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On November 19, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on Turo: the Uber Model for Rental Cars :

Interesting post Alex, I hadn’t heard of this startup before reading your post. A couple of trends I’ve noticed in digital marketplace businesses are:

1. Lack of focus ultimately leading to failure.
2. Fierce competition leading to extremely low margins and coupled with the cost of user acquisition, a continuous need for additional capital to offset negative cash flows.

How do you think Turo can mitigate these risks? Relating to point 1, in your post you mention that they should focus on offering the widest selection of cars, is this realistic? Perhaps they would do a better job if they were to take on a smaller market such as the luxury car market or the van market? To point 2, with no real barrier to entry, are Uber the only worry for Turo? What about new entrants? How will Turo defend its marketshare without having to turn to huge levels of venture capital funding?

Thanks for the post Zach, to add to the points raised by CJ I was wondering whether ESPN could leverage its position as the provider of live sports events and as “the glue that holds the cable bundle together” to drive higher pricing in lieu of its position in the focal point of this media ecosystem. With such a unique foothold on customers, and content that is so valuable to the cable networks, isn’t ESPN worthy of charing more?

On November 19, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on What is the way forward for Coursera? :

Thanks for the interesting post Rajit. As I was reading I started to think about this monetization issue and it reminded me of our marketing case on Rdio. We’ve seen that using the freemium model can be very difficult to provide sufficient value so as to acquire users whilst at the same time encouraging them to upgrade to the paid functions. Do you think that the certificate is enough of an incentive to get a satisfactory amount of paid users? In addition, because this payment is a one-off for a particular course rather than a recurring payment, it could be that the cost of user acquisition is greater than the revenue that comes from one course – in this case coursera may need to sell 2 or 3 certificates before they break even. This leads me to thinking about other monetization methods – could coursera partner with companies that provide offline educational content? Could they advertise a service that is in the education space but will not compete with their offering? Finally, is there a particularly interesting opportunity for Coursera in focusing on geographies where educational content can be difficult to reach? For example, in some emerging markets Coursera could be by far the cheapest and most accessible option to learn a new language or a particular subject.

Thanks for the interesting post Francisco. In addition to the comments that have been made so far, I would be curious to understand the regulatory challenges that could stand in the way of using the data captured by the ETC system for purposes other than payment collection. For example, do you think that the ETC system that is paid for by private companies and the proprietary data on it would be: A) Made available to the government for speed limit enforcement purposes and if so at what cost? and B) Would the courts allow for this data to be used as evidence of the committed offense? Finally, if this data system is not treated as a closed loop, how do we ensure that drivers are not worried about data-protection issues such as cameras on the road recording their locations and then sharing that information with third parties?

Great post Emily, it is so interesting to see how the agricultural sector has evolved over the last decade or two. The two points that come to mind when I read this article are:
1. As it was mentioned in the previous comment and in your post, adoption rate is an area that John Deere needs to work on improving. This is particularly true on smaller farms and generally in emerging markets. Other than better marketing and training is there anything that John Deere can do to help get their technologies out there? Maybe they could come up with ways to help finance the upfront cost, either directly or through an intermediary financial institution?
2. The second point is to do with innovation through acquisition – I agree with you that hiring the best engineering talent is difficult and John Deere could struggle to compete with “sexier” tech firms like Google, Apple, etc. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why John Deere has focused on making key acquisitions in Agritech to support its innovation strategy? I imagine these acquisitions will continue to be a priority going forward. For example, in 2008 John Deere purchased Plastro Irrigation Systems to become a significant player in the drip-irrigation industry: In addition, earlier this year they purchased Monosem in order to compete in the precision planting space:

Thanks for your comment David. Addressing the point around investment in livestock: Were Toleza’s goalposts changed to supporting Malawi’s food production in an effort to fight poverty, then yes, it would not make sense to investment in livestock. However, from an economic perspective of the company, livestock has the potential to be a higher-earner during years that experience adverse weather conditions. The weather’s impact on livestock is limited, as the greatest threat is lack of grazing material to take the cattle through the dry season. Of course, having to buy additional food for the cattle is not cheap, but in comparison to preparing land, planting, weeding, spraying and harvesting, only to end up with low yields, the fluctuation in performance is not as extreme. In relation to your point about mobile technology, it is true that digital handheld technology is starting to disrupt markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, in agriculture and other industries as well. In addition to sharing weather information and providing a platform for communication between stakeholders in the industry, we are starting to see mobile technology that deals with best farming practices being used in the fields. This includes taking pictures of the crop or pests and sending to a “agri-doctor” for diagnosis and recommended action.

Thanks for your comments Leah and Will. Starting with your point Leah, it is true that there is somewhat of a paradox in going after the produce of smallholders as a de-risking strategy, particularly as they are the ones more badly hit by climate change. My reasoning, which stems purely out of economic risk and reward for Toleza, is based on there being less risk in simply ginning cotton rather than growing and ginning it, particularly if the growing side is likely to make losses. This of course depends on there being a sufficient national crop in a given season, or else market forces may drive prices beyond reasonable levels for competition on international markets. So in short, there’s a risk in de-linking this chain, but from my experience in the industry it is much smaller than the risk of investing in high yields across large areas and falling well below breakeven yields.

Will, I wouldn’t say that climate change alone has brought us to this stage. Other factors such as exhausted levels of soil nutrients in the land, as well as very limited advances in farming methodology or technology over the past decades, also have a direct impact on smallholder farmers. The question you raise is very interesting and the benefits could be large. I suspect, however, that the difficulty in doing this would be (as you say) the great underlying change to generations of subsistence farming.

That’s a great observation Angelica and that’s the point that I alluded to at the end of the post. As you can see, for a large company there are a variety of options although non of them are easy and all of them require significant upfront investment. With the exception of conservation tillage which could be done on a small scale and at little cost, the smallholder farmer is not able to apply any of the other steps taken by Toleza or recommended by me. What is the government doing? Another good question! There is little evidence that the government has updated its policies to account for climate change, however, Malawi has been running a program called “Farm Input Subsidy Program” to enhance food production. This program was introduced in 2005 and essentially anybody can register to grow a certain area of maize which is the staple food in Malawi, and receive fertilizer from the government equivalent to the registered area. After 10 years, whilst this program is considered to be of huge importance for food independence in Malawi, critiques question its long-term viability and effectiveness.

On November 5, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on Get it Together, Ronald: McDonald’s Response to Climate Change :

Brian this is very interesting. I’m surprised to see that McDonald’s has not looked to reduce its carbon footprint within the context of transportation, which on the surface appears to be somewhat of a low-hanging fruit in comparison to securing higher levels of energy efficiency in all of its stores, and committing to the purchase of mostly renewable energy. I did a little research and saw that in comparison to the large carbon footprint that McDonald’s has, transportation is not actually a very large contributor: On their website, McDonald’s claims that only 3% of their carbon footprint is attributed to transportation, could this be possible? See:

If this is indeed the case, then clearly the main areas to focus on are within the supply chain rather than store operations.

On November 5, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on The Caribbean: Land of Extreme Sunshine or Extreme Hurricanes? :

This is an interesting note Will. I wonder, how much emphasis do caribbean countries put on cutting their own emissions? Although many of these countries are small, their per capita emissions are not exactly best in class. Despite high potential for renewable energy such as wind and solar (the caribbean is generally speaking both windy and sunny for much of the year) there hasn’t been a large amount of investment in these areas. In the Turks and Caicos Islands for example, 99.6% of all energy produced is by diesel generator. Does this mean that there is somewhat of a disconnect between working hard to flight climate change, but at the same time contributing to it by using conventional power generation methods? Will countries in the caribbean continue to face the dangers of climate change whilst contributing its development at the same time?

On November 5, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on Impact of Climate Change on Vail Ski Resort :

It is interesting to examine the initiatives that Vail has taken to ensure its sustainability, particularly the attempts to lure customers to their summer activities. In the European Alps, the difficulty to attract customers is described in this article:

The main issue that the Ski resorts are having in trying to attract customers in the off-season, is that it is difficult for them to compete with the lower cost and perhaps more attractive (to many) summer holiday destinations in the mediterranean. My question is therefore, what can the resorts do in terms of pricing and value proposition to even out the winter revenues with those of the summer? Or get as close to this as possible? One idea I had was to offer cheaper summer deals to those that use their facilities in the winter, perhaps this would sell well as a bundle? The obvious thing is that activity is what is lacking, so the focus needs to be on finding ways to provide an offering with lower variable costs than revenue.

On November 5, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on United: Flying the EcoFriendly Skies :

It is interesting to see the airline industry and specifically United, innovating in the sources of energy that they use rather than simply making up for their carbon footprint by investing in reduction of emissions outside of their own operations. One interesting study that I came across is using fuel made from chicken fat as an alternative to jet fuel. Perhaps more interesting than this is the fact that the following article describing this research was written five years ago!

However, if 5 years ago we were already looking at alternative fuel sources to jet fuel and in particular biofuels which have a much lower carbon footprint, than why haven’t we seen as much application of such innovation across the industry? I suppose this could come down to regulation, safety, and other barriers, and therefore, the real question is: How ripe is this industry for disruption in the energy and sustainability context, and what role will United play in bringing this disruption forward?

On November 5, 2016, Shpiro20 commented on Coral Reef or Coral DebReef? :

The threat posed by Climate Change on ocean biodiversity and in particular coral reefs is indeed very real. It is great to see that companies like Big Cat Green Island Cruises are taking this seriously and making significant efficiency savings. These savings however, have a direct impact on the company’s bottomline in the long term – would they be as quick to implement if this was not the case?

An interesting article that I read over the summer speaks of Scuba Divers’ ability to help combat climate change affects on coral reefs by being helping to measure water temperatures whilst diving. See article:

This additional information could help to close the data gap and decrease the amount of money (and carbon footprint!) associated with putting buoys in the water that help to measure and track changes in temperature. They can also provide richer data by recording temperature for different depths in the water rather than simply on the surface.

The sad thing is that the climate change impact on coral reefs is not only a problem for the Australian tourism industry and economy. We do not know the chain reaction that could be triggered by significant damage to the habitat of so many underwater species.