Angry Shareholders Sacrifice Donkey

StockholderFluDartShareholder activism is often identified as a mechanism to discipline managers and keep them focused on value creation for investors. An NPR story reports that shareholders in a zoo near Shanghai, frustrated that they weren’t making a profit on their investment, fed a live donkey to zoo tigers as a form of protest. At a shareholders meeting they voted in favor of feeding the donkey to the tigers to express their anger. Their objections center on the zoo’s debts and legal troubles. For two years, the investors said the venture has not been profitable. The video of the event has stoked public outrage and condemnation. While this is a rather unusual example of shareholder activism, it may spur some fruitful discussion in class. One of the interesting elements of this action is that the Corporate Social Responsibility literature would lead us to expect that investors have idiosyncratic preferences and will make trade-offs on returns (see this article by Mackey, Mackey & Barney). For example, one might expect that investors in a zoo would be willing to trade off financial returns to care for animals. A protest of poor profitability that hurts an animal seems especially unlikely. Yet there is is. As the cartoon implies, there are other ways for investors to protest…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Will Pokémon Keep GOing?

The augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go, has taken the world by storm as players roam the real world catching Pokémon and battling in Pokémon gyms. The game has set 5 records since its launch in July 2016 — including the most revenue by a mobile game in its first month ($206.5 million). Nintendo’s stock doubled 15 days into the release, adding $7.5B in value, but then settled back into a mere 50% increase when it became clear that Nintendo was a partner with limited ownership in the company that developed the game (Niantic, a Google spinoff). Although the game is free, users can make purchases in the app store to support their Pokémon ‘hunting’. The bewildering success must clearly be keeping Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke, and his crew awake at night. Besides the operational issues related to scaling up, intellectual property (IP) had become a big issue. A slew of imitators were emerging as well as a number of companies trying to steal the game’s data content and algorithm. In addition, the formidable international expansion faces roadblocks in the most populous Asian countries while potential users were impatient. There were many additional potential revenue sources to be tapped and explored such as the recent win-win partnership with McDonalds Japan. Moreover, while getting gamers out and about was good, there were a number of unintended consequences. On the plus side, many entrepreneurs were finding ways to make money from the game — for example restaurants could lure in customers if there was a Pokestop nearby. At the same time, users and non-users worried about possible injuries, trespassing, and invasion of privacy among other things. Naturally, this makes an outstanding ripped-from-the-headlines case for strategy courses. It is a great vehicle to cover key topics such as entrepreneurship, strategic alliances, internal analysis/capabilities, and external analysis. The following are some materials that are useful for the case:

Contributed by Aya Chacar and Russ Coff

Clowning Around About Time Compression Diseconomies

Students might be confused about time compression diseconomies as a foundational component of a resource-based advantage. However, Dierickx and Cool’s (1989) idea here is quite simple: It may take time to build a resource or capability and even if rivals know the source of an advantage, they may not be able to recreate the resource in a timely fashion. Of course, Barney (1991) captures this as history or path dependence being the barrier to imitation. This simple video illustrates the principle (in a darkly humorous way). Of course, in this case, our protagonist merely needs to incur some search costs to find a fully grown tree. There is no practical way to rush the process to get the tree to grow substantially faster.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Cost Advantage & Org Alignment: Aldi mini case

w11uzAldi has been crushing the competition for years and makes an excellent case of how organizational alignment can deliver a strategic advantage (cost in this case). Here is the version of the case for Madison Wisconsin but it would be easy to customize to almost any location since Aldi has spread far and wide. I divide the students into groups reflecting segments of the market (Whole Foods/Kroger/Wal-Mart/Stop-n-go, etc.) and have them assess the competitive threat as Aldi expands in their market. The Whole Foods group typically concludes that there is no threat. However, the threat becomes more apparent once the other rivals decide to add services since they can’t compete with Aldi’s prices. This Bloomberg article shows that Aldi has been a much more direct threat to Whole foods. Ultimately, none of the rivals can duplicate Aldi’s cost structure because their assets are not aligned toward that strategy. Here are a few very funny ads demonstrating the simple principle — why pay more than you have to?

To see a few more Aldi commercials,  Continue reading

Princess Bride Iocane Powder: Anticipating rivals

20120522-143633Most students quickly grasp the concept of game theory–figuring out what your opponent is likely to do helps you decide what you ought to do. As this clip shows, however, failing to understand the real decision choices to be made can lead to deadly, but funny results. In class, after introducing simultaneous vs. sequential games, I show the clip, pausing it just before the 2:11 mark. At this point the poison is in the goblet, and I ask the students who haven’t seen the movie which goblet they think is poisoned. I record answers, and then show the clip (up to anywhere between 4:45 and 5:02). I then ask if they were surprised. I then show the remainder of the clip, and we discuss what mistake Vazinni made. Students see the real payoff matrix as: a) if I (Vazinni) guess wrong, I’m dead; b) If I guess right, then the Dread Pirate Roberts knows it too has incentive to kill me before he dies. I only live if Iocane powder kills instantly. My correct answer can only be not to drink either goblet if I want to live. After watching this video clip and class discussion, students can:

  • identify what is a simultaneous decision
  • identify the true payoffs in a payoff matrix
  • understand the value of changing the game
  • never get into a ground war in Asia (okay, just kidding about that one).

Princess Bride fans might also appreciate this clip illustrating non-substitutability…

Contributed by Russ Coff and Jay Janney

Differentiation Can be a Pain in the Butt

Differentiation can be a challenge if existing products have identified the most central value propositions for customers. Increasingly, firms must differentiate using paths that may not follow others and there may be good reasons that rivals have left the path uncharted. Here is an example of differentiation whose time may not have come…

Contributed by Russ Coff & Late Mover Disadvantages

DillonEdwardsEarly movers stand to lose if late movers learn from their mistakes and enter with better product offerings or better strategies. Classic early movers who lost include Osborne Computer Company  (subsequently overtaken by Compaq) or EMI’s exit from the CT Scanner business. Myspace and AoL might also be counted among early entrants that ultimately fizzled.

That said, early movers can can gain key assets that make it hard for rivals to enter and compete. You may have noticed that “” takes one to Donald Trump’s home page and there are numerous other political misdirections along these lines for other candidates. Similarly, Tesla Motors has only just gained ownership of the domain (probably at a handsome price). In this way, there can be a race to secure resources and capabilities to take advantage of an opportunity and others are in competition for those resources even if the resources are firm specific (as candidate domains tend to be). From a scholarly standpoint, such resources can be approached from a variety of perspectives including strategic factor market theory, Coasean bargaining, or first mover advantages. Of course, there is a humorous side to all of this. SNL has captured this nicely in their spoof commercial for Dillon Edwards Investments (note that this may be a bit “saucy” for many classrooms but we’re all adults here).

Contributed by Peter Klein

Entry Barriers (for Terriers)

content-marketing-barriers-349x171Entry barriers are a critical element of Porter’s five forces framework. A key question is how firms get around the barriers. While the framework is at the industry level, a central part of the discussion is how the entry barriers might differ for different potential entrants. Some will have complementary resources or capabilities that make entry much easier. If a firm is considering entering a new industry, they want high entry barriers for all firms — except them. This sometimes sounds too good to be true until you discuss critical differences in resources and capabilities. This (admittedly silly) Doritos commercial from Superbowl 50 illustrates entry barriers and how some creative dogs get around them…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Princess Bride, Nonsubstitutability & the RBV

screen-shot-2012-08-28-at-2-04-20-pmNonsubstitutability is a critical resource attribute for sustaining a competitive advantage. Otherwise, a rival may find a different resource that can nullify an advantage without actually imitating the focal firm’s resource or capability. An example might be Apple’s iPhone patent for the “screen bounce” when the user scrolls to the bottom of a page or list. Early Android phones had the same feature but, more recent phones, work around this patent by displaying a blue tinge at the edge of the screen (see picture) when one has scrolled to the end. In this way, many patents do not confer an advantage as rivals find ways to work around them and customers don’t perceive a significant difference in the product. In class, one might give this example coupled with the video below which depicts a battle between Fezzik and Westley in the Princess Bride — agility and size can be discussed as substitutes in determining competitive advantage (of course, Westley wins though he at first seems to be at a disadvantage).

PrincessBride-Nonsubstitutability (click to download)

Contributed by Russ Coff

Disney Wields its Princess Power

Mattel just lost to Hasbro on producing Disney princess dolls — a $500M a year business. This brings to an end a 60+ year strategic alliance. A recent Bloomberg article tells the story of what happened and makes a nice start to a mini case. There are many facets to this that might be of interest in the classroom. Bargaining power is probably front and center. Mattel wanted to have their own princess line that they didn’t have to pay the substantial licensing fees to Disney. Once they were a competitor, Disney started to consider other options (an alliance or coopetition story). By seeking out Hasbro, Disney increased their options (BATNA to you negotiation buffs) and thus gained even more bargaining power. In the end, Hasbro had to work hard to present a fresh vision (including substantial firm-specific investments) but Disney still retains the power in the relationship. This also sends a signal to other Disney partners about reducing their commitment to Disney. Of course, Disney’s power is rooted in strategic assets (characters) and capabilities (to create more characters) so this brings in the resource based view (RBV) nicely. If you are in need of related comic relief, there are ample videos. Here are hipster princesses to get you started.

Contributed by Russ Coff (HT Virgina Postrel)

Having your IP Stolen is a Real Beach

Knowledge and intellectual property inherently complicate exchange (e.g., property rights are poorly defined, the value is unclear, there are high transaction costs). One manifestation of this is the disclosure problem (Arrow’s 1962 information paradox). Figuring out the “price” for an idea requires revealing data which intrinsically reduces its value. Entrepreneurs often have ideas stolen by larger corporations that have significant complementary assets. Accordingly, they often try to go it alone despite the fact that their lack of such resources may ultimately create less value (for example, Tony Fadell tried to go it alone before bringing the iPod idea to Apple). His alliance with Apple turned out very well. However, this is often not the case. This clip illustrates what happened to Kramer (on Seinfeld) when he approached Calvin Klein with his idea for a new cologne called “beach” hoping to access their resources while gaining a signal of the idea’s value. He reveals the idea in an effort to obtain both. While it is funny, it will also kick off a serious discussion on this issue.

Contributed by Michael LeibleinMarcel Bogers and Marcus Holgersson

Smooth Recovery: Learning to Pivot

Pivoting from one strategy to another is essential for entrepreneurial firms but also for more established firms operating in a dynamic environment (see other materials on dynamic capabilities on this site). The video below can stimulate a conversation on what it takes to pivot (both in entrepreneurial and established contexts). Of course, its also moderately entertaining…

Contributed by Russ Coff

Matrix Lassie

Sometimes the value of a capability is that it deters rivals’ actions without having to be deployed at all. As you will see, the video below demonstrates this principle nicely. In the context of industry analysis, this might be the credible threat of retaliation on new entrants. If it deters entrants, the threat may not have to be used frequently (though credible commitment to deter may be essential to demonstrate).

Contributed by Russ Coff

BBQ & Foot Massage: Diversified Humor

There is no shortage of business combination humor to stimulate discussion of corporate diversification. Below are a couple of videos depicting some unlikely combinations (mild language). You can also find Delta Dental commercials posted here as another great example. Of course, truth can be stranger than fiction and you might want to check out the real examples listed under the business combination scavenger hunt exercise

BBQ and Foot Massage

Prepaid Legal Services and Daycare

Contributed by Russ Coff

Exercise: Show Me the Money

Here is a simple exercise to demonstrate competitive advantage on the first day of class. Hold up a crisp $20 bill and ask “Who wants this?” When people look puzzled, ask, “I mean, who really wants this?” and then “Does anyone want this?”  Continue this way (repeating this in different ways) until someone actually gets up, walks over, and takes the $20 from your hand. Then the discussion focuses on why this particular person got the money. How did their motivation differ? Did they have different information or perception of the opportunity? Did they have a positional advantage based on where they were sitting? Other personal attributes (e.g., entrepreneurial)? The main question, then, is why do some people/firms perform better than others? This simple exercise gets at the nexus of perceived opportunity, position, resources, and other factors that operate both at the individual and firm level. Note that instructors should tell the class not to share this with other students. However, if you do have a student who has heard about the exercise (and grabs the money), asymmetric information about an opportunity is certainly one aspect of the discussion. The following “vine” might also help drive home the point about money and resources…

Contributed by Rich Makadok

Differentiating Uber: Seize the day

Along the lines of yesterday’s differentiation example, here we have an upgraded Uber service. A common theme in strategy courses is that differentiation strategies require that customer willingness to pay exceeds the cost of a premium service. The example may seem silly but it is a response to customers’ desire to have a car immediately. Again,the Onion nails it with this clip:

Contributed by Russ Coff

Differentiation = Less Disgusting Seats?

Firms work hard to differentiate their services. A common theme in strategy courses is that customers must have a willingness to pay that exceeds the cost of the premium service. If so, we can explore whether a given firm has an advantage in offering the premium service. Sometimes the bar for “premium” isn’t very high… As always, the Onion hits it right on the head with this clip:

Contributed by Russ Coff

Dollar Auction: Looking for Bubble

8410493_origEconomic bubbles reflect irrational escalation but there is always an element of underlying rationality. This classic exercise, the Dollar Auction, is an ideal vehicle to emphasize how this can come about — even with actors who intend to be rational. With much fanfare, the instructor auctions off a dollar bill (a very crisp one to reflect a “rare” asset). The bill goes to the winner; however, the second-highest bidder also loses the amount that they bid. The game begins with one player bidding five cents (the min), hoping to make a ninety-five-cent profit. However, a ten cent bid would still yield a ninety-cent profit (if bidding stopped there). If the first bidder bids ninety five cents, and the second bidder bids one dollar (for no net gain or loss), the first bidder stands to lose ninety five cents unless she bids $1.05. In this way, bidding continues well beyond a dollar, usually until one player issues a preemptively high bid to signal intent to outbid at any cost. Only the auctioneer gets to profit in the end. While the incentive structure is idiosyncratic, one might debrief with a discussion of why they didn’t anticipate this problem when they started bidding? This fits broadly in discussions where escalation is a risk (decisions under uncertainty, M&A, technology investments, etc.). You may find that some students have seen this exercise previously. However, it only takes two uninformed bidders to create a bubble. Of course, the following classic bubble video is a good fit in the debrief (came out right before the real estate bubble)…

Contributed by Russ Coff

The Emperor’s New Rope…

This is another in a series of reminders that individuals respond to perceptions even if they are inaccurate. The short video of the invisible rope prank might be followed by a discussion of how firms can influence the perceptions of their rivals, complementors, and/or customers. This is especially an issue in contexts where there is a great deal of uncertainty (entrepreneurship, technology, etc.). An earlier post presents a driving prank with a similar theme.

Contributed by Russ Coff