Tag Archives: Ross Samuel Kressel

What I’m Reading: Week of 3/20/17

I’m going to try to post something weekly about what I’ve been reading, just because I like to share and you know what they say, sharing is caring.

 

  1. You might have see my two entries on Medium about blockchain (generally on blockchain and then applications of blockchain to connect EHR systems).  Back in February, McKinsey published a piece on applying the blockchain to public section data management.  I think it is a really good read and recommend it to those looking for a good read.
  2. The New York Times published a story on how self-driving cars could really benefit those who can’t drive, especially the elderly who sometimes lose their licenses.  This is one of the big benefits I really hadn’t considered and expands the market for who cars are for, which I think is pretty neat.   Wish I had thought about this before publishing my story “Cars of the Future” on Medium, but that’s life.
  3. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz handed the reins of Starbucks over to his successor and COO, Kevin Johnson.  Should be interesting to see what kind of things change with Schultz taking a less active role.
  4. ESPN Magazine  published a piece about a new addiction that is hitting locker rooms all around the NBA and it isn’t what you expect.  My friends got a chuckle out of this story and I think you will too.
  5. Scientists from Harvard Medical School are having success with a drug that reserves aging in the DNA of mice.  They’ve published their findings in the journal Science, but there is a more layman friendly story about this in Time Magazine.

A News Roundup of What I’m Reading

So, last week I did a good job with my new goal of writing more.  I posted 3 articles on Medium.com (you can find me there on my profile at this link).  I’ve been thinking a lot about a few things I’ve seen in the news and felt like this was a better place to share than on Medium, just because what I am writing about isn’t long enough for an entry there.

A couple days ago, Intel announced that they are purchasing Mobileye, an Israeli startup that makes cameras and sensors that are used for self-driving cars.  Interesting to see that Intel is getting into this business.  Intel likely sees how much potential the self-driving car market has and wants to try to get in.  They’ve really struggled to get any real footing with mobile devices.  This has been a problem, especially given the shrinking size of the PC market (desktops and laptops).  Fortune Magazine ran a good piece in June that I think is worth a read.

For any of my friends that are NPR fans, Morning Edition included a story about the Stradivarius violin that was stolen from Roman Totenberg (NPR Journalist Nina Totenberg’s father) nearly 40 years old.  Sadly, Mr. Totenberg died before the violin was finally recovered.  One of Mr. Totenberg’s students who Ms. Totenberg described as “like a sibling” became the first to play the instrument since it was recovered and restored.  Really a good listen if you have some time: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/14/519984134/a-stolen-then-recovered-stradivarius-returns-to-the-stage 

Janet Yellen announced today that for the second time in the last several months, the Federal Reserve increased the benchmark interest rate.  You can find really good coverage of this in the NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times.  I don’t think anyone was too surprised by this.  The increase in the rate was modest, but Yellen suggested that there will be a few more increases in the rate as the year goes on.

As I have time, if I don’t have enough to write about one thing, I might post something like this.  I love sharing what I’m reading and if you want to share what you’ve been reading, I’d love to read it!

Banking in the Developing World

This article was originally posted on my account on Medium.com on March 6th, 2017.  I hope you enjoy!

  

I’ve seen a great deal of literature in the last year or two about the way that financial services industries are developing across the African continent. To really investigate this, look no further than Kenya, where mobile payments are easier than in Pittsburgh or Los Angeles and the leader in this market is M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money).

96 percent of homes across Kenya us M-Pesa according to a recent report in CNET. That is the kind of market domination that Google Wallet and Apple Pay can only dream of and it is happening in a market that never really had traditional banking.

This all has had me thinking. This is one of those cases where necessity leads to the birth of innovation. It also means that companies like Apple and Google have a lot that they can learn from what M-Pesa is doing.

According to a report in Business Insider, mobile payments will make up $6.3 trillion of the payments that take place in China by the year 2020. Much like in Kenya, China didn’t develop the same kind of banking system that Europe and North America have, so they are for the most part also going through a similar LeapFrog.

This still leaves the existing banking infrastructure in China hurting. The state owned UnionPay loses out on the fees when mobile payment is used. The Financial Times in an article in August described this well.

UnionPay, along with issuing banks and acquiring banks, is hemorrhaging income from merchant fees. The trend is fueled not only by the rise of ecommerce but also by the dramatic increase of mobile payments to offline merchants such as supermarkets and restaurants.

Mobile wallet leaders like Alibaba and Tencent are dominant players in this space, while traditional banks are starting to try to get into the action. I’m truly interested to see how this will play out in the long-term, but one thing is for certain.

These companies are being faced with the challenge of minimizing elicit transactions while also growing a global network of users and agents involved in their transactions. To become an acceptable option in places like the United States, they will have to show their willingness to crackdown on those using their service for illegal services while also making sure their customers feel a sense of privacy.

One of the concerns growing out of the M-Pesa phenomenon is a fear that the platform will be used for money laundering (sound familiar to arguments against BitCoin?). In a US State Department report on International Narcotics Control Strategy, M-Pesa and the potential for money-laundering listed in the section about Kenya.

Mobile payment companies like M-Pesa, Alibaba, and Tencent are entering an era where staying afloat will be truly a balance acting. Only the most innovative companies will be able to continue adding value to the experience of their customers while also remaining a trustworthy firm.

Is Blockchain the Future?

This article originally appeared on Medium and you can find it here.

Media coverage of the blockchain is starting to pick up recently, so I thought it was important to gain a better understanding. On its most basic level, blockchain is a database that creates records for its transactions automatically. If you know anything about cryptocurrency (BitCoin for example), you have been part of one of the major users of the blockchain.

It seems like our future could be bound up in how effective this system is. As an example outside of what you might think about with BitCoin, Walmart announced a trial using blockchain to track to manage food safety. They know how dangerous problems with food, whether it is fresh, prepared, or otherwise.

In recent years, recalls of food due to contamination with listeria, e-coli, and salmonella have dominated the headlines. Look no further than the problems that have plagued Chipotle. While I’m sure they never intended to harm their customers, Chipotle has seen their stock value plummet from a high of nearly $750 per share to as low as $370 per share (on Friday, it closed at $416/share).

Chipotle could have avoided seeing its market cap cut nearly in half had this technology been available to more quickly ascertain the source of its food safety problems. To be fair, some of these problems may be linked to food prep, which this technology might not be able to fix unless the system included the transaction of who is cooking what at each period of time as well as who assembles each burrito, bowl, or salad.

Beyond this, time will tell what kind of value to the economy blockchain could eventually have in self driving cars, healthcare, identity verification and of course finance. I’m excited to see what the world with blockchain will mean, but until then, I’ll just be watching to see who succeeds implementing it.

Where’s the Sharing Economy Headed?

I thought that the sharing economy was something very generational and that the millennial generation and those younger are interested in participating in. Thumbing through Fast Company online today, I found an article suggesting a different pictures and set out to investigate.

Globally, more than two-thirds of people want to share or rent out personal assets for financial gain, according to a Nielsen survey of Internet-users in 60 countries. Similar numbers want to use products and services from other people.

The Fast Company cited a Nielsen Study that states that 68% of people surveyed around the globe are willing to share or rent personal items including power tools, bicycles, clothing, sports equipment, cars, outdoor camping gear, furniture, homes, motorcycles,  and pets.  The study found that Millennial Generation and Generation X were the most likely to use the sharing economy globally.  Baby Boomers were willing to use the sharing economy at a higher than expected rate.  The study found that globally, 7% of Baby Boomers were willing to use the sharing economy for goods and services compared to 42% of  the Millennial generation and 17% of Generation X.

What exactly does this mean and why on earth is this important?  The markets for start-ups like Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, Airbnb, BlackJet, Neighborrow.com, Taskrabbit, and the like in the sharing economy are larger than I expected.  It also means there will be some major changes in consumption that will be a disruptive force to the global economy.

The companies I’ve listed above as well as other companies in the sharing economy may want to look to ways to gain market share from Baby Boomers and Generation X.  Marketing to these populations will have to be different from what is being used to attract the Millennial generation to these services (word of mouth primarily).  A small, but targeted traditional media campaign using things like billboards, radio ads, and print media ads would go a long way to inform these consumers of their services.

These companies provide services that both of these aging generations need, but they haven’t been told why.  For example, both of these generations may have doctors appointments, but don’t have an easy way to get there sometime.  Services like Uber and Lyft are both affordable and convenient for these users.  The ride-share business has an incredible opportunity to expand into this market as well as create partnerships with hospitals and other medical centers.

Above is just one example of how the sharing economy can develop and position products for aging generations and it barely scratches the surface.  For people who enjoy DIY projects, the ability to rent large tools from others in their area rather than a big box store like Home Depot is not only more convenient, but can help develop synergies for those planning a project.  If I plan to build a shed and need to borrow a circular saw from someone, they may have some advice I didn’t even think of.

Not everyone is a fan of the sharing economy though.  The current regulatory climate for the shared economy could be the doom for these young start-up ventures. The Guardian pulled no punches in their recent article about the sharing economy.

“Insofar as Airbnb is allowing people to evade taxes and regulations, the company is not a net plus to the economy and society – it is simply facilitating a bunch of rip-offs.”

The essential element for success for the sharing economy is to get ahead of regulations.  Companies in the shared economy will have to work together and ask to be regulated in ways that are fair and allow their business model to continue to succeed.

Beyond this, the lingering question is how to turn all of this into long-term success.  Some point to pre-recession excesses in consumption as a driver of today’s sharing economy.  Some suggest that more limited consumption in the future will drag down the ability for the shared economy to succeed.

In the end, I predict that more limited consumption will force drastic changes in manufacturing that will completely change the way we look at goods, services, and ownership.  We will own fewer things, but have access to a greater diversity of products and services.  The future won’t be about ownership, but access if Millennials have anything to say about it.

The Zappos Experiment

Zappos, the Amazon subsidiary that sells shoes and clothing online announced that they would put an end to using traditional job posting boards.  This is another big step away from traditional business actions that make Zappos a unique player in the marketplace.  I think this action solves one of the biggest concerns I had for Zappos, but to understand why, we have to take a step back.

In January, Zappos announced that they would rid their company of managers and the traditional corporate hierarchy. The Las Vegas based company would move to a system called holacracy.  Holacracy was developed as a system that depends on teams, rather that typical departments. This system also distributes authority throughout an organization unlike traditional top down systems and more recently popular bottom-up approaches.  In order for this new system to work, teams must develop that can perform at a high level to complete projects using clearly defined processes, following clearly implemented governance and operations standards.

Holacracy.org has a really great graphic that encompasses everything that is part of an organization being a holacracy:

Zappos is growing quickly and had an identity that it didn’t want to lose.  They saw this as a way to keep their character.  They brought in Tony Hsieh to help move them forward under this new organizational structure.

“As we scaled, we noticed that the bureaucracy we were all used to was getting in the way of adaptability,” says John Bunch, who was brought on to advise Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

 

Zappos is by far the largest company to adopt this new model. Years ago, I can remember hearing about consulting firms approaching a model with some of the same elements, but not to the degree of Zappos.  A flatter organization like this could lead to innovation and keep Zappos from creating silos.  Even with these benefits, I’ve had my concerns.

My biggest concern for Zappos is created from one of the benefits.  As people adjust to the teams of a holacracy, you will have employees that will find niches that are nearly impossible to replace.  People will fill positions without titles, but with skills that aren’t typically found together in a traditional recruiting approach.  Replacing employees following turnover would not only be incredible difficult, but also incredibly costly. The new recruiting strategy Zappos is rolling out to find new employee in a huge step in the right direction towards a solution.

Rather than using typical job posting boards like Monster and Career Builder, Zappos has created a social network for its candidates.  Positions won’t be posted the way they typically are, but rather candidates will have to talk to the teams they want to join.  In the blog entry posted today on the Zappos website, the post states,

” Instead of posting jobs, we are simply asking people to find a department they are interested in and make an introduction. By introducing themselves, people get to become a Zappos Insider and can actually… you know… talk to us.”

 

Zappos is going to have the opportunity moving forward to get a better feel for fit of potential employees before they even come in for an interview. They’ll have an easier time being able to find the right applicants and free up their recruiters to work on strategies to retain some of their current employees as they continue to try to expand.

I look forward to watching Zappos expand.  I want to see how their new recruiting model will work in practice.  I’m not sure how long it will take before it makes a significant impact at Zappos, but I think it is an incredible opportunity to be one step ahead of their competition and I applaud them.  Who knows, they may be creating the recruiting model of the future.

Sources:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586300322355082?mg=reno64-wsj

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2014/01/15/making-sense-of-zappos-and-holacracy/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/01/03/zappos-gets-rid-of-all-managers/?utm_content=buffer93d6c&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer#!

http://blogs.zappos.com/blogs/zappos-family/2014/05/27/goodbye-job-postings

http://holacracy.org/

 

Driver-less Cars

I’ve been dreaming of a car without a driver since I first saw the Back to the Future movies growing up.  The thought of being able to roll out of bed and read the newspaper or eat breakfast on the way to work is way to exciting to describe.  I knew Google was doing some research on this.  I had heard somewhere that they were testing some cars, but I didn’t know  what kind of success they were having.  I found a really cool video of ones of the test rides with a blind driver named Steve Mahan.

In the video, Steve takes the car along with the team working on this technology from Google and goes to Taco Bell and the dry cleaner before heading back to his house.  While in the past I had considered this technology interesting, I hadn’t considered its benefits to society.  This technology is more than just something to give me a few extra minutes.  A driver-less car is first about accessibility for the disabled.  Think of all the people you know who can’t drive, from those that are born without sight to those with other disabilities.  According to the National Federation of the Blind in 2011, 6.6 million people in the United States reported to have a visual disability.  Giving just these people more independence would be life changing for both the disabled and their loved ones.

Beyond the benefits to blind and otherwise disabled , vehicle safety can be seriously improved with driver-less cars.  Driving accidents today are most often caused by human error. Eliminating the human elements of driving through programming will not only increase safety, but also lead to more efficient traffic patterns.  Traffic jams could become a thing of the past once Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication becomes the norm.

In February, the Federal Department of Transportation announced that it would allow lights cars to activate V2V communication. Early adoption of V2V travel will be fairly simple, since the majority of cars won’t have it.  The strength of V2V systems will multiply as more people adopt it. V2V systems will one day combine complex algorithms to create routes for the greatest efficiency of all drivers on the road.

The widespread adoption of cars with major V2V systems will be only as fast as the regulatory environment and car manufacturers can implement it.  Will state and federal governments be able to charge tolls to take the most efficient routes to keep roads clear?  Will the market be slow to innovate with these new technologies, much like Kodak was after developing digital photography?  Or will these companies take advantage and make the cars of today obsolete.  If I have any say, I hope that car companies follow the words of Steve Jobs, who in an interview with Inc Magazine said, ” You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. ”