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On November 20, 2016, SM commented on How technology benefits Zenefits :

I really enjoyed learning how Zenefit’s has used digital technology in its business and operating model. It’s pretty amazing how complex the health insurance market is. Many SMBs simply don’t have the time or resources to become experts in this space. Zenefits offers them a great solution, and I agree with you that they have already thought about many of the ways they can help. That said, one of the big concerns that I have with their business is around quality control standards. The company has been in the news over the past year for their office culture, especially with regards to their “sell-sell-sell” mentality and cutting corners to get things done. This has landed Zenefits in the hot seat because many of their insurance policies were sold by unlicensed brokers. Going forward, the company needs to build in an incentive system to ensure quality standards are maintained. Also, they could do a better job of using technology to track customer/employee interactions. This could help the company track whether an appropriately licensed broker is engaging with potential customers.


On November 20, 2016, SM commented on YOTEL-ing Me Free WiFi’s as Creative as You Can Get? :

This is a really great post! Yotel has done an excellent job identifying ways to economize hotels by designing efficient rooms and eliminating hotel staff at check-in. That said, I think there are even more ways that the hotel could cut down on labor costs, especially in the food & beverage segment. Labor is one of the major costs to running a restaurant, but also adds to the overall experience (good or bad). While some diners prefer to have a high service experience when they sit down for a meal, I think Yotel’s business model attracts consumers that would enjoy eating at an automated restaurant. There are already a few interesting restaurants in this space, including Eatsa, that offer automated dining service that eliminates front-of-house staff. Even if Yotel decides not to go this far in automation, they could speed up the ordering and payment process by having tablets available at each table. This would improve order accuracy and free up wait staff to serve more tables. Just some food for thought!


On November 20, 2016, Merkel commented on Big data analytics, a powerful force for good or evil? :

This was a very informative post about a company that I knew little about, though I’m not surprised given Palantir’s business model. I have a less sanguine view on Palantir’s ability to mediate the inherent conflict between maximizing shareholder value and protecting civil liberties. While the idea of an independent oversight board is commendable, I question how effective this board could actually be at protecting civil liberties. The primary problem that this board would face is information asymmetry. Management would likely control the information that the board has access to, so the board’s decisions would only be as good as the information they receive. Moreover, Thiel could stack the board with “independent” members who are actually in his back pocket through other connections.

I think this post raises a bigger question of whether or not private companies should even be in the business of analyzing big data to prevent terrorism and crime. These areas have traditionally been the responsibility of local, state and national governments. While the government oversteps its bounds from time-to-time, it’s ultimately held accountable by voters. However, citizens have very limited power if any to control the decisions made by Palantir. I think we as a society need to assess whether or not it makes sense for governmental agencies to do business with companies like this.

On November 20, 2016, Merkel commented on Online retailing and the Dollar Shave Club :

This is a great post that shows how disruptors can catch complacent companies off-guard, quickly stealing market share in the process. While I think that Unilver should be able to grow DSC using its scale and resources, I do wonder how changing consumer preferences will impact the shaving industry. A major concern that I have is the declining revenue in this space caused by beard and stubble trends. Though the stats are a bit dated, a WSJ article notes that total razor and blade sales have declined from $3.08 billion in 2012 to $2.96 billion in 2014 (source: I wonder if Unilver executives will have the patience to grow this company given declining market revenues. Moreover, it would be interesting to see how the company tracks customer attrition data, i.e. do these customers stop purchasing razors because they moved to a competitor or did they stop shaving for a period of time. Although it could be challenging to encourage men to shave more frequently, Unilver might consider expanding DSC’s product line by targeting men with beards. Such products could include trimmers, scissors, etc. that could allow DSC to continue their relationship with men who stop shaving. Also, the company could improve on marketing their products to women. Altering DSC’s branding image or creating a sister company may be another way for Unilver to grow in this market.

On November 20, 2016, Merkel commented on Macy’s: America’s Omnichannel Store :

This post does a great job exploring the opportunities and challenges that digital technology pose for traditional retailers. A major concern that I have about the omnichannel strategy being adopted by Macy’s and other traditional retailers is that ecommerce threatens to commoditize the business. Simply offering convenient purchasing does little to differentiate Macy’s from other ecommerce platforms. Ryan Matthews of Black Monk Consulting raises an interesting point about Macy’s strategy: “With all due respect, Macy’s is missing the point here. The real ‘power’ of Amazon is the continuing stickiness it manages to create with customers. It keeps inventing more and more ways to connect. Attacking one of these platforms simply isn’t going to prove effective over the long haul.”

Macy’s will need to identify new ways to build brand loyalty with its traditional consumer. Importantly, the company needs to figure out how to make its bricks-and-mortar stores relevant by coming up with creative ways to drive foot traffic besides in-store pickup. I worry that Macy’s will lose relevance if it becomes just another online retailer.


This is a really interesting post. One potential concern that I have about this platform from the restaurant’s standpoint is that they may be cannibalizing their full-priced sales during normal hours if they sell deeply discounted food at the end of the day. I would imagine that many of the consumers that eat at buffet-style restaurants are already somewhat cost conscious, so they may be more inclined to take advantage of this service. As you mentioned, BuffetGo has access to large amounts of data, so this is one area that they should consider tracking for restaurants. For example, they could track the number of times that users purchase food from individual restaurants at full price and at discounted prices. From there, BuffetGo could price meals at varying levels depending on the frequency of discounted purchases to help restaurants make up for any lost full-priced sales.

On November 7, 2016, Merkel commented on A Hotel Under Water? Hilton Worldwide :

Great post, Kevin! It was interesting to read about the sustainability initiatives that Hilton has put in place. While some of the low hanging fruit such as towel reuse and increasing use of renewables can generate cost savings for the company, I believe that climate change offers a unique opportunity for hotel chains to build market share through product differentiation. Specifically, hotels that focus on eliminating waste and implementing sustainable practices can brand themselves as “eco-friendly.” This can attract affluent consumers willing to pay extra for a night’s stay at a sustainable hotel. Not only does this allow hotels to build share, but they can also foster brand loyalty with customers who “identify” with this type of lifestyle hotel.

I would encourage you to read up on a company called 1 Hotels that has a unique vision of bringing sustainability to luxury hotels:

There are also a few other hotels that focus on eco-friendly initiatives. This article from Forbes describes some of the sub-brands within some of the major chains that have environmentally friendly hotels:

On November 7, 2016, Merkel commented on Farming the Data :

It’s interesting to read how company’s like Trimble can help farmer’s make smarter management decisions. While technology like the Field-IQ System lead to more efficient planting, spraying and fertilizing, I’m not sure if these marginal improvements do much to offset carbon emissions created by farmers. That said, your idea for Trimble to provide anonymized data to the scientific community for analysis is a really great one. One concern I have is around the issue of who ultimately owns the data. I tried to discern that from reviewing the company’s 10K, but it’s a bit ambiguous whether or not Trimble could license or share the data collected with their Connected Farm platform. Based on their acquisition of Harvestmark, it seems like they have wide latitude to share data across a wide variety of partners. However, that may still be ultimately at the discretion of individual farmers.

On November 7, 2016, Merkel commented on Vote with Your Wallet and Race to the Top :

Great post Kent! However, I want to push back on the idea that consumers of Pepsi products would be willing to pay more if the company demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. First, I would argue that the majority of products sold by Pepsi are a fairly low-involvement purchasing decision. When someone picks up a Pepsi in the grocery store or cafeteria, I question whether the company’s sustainability initiatives would ever cross their mind. That said, a good data point may be the uptick in sales (if any) that Coca Cola sees during the holiday season for products with polar bears printed on the packaging. Coca Cola has committed to donating $10 million over five years to polar bear habitat preservation in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund ( For consumers with already ingrained purchasing habits, I’m not sure if these types of campaigns generate additional sales.

Second, are consumers of Pepsi products like sodas and potato chips really going to pay more for sustainably sourced ingredients or environmentally friendly packaging? I hate to stereotype, but the dude putting down a bag of Doritos and a liter of Mountain Dew just doesn’t strike me as the type who really cares that his high fructose corn syrup was sourced from an organic farm in rural Vermont. What role does market segmentation play in determining a consumer’s willingness to pay more for sustainable products?

Like Caroline, I also grew up traveling around the country to visit National Parks, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. However, I can’t help but see a certain irony in the fact that my family logged thousands of miles in our GHG emitting car to visit these national treasures. One area that NPS might consider investing a bit more time and money in is providing a virtual experience for those who are concerned about how their travel may contribute to environmental degradation and global warming. The cool part about virtual tours is that there are an increasing number of media for NPS to take advantage of, including 3D and VR. While NPS offers virtual tours for some of their most popular destinations, there’s still a lot to be desired in terms of content and functionality (take a look here: Moreover, NPS could leverage this platform to educate the broader population who might not otherwise have the resources to visit all of the U.S. National Parks.

This was a very informative post about a topic that I knew little about beforehand. I was surprised to learn that Airtel could reduce costs and emissions by switching from indoor to outdoor network facilities. Is this capability limited to certain regions and climates that are more temperate? I would imagine that there could be network outages for outdoor facilities from intense heat during the summer. Also, I am curious to know how Airtel’s emissions compare to similar service providers, especially in developed countries. While Airtel has managed to reduce emissions by over 20% in the past three years, that number becomes less impressive if they started from a much higher emissions figure relative to other companies. That said, I hope that they continue their pattern of emissions reductions and are able to achieve their target of a 70% reduction by 2018.