Category Archives: business

GPM Calculator

In June, I blogged about Fuqua professors Rick Larrick and Jack Soll and their push to improve fuel efficiency and consumer behavior by simply changing the measurement from MPG to GPM.  Today, Duke Research Advantage blogged that this work was featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue.  They’ve also launched a new GPM calculator to find your current GPM, compare cars, or see the GPM for all 2009 cars.  More information about this research, including an interactive fuel-efficiency quiz and a video of Larrick and Soll discussing their work is available at mpgillusion.com.

Staying pure after selling out

This week’s HBS Working Knowledge newsletter starts off with an interesting proposition: what happens when a well-known socially responsible business is acquired by a multinational?  Professors James E. Austin and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard discuss their recent research, which examines such acquisitions as Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever, Tom’s of Maine by Colgate and Stonyfield Farms by Dannon.  Their work suggests that it is possible for a company to stay true to its social mission after acquisition, presented in a working paper asking “Can the Virtuous Mouse and the Wealthy Elephant Live Happily Ever After?”  

The discussion touches on some great questions, including why the elephants would want to acquire mice with a conscience and why it could be a good deal for the mouse (they’re not selling out – they’re scaling up).

An excerpt is below, but it’s totally worth your time to read the entire (brief) HBS interview with Austin and Leonard:

Q: How can elephants protect the mouse’s social value and brand integrity?

A: The more effective large companies have recognized that preserving the social icon’s distinctive culture and business approach is essential to preserving its key success factors. Consequently, they retain a large degree of organizational independence so as to prevent “contamination” of the social technology.

This stands in contrast to the common approach in acquisitions to integrate and rationalize the assets into the new owner’s systems, structure, and culture. Some of the specific mechanisms used in successful mouse-elephant agreements include governance structures and processes that give the “mice” review and even veto power over actions by the “elephants” that might jeopardize those elements that are deemed essential to the social values underlying the brand’s integrity.

Retaining the social entrepreneur in the joint venture is highly desirable

Fred Wilson “Big Think” Interview

An interesting video posted yesterday on the usual technology and business trendcasting topics.  It’s 8 minutes, so here’s the summary:

  • Changes in technology – evolution over 15 years from using the phone to using email to using social media to get most of the work done (value as business tools); face to face is a constant value throughout
  • Workforce – this generation less loyal, more mobile, more interested in maximizing their career than company value, especially as geography becomes a less crucial hiring factor
  • Social networking – the most interesting part comes around 4:30 in, where he starts with the charming “I write a weblog…”  He stresses that there is a community built, and that trust in the community and the tools has led to new ways of doing business, and talks about how he has taken action based on comments from people he’s never met.  Great stuff in this portion!
  • A little bit on tools such as IRC, wiki and facebook
  • In the comments, some folks ask for more video and he says “I don’t think video is an efficient way for most people to consume info so I try not to do too much of it.”  Agreed on the efficiency, both for consuming, and trying to find that quotable portion 6 months later.  Hence this self-reminder post.

Conversation: The Future of Social Enterprise

Harvard Business School professors V. Kasturi Rangan and Susan McDonald are hosting a conversation based on their recent paper, The Future of Social Enterprise. Click here to read a summary of their findings and join in the conversation.

The questions posed center around social sector evolution and measuring ROI and social impact – the conversation started today and already has some interesting posts.  These web forum conversations generally only last a week or two, so check it out now in order to participate!

Better fuel efficiency through better labels – gpm vs mpg

We all know how important language is in persuading people to think certain ways, and that certain words and phrases in common use are politicized rhetoric (think pro-life and pro-choice).  However, I never thought of “miles per gallon” as one of those potentially misleading phrases.  Until I read this in a Fuqua Alumni email:

For example, most people ranked an improvement from 34 to 50 mpg as saving more gas over 10,000 miles than an improvement from 18 to 28 mpg, even though the latter saves twice as much gas. (Going from 34 to 50 mpg saves 94 gallons; but from 18 to 28 mpg saves 198 gallons).

These mistaken impressions were corrected, however, when participants were presented with fuel efficiency expressed in gallons used per 100 miles rather than mpg. Viewed this way, 18 mpg becomes 5.5 gallons per 100 miles, and 28 mpg is 3.6 gallons per 100 miles — an $8 difference today.

“The reality that few people appreciate is that improving fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 mpg is actually a more significant savings than improving from 25 to 50 mpg for the same distance of driving,” Larrick said. (See table.)

See the full article here, including a video link.

Going Negative with Green Messaging

Struggling for years with a decreasing market share and tumbling stock price, Nortel is going negative with a campaign against Cisco.  This Wall Street Journal article details their PR blitz utilizing bloggers, YouTube, anti-Cisco websites, and trade show demonstrations.  The message?  Use Nortel to avoid “the Cisco energy tax.”

Nortel is countering with the argument that Cisco’s technology, as successful as it has been in the marketplace, is an energy hog. In its ads, Nortel claims that Cisco’s data networks “are costing you 100% too much.” At trade shows, Nortel staff attach wattage meters to comparable Nortel and Cisco gear in an effort to show that Nortel’s gear is much more energy-efficient. The company posted a film of the demo on YouTube.

Energy prices are finally rising to a point where being energy-efficient is not just something to make a consumer feel good, but something that affects purchasing decisions by price-sensitive customers.  That Nortel is taking this message to large corporate customers is evidence that at least some people in corporate purchasing departments are concerned with cutting costs by conserving energy.

In a previous post, I talked about the strategy of going negative with marketing, and why it’s rarely done.  This is one of those cases where a very small company with much to gain and little to lose takes on the market leader with a campaign aimed at gaining some awareness and hoping to steal just a bit of the leader’s market share.  Or, as pointed out in the WSJ article, survive and keep their current customers as their competition makes persuasive presentations to switch.  It’s not unusual for a smaller company to paint the larger one as evil, and it’s not that unusual to use an environmental rationale to make that argument.  What might be unusual is that with the price of energy rising so quickly, customers might listen.

And frankly, Cisco’s response that “there are no industry standards to measure “green”; and Cisco’s gear meets the environmental requirements of the product-testing company Miercom” falls a bit flat with me.  Not a counter-argument about green manufacturing or building initiatives, but a lack of industry standards? No pledge for improved performance or details of why the additional energy usage creates a superior product?  This lack of rebuttal leaves me thinking Cisco either isn’t taking Nortel seriously or isn’t taking energy efficiency seriously –  either case may not be a big mistake now, but could be a huge mistake in the future.

L3C in VT – blending non-profit goals and for-profit structure

An interesting post from yesterday on npEnterprise – Vermont has passed a bill to allow incorporation as a “low-profit liability company,” or L3C.  This is basically an LLC (limited liability company) that is allowed to accept PRI’s (Program Related Investments, often from foundations) traditionally limited to nonprofits.

In other words, this is a new business structure that recognizes the blended value proposition of a double bottom line that incorporates both social and financial goals.  Legislation has also been introduced here in NC, and is apparently awaiting action in the House Finance Committee.

Check out Americans for Community Development’s website for more details on how an L3C works and the current legislative status.  Or read the original post with additional links below:

Thu May 22, 2008 9:58 am (PDT)

Vermont recently passed a lot of bill regarding L3C’s, which allows
organizations to incorporate into “low-profit liability companies.”

If you would like additional info on the concept, Heather Peeler (Managing
Director of Community Wealth Ventures) wrote an article last year that outlines
the purpose of L3C’s.
http://www.communitywealth.com/Newsletter/August%202007/L3C.html

The bill was championed by a group called Americans for Community Development.
Check them out here:
http://americansforcommunitydevelopment.org/

Becky Eisen
Social Franchise Ventures, LLC.

Some additional information: Vermont Legislature passed
our L3C bill and the Governor of Vermont signed it, so it’s now in the books.