Keith Chu

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Thanks Mike for sharing your story above about investing in Lending Club.

Companies like Lending Club are natural displays of how digital approaches can challenge antiquated business models. I think Lending Club’s troubles are not dissimilar from other underlying challenges of the financial industry: 1) overeager investors create a bubble and inflated expectations, which lead to disappointing results (again, thanks Mike for confirming), 2) conflicts between management’s and the firm’s incentives (in this case, the CEO did not disclose his interest in a fund that purchased Lending Club products, a clear discretion), and 3) lack of strong regulations and controls. These are some examples of challenges that can impact all financial institutions, and Lending Club is no exception.

On November 20, 2016, Keith Chu commented on Efficient Roadways: How the Masspike is speeding up your commute :

Highly relevant post given the timing of the construction near campus last month.

Agreed with BJF above that the economic benefits are clear, and that the spillover social/economic/environmental benefits are tremendous. I particularly liked your last point — the real value of moving to the automated toll is in the real-time data collection used to optimize traffic patterns. This investment can generate value for many future projects in the state, in which case all future benefits can be tied to this fixed cost implementation in part or in whole. Now that MassDOT has this data available, data scientists can analyze patterns and drive change (pun intended) through learnings. This positive feedback loop should incentivize other state DOT’s to invest similarly given the cascading benefits. Coming from California, where there are no tolls, I can still see the value in having real-time data generated from these automated booths.

On November 20, 2016, Keith Chu commented on Hungry? Try 3D printing your food :

Really interesting post, and of course love the shoutout.

This company can disrupt many industries — less reliance on labor in food service, create savings in food production, leverage IoT infrastructure, save energy while cooking, and educate the population on healthy food choices. I wonder what the economics are for widespread use of this machine. I really like Aakash’s idea of “user profiles” for food. I think the Foodini lends itself well to a shared model where the $2,000 cost can be spread over many users and meals, with value created in saving food inputs and key labor costs. It will be interesting to see how this product is disseminated through the food services industry.

On November 20, 2016, Keith Chu commented on Zillow: Making Realtors Obsolete :

Zillow is bringing a ton of value to the market through centralizing home values and building products around residential real estate transactions. I’ve heard Zillow’s CMO speak and one of the many problems the company faces is that the typical home owner is only in the market to purchase a home once every ~10 years. Zillow must find a way to capture value from their customers more than simply on the home purchase/sale. The challenge they face will be to innovate new products on their various databases and tools to extract more value from their consumers. Perhaps Zillow can recommend home improvement projects that will add incremental value to homes in a given market, and partner with companies like Angie’s List to recommend contractors.

On November 20, 2016, Keith Chu commented on Netflix and Chillin’ in the Mile High Club :

Interesting post. Netflix has a history of disrupting itself — video and DVD rentals first, then streaming. As we have seen in the entertainment and media space, consumers will demand content when and where they want to watch, and companies must be responsive to changing habits. Additionally, if Netflix does not expand into offline downloads, they may find themselves needing to partner with companies like Facebook and Google that are investing in low-cost Internet distribution methods such as drones and balloons. This strategic decision about downloading content will put further pressure on the dynamics in the cable, telecom, and digital media industries.

On November 20, 2016, Keith Chu commented on Wayfair: Way Far Ahead in Digital Transformation? :

Great post! Interesting to learn about these digital initiatives at Wayfair, particularly the Pinterest-like boards and TV channel. In many ways, these digital companies like Wayfair are leveraging older business models and distribution channels to sell their products. West Elm recently announced plans to build a boutique hotel exclusively featuring their products — I wonder if Wayfair will adopt similar low-tech approaches to augment their digital investments.

Great post on Nike! I recall from the Nike case that the company used recycled plastic bottles to manufacture soccer jerseys, and to quote a case protagonist: “Ultimately, I don’t want you to buy it because it’s a sustainable product; I want you to buy it because it is the best product out there.” Its both rare and challenging to excel at sustainability and at product quality at the same time. Given these dual goals, Nike likely must spend quite a bit on R&D in order to achieve both goals, and your graphic on metrics confirms that is the case. Although Nike sets a high bar and a model for other companies to integrate sustainability with product, this pairing is ultimately reflected as high environmental costs in the value chain (manufacturing), and is passed along in part or in whole via high consumer prices. Interesting to see how these and other sustainability initiatives help to reduce the overall footprint at the manufacturing stage.

On November 6, 2016, Jaredbdav commented on Vail Resorts: An Avalanche of Change :

Great topic, Alex. As a fellow skier, I shudder to think of a winter without deep powder days.

I agree with Nathan above that its very hard for Vail and other mountains to pass along a “global warming” fee to their customers. Even before skiers interact with Vail, many are flying across the globe as you identified to reach the slopes and thus are incurring significant emissions costs to arrive…at a less-than-peak snowfall. I would agree with your assessment that on-mountain activities can relatively easily be offset through operational decisions and programs, but ultimately Vail and others are some of the first businesses to suffer from global trends. I’m curious what the time frame on your snowpack coverage percentage figure is from — that’s a pretty stark image showcasing the problems Vail and others (like my favorite, Jackson Hole) face.

From a business standpoint, Vail’s top-line suffers from reduced snowfall. In recent years, Vail has been increasing its operations and products in summer months to capture more value from its winter customers (golf, mountain biking, etc.). The good news there is that while winter revenues may be thawing (pun intended), their core customers can engage with the mountain in all seasons.

Pasha — great piece and clearly a topic and company that adds a bit of spice to the climate change debate.

Agreed with #CE# above regarding the Starbucks model of impacting suppliers. Chipotle already “charges extra” for consumers who want guacamole. Why not use price to their advantage? While I shudder at the thought of even higher guac charges, Chipotle can use price to limit total guacamole volume consumed at their stores while keeping revenues tied to guacamole consumption relatively even. This tactic would ensure that only those who truly “need” guacamole with their meal are willing to pay up for it while protecting their top line. What’s more, Chipotle can earmark a percentage of the guacamole revenues they earn to fund an initiative to support guacamole farmers, and thus mimic Starbucks’ model focusing on a key input to their product mix.

On November 6, 2016, Jaredbdav commented on Barry Callebaut: I’m in love with the cocoa :

Great read and thanks for detailing a pivotal company in the chocolate space that we have never heard of. Barry Callebaut holds an interesting position in the supply chain — should they force pressure on farmers to adopt sustainable growing practices such as develop new forms of cocoa or plant buffer/shade trees, or to invest in less harmful technologies within their own firm, they may pass along a price increase to their end manufacturers or the consumer. Does this worry Barry Callebaut? After all, cocoa is a commodity product and they sit between producers and brands. Sounds like they need to convince their customers that a price hike due to improved sustainability is justified.

On November 6, 2016, Jaredbdav commented on Vail Resorts, Inc: The Cold Business of Beating Climate Change :

Great piece on the effects of climate change on ski mountains — agreed that reduced snowfall and thus fewer powder days would be a disaster! I agree with EBN above that it is odd that Vail is not a member of the NSAA, especially when Whistler, one of their properties, has pledged to be a member. I’m familiar with Jackson Hole and they identified a few actions to improve energy consumption, including improved carpooling, parking, and bussing systems with local government and upgraded all mountain vehicles (Jeeps and snowmobiles) to models with eco-friendly emissions ( In addition, JH has bought renewable energy credits to 100% offset lift energy usage — perhaps given Vail’s improved margins, they could deploy some capital to reach emission neutrality across their resorts as well!

On November 6, 2016, Jaredbdav commented on Can Volvo Out-Innovate the Competition Again? :

Great piece on Volvo and how one carmaker is matching climate concerns with product innovation and consumer needs. Volvo’s value proposition for many years has been high levels of safety; with the new T6 engine, Volvo can add to that value prop an eco-friendly design and consistently high performance. Innovations like these propel the entire automotive industry to build more fuel-efficient engines in order to remain competitive. Therefore, Volvo’s goal of 1 million electric cars by 2025 has a ripple effect throughout the industry that should lead to far more than 1 million electric cars on the road, which is a win for all champions of climate change.