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On November 20, 2016, NJG commented on Misunderstanding the American Electorate :

What a timely discussion. I agree with Sabine’s point on the attitude-action gap and you (and others) that past voting histories are certainly not the most intellectually sound predictor for future political decisions. That being said, I believe Civis’ issue is an operating model one, not a business model flaw. The company seems to provide an alternative to ‘traditional’ polling methodologies to generate a more complete sense of the American voting public; that is its business model. How it chooses to execute on that (whether past voting histories or employment data) will define the value of its insights. Therefore, I would argue that with the capability to parse and analyze large volumes of ID’ed datapoints can be applied to new and more expansive data sets (consumer purchasing data, entertainment and ticketing, or hospital visits) to provide a much more holistic view of the US voter. Past voting histories may end up being just 1 of 217 predictors that Civis focuses on.

I think Sabine’s comment on increasing throughput time of a shopping experience via Instacart is a very, very good point. To leapfrog this issue, I have long believed that there should be a warehouse-to-consumer channel in groceries where the unpacking of a subset of pallet deliveries goes directly into being sorted for customer home deliveries. This can certainly be integrated into your #2 recommendation, where I think the long term use case is that smart home devices help shopping list construction and home ‘inventory’ management. Rather than shelve a bunch of groceries and then having a second ‘selector’ (Instacart) go through the shelves (with its own error rates…), Whole Foods should make use of the customer’s carefully selected digital shopping basket already specific to Whole Foods and disintermediate Instacart from its value chain.

On November 20, 2016, NJG commented on 3Derm: A Dermatology Triage System :

I love the use of asynchronous telehealth in targeted cases! It exemplifies efficiencies in a cost-laden and time-intensive system that we can address through digital innovation. In the case of 3Derm, though, it still leaves something to be desired. 3Derm currently connects primary care providers to specialists and thereby conserves dermatologist hours but as you note, a lot of the barrier is in getting the patient to even see a doctor in the first place. As 3Derm itself notes (1), the company tried to develop a mobile device-compatible imaging program a few years ago that resulted in catching 75% of malignancies but missed 25%. As mobile hardware innovation has occurred at a significant pace (as one example: iPhone cameras today are at a multi-fold resolution enhancement relative to five years ago), I would support 3Derm in continuously investing in mobile R&D to cut out even the PCP visit from the diagnosis process, connecting the patient in his home with a dermatologist on the other end.

1. http://www.telegram.com/news/20160710/economic-driver-3derm-skin-cancer-imaging-is-chosen-for-state-pilot-program

Thanks, Angelo. Interesting topic to raise as many of us made a decision to attend business school while our equally talented colleagues (if not more) made the decision not to.

I continue to view the most existential threat to HBS’ core business as one of the declining necessity in business for a traditional, credentialized education. In the last few years, on a largely anecdotal basis, I hear more often that business school is viewed as a ‘two-year break’ with learning served up as a nice side benefit as opposed to a truly enriching or critical learning experience. Certainly, there will continue to be many who disagree with this (many of us, as an example), but the diminishing value of an MBA in the corporate world (versus 2 years spent ‘doing’) is certainly worrying. If it does not erode the quantity of students, it may certainly erode the average quality of the student population. In most investing arenas, as an example, getting an MBA can be viewed as a hindrance relative to directly recruiting for the next job.

As far as the digital threat, I think one of the core value propositions (as outlined above) is a credentializing one as opposed to content-based, as the information learned in our MBA is already largely democratized (as you note: most of our cases are available for purchase already). The selectivity of admissions into the Harvard MBA I would argue is at least as important a signal to prospective employers as our learning at HBS (as evidenced by the non-disclosure around grading). Therefore, though MOOCs aim to further spread the HBS brand and class experience around the world, I doubt they will erode the HBS core business as much as other threats on the horizon. I agree with your next steps; I especially think digital ExecEd deployed globally makes good business sense.

On November 20, 2016, NJG commented on Living Forever with Human Longevity Inc. :

Thanks SkyStyne for the interesting post. I came across HLI last year while surveying the whole genome sequencing space and though HLI is not a particularly sizable business from a financials standpoint (yet), its fundraising ability certainly drew a lot of attention in the community.

That being said, after a deeper dive into the business (and you seem to allude to it as well), I would argue management needs to iterate on their business model to land on a truly differentiated and high value offering. Its financing ability appears to be more related to its all-star cast of founders (Craig Venter, the CEO and Chairman, is known as one of the first to sequence the human genome over a decade ago) than a clear value proposition to the market.

One of the reasons is that a ton of genome sequencing companies exist out there, though not always with the explicitly flashy goal of making humans live forever but certainly ventures focused on early disease screening and cancer detection exist. The challenge for HLI and its peers will be to differentiate the insights they can bring to the raw computing outputs of a genome sequencer, which I think exists largely in the public domain today and perhaps, should stay there. Who really owns the genetic data that results from such screenings and does society really want this data to exist in silos at various biotech ventures instead of amassed at scale in a public repository? The long-term public good of shared genetic information I think represents a significant threat to HLI as regulators will seek to implement mandatory sharing of patient genetic data in the long run. If the data becomes freely available (as you note), the network effects built up by a single company are eroded.

Until then, these companies will continue to compete on cost as they race to make this product more affordable. I agree with you that the premium priced package is very limiting to its goal of amassing relevant datapoints. Unfortunately, this rests largely on the data science and hardware talent at the company which is difficult to ‘own.’ Indeed, just this fall HLI lost its chief data scientist to a new competitor in the space, Grail (1).

1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/luketimmerman/2016/09/27/google-translate-star-leaves-venters-human-longevity-for-illumina-backed-grail/#2b1f142d769f

What an interesting company! Thoroughly enjoyed a very visual read. As with Clif Bars (and perhaps even more so in this case), when a company builds its external brand around sustainability, there is almost a sliding scale that ends with ‘never enough’ in terms of corporate sustainability practices. In the case of coffee consumption, where paper products are so integral to current consumer behavior, I would like to see Wheely’s put a full force campaign around re-usable coffee cups from Wheelys and discounting based on that. If they are location based, perhaps they could move to a subscription-based program to increase loyalty among the user base, which many cafes attempt to do using loyalty cards.

On November 7, 2016, NJG commented on The NIKE Model: Garbage In, Sneakers Out :

What an interesting post. On the topic of consumer engagement, my cursory look at the market literature is that countless studies have been done on whether consumers actually purchase on sentiments for sustainability and there is an (almost) unqualified ‘no’ that for the most part, there is a significant attitude-action gap between purchasing and showing support for a company’s sustainable ethos.

That being said, as the market leader, one might support (as you propose) that there is a civic responsibility for Nike to educate their captive audience without an immediate economic benefit. I like DM’s suggestion above around credits for recycled Nike clothing almost like Apple’s trade-in programs.

Thanks for the insightful post. I agree that for sustainability leaders in their fields, whose images (whether accurately or not) reflect sustainability and wholesome nutrition, there is a sliding scale where being “somewhat sustainable” and “somewhat nutritious” is simply not enough.

On the topics you raise, I agree wholeheartedly that sourcing organically and sustainably at a market-leading cost will be incredibly challenging for Clif. In addition, Clif bars have been called out for being rather unhealthy from a nutritional standpoint and their brand equity has been eroded by more nutritionally-conscious bar brands already. I think they should seize this opportunity to push the frontier on these two topics, shifting ingredient mixes to be both more sustainable and more nutritious and launching a new Clif (perhaps as a sub-brand initially) that is new and improved. This may lead to a differential price-point at first but I wonder whether savings on the recyclable packaging as your propose or other green money initiatives can help subsidize some of those incremental costs such that the end consumer would not pay for all of it.

On November 7, 2016, NJG commented on Let Them Eat Lobster! :

Thanks for raising an interesting case! Lobsters are certainly not top of mind when it comes to things we may lose due to climate change – kudos.

At the time frame and pace you cited, I suspect Luke’s Lobster is not as economically motivated to invest in sustainability as they are attempting to be socially conscious and (more cynically) marketing to our climate fever generation. That being said, I respect their initiatives to own their supply chain and adhere to CSR principles though they are not a public company. My sense is their next steps from a business perspective should be to set up a defensive sourcing strategy, working with partners north of Maine early on to establish relationships that will become handy as Maine stocks dwindle. I also would raise that Luke’s Lobster and other restaurants highly reliant on one or a few ingredients should seek to diversify and reduce over-fishing of a select population within a biome as an additional sustainability measure.

On November 7, 2016, NJG commented on Climate change… Understanding the meat of the problem :

Thanks for bringing an interesting angle to light on this topic. I found your discussion of lobbying efforts to reduce subsidies for environmentally harmful products and / or shifting subsidies to climate-positive agriculture to be particularly interesting. Do you think this is really feasible in partnership with Big Ag? Though I agree that such successful lobbies would help make sustainable foods more competitively priced and this in theory would shift where the market sits on the demand curve, I am curious as to whether a company such as Impossible Foods has the scale and capability to be the right sponsor for such a movement. I find the work you detail very inspiring and appreciate that you also call out the potential threat of being stymied by Big Ag in these efforts. My sense is that Impossible will need to continue to build a niche market, develop the best product for that market, and allow consumer sentiment to evolve from early adopter cities on the coasts while they’re in growth phase. As Dave points out above, there’s a significant amount of distrust in the market for meat substitutes and I wonder if Impossible is ready to take on that market sentiment. Here more than other places, product seems to come first.