart rate monitors to link to the bikes? Although bulky, it provides an extra dimension of data. Orangetheory Fitness (another tech-inspired fitness concept) provides these heart rate monitors and shows you your heart rate during class. Heart rate monitors should be able to provide more accurate calorie counts than Flywheel’s estimate (which does not take into consideration many factors including HR, weight, height)(1). I also like how OrangeTheory’s app includes community workouts and “join a group” options – the online peer groups encourage people to sign up for classes together and hold each other accountable. This could help Flywheel with customer retention and satisfaction.

I am worried about the threat of competition – in particular, Peloton’s digital spin classes(2). I think Flywheel needs to move into this online class space and use their brick & mortar presence to help advertise it. Unlike Flywheel, Peloton is using technology to reach the thousands of suburban customers, anywhere in the US. Flywheel’s technology and classes are restrained to metropolitan areas (as they need the population density). With Peloton, you can purchase a bike and access online classes (on-demand) in the comfort of your own home – whether that’s in New York or a small town in Oklahoma (3). I was skeptical at first that it removed the “in-person experience”, but I actually really enjoyed it.

I love what Flywheel has done to kick-start this tech-inspired fitness studio industry. But they need to continue to invest in technology to respond to competition (who have all been inspired by Flywheel’s first-mover technology).


On November 17, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on How Talk Space has been revolutionizing the mental health industry :

Thank you for addressing this extremely important issue. I love what Talk Space is doing to transform this industry. Increasing service accessibility and providing a way to immediately connect with someone is extremely important – but especially so for the mental health industry. Time is of the essence with mental health emergencies (1) – a few minutes could be the difference between life and death.
I also love that these extremely important services have gone digital. As you mentioned, there is a mismatch between supply and demand – this mismatch is amplified even more when we are confined to one geography (where there may only be a few therapists). By offering services digitally, Talk Space has removed the geographic barrier and more people can be served.

However, I am worried about a few things. Will people turn to Talk Space to replace real therapy? Can a few text messages with someone thousands of miles away really replace 1-hour long weekly in-person sessions? Can these professionals really diagnose you accurately from a few digital interactions? Furthermore, although Talk Space should be able to lower barriers and decrease stigma for seeking help, is this “digital help” enough? Other unintended consequences could be strengthening the stigma of seeking professional help and delaying effective treatment (2).

I also think that security and encryption should be their #1 focus and area of investment. Given how important trust and privacy is to this business, I think one breach will ruin the business.

All that said, I am very excited about this platform and to see how they continue to transform the industry.


On November 17, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on Education: One size no longer has to fit all :

Gng – thank you for this enlightening article. While I definitely see the merits of utilizing technology in education (especially when it comes to personalized learning), the photo and quote in your article makes me nervous for the future of education As you noted, where is the social interaction? The students – with headphones in and staring blankly at a screen – look disconnected from the realities of the “real world”. Are the days of peer learning and in-person connections over? Reflecting back on my K-12 years, I learned the most when working with teams and engaging with my peers.

Furthermore, study results on the benefits of technology on education are mixed. In fact, one study showed that “students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores” (1). I think using a laptop in school promotes more laptop use and web-surfing at home. I also fear that the increased use of laptops in school will promote the use of the internet as a crutch when solving problems, rather than building a student’s critical thinking skills. One of the unintended consequences of technology is potentially creating “an expectation of easy access to information and instantaneous answers.” (2) I fear that the new generation of students will no longer learn how to think – but instead, learn how to Wikipedia and Google for responses.

Striking the right balance of technology and education will be very difficult. Technology can especially be helpful when teaching hard skills. However, I completely agree with you that the most important and difficult skills to learn are the “soft” skills – communication, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking. I think the frequent use of technology in the classrooms is currently hurting us in our efforts to teach and learn these soft skills.


On November 17, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on Britannica’s quest to survive :

Shantanu – thank you for the thought-provoking article. I would have thought that discontinuing print would be the end of Britannica as these physical books were core to who they were and what consumers associated them with. However, I was wrong in assessing what Britannica’s true value proposition was. It wasn’t the book itself, but as you mentioned, it was the reliable and verified content. I was pleasantly surprised to read how they’ve successfully navigated the transition from print to online by sticking to their core value proposition while viewing print vs. online as just a means of delivery.

I have been thinking about how other “print” companies can learn from Britannica as they look to adapt to the digital age. For example, I think Moleskine (the popular notebook company) can learn a lot from Britannica’s move. As a bit of background, Moleskine launched into the “digital notebook” space a few months ago ( I am still skeptical of whether or not this move into digital will be successful. In fact, prior to reading your article, I feared that they were moving too far away from their core value proposition (which I viewed as beautiful paper notebooks) to entering a highly competitive area where they have no expertise and competing with giants like iPads and Kindles. However, after reading your article, I realized I was wrong in assessing what Moleskine’s value proposition is. Moleskine’s value proposition isn’t the physical notebook itself (in the same way Britannica’s value proposition wasn’t the encyclopedia itself). Instead, its value proposition is the incredible user experience they provide and how they efficiently facilitate brainstorming and journaling. Similar to Britannica, I think sticking to this value proposition will help Moleskine as they move into digital.

On a separate note, in addition to the suggestions you had, I think Britannica has the opportunity to perhaps develop an iPhone app where people could play trivia. This engages consumers and is in line with sticking to their core mission of sharing knowledge.

On November 6, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on Making New York the Most Sustainable Big City :

Thank you for shedding light on this issue! As one of the largest cities in the world, NYC has the opportunity to be a true model for other cities looking to reform policies.

To push your concerns about NYC’s energy consumption even further, there is research that shows that the impact of NYC’s energy consumption goes far beyond just NYC itself. In fact, research shows that “energy use from multiple urban areas collectively can warm the atmosphere remotely, thousands of miles away from the energy consumption regions. This is accomplished through atmospheric circulation change.” 6.7 terawatts of the 16 terawatts consumed in the world in 2006 was consumed in 86 metropolitan areas. Yet, areas thousands of miles away across the globe are impacted by energy use in metropolitan areas like New York City [1].

I agree that NYC still has a long way to go though. In fact, the following Sustainable Cities index ( rated New York as the 26th most sustainable city. I was disappointed to see this. I also agree with you that both positive and negative incentives (via policy mandates) must be employed. In terms of your concern about how possible it is to engage private owners to retrofit, I would perhaps offer both positive incentives (tax credits) and negative incentives (mandates to retrofit by 2020 for example). I would also encourage new eco-friendly developers and architects to create new sustainable designs for NYC’s buildings. Perhaps the “winners” could receive some sort of tax incentive. I say this in hopes that we could encourage more creative solutions like the ones Germany employs with passive housing design. Passive housing is an architectural design that allows for very little energy use for heating and cooling. This requires that “the annual energy requirement per square meter for room heating must be reduced to less than 15 kilowatt hours, while the building must also be equipped with ultra-efficient ventilation and heat recovery systems” [2].

I am interested to see how NYC continues to develop its sustainability plans, and to see how they measure the plan’s efficacy.

[1] Guang Zhang, Ming Cai, Aixue Hu, “Energy consumption and the unexplained winter warming over northern Asia and North America,” Nature Climate Change,
[2] “Low-Energy Houses and Passive Houses,”

On November 6, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on H&M: Making Fashion Sustainable and Sustainability Fashionable :

Nancy – thanks for the great feedback on Patagonia’s model. I completely agree with you that it is easier for Patagonia to promote this due to their “meant to last products.” That said, I do hope that consumer preferences shift away from fast-fashion and start moving towards “meant to last products.” I liked your subscription model idea. Although I am a bit worried that they may be contributing to our carbon footprint more so than helping. Rent the Runway packages often comes in large packages that are shipped from one side of the country to the other. The consistent additional transportation and air freight that the Rent the Runway subscription model requires may negate the positive impacts of re-using garments. I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on this trade-off.

On November 6, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on Christmas without Christmas trees? :

Gorick – wow, this one is a very tough issue because it requires us to in some ways, contemplate sacrificing (or at the very least, adjusting) a tradition that is extremely deep-rooted in religion, culture and family. Thank you for shedding light on this issue, especially because it is a common misconception that artificial trees are automaticalyl more environmentally friendly than real trees. In addition to many of the consequences of Christmas trees you noted above, we also need to consider “tree-miles” and the carbon emissions used to transport the tree to the shop and then to the consumer (1).

I grew up in a family where fake vs. real tree was an issue of constant debate every year. One year, my extremely artistically talented and environmentally-conscious younger sister made our Christmas tree. She used hangers and insisted we use it in lieu of a real tree. This example made me think that it could be an interesting for teachers to encourage children to think about ways to create their own Christmas Trees. This would enhance their art education, and also help educate this new generation about ways to incorporate sustainability into their lives going forward. I found this guide to be particularly inspiring: I also agree with Roberto that there is huge opportunity for increased tree recycling. There are also some tree rental companies that will recycle for you. By utilizing these types of companies, we could perhaps also decrease the impact of “tree miles” incurred due to having to drive many miles to recycle a tree on our own.

I think another important element around this conversation is what do we do about the other Christmas tree items – lights, decorations, ornaments? We could purchase LED lights or artificial trees that come with LED lights such as the one highlighted here: We could also (i) re-use and recycle ornaments and (ii) purchase more eco-friendly ornaments. I think consumers can drive a lot of this change and am excited to see what companies do in the future to adapt to these changing consumer preferences.


On November 6, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on Putting Lipstick on a Planet :

Yarden, I loved this article and I was especially impressed with how L’Oreal has experimented with some extremely creative solutions.

I was also intrigued by your idea about thinking through how can we simplify packaging. I don’t think we can get rid of product claim inserts due to FDA regulations ( Furthermore, not everyone has access to internet and mobile devices, so it would be tough to only offer digital information regarding ingredients and product benefits. That said, you are completely right that there is a lot of frivolous packaging just for marketing purposes! I am specifically thinking about my first GlamGlow (Estee Lauder brand) purchase. GlamGlow prides themselves on making the purchase experience an extremely memorable one. To get to the final product, you have to open 3 boxes! I was shocked at how much trash there was for just one small 1.4 oz bottle. On this point, one cosmetics manufacturer I really admire for its sustainability efforts is Tata Harper ( In Tata Harper’s own words: “we buy renewable energy from the state of VT to run our facilities, we buy recycled paper and packaging material, we use recyclable glass bottles for our products and we keep all activity in one place to cut down on our carbon footprint. We believe that if companies talk the talk, they should walk the walk – no greenwashing!” I would encourage L’Oreal to learn from some of Tata Harper’s packaging material methods.

I am also wondering if we could somehow provide solutions for already loyal customers who are just trying to refill on their staple items? Beauty is a category where consumers tend to engage in repeat purchases and are highly loyal. Once I am convinced on a product, I am usually a lifetime customer and do not need the packaging or information every time. I would definitely be willing to just go to a store, and “refill” on the traditional items. Could L’Oreal, for items like face cleansers and lotions, provide larger containers or “refill” stations (similar to the way we can refill soap or water?) This idea is likely a stretch and introduces new challenges, but I definitely agreed that the sustainability conversation needs to include less packaging (and more sustainable packaging).

On November 6, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on H&M: Making Fashion Sustainable and Sustainability Fashionable :

Jenna, this was a great piece and thank you for bringing this important issue to the table. I was encouraged to see H&M – as a retail giant – work towards making both its operations and products more sustainable.

But like you, I am still struggling with the irony of H&M’s efforts. By definition, the fast-fashion business model encourages low quality garments, quick replacement cycles, and ultimately, a lot waste. I also question the efficacy and motivations behind some of their initiatives – for example, the recycling program. In absence of a 100% closed-looped system to re-use and recycle old garments, I think H&M’s recycling program is only making the problem worse. The program encourages the customer to return items at the store, receive a voucher, purchase a new item (not made of 100% recycled items) using the voucher, and ultimately contribute more waste! Encouraging returns could also increase the number of trips a customer makes to H&M, and thus increase car utilization and carbon emissions.

The recycling concept is great in theory, but as you suggested, the technology is far from commercially scaleable. Furthermore, “there is closed-loop technology for pure cotton that could take a garment, break it down and reweave—but once cotton is dyed, treated or blended with other materials, the process no longer works. Treated cotton, linen, silk and wool can be mechanically chopped up for recycling, but they yield a low-quality, short fiber that must be mixed with virgin fiber for clothing.” [1] Closed-looped technology for synthetic materials are “even further away from commercial feasibility.” [1].

There are also challenges from the customer perspective. To make this model truly work, more customers must be engaged in re-using and recycling. According to the EPA, 84% of unwanted garments end up in the landfill or incinerator [1]. Changing this percentage requires a huge shift in consumer behavior and preferences!

Ultimately, no matter how much H&M preaches that they are moving towards sustainability, I have my doubts. There is a permanent and undeniable tension between the fast-fashion business model itself and creating a sustainable planet. It promotes a lifestyle where we are constantly searching for newness. Even if we cracked the closed-loop recycling model for clothing, does this promote a wasteful lifestyle in other areas of our life like food and transportation? Should we, as environmentally-conscious consumers, promote more “closet-sharing” business models vs. “fast-fashion”? Wouldn’t this allow us to try new styles and pieces, without increasing our carbon footprint? Or if H&M truly cares about sustainability – should they shit its business model to produce higher quality garments that can last longer?

In fact, I really admire what Patagonia is doing in this space. Similar to H&M, they are encouraging a closed-loop recycling program [2]. However, unlike H&M, they are also promoting the notion that “as individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for our planet is to keep our stuff in use longer.” They subsequently provide an “easy-to-follow repair guide” on its website ( [3]. While this may not increase customer purchases for Patagonia, they are doing their part in creating a more sustainable world. I would argue that this is an even better business model – as an environmentally-conscious consumer, I trust that they truly have the planet in mind first.

As a final note, HBS’s Retail & Luxury Goods Club has a panel on Sustainability for its conference in January that could be interesting for H&M to take some ideas from.

[1] Jared Miller, “Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crisis,” Newsweek, September 1, 2016,
[2] “Reuse and Recycle.” Patagonia.
[3] “If It’s Broke, Fix it!” Patagonia.

On November 5, 2016, Jessie Cai commented on W(h)ining about Climate Change: Sula Wines :

Tarunika – this was a fascinating piece. I had not realized how large the Indian wine industry was. I know very little about the wine production process, but can certainly appreciate how difficult it is for a wine producer to produce a consistent, high-quality wine over time -there is a very fine line between a masterpiece wine vs. an underwhelming wine. Even the smallest alteration in temperature, soil quality, precipitation level and moisture level can drastically change the taste and body. Climate change and subsequent extreme weather variations must be one of the biggest challenges for the wine industry to tackle.

It sounds like Sula is thinking through the right issues. Beyond Sula’s current sustainability initiatives like rain-water harvesting and vermi-compost, I thought they may have the opportunity to engage with (and learn from) other wine producers around the world to study how they are coping with this issue. Journal of Wine Economics could be a good resource for Sula. For example, this journal piece has some examples from other countries as well: Austria (page 15 and 16) had some interesting parallels – they are facing “dry periods, hot summers, extreme evaporation, sudden heavy rainfall and generally unfavorable distribution of precipitation.” They have implemented some solutions including increasing flexibility. They now grow grapes in two regions and two different climate zones. It sounds like Sula is considering this move but is worried about the logistics and quality challenges. Sula could perhaps work with the vineyards in Austria to learn more about how they transitioned into two regions.

I hope this piece is helpful. That said – I understand that climate change is very region specific and thus effective methodologies will vary drastically by region.