Awesome post, Joanna! When you mentioned the cost savings that could come with the use of electronic price displays, this got me thinking: What if all of the digital pricing signs could be controlled from a B Fresh command center? This command center could autonomously monitor commodity prices worldwide, and update the pricing displays to the correct price given local supply and demand dynamics. This would likely reduce the bullwhip effect in the B Fresh supply chain, especially if the displays had some way of measuring how much of each fruit, for example, was removed from the display every minute (or second). Match this innovation with robots to stock the shelves, using self-checkouts exclusively, and an army of industrial Roombas, and perhaps the only employee you’d need to hire would be the security guard.
I am happy to see that the U.S. Government evolved in this instance from a slow-moving bureaucracy to a rapid solution-finding task force mentality. As our world continues to move into the digital space, it is going to be key for our governments to quickly adapt to the changing environment. One example of an organization that still needs to mend itself in this regard is the Veterans Administration. Some of its most important digital presences remain antiquated and are badly in need of renovation. Perhaps it’s time to get the USDS and 18F on the job.
Perhaps another algorithm that AirBnB could develop to add to its assault on the vacation industry is one that takes inputs from the variety of locations its guest users travel to, in addition to the new offerings the firm developed, and suggests completely new vacation locations as a result of the inputs it receives. Perhaps a user who booked a beer garden tour through AirBnB on their recent vacation to Munich and stay in a beautiful downtown AirBnB flat is indicative of someone who is into beer culture. Machine learning techniques could be used to parse through the entire network of AirBnB guests, find commonalities, and develop suggestions for that user based on the totality data. Currently, there is no single company that possesses the entirety of data about the vacations people take. Airlines see the travel destination. Hotel companies see the exact location where you stayed. Companies like Viator and TripAdvisor know the tours you take. If AirBnB could morph itself into the company that delivers all of these products in a package deal, the amount of data it would possess would be ripe for use to create the best possible vacation experience for its customers.
I think its great that SigFig altered its business model to partner with companies rather than directly to investors. Given banks already dominate the investment management business, SigFig would have had to devote significant capital to marketing in order to convince customers to remove their money from their current management accounts. This would be quite difficult, and so it seems like this is a perfect middle ground for the firm. I’d be interested in hearing more about the algorithm SigFig uses, although it is probably proprietary. As a retail investor myself, I am still skeptical of the value that would be offered by putting my cash into a fee-based, robo-investing system. I think a level of transparency is therefore necessary to convince consumers who SigFig would interact with through their partnerships to consider a SigFig managed firm. Unless it’s the most advanced machine learning-based algorithm that could beat a human at Go, I’m unlikely to give up even 1% of my cash just to follow the robo-investing fad.
Interesting post about a company I had not previously heard of, Rocky. Given SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s recent successes in landing reusable rockets, I think it is likely that the cost per payload for Descartes cubesats will decrease significantly over the next several years. This will lower their variable cost per payload, and if they are willing and able to invest the capital it seems likely that they could expand their agricultural intelligence offerings substantially (why not have a goal of monitoring every possible commodity?). I also agree with Carl that it would be nice to put Descartes satellites into geostationary orbits; however, the cost of doing this is significantly higher than putting a cubesat into low-earth orbit (LEO) and would require Descartes to launch thousands of satellites. And so, constant, real-time monitoring of specific fields may not be cost-effective. Instead, launching dozens of cubesats into sun-synchronous LEOs, which are “often used for remote-sensing
missions because they pass over nearly every point on Earth’s surface” , seems to be a more cost efficient, and even long term solution that could propel Descartes into market domination for real-time commodity industry monitoring.
Great article, Radhika. I was particularly struck by the fact you mentioned, that Amazon’s data centers consume only 4% of energy from renewable sources. Although solar power is still quite pricey, I would hope that AWS is looking to partner with companies like SolarCity to tip the scales in favor of sustainability. Based on my research of SolarCity, it seems like this would be a perfect project to act as a proving ground for the SolarCity model; however, it is uncertain how likely Amazon would be to partner with Elon Musk on this initiative. I suggest this to say that it would be nice if Amazon could completely remove itself from the grid and the monopoly of energy allocation that belongs to Dominion. This way, it could self-regulate all of its own power consumption. But, as you mention, it is unlikely that this will happen in the near term. I agree that AWS should take short term measures to reduce its carbon footprint. But until it is able to fully harness the power of renewable energy sources (e.g. when we are freed from monopoly that power companies have in this highly regulated industry), I am doubtful that much will change in the near term.
Excellently researched and written article, Paro. I agree that Mars’ three-pronged strategy is making a dent in the effect that cocoa harvesting causes on climate change; but, there is much more that can be done to combat its effects. Of the potential solutions you mentioned, I think that increasing consumer prices, striving for economies of supply chain scale, and the credit/capital suggestions are the most viable. Given this crucial moment in human history, we need to start looking seriously at scaling down our harvesting of commodities like cocoa, palm oil, and coffee. One way to do this would be by artificially decreasing supply to drive up prices, thereby decreasing consumption. If you match this practice with the financing programs you mentioned, perhaps Mars would not see such an impact on their bottom line. Finally, there are a lot of TOM-esque benefits to be gained from integrating the cocoa and coffee supply chains. Perhaps with further study, Mars will be able to implement some of the best practices you mentioned to maintain their profitability, and help to save our planet.
It seems to me that a prime solution to this would be to scale down the role of government in tackling this problem. By subsidizing the risk that coastal homeowners take on when purchasing in a disaster prone area, Citizens is artificially driving up the cost of insurance for all Florida citizens. I like the “de-population” strategy that ATN mentioned in their post, but I would be more supportive of the government offering tax incentives to private insurers. This would potentially increase competition, drive down premium costs for the majority of Florida’s insured, and more effectively dis-incentivize those who might be considering a beachfront home through higher coastal insurance premiums. While Citizens’ business model is not going to directly affect climate change itself, it seems that changing its approach to this problem could result in more lives saved during hurricanes and natural disasters as those people choose to move further inland and away from danger.
I agree with Joanna’s comment on your post, Carl. Based on current trends, it seems that the next generation of trucks may not be far off on the horizon.  Of course, Elon is referring to autonomous trucks in his assertion here, but once Tesla’s Gigafactory is operating at maximum capacity and new product innovation is spurred, it is highly likely that electric trucks will be on the scene sooner rather than later. For C&S Grocers, this represents an opportunity to greatly reduce costs in the long term. Imagine a network of autonomous trucks that is engineered to operate in the most efficient way, responding to customer demand fluctuations in real time and self-managing their routing to circumvent the impact of storms and other outside factors. I sense that big changes are coming in this industry, and thankfully these are changes that are likely to benefit C&S.
The trends in global warming that could lead to the demise of Nutella are quite distressing to me, and so I appreciated your treatment of the topic. Given the widespread deforestation and harm to wildlife caused by the harvesting of palm oil, I would hope to see a change in the product mix of Nutella moving forward; so, option 1 seems most appealing. Of course, I would hope that this could happen without changing the taste or texture of Nutella. Given recent scientific advances that revealed yeast could potentially substitute for palm oil, perhaps there is a solution on the horizon.  If this panned out, perhaps we could enjoy our tasty Nutella and protect our environment simultaneously.