Heather Engel

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Cool post Hunter – I loved reading Moneyball and watching the movie, so enjoyed being reminded of the power of data analysis in building a baseball team, and how it’s been recently re-applied. I’m skeptical of the sustainability of the Astros’ success due to some of the reasons you’ve outlined in your post (e.g., the league-wide access to Statcast, poaching of players), which also causes me to be skeptical of Jim Crane’s initial intentions of purchasing the team. In a way, it seems like a simple buy-it and flip-it investment strategy, so I am curious what his intended ‘exit plans’ for his investment could be… or if he is intending to hold it long-term.

That said, I agree with your implied suggestion to better compensate their data analysts. Clearly, applied statistical analysis can reap enormous benefits for a baseball team (particularly given the enormous sample size of data available), so it deserves greater acknowledgement (and compensation!) by the team owners. I’m personally curious if the same type of analytical rigor could be applied in assessing other sports as well. Baseball is generally viewed as a sport that’s declining in popularity [1]… so I wonder if (1) this ‘digitalization’ of baseball can help revive America’s interest in the sport, and (2) the applied statistical lessons can be transferred to other sports growing in popularity. Basketball and hockey are two initial sports that come to mind given their similar volume of potential data available.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/baseballs-trouble-with-the-youth-curve–and-what-that-means-for-the-game/2015/04/05/2da36dca-d7e8-11e4-8103-fa84725dbf9d_story.html

On November 20, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Metromile: Using IoT to get Miles Ahead :

Thanks for the post! I imagine that traditional auto insurance pricing must be painstakingly complex and severely opaque, so I really value the simplicity and transparency that MetroMile is offering to introduce to the space. However, I feel like they could be cornering themselves in the market to appeal to only a specific user that “wins” with the pay-per-mile approach. It feels like the value proposition is specifically tailored to an urban dweller who owns a car but uses its rarely (e.g. weekends) to drive to relatively proximate locations. I struggle to think of a use case for a suburban customer who commutes to work on a regular basis. For those users, I would expect that more complex insurance pricing (e.g., through Progressive or State Farm’s safe driver programs) would provide him or her with more value. I am curious to learn more about the size of the market opportunity and whether MetroMile believes it is a large enough market for them to capture. Further, I wonder how the trend of decreased car ownership due to ride-sharing companies and ZipCar affects MetroMile’s outlook for its future market prospects.

On November 20, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Stitch Fix Uses Big Data to Personalize Shopping :

What an awesome post KatFranklin! I really enjoyed learning more about what Katrina Lake is doing at StitchFix. You’re familiar with my interest in applying data science to style, so I appreciated the chance to read about how StitchFix is collecting data on its customers and analyzing it to make recommendations. Over the course of some of my conversations with women about their style decisions, StitchFix (along with other ‘style-in-a-box’ concepts such as LeTote and to an extent, RtR) often came up as a product offering that was popular and familiar. One concern that surfaced across a couple of customers was the quality of StitchFix’s clothing. Many said that the quality of the clothing sent declined over time, which ultimately drove them to cancel their subscription. I have not tried StitchFix before, but am curious about their inventory and its brand composition. I’m curious if StitchFix would consider expanding its business model to allow its users to have more control over the items in their box. Specifically, the company could still apply a big data approach to recommending items to its users, but ultimately allow the user to pick-and-choose what they receive.

I also found the 190 hours statistic you cited to be staggering! However, I question whether or not people truly want to decrease that amount… to a certain degree, mindlessly browsing through online stores is therapeutic in a similar way that television can be. For this market of people (and I wonder how its size compares to StitchFix’s current target market, which TomCat did an excellent job of describing), I think the key business opportunity is not to decrease the amount of time they spend online browsing, but more so to find a way to make that online browsing convert into sales.

On November 20, 2016, Heather Engel commented on How Technology (and Scotch) is Transforming the Way Men Buy Suits :

Thanks for the post Anthony! It’s interesting to learn about some of the innovation taking place in the men’s fashion space. The first concern I have for Alton Lane’s ability to sustain success is the quality of its suit and the strength of its brand. Although their 3D sizing technology sounds impressive and is certainly used in an innovative way at the moment, I do not think the technology is particularly differentiated and could not offer the company a long-term competitive advantage. That said, if it is ability to establish its products as truly high quality and unique, I absolutely think there is potential for them to evolve into the “Warby Parker of suits”. I was especially impressed with their existing range of stores across key first and second tier American cities (more here: http://www.altonlane.com/showrooms/). I wonder if Alton Lane believes there is an opportunity to further expand its business overseas…

Another growth opportunity that I considered was whether Alton Lane would consider growing its business to target women as well. As noted in my reply to K. Caven’s post on RtR (https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/rent-the-runway-high-fashion-affordable-prices/), I have held many conversations with women regarding their style choices and decision-making process. A recurring theme is the challenge of fit. While women surely have a more diverse closet than the average man, I still find that a woman’s wardrobe contains a handful of versatile classics that could offer a promising opportunity for Alton Lane to target.

On November 20, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Rent the Runway – High fashion, Affordable prices? :

Thanks for the post K. Caven – it was really interesting to hear your thoughts on RtR. I share @TomCat’s perspectives on RtR’s initiative to expand into brick and mortar locations and its challenges with fit. I’m personally very interested in the rental fashion space (particularly with a big data approach… I recommend you check out KatFranklin’s post on StitchFix here: https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/stitch-fix-uses-big-data-to-personalize-shopping/) and have had many conversations with millennial women regarding their willingness to “rent” clothing vs. own it. All of the conversations come back to a strong concern and worry over fit. I wonder if RtR has the opportunity to better incorporate sizing technologies (check out what Alton Lane is doing in Anthony Bucci’s post here: https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/how-technology-and-scotch-is-transforming-the-way-men-buy-suits/) to help protect against these costs.

Further, you might find it interesting to learn about some other revenue streams that RtR has established in order to make use of its clothing inventory. In addition to dresses for formal events, the company has made an active effort to expand its inventory to include work wear, street wear, and even athleisure. Their inventory expansion demonstrates their efforts to “build the Amazon of retail” as you highlight. Further, RtR offers an “unlimited” subscription and a “StylePass” option to customers. The former allows customers to hold any three items at one time for a fixed monthly subscription fee (similar to how Netflix used to work for DVDs). The latter is a lower priced option to rent a piece for a fixed amount each month. Read more about both options here: https://help.renttherunway.com/hc/en-us/categories/201735678-Unlimited

On November 6, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Disasters or Opportunities? :

Your perspective on Red Cross’s business model is interesting, and I understand your point that increased disasters will likely result in increased donations (and therefore, increased revenue) for the organization in the short-term. However, I think an interesting additional analysis could explore the composition of Red Cross’s donor base. Is this money coming from national or state-level governments? Surely, these governments face a variety of disaster risks of their own. Is it coming from corporations highly exposed to climate change risks (e.g., oil, aviation, transportation)? How might disasters that directly impact these donors affect their desire to donate to a globalized organization like Red Cross? Would capital and relief efforts become more localized? If so, the Red Cross is at risk of severe declines in fundraising in the long-term.

On November 6, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Swept Away: Municipalities drowning in the flood :

I really enjoyed reading about your views on how municipalities can actively use existing funds and technologies to evolve their infrastructure systems to better accommodate climate change. I liked how you showcased specific companies and municipalities that could serve as good examples for others, and am curious to uncover some of the municipalities that are on the other side of the range: ones that are simultaneously very susceptible to climate change-driven risks and highly unprepared (resources, planning) to address them. I wonder what types of incentives can be instituted at local, state, and national levels to encourage more proactive and preventative thinking and planning, and what types of resources must be made available for municipalities to seriously focus on implementation.

On November 6, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Corking Climate Change :

I was unfamiliar with the highly sustainable nature of cork, so it was interesting to learn more about the industry. I’ve personally noticed wine producers increasingly using synthetic corks for bottling, and have also noticed a general increase in alternative packaging options for wine, such as cans and boxes. I’m interested in understanding the wine producers’ underlying motivations for these packaging / bottling trends. It seems like the more environmentally responsible choice would be for continued use of cork, but am sure there must be economic considerations to address. I wonder if Corticeira’s business is feeling an impact from these trends, and how they have taken action to address / curb them.

On November 6, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Stella McCartney: Making faux leather a luxury :

I enjoyed learning how Stella has made the choice to challenge traditional views of luxury goods (e.g., real animal products) and to reshape consumers’ view of luxury fashion products. Rather than step onto an openly environmentalist platform, she has instead built demand for her products for their design… and their sustainable production is a beneficial byproduct. Something that I’ve noticed in my own shopping experiences is the brilliant re-branding of fake leather (formerly known somewhat pejoratively as “pleather”) to “vegan leather”. I admire the positive environmental impact of such initiatives, but am also curious about the economics of the shift. I would imagine synthetic materials are much cheaper than authentic animal hides, fur, etc., so am interested to understand how producers of luxury synthetic fashion items (such as Stella McCartney) think about transferring economic value between their customers and their own bottom line.

On November 6, 2016, Heather Engel commented on Munich RE’s Risks Rise with our Oceans :

It is interesting to learn how Munich RE is contributing to projects that protect against climate change though I’m very curious how their pricing and underwriting models are evolving to accommodate the associated uncertainty. When considering some of the ‘bull whip’ lessons from our supply chain simulation this week, I am thinking how some of those lessons may transfer to and take life in the reinsurance industry… which is admittedly an industry that is unfamiliar to me.