Vincent Vo

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Great post Hari and brilliant suggestion to subsidize Alexa and Amazon Echo. Fully agree that IoT will be huge for Amazon and that they should be all-in on winning that platform battle.

One thought: no matter what form the various networked IoT devices take, there is a high chance they will use a smartphone or other wearable as the primary customer control interface. This is the “path of least resistance” for the consumer, and history shows that consumers typically don’t choose dedicated hardware for a given use case unless that hardware provides a “10x experience.” For example, the introduction of Apple Health placed significant pressure on companies like FitBit and Jawbone. For many customers, Health was a “good enough” solution.

I question what makes Echo and/or Alexa the rightful winner to be the controlling platform for IoT, vis a vis smartphones or wearables. Is it voice control? We have Siri and Cortana. To win with consumers – and first with device manufacturers – Amazon will need to make a case for how its ecosystem can create more value than Apple or Google’s.

An alternative strategy is to recognize that the future IoT platform owner is very much in the air, and partner with Apple or Google to extract some margin from Amazon’s distribution power. Amazon has the clout to be a “kingmaker” in this regard with its massive customer count and has great leverage to make the potential king pay up for preferential access to those customers.

Thanks for the post Nikki! I once spent a lot of time in airports so am always glad to discover innovations that make the security and immigration processes less painful. The part that captures my imagination the most is application of this technology to other contexts. You can use the same technology to streamline any process that involves ID verification – from entering your home to registering to vote.

One piece that gives me pause is the need for a centralized information database to store this information. Concentrating that kind of data with one provider is very risky, and distributing it amongst providers is irritating (the same problem customers experience with having too many logins for different websites).

There’s also a social implication – what happens to those TSA workers once their jobs are obsolete? As the TSA is a government agency, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it would be for a private company.

On November 19, 2016, Vincent Vo commented on Combining Agriculture and Technology :

Thanks for the insightful article Maria! I liked your recommendations and believe that developing more backwards-compatible technologies and educating farmers will be key. To build on this with a slightly different solution: could it make more sense to use the investments in backwards-compatible technologies to incentivize farmers to buy into the newer tractors with promotions? The thing I worry with about investing in backwards-compatible tech is that it reduces incentive for the farmers to ever upgrade, which is what Deere ultimately wants. You could structure a promotion in the form of a trade-in program (a la Apple) to lessen the investment for farmers.

On November 19, 2016, Vincent Vo commented on Activision Blizzard: It’s a New Era of Interactive Entertainment :

Awesome post, Chris. As a longtime Blizzard fan and player (Starcraft 1 and 2, Diablo 2 and 3), this post hits close to home. Fully agree that mobile gaming is an under-exploited opportunity for them given these incredible franchises. I have a hard time, however, imagining fully standalone mobile games just because of the nature of the platform and the nature of the company. Blizzard is well-known as a company focused on the creative process and building compelling storylines, with P&L considerations being an afterthought. For example, they spent years developing a fully functioning first person shooter game based on the Starcraft universe called Starcraft Ghost, and killed the project at the last minute despite the fact that it would have been a commercial success (by virtue of the franchise strength), because they deemed the story “not good enough.” Mobile games cater to a lowest-common-denominator playing style (a la Candy Crush) and I can’t imagine that kind of game passing muster at Blizzard.

I do think there is great potential in “companion” games to their existing desktop offerings – imagine a World of Warcraft iOS game that is linked to your main World of Warcraft account, where you can play mini games and earn rewards across both universes.

On November 19, 2016, Vincent Vo commented on Here’s How to Buy Anything from Anywhere (Without Shipping Costs!) :

Thanks for a great post Amelia I think the challenge that Airfrov faces is one of scale and market size. I have a hard time imagining this becoming a business with billions or even hundreds of millions of revenue. Perhaps I underestimate the appetite of high-end consumers for truly unique items that can only be obtained outside their home market, but I think this model may only work for “long tail” geographies. In big markets like the United States, selection tends to be broader and thus a lesser need for this type of service.

Nonetheless, I would be very happy to be able to access unique goods from abroad and hope they make their way stateside!

On November 7, 2016, Vincent Vo commented on “The Chocopalyse”: Imagine a World without Chocolate :

Lindsey, I am horrified to hear that cocoa beans are in danger – talk about a call to action! Thanks for sharing your perspective on this unique topic. I agree with your recommendations, but for the sake of discussion let me offer a (likely unpopular) alternative.

If I take my “save the world” hat off for a moment, and think exclusively about how to sustain Hershey’s performance in light of these impending climate-change impacts to cocoa crops, I start thinking about cocoa as just another production input. If I were running a supply chain and one of the production inputs was at risk (a la cocoa), I would find more stable substitutes and switch to those. Enter, cocoa butter equivalent ( Cocoa butter equivalent, made from palm oil, tastes like cocoa butter and costs less.

While as a consumer I cringe to imagine yet another substitute in the high fructose corn syrup world we live in, this may be an essential part of adapting to climate change constraints for Hershey. While the pushback to this idea will of course be that consumers would reject it, we should realize that this is the same story as sugar and corn syrup: while a vocal minority might reject the change, the mass market likely doesn’t care. They just want their Hershey bars available on store shelves at the low prices they’re used to…which is what we may have to give them in a climate-change world using cocoa butter equivalent.

Paul, thanks for the post! Agree that additional product development is one way to tackle the climate change problem very directly. I wonder what the second-order impacts of some of their microbiomes will be and how they will manage climate-related tradeoffs. For example, I could easily imagine an engineered seed that is more resistant to pesticides, and therefore allows for greater pesticide use, which may contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. I think these situations where there is direct tension between making money and sustainability are when you see what a company’s true priorities are. In the case of Indigo, they also have investors to answer to and their associated fiduciary duties.

Like you though, I remain optimistic that Indigo’s offerings are a net win from a climate change perspective. Great post!

On November 7, 2016, Vincent Vo commented on Wasted Water: An Inside Look at AB InBev’s Water Risk Approach :

Great article Smitha! I learned a lot, wouldn’t have suspected that 95% of the water consumption in beer is outside their direct control. I agree with the spirit of your recommendation – no point tackling the 5% and best to go after the 95%. I do foresee some significant execution risks though (which could be mitigated).

AB’s main lever to change water consumption across the value chain is its significant buyer power, as Dan pointed out. They can mandate standards which suppliers may be forced to adopt. However, while AB consumes a significant portion of the world’s water, they aren’t so big that they are the only game in town. I imagine MillerCoors, for example, is also a big water consumer.

In a supply-constrained environment, such as the world you imagine, supplier power increases, and with credible alternative customers such as MillerCoors, suppliers may simply allocate capacity away from AB in the long-run.

To mitigate this, AB could establish common standards with its largest competitors, “coopetition”, as standards would serve their common interest. In this way they can tackle the 95% of water use with a standards-based approach without jeopardizing their business.

Hey Hari, Fantastic blog post, I appreciated the insights on a company at the cutting edge of sustainability in an emerging market! Overall, I agree with your position and recommendations. For the sake of discussion, however, I want to kick the tires on the value of a “Chief Sustainability Officer.” While appointing a Chief Sustainability Officer would certainly be a strong signal externally, some (including myself) question the amount of change such company officers are typically able to drive (e.g. A cynical investor could interpret this as a PR move – particularly when such officers don’t have the decision authority to carry real “juice” on the board of directors. In the IKEA case for example, the Chief Sustainability Officer had a team of 22, out of an employee base of 135,000. If this person gets into an argument with even a more “junior” business unit head, they may simply not have the organizational clout to win.

Rather, I would lean heavily into your first recommendation, “technology innovation in manufacturing operations.” As a diversified conglomerate I am sure there are opportunities abound to simultaneously embrace sustainable practices and cut costs (e.g. local sourcing). By identifying these targets and creating opportunities, I feel ITC can bake sustainability more deeply into its actual operations.

Again awesome job on the post!

Great blog post, Ranjani! I once watched a documentary on the death of the EV1 vehicle mentioned in your post, and while I agree that GM is trending in the right direction with the increasing focus on sustainability in its operations, I think they have dug a fairly deep hole from which to climb out. It will take more than the Chevy Volt and overhauling the supply chain to be acknowledged as a sustainability leader. Fortunately, GM is also arguably tackling sustainability from the technology angle with its $500m investment in Lyft in April of this year ( Companies like Lyft ultimately reduce the number of cars needed on the road, and result in greater car utilization through offerings like Lyft Line.

I think the big sustainability challenge for GM is going to be the tension between sustainability efforts and shareholder return. $5m of cost savings from sustainability initiatives is not a big number (almost a rounding error!) for a big company like GM. And even initiatives like the Lyft partnership are ultimately going to result in lower amount of vehicle sales, though they may boost them in the short-term through leasing partnerships with drivers. The Big 3 manufacturers including GM have underperformed in recent years, so this tension is likely to be magnified.

Despite the long term tension though, I think GM should accelerate down the path it’s started with Lyft and make more investments that make the overall auto ecosystem more sustainable. Though GM may not be rewarded in its income statement for these efforts, it will acquire valuable assets that may keep it relevant a la Yahoo and Alibaba, even if the company continues to underperform.