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I like this business and would be lining up to invest my money. It’s a really elegant solution to the ennui of learning a foreign language: it reduces the hassle of traveling to and from a language class and the rigidity of a set schedule while providing personal interaction with a teacher. Personally, as someone who has tried to become fluent in another language, the most effective way is immersion. OpenEnglish provides an inexpensive option for as close of an immersive experience as possible – a one-on-one conversation with a native speaker who specializes in teaching the language.

As a potential investor, I think this business is really limiting itself by only providing English. Given its asset-light business model, it can easily expand into other countries at a very fast pace to offer lessons for any language (like Chinese, for example). There would only be costs associated with setting up a network of quality language teachers in any given language. The “trialability” of this product would be low as anyone with a good internet connection can become a student.

Lastly, I agree with you and Anita that using this as a supplement to foreign language education is likely the best option. However, I think that because this is a supplement tool, the target market would more affluent and OpenEnglish could charge a premium pricing to differentiate itself from non-personal language tools such as Rosetta Stone and Duolingo.

On November 20, 2016, Nancy commented on Eating Microchips is Good For You! :

This. Is. So. Cool. Thank you for sharing, Javi. I see a lot of benefits with this edible and wearable health monitoring device. This also opens up a whole new world of things that ingestible devices can do, from batteries that can power internal medical devices ( to an ingestible robot that can do surgery (

One thing I do want to heavily challenge is the idea to allow health insurance companies to use this data. While car insurance companies have already implemented monitoring programs to track driving habits and reward safer drivers, the industry is not analogous to health insurance. Driving habits are something that a person can easily change while health conditions are inherent. While I do agree that patients that use the Proteus device may be better at following the doctor’s orders and incur fewer costs, what if they have a disease where treatments are not effective? Insurance companies can factor this into their premium calculation (whether it’s legal or not) and punish those who are already suffering from a serious illness. Furthermore, will people who are healthy be required to have this device as well? If the device finds patterns of illness that may occur later in life, could insurance companies charge higher premiums preemptively? For me, allowing insurance companies to track this feels like opening pandora’s box and will have so many more negative implications than saving a few dollars our monthly insurance premium.

Fascinating topic! Ralph Lauren is doing some really cool things to digitize the shopping experience! As your post and many of the comments mentioned, these features can help but also hurt. While they may enhance the shopping experience for some, the lack of human contact and service and possible invasion of privacy may be a turn off for others. I would also take a guess that installing all of these devices at stores is not cheap. I would be curious to see if the ROI on these devices justify their installation and maintenance cost.

I am also curious to see if Ralph Lauren is able to attribute the data they collect in store to any particular customer. I worked closely with a clothing brand who is very good at getting its customers to share her information, either by opening up a store credit card or just through signing up for emails. With this information, they are able to figure out who she is, what and where she is buying, and where she lives. This information was invaluable for the brand not only for marketing and understanding its core customer, but also in terms of product design, where to open a new store, and promotional strategy. With these digitized gadgets, Ralph Lauren can learn so much more about its customers and tailor every aspect of their shopping experience to their preferences.

Lastly, I think the point you had about omnichannel is key for Ralph Lauren. Over the last few years, although the retail environment has been struggling, companies that have omnichannel capabilities, not only in their supply chain, but also in their distribution and point of sale systems, have been unscathed. In fact, public market investors are rewarding omnichannel retails, giving them a valuation at a 2-3 times higher EBITDA multiple than those with a large brick-and-mortar presence.

Thank you for shedding more light on this topic, Reilly. I feel that giving our first responders as much information as possible to keep them safe as they risk their lives to protect us should be a top priority. One key quote you cited especially stood out to me: “government technology often fails with implementation.” I lack experience working in government, but it does seem that there is a lot of inertia when it comes to implementing IT and digitization projects (especially large ones) at government agencies. According a report published by the Standish Group, only 6.4% of federal IT projects with $10 million or more in labor costs were successful. This trend is not unique to the American government, as UK and Australian governments have had similar experiences [1]. In addition to the three action items you mentioned, I suggest two other operational changes that may help BFD succeed where the other projects failed:

1. Share the risk of the implementing the project with other agencies and private companies. Oftentimes, the government signs time and material contracts with private agencies for services due to the large size of the projects. This gives contractors an incentive to bill the government as much as possible. Given these new initiatives to help firefighters are IT related and can easily be broken down into modules, the BFD can sign fixed costs contracts to not only reduce cost but also share the risk of the project with the contractor.

2. Increase transparency. This goes hand in hand with your last action item of demonstrating effectiveness. Though, it will be important to show not only instances of successes of the innovations, but also when those innovations fail and what BFD learned. This could give further legitimacy to the project as a whole and bring more awareness of the effort.


On November 20, 2016, Nancy commented on The Internet of Things: Your Future Doctor! :

Saurav – your post highlighted two very pressing risks that the entire healthcare industry is facing. For me, the security and privacy risk is an especially large concern. Hospitals, where these IoT devices are most often used, are very easy targets for hackers because of their lack of cyber security. In fact, just this year, there have been several ransomware attacks on major hospitals across the United States and Canada [1]. Yet ransomware (where hackers encrypt important and sensitive data and will only provide the decryption key when a ransom is paid) is not the most nefarious thing that hackers can do with the data. Medical records can contain extremely sensitive and personal information such as the current medications taken, history of genetic illnesses in the family, and even DNA sequence information. Making this information public can be the equivalent of a leaked social security number. Furthermore, as these data are collected and shared between healthcare organization, there could be a day when these databases will be available to health insurance companies to make premium price decisions (much like car insurance companies and driving quality data), and even to employers to make hiring decisions (currently illegal). These future scenarios ask us to draw a line between the benefits of collecting data for analysis and the importance of privacy.


Agree with both you and Jessie that there definitely are tradeoffs in pursuing a subscription model that will have a huge impact on the environment. To get to the bottom of it, we’ll likely have to resort to environmental experts and some intense Excel modeling. That said, I do really like your idea. I think modification #3 will be the lowest hanging fruit, since not all garments will have to be dry-cleaned. There is so much technology that goes into fabric design that allows most pieces of clothing to be machine washable.

For H&M, I absolutely agree that adopting a subscription model will be difficult, simply because there will be so much additional merchandising, customer relations, and curating of outfits that would need to happen.

Brandon – this is a really unique approach to illustrating the impact climate change has on an organization. What makes the National Wildlife Federation special versus other companies is its mission, which is rooted in preservation versus adaptation. As a conservation organization, the NWF will need to try to maintain current natural habitat conditions in the backdrop of man’s impact on the environment while other companies are changing their product and strategy as a response. This has an interesting implication on NWF’s supply chain and operations. While many other companies face a scarcity in their supply chain (in terms of raw materials) as the climate warms (fewer cocoa beans, for example), NWF’s supply of raw materials (i.e. endangered animals and broken habitats) increases. At the same time, if demand (public interest) does not increase to meet supply, NWF will not be able to accomplish its mission.

For these reasons, I very much support your recommendations to increase public interest both from the government as well as from the next generation. Additionally, I would suggest that NWF plans for the increases in supply by launching additional marketing campaigns to raise funds. One thing I would be curious to learn more about is how the organization prioritizes species to save and how funds are allocated as a result. It would be a good way to see what NWF’s approach is to valuing species and its contribution to biodiversity.

On November 7, 2016, Nancy commented on Coffee industry in danger of extinction :

This article really sounds the alarm for the future of coffee. I wrote my post on cocoa beans, which unlike the coffee bean, is not sensitive to temperature, only humidity. I would imagine that each degree of temperature increase would affect coffee beans many folds more that it would cocoa.

In your analysis, what I found most interesting (and maybe even controversial) was the assumption that coffee is a luxury good and therefore customers are unlikely to maintain the same demand if prices increase. While I agree that there are artisanal coffees that are very expensive and that customers will abandon right away if prices are too high, regular plain coffee is really a product for the masses and is a necessity. Furthermore, given how addicted to caffeine the world is (the American Psychiatric Association added caffeine addiction and withdrawal to its new diagnostic manual in 2013) [1], I would argue that the demand for coffee is quite inelastic and mirrors that of tobacco. As such, I think that price should not be a concern for JVA as it will be able to pass most, if not all, of the rising costs in its supply chain to the customers even as prices skyrocket.

That said, I do agree with your recommendations to find ways to increase coffee yield and production. Ultimately, JVA needs to maintain price AND volume to grow its top line. What I think would be interesting to see are some of the sustainability initiatives that JVA has taken to reduce its own carbon footprint. Given that it sources coffee beans from three different continents and processes them in a fourth, the CO2 emissions that result from this distribution network would likely be significant. Comparing and contrasting those initiatives with your recommendations could provide a good illustration of the trade-offs that JVA will need to evaluate for its future strategy.


On November 7, 2016, Nancy commented on Reduced Snowpack in Washington State :

This is a really interesting topic that highlights a typical supply chain issue that many companies have: The State of Washington is facing increasing demand during periods where available supply is decreasing. What is different here versus a company that sells tangible products is that there is no room for “backlog”. If demand exceeds supply, then the state goes into a blackout. So in order to avoid this from happening, the state government would have to use alternative energy sources (natural gas, solar, wind, etc.). As you mentioned, this puts Washington in a difficult situation where they must choose between emitting more greenhouse gases into the environment in order to provide sufficient energy or blackouts. Thankfully, Washington is a part of ColumbiaGrid, which is a non-profit membership corporation that serves the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah. [1] This transmission network allows members to engage in wholesale transaction of electricity.

For Washington State, I think immediate next steps will extend beyond research. To address the energy issue, it should carefully forecast its electricity output, and plan to purchase the remaining required electricity through ColumbiaGrid members, or use the other sources of energy that you listed in the post. Both will require additional investment and expenses. The state will need to carefully plan and allocate tax dollars going forward. Budgeting taxes is a zero-sum game: every dollar spent on energy is one less dollar spent on healthcare or education. It will be interesting to see how Washington decides to prioritize sustainable energy and environmental protection among all of its other initiatives going forward.


On November 7, 2016, Nancy commented on To Shop, or Not to Shop: Depends on the Weather :

This post is an interest take on the impact that climate change can have on consumer behavior, and how it creates ripple effects across the supply chain. I like your suggestions of operational changes that Macy can implement, especially hiring a meteorologist. It does seem that weather and climate planning is more and more relevant for design and purchasing teams for clothing retailers. One thing I would caution against is pursing fast fashion. Although it may alleviate the pain that Macy feels when it has stale products that are not weather appropriate, fast fashion wreaks havoc on the environment because of the sheer amount of additional textiles, cotton, and other inputs it requires. It will be interesting to see how Macy’s handles this tradeoff between current sustainability efforts and mitigating initiatives to improve profits that will damage the environment even more.

While doing diligence at my prior job, I analyzed a company that had an efficient way to deal with seasonal variability. It is a clothing brand that owns its stores all across the United States. It has two factories, one located in Asia and another located near its headquarters in Northeastern United States. While most of the items they offer are produced in Asia, the US factory has the capability to manufacturer all the items offered as well (in smaller batches). Whenever new lines are launched, they are “tested” across geographies. For example, the summer lines are first tested in southern states where the weather is warmer in the winter before offered in the northern stores the next summer season. The brand then uses the sales data to adjust the production numbers for the summer line launch. If there are any surpluses, the company has a robust distribution network that can move the styles that are no longer weather appropriate from one area to another, thereby reducing idle inventory sitting in the back of stores. If there are any shortages, all the stores can submit orders to the US factory who will then rush produce additional items for the stores to sell.

Given that Macy has a similar extensive network of stores and suppliers, I think that this business model could be a viable option for Macy’s in the future.

Jenna and Jessie, you both illustrated the inherent tension between recycling efforts and providing fast fashion for H&M very clearly. And I agree – the recycling program to reduce the water waste and other pollution resulting from textile production is a bit flawed and cannot achieve a closed loop system status without a large influx of capital. Within the clothing production cycle, there are two levers that we can pull to reduce environmental impact. One is (as you both mentioned) through recycling at the end of the cycle, the other is to reduce production in general at the beginning of the process. Because of the current fast fashion trend, the second option will unlikely gain any traction with clothing companies. Patagonia’s encouragement of customers to repair items can be effective, but will be limited to clothing companies whose products are meant to last (i.e. down winter jacket from Patagonia vs. a summer top from H&M).

Recently, I’ve been closely tracking a few clothing subscription companies like Le Tote, Gwynnie Bee, and Rent the Runway. They provide monthly (or as requested) boxes of lightly used, fashionable clothing catered to the taste of the customer for a flat fee. Once the clothes have been worn, the customers send it back, the company will clean, iron, and fold the pieces, and send them off to the next customer. This model mimics the fast fashion concept by providing new styles on a monthly (or even faster) basis while limiting the clothing production at the beginning of the cycle. Like the recycling program, this is in no means a perfect solution (people may not want to wear second hand clothes, customers may not like all the pieces they received, etc.), but I think it can be a very effective way to maintain the fast fashion trend while reduction environmental impact.

Furthermore, what struck me as potentially more environmentally damaging is the additional transportation and distribution networks required to run a fast fashion business. Companies like Zara and H&M can get clothes from design to store in less than a month[1]. Customers are also no longer purchasing items on a twice a year cycle. As a result, the increased frequency with which H&M must distribute new products to its stores via ship, freight, or truck will add significantly more CO2 and burn more fossil fuels than before. Other than using more fuel efficient vehicles, I do not have an easy solution to this problem and would be interested to hear other peoples’ thoughts.

[1] Zarroli, Jim. “In Trendy World of Fast Fashion, Styles Aren’t Made to Last.” Published Mar 2013, Accessed Nov 2016.