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Totally agree re: huge disintermediation risk! For the most part these are repeat, high-value services that are happening within local clusters – the same risks apply as they did to Handy (example from RC TEM) and countless other home cleaning / beauty service / pet care / childcare / etc. But these platforms keep getting funded, even after we see them failing time and again! I’d love to hear if anyone has theories as to why that is, and if they see any way for a platform like Beaver to solve the disintermediation problem.

I actually think that HBS also uses a third-party OPM (online program manager) – this is a huge industry and standard practice, so it’s kind of notable that Coursera is instead so insistent on co-branding. It’s obviously working for them now but I wonder to what extent, and if a time will come when they start white-labeling their tech (if they aren’t already).

On March 24, 2020, TFD commented on Coursera: The Edtech platform that could disrupt Higher Education :

Harvard actually think that HBS also uses a third-party OPM (online program manager) – this is a huge industry and it’s kind of interesting that Coursera doesn’t seem to be playing in that space more.

I’m also skeptical of the breadth of Coursera’s potential – yes, some of the value to a higher educational experience comes from the classroom learning that Coursera is able to replicate, but much of the value comes from things far less replicable: the interpersonal skills developed among classmates, the relationships with fellow alumni, etc. These intangible sources of value are impossible to replicate even if Coursera were to serve as an OPM for admit-only programs (e.g., students still have to go through a rigorous application process).

Given this, I’d put my money on Coursera disrupting vocational training and continuing education, where the value is perceived to lie in the classroom experience – but not higher educational as a whole. The $399 subscription model doesn’t make much sense here – in fact, it’s questionable whether it even makes sense to be charging to student, in all situations, or whether Coursera should be focusing more on B2B opportunities in the continuing ed and corporate training markets.

I am similarly bearish. Masterclass subscribers are by and large going to confine themselves to just a couple verticals, and they probably aren’t going to rewatch much of the content, so there is a heavy burden on Masterclass to continue to innovate with new content if they want to retain customers – and because of the distinct production style, they have to take on the entire creative and financial burden themselves.

This is very different from Netflix, which typically doesn’t bear the end-to-end costs and risks of content creation, and can choose to buy / not buy content based upon what they believe is in-demand; critically, Netflix content also lends itself to being rewatched. Netflix has it much easier than Masterclass, and we see how hard things have been for Netflix during periods of its history.

As a result, I don’t really see the subscription model working out for Masterclass. I think a year or two from now we will see their subscription numbers plummet as people opt not to review because they have maxxed out on the content that is interesting to them. The only way around that is huge, continued capital outlay by Masterclass to continue creating original content, and there will come a point when it is no longer possible to finance that kind of investment.

On March 24, 2020, TFD commented on OpenTable: Restaurant Reservations Made-Easy :

An alternative to the no-show fee that hbs51369394 mentioned is the approach taken by Tock, in which customers pay up-front – sometimes for an entire prix fixe meal, and sometimes just a deposit that is then applied to the check total. This seems to potentially create more value for the restaurant since it provides them with up-front cash and completely insures them from cancellations and no-shows – but do you think it’s a threat to OpenTable’s model?

On February 11, 2020, TFD commented on Pandora Media – from winner to loser – and back? :

When laid out like this, it seems so obvious that Pandora would lose against Spotify, Apple Music, etc. Any hypotheses or knowledge on why they have remained so committed to an outdated, non-competitive business model for so long?

Do you think Sephora’s strategy is to use these tools to push more customers online / onto mobile, or to pull more customers into stores?

On February 11, 2020, TFD commented on Fitbit: Weathering the Storm? :

Any thoughts on how specifically Fitbit could have innovated to retain more relevance with consumers?

Any insight into how Allbirds has approached new product development (i.e., has it been heavily creative-driven, or more market-/data-driven)?

Amazon is also what convinced me to finally try grocery delivery! As you pointed out, last-mile delivery of grocery does have some unique complexities that are especially high-stakes; if my Amazon package is delivered to OWA instead of SFP 6, it’s annoying but I get over it, whereas if that happens to my Whole Foods order, it’s likely going to be ruined and I’m going to request a refund. At the same time, consumers perceive Amazon as being the experts in last-mile delivery, so they have high expectations. It’s a tough spot for Amazon to be in!

Given the criticality of the last-mile delivery, I find it interesting that Amazon has used independent contractors for so much of their Prime Now grocery deliveries, as they are inherently limited in their ability to train these workers. Competitors (i.e., Instacart) have reclassified delivery drivers as employees which could suggest that there may be good reason for Amazon to also consider a similar reclassification. I’d be curious if you have any thoughts on why Amazon has proceeded the way they have? And why / why not you think it would be a good idea for Amazon to take more control over their last-mile grocery delivery?