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On November 20, 2016, sphilips commented on OpenTable and the Restaurant Revolution :

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on OpenTable, Ross. Having lived in New York where you sometimes have to give up arms, legs, and first borns for reservations at the best restaurants, OpenTable has become a sort of lifeline to finding a great place to eat with friends and family. But, reading this, I agree with your thoughts and am truly struck by how little they have done with the trove of data they must have on restaurants and customers across the world but particularly in major metropolitan areas. When I access their website or app, I always feel like I am starting from scratch – narrowing down the list by area, by times available, by number of seats, etc. I’ve never once received an OpenTable recommendation based on the restaurants I’ve made reservations via their platform and eaten at. I think you’re right – they’re missing out on monetizing a huge amount of invaluable information about how people eat out.

It’s also surprising given who owns OpenTable — Priceline Group, a leader in online travel and related services, which states that its mission is to change the way people experience the world. I recently made a number of flight bookings via Kayak (also owned by Priceline) and didn’t get targeted for any restaurant recommendations for the places I was traveling to. I would think that the Priceline Group has a lot of work to do on integrating the data collected by their subsidiaries in order to truly fulfill their mission in one single experience.

On November 20, 2016, sphilips commented on Is The New York Times on its way to becoming old news? :

Sairah – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. As an avid New York Times reader, I’ve noticed and truly enjoyed their innovative ways of presenting their journalistic coverage, particularly the data visualization (done especially well by Vox) and long form series.

Your piece taps right into how the news cycle and journalism have evolved with the advent of technology. How does a firm like the New York Times serve with integrity as the theoretical fourth branch of the U.S. government’s system of checks and balances while also operating a sustainable and profitable business by delivering what readers want? And what happens when what the NYT’s “customers” (aka readers) want is just reinforcement of their own beliefs? I see it already in myself and many others, as those with more liberal views tend towards the NYT and those with more conservative views tend towards the WSJ. Fortunately for us, I think the solutions you pose around finding new ways of engaging users will allow them to maintain journalistic integrity and neutrality without stooping to the likes of clickbait, Buzzfeed, and all of the “fake news” sites we saw proliferating our Facebook news feeds during the election. I think the management team at NYT has been proactive and should be able to pull it off – they seem to have been relatively successful in instituting the paywall many years ago.

On November 20, 2016, sphilips commented on A Better(ment) Way to Invest? :

Alex, thanks so much for sharing this. I understand the appeal of Betterment, particularly for younger folks who have wealth but enough amassed to retain a financial advisor through a high net worth client advisory business. But, I definitely have some concerns around a standalone robo-advisor model.

For one, my understanding is that financial advisors do so much more than just allocate their client’s assets between classes of securities. FAs advise on planning for taxes, retirement, paying for your kids’ college expenses, and more. I would almost argue that in the best advisory-client relationships, the FA serves as a sounding board not just on financial matters but also on life. How do you manage your finances if you’re planning to have a child? What if the markets are tanking, and, with no one to stop you, you react in a knee-jerk fashion and sell everything at the very bottom? What if you don’t eve know what questions to ask? Betterment and Wealthfront simply allocate money between investments and provide little or no context around those decisions – and many times, a little bit of handholding and a personal touch can make all of the difference.

I also share concerns around commoditization of robo-advising. The actual economics of the business model aren’t great. Per the CNBC article linked below from a few months ago, Betterment sports an average account size of $27k and, due to its fee structure, makes less than $100 per account every year. A Morningstar equity analyst, Michael Wong, believes that, given a customer acquisition cost of ~$1k per client implying the need to retain a customer for over a decade to break even, Betterment’s economics aren’t promising. The flow of venture capital into the robo-advising space in the last year also speaks volumes about how sentiment has changed around the concept. I think that large wealth management firms like Schwab, Fidelity, and Morgan Stanley Wealth Management already have the scale. And, if they can successfully embed components of the robo-advising experience into their current human-based financial advisor relationship, they will emerge the ultimate winners.


Thanks so much for writing this – I had heard a little bit about the phasing out of INR 500 and INR 1000 notes but didn’t realize the implications on the mobile payments front. The numbers you present above are incredible and speak to how the infrastructure is evolving rapidly to accommodate this sort of growth. But, I have definitely seen the strong bias towards conducting transactions in cash for purposes of evading taxes and other public scrutiny), and I’d be curious as to your thoughts on whether the people of India are actually ready for a cashless society. The middle and upper class people have the resources to be able to buy mobile, download the necessary apps, and open bank accounts, but I would worry about how the poorer parts of Indian society will be able to deal with this transition. How do they get mobile phones and internet access? Meanwhile, I think where there’s a will, there’s a way – despite this shift towards a cashless society, middle and upper class people still have the resources to figure out a way to conduct large transactions in cash to avoid government scrutiny and taxes.


On November 20, 2016, sphilips commented on Bright Cellars: The Pandora of Wine :

Thanks so much for sharing! As someone who enjoys wine but has a totally unsophisticated palate compared to master sommeliers, I love the idea behind Bright Cellars and think I, as a consumer, would derive a lot of value from this concept. On your question at the end, I think there are a significant number of people who are happy to do away with the 300 words that can be used to describe a single bottle of wine. The value proposition from Pandora is quite analogous here – most people don’t care whether a song is labeled pop rock or indie rock or just rock as long as they actually enjoy the song. Audiophiles might, but I would argue that the vast majority don’t really. In the same way, there are more than a few people who are happy to just know that they are opening a bottle of wine that they are more than likely to enjoy than Two Buck Chuck recommended to them by the store associate in Trader Joe’s. There will always be the small group of people who are truly interested in attaining a deep understanding of aged wines, but from personal experience, the market for Bright Cellars is absolutely promising.

On November 7, 2016, sphilips commented on Making a Google Search Sustainable :

Really enlightening post – thank you for sharing. I was quite surprised to learn that Google searches use that much energy. While it feels negligible when you think about one or two searches, this is one of those cases in which tiny amounts can add up to a lot!

Out of curiosity, I took a look at their webpage on sustainability, entitled Google Green. While they mention many of the same initiatives you do, it was somewhat surprising to me that they assert on multiple occasions that their environmental impact is nowhere as large as some speculate. For example, journalists in 2015 believed Google’s data centers were using power equivalent to that used by the country of Turkey. However, on their website, it states their data centers use less than 0.01% of the world’s electricity. I’d be curious as to the discrepancy and whether they are trying to mask their baseline starting point, even though it would allow them to cite that much more improvement.

Another interesting thought is that Google is leveraging its new “moonshots” division to dabble and innovate in a whole host of unique projects – renewable energy, emission reduction, and other climate change combating ideas could be great seedlings for future successful moonshots!

Great thoughts – thank you for sharing with us. I am personally of two minds when it comes to whether Uber and similar ride-hailing startups are helping to decrease emissions or ultimately resulting in a net increase. On one hand, I simply do not believe there is enough data to allow us to conclude one way or another, which is fine in my opinion. Uber must be allowed to keep confidential their vast amounts of data on their customers in order to prevent competitors from gaining an advantage. On the other hand, my instinct is that over time, any doubts here can be resolved, despite us not having the data, if Uber effectively transitions its fleet of cars to comprise increasingly of low emission hybrid or electric vehicles.

Phenomenally insightful and intriguing post! Thanks for sharing – it’s more than evident that DOW, particularly the pro forma Dow DuPont entity, has enormous influence in the global fight against climate change, simply given its absolute reach into the lives of consumers around the world.

While looking into Dow’s sustainability initiatives a bit more, I found its 2025 Sustainability Goals document. Recognizing that Dow itself is a huge company, I felt like there were a ton of different goals they were looking to tackle in a variety of areas related to climate change. In light of that, I would absolutely echo parts of Naomi’s point above – how exactly do all of these initiatives fit together into one cohesive strategy or vision for a sustainable planet? How do they stack rank these various projects and allocate scarce financial capital and other resources – based on contribution to the bottom line or to reducing negative environmental impact?


On November 6, 2016, sphilips commented on Tesla: Profitable? It depends on the climate. :

Intriguing post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had no idea how “low-quality” Tesla’s 3Q earnings were perceived to be; the headlines pointed mainly to the company finally turning a profit.

This dynamic around the ZEV credits is an interesting one. A lot of people insist that, instead of command-and-control regulation, leveraging market mechanisms can effectively financially incentivize companies to operate in an environmentally-friendly manner. But, this case with Tesla and the ZEVs indicates that it’s not a perfect tool and requires input from stakeholders, including impacted corporations and the regulators themselves, in order to optimize the incentive structures.

I absolutely think that Musk is taking advantage of the financial incentives being presented to him by the California state government in order to turn a profit when he can. And I’m not sure that there is anything wrong with that, unless it evolves into a sort of mission-critical reliance on revenue from ZEVs as non-core operations to stay afloat and avoid insolvency. Overall, long-term investors in Tesla are probably less focused on the quarter-to-quarter earnings as they are the growth and transformative potential of Tesla – particularly once it fully integrates SolarCity and maximizes those synergies.

An insightful post on the challenges Vail is facing as a company heavily and directly dependent on weather! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I absolutely agree that they’re making the right moves in terms of diversifying their geographies and types of activities (to include more that is not as reliant on sufficient snow). Interestingly enough, given the extent to which Vail’s business model is likely to rely on legislation tackling climate change at the state and federal government levels, I was surprised by an article in Powder Magazine [1] a few days ago that discussed how ski resorts and industry leaders are donating via PACs to the election campaigns of politicians who are routine deniers of climate change. It may very well be here that correlation is not necessarily an indicator of causation (that is, ski resorts may not necessarily be donating to these candidates because they are not in support of proactive climate change legislation). But, on the surface-level, there seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance between their operational tactics to handle the impact of climate change on their business and their lobbying efforts (which is arguably a material portion of any company’s overall strategy). I’d be curious as to what their ultimate goal is, because as your post makes very clear, they are very aware of the impacts of climate change on their bottom line and are proactively taking actions within their business to hedge against these.

[1] http://www.powder.com/stories/news/campaign-donations-link-ski-industry-leaders-climate-change-deniers/#IBft7qrAy2Qs8KKO.97