Intuit Tries to Disrupt Itself

(p. B1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Three decades ago, at the dawn of the personal computer age, Intuit shook up the financial software world with its first product, Quicken. The program, which was centered on the simple notion of a virtual checkbook, suddenly made the PC a very useful tool for people to manage the chores of paying bills and tracking personal finances.
Last month, Intuit said goodbye to that heritage and sold Quicken, which still has loyal fans but weak growth prospects, to a private equity firm.
Intuit, a Silicon Valley company, is now focusing on its TurboTax software, which tens of millions of Americans use to file their tax returns, and on QuickBooks Online, an Internet-based version of the company’s flagship bookkeeping software for small businesses and their accounting firms.
Giving up Quicken was difficult, said Brad D. Smith, Intuit’s chief executive, during an interview at the company’s lush green campus here. The kitchen table where the founders designed the product in 1983 still sits in the cafeteria to inspire employees.
But Intuit decided to shed its PC roots and become a cloud software company. “We try to live up to being a 33-year-old start-up,” Mr. Smith said. So the company faced a hard choice: “Do we have this beautiful child that we’ve had for 33 years that we know we’re not going to feed, or do we find it a new home?”

For the full story, see:
VINDU GOEL. “Intuit Sheds PC Roots to Rise as Cloud Service.” The New York Times (Mon., APRIL 11, 2016): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 10, 2016, and has the title “Intuit Sheds Its PC Roots and Rises as a Cloud Software Company.”)

Startup Entry and Scaling Are Easier and Faster Due to Internet

(p. B1) The world might be a mess, but look on the bright side: Men’s shaving products are much better than they used to be.
. . .
The same forces that drove Dollar Shave’s rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge — a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative (p. B7) products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.
These kinds of online brands aren’t new. Dollar Shave is five years old, and Warby Parker, the online eyewear company, began selling glasses over the web in 2010. But over the last few years there’s been a proliferation of such companies — into underwear, children’s clothing, cosmetics and more — and the Dollar Shave deal suggests their growing importance. These firms could become an emerging problem for consumer products conglomerates like Procter & Gamble, and they might also spell trouble for television, which relies heavily on brand advertising for its revenue.
. . .
“We think it’s a unique moment in history where you can create brands that can be scaled quickly thanks to technology, but you can still maintain a one-to-one connection that delivers an elevated level of customer experience,” said Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, which sells mattresses online.
Mr. Krim and four friends started Casper two years ago after studying the traditional mattress industry. They discovered it was plagued by inefficiencies and annoying gimmicks. Customers had to trudge to a mattress store and awkwardly prostrate themselves on numerous surfaces before choosing one to use for a decade. There were too many choices and brands, and mattresses were expensive.
With Casper, you simply buy the mattress online and it’s shipped to you in a comically small box (the compressed foam expands into a full-sized mattress, like a magic trick). You have three months to try it out, and if you don’t like it, the company will come pick it up free.
Casper’s business model offers a break from the annoyance of offline mattress shopping. It also works out for the company. Casper advertises on social networks, on Google, podcasts and a variety of other places online; the ads are creative, convincing, targeted and cheap. By selling directly rather than through retail middlemen, the company also creates a connection with customers that allows it to test and develop new products — it now sells sheets and pillows, too.
After two years in business, Casper is on track to book $200 million in sales over the next year, but its success isn’t ensured. Precisely because the internet has lowered barriers to entry, Casper is facing a surge of new mattress start-ups like Helix Sleep, Tuft & Needle and Leesa, among others.

For the full commentary, see:
Manjoo, Farhad. “STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail.” The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 28, 2016): B1 & B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2016, and has the title “STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail.”)

Innovations Make It Easier to Form and Run Smaller Firms

(p. B3) Unilever is paying $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club, a five-year-old start-up that sells razors and other personal products for men. Every other company should be afraid, very afraid.
The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees.
. . .
Now it is possible to leverage technology and transportation systems that never existed before. Dollar Shave Club used Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service started by the online retailing giant in 2006 that encouraged a proliferation of e-commerce companies. Manufacturing now is just as much a line item as is a distribution apparatus. This is the business strategy of many other disruptive companies, including the home-sharing site Airbnb, which upends the idea of needing a hotel. The ride-hailing start-up Uber could never have been possible without a number of inventions including the internet, the smartphone and, most important, location tracking technology, enabling anyone to be a driver.

For the full commentary, see:
STEVEN DAVIDOFF SOLOMON. “Deal Professor; In Comfort of a Close Shave, a Distressing Disruption.” The New York Times (Weds., JULY 27, 2016): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 26, 2016, and has the title “Deal Professor; $1 Billion for Dollar Shave Club: Why Every Company Should Worry.”)

German Car Makers in No Rush to Catch Up to Tesla

(p. A7) When Elon Musk rolled out the new Tesla Model X at the end of September [2015], some grumbled that the Silicon Valley car maker’s all-electric luxury crossover was coming to market two years too late. It depends on who you ask. The Big Three German auto makers only wish they could catch the tail of Mr. Musk’s rocket.
I’m not talking about units sold, though Tesla’s target of 50,000 cars in 2015 is a respectable chunk of the global luxury-sedan market. But Tesla has taken more hide off German prestige and sense of technical primacy. I mean, the Model X was just rubbing their noses in it with those “falcon” doors, right? In executive interviews at the Frankfurt Auto Show any praise of Tesla was guaranteed to land on the table like a paternity suit.
. . .
I wonder if any traditional auto maker whose existence does not hang in the balance can ever have enough belly for the EV long game?
Even if the Germans had market-bound EVs in mass quantities, there is the concurrent problem of charging. As the estimable John Voelcker of Green Car Reports notes, the luxury incumbents have no plans to challenge Tesla on charging availability. Tesla has hundreds of charging stations in the U.S. and Europe and plans for hundreds more–all free to owners.
. . .
I am struck by the lag time. This isn’t about profit and loss but industry leadership. The Germans are headed where Tesla already is and, taking Frankfurt as the measure, they are in no great hurry to get there.

For the full commentary, see:
Dan Neil. “RUMBLE SEAT; How Tesla Leaves its Rivals Playing Catch Up.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 10, 2015): D11.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 8, 2015.)

Innovators Need Time for Tedious Tasks

(p. 3) Innovation isn’t all about eureka moments. In fact, the road to creative breakthroughs is paved with mundane, workaday tasks. That’s the message of a recent study that might as well be titled “In Praise of Tedium.”
In the study, researchers sought to examine how extended periods of free time affect innovation. To do this, they analyzed activity on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, in nearly 6,000 American cities.
. . .
Over a period of about nine months, the researchers found a sharp increase in the number of new projects posted during the first few days of school break periods. The spike, they suggest, is tied to people having more time to perform the administrative aspects of Kickstarter projects — working on a manufacturing plan, say, or setting up a rewards schedule. While people may be using some stretches of free time to nurture those much lauded light bulb moments, the process of innovation also appears to require time to carry out execution-oriented tasks that are not particularly creative but still necessary to transform an idea into a product, the study indicates.

For the full story, see:
PHYLLIS KORKKI. “Applied Science; Good Ideas Need Time for Tedious Legwork.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 16, 2015): 3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 15, 2015, and has the title “Applied Science; Looking for a Breakthrough? Study Says to Make Time for Tedium.”)

The academic paper summarized in the passages quoted above, is:
Agrawal, Ajay, Christian Catalini, and Avi Goldfarb. “Slack Time and Innovation.” Rotman School of Management Working Paper #2599004, April 25, 2015.

Only a Founder Has the Moral Authority to Shake Up a Company

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — Shortly after Twitter’s board of directors began its search for a new chief executive in June [2015], it said it would only accept someone willing to commit to the job full time. It was a not-so-subtle message to Twitter’s co-founder and interim boss, Jack Dorsey, that he would have to give up his job running Square, a mobile payments start-up, if he wanted to run Twitter on a permanent basis.
On Monday [Oct. 5, 2015], the eight-member board reversed itself, announcing that it had decided to allow Mr. Dorsey, its chairman, to head both companies after all.
. . .
(p. B8) This is Mr. Dorsey’s second go-round as Twitter’s chief executive.
Evan Williams, a board member and co-founder of Twitter who was instrumental in firing him in 2008, noted that the board considered many candidates before settling on Mr. Dorsey.
“I honestly didn’t think we’d land on Jack when we started unless he could step away from Square,” Mr. Williams wrote in a post on Medium, the social media site he now runs. “But ultimately, we decided it was worth it.”
In the end, Mr. Dorsey made a compelling case that he had matured and grown as a leader and that only a founder would have the moral authority to truly shake up a company that has been struggling to attract new users and compete for advertising dollars.

For the full story, see:
VINDU GOEL and MIKE ISAAC. “Delegating, Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square.” The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B8.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed dates, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title “Delegating, Jack Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square.”)

Process Innovations from “an Uber of Trucking” Can Increase Transport Efficiency

(p. B1) Investors are pouring millions of dollars into startups hoping to disrupt the $700 billion trucking industry, the latest example of Silicon Valley’s efforts to upend the traditional economy.
A series of startups are vying to become an “Uber of trucking,” leveraging truck drivers’ smartphones to quickly connect them with nearby companies looking to ship goods. The upstarts aim to reinvent a fragmented U.S. trucking industry that has long relied on third-party brokers, essentially travel agents for trucking who connect truckers with customers.
Silicon Valley’s interest in trucking has accelerated in recent months. San Francisco-based Trucker Path Inc. says it is aiming to reach a $1 billion valuation next year. The latest entrant, Seattle-based Convoy, said Tuesday it had raised $2.5 million in seed funding from investors including Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, Salesforce.com Inc. founder Marc Benioff, eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar and Uber Technologies Inc. co-founder Garrett Camp.

For the full story, see:
JACK NICAS and LAURA STEVENS. “Startups Accelerate Efforts to Reinvent Trucking Industry.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 27, 2015): B1 & B6.

French Billionaire Entrepreneur Starts Small and Cuts Costs

On Mon., October 13, 2014, Iliad dropped its bid for T-Mobile, after lack of interest from some of the T-Mobile board and from the majority owner, Deutsche Telekom AG.

(p. B1) Iliad wants to improve T-Mobile US’s cost structure by applying its own ultraslim cost base, under which it has kept costs to a minimum in everything from IT services to back office to equipment purchases. Iliad estimates it will be able to save about $2 billion annually by cutting out costs such as sending paper bills, and savings on equipment and IT systems, Mr. Niel said.
. . .
(p. B4) . . . before Mr. Niel can execute his American dream, Iliad has to win over T-Mobile US’s board, which could prove a formidable challenge.
. . .
He says he is sticking to the same principle that has guided his ascent from a teenage computer programmer in a working class Paris suburb to one of France’s richest men.
“I always follow the same idea: Start small and disrupt to create something big,” he said.

For the full story, see:
RUTH BENDER. “Will This Billionaire Bring $3-a-Month Phone Plans to U.S.?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story says it was updated on Aug. 4, 2014.)

Netflix Proved TV Programs Can Be Delivered on Web

(p. B1) Netflix pointed a way forward by not only establishing that programming could be reliably delivered over the web, but showing that consumers were more than ready to make the leap. The reaction of the incumbents has been fascinating to behold.
As a reporter, I watched as newspapers, books and music all got hammered after refusing to acknowledge new competition and new consumption habits. They fortified their defenses, doubled down on legacy approaches and covered their eyes, hoping the barbarians would recede. That didn’t end up being a good idea.
Television, partly because its files are so much larger and tougher to download, was insulated for a time, and had the benefit of having seen what happens when you sit still — you get run over.
. . .
For any legacy business under threat of disruption, the challenge is to get from one room — the one with the tried and true profitable approach — to another, (p. B5) where consumers are headed and innovators are setting up shop. To get there, you have to enter a long, dark hallway, a scary place.

For the full commentary, see:
David Carr. “The Stream Finally Cracks the Dam of Cable TV.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B1 & B5.
(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 19, 2014.)

Harvard Rejects Christensen’s Advice to Try Disruptive MOOCs

PorterMichaelHBS2014-06-01.jpg “Harvard Business School faced a choice between different models of online instruction. Prof. Michael Porter favored the development of online courses that would reflect the school’s existing strategy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Universities across the country are wrestling with the same question — call it the educator’s quandary — of whether to plunge into the rapidly growing realm of online teaching, at the risk of devaluing the on-campus education for which students pay tens of thousands of dollars, or to stand pat at the risk of being left behind.

At Harvard Business School, the pros and cons of the argument were personified by two of its most famous faculty members. For Michael Porter, widely considered the father of modern business strategy, the answer is yes — create online courses, but not in a way that undermines the school’s existing strategy. “A company must stay the course,” Professor Porter has written, “even in times of upheaval, while constantly improving and extending its distinctive positioning.”
For Clayton Christensen, whose 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” propelled him to academic stardom, the only way that market leaders like Harvard (p. 4) Business School survive “disruptive innovation” is by disrupting their existing businesses themselves. This is arguably what rival business schools like Stanford and the Wharton School have been doing by having professors stand in front of cameras and teach MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a modest investment by the school — about $20,000 to $30,000 a course — a professor can reach a million students, says Karl Ulrich, vice dean for innovation at Wharton, part of the University of Pennsylvania.
“Do it cheap and simple,” Professor Christensen says. “Get it out there.”
But Harvard Business School’s online education program is not cheap, simple, or open. It could be said that the school opted for the Porter theory.
. . .
“Harvard is going to make a lot of money,” Mr. Ulrich predicted. “They will sell a lot of seats at those courses. But those seats are very carefully designed to be off to the side. It’s designed to be not at all threatening to what they’re doing at the core of the business school.”
Exactly, warned Professor Christensen, who said he was not consulted about the project. “What they’re doing is, in my language, a sustaining innovation,” akin to Kodak introducing better film, circa 2005. “It’s not truly disruptive.”
. . .
One morning, [Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria] sat down for one of his regular breakfasts with students. “Three of them had just been in Clay’s course,” which had included a case study on the future of Harvard Business School, Mr. Nohria said. “So I asked them, ‘What was the debate like, and how would you think about this?’ They, too, split very deeply.”
Some took Professor Christensen’s view that the school was a potential Blockbuster Video: a high-cost incumbent — students put the total cost of the two-year M.B.A. at around $100,0000 — that would be upended by cheaper technology if it didn’t act quickly to make its own model obsolete. At least one suggested putting the entire first-year curriculum online.
Others weren’t so sure. ” ‘This disruption is going to happen,’ ” is how Mr. Nohria described their thinking, ” ‘but it’s going to happen to a very different segment of business education, not to us.’ ” The power of Harvard’s brand, networking opportunities and classroom experience would protect it from the fate of second- and third-tier schools, a view that even Professor Christensen endorses — up to a point.
“We’re at the very high end of the market, and disruption always hits the high end last,” said Professor Christensen, who recently predicted that half of the United States’ universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years.

For the full story, see:
JERRY USEEM. “B-School, Disrupted.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., June 1, 2014): 1 & 4.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 31, 2014, and has the title “Business School, Disrupted.”)

Some of Christensen’s thoughts on higher education can be found in:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

ChristensenClaytonHBS2014-06-01.jpg

“On the topic of online instruction, Prof. Clayton Christensen said: ‘Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents

WhereDoesItHurtBK2014-05-28.jpg

Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) The rise in U.S. health-care costs, to nearly 18% of GDP today from around 6% of GDP in 1965, has alarmed journalists, inspired policy wonks and left patients struggling to find empathy in a system that tends to view them as “a vessel for billing codes,” as the technologist Dave Chase has put it.

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .
. . .
. . . , Mr. Bush touts technology as a driver of change. It has revolutionized the way we shop for books and select hotels, but health-care delivery has been stubbornly resistant. Mr. Bush notes that the number of people supporting each doctor has climbed to 16 today from 10 in 1990–half of whom, currently, are administrators handling the mounting paperwork. Astonishingly, as Mr. Bush observes, the government had to pay doctors billions of dollars, via the 2009 HITECH Act, to incentivize them to upgrade from paper to computers. Meanwhile, fast-food chains discovered computers on their own, because the market demanded it.
. . .
Let entrepreneurs loose on these challenges, Mr. Bush believes, and they will come up with solutions.
Mr. Bush identifies three major obstacles to the kinds of change he has in mind. First, large hospital systems leverage their market position to charge hefty premiums for basic services, then use the proceeds to buy more regional hospitals and local practices. “As big ones take over the small,” Mr. Bush laments, “prices shoot up. Choices vanish.” Second, government regulations, especially state laws, favor powerful incumbents, shielding “imaging centers and hospitals from competition.” Third, heath care suffers from a risk-avoidant culture. The maxim “do no harm,” Mr. Bush says, should not be an excuse for clinging to a flawed status quo.

For the full review, see:
David A. Shaywitz. “BOOKSHELF; A System Still in Need of Repair; Routine medical services can be done for less cost–one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2014, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Where Does It Hurt?’ by Jonathan Bush; Routine medical services can be done for less cost–one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.”)

The book under review is:
Bush, Jonathan, and Stephen Baker. Where Does It Hurt?: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Fixing Health Care. New York: Portfolio, 2014.