Week 12: Discounting the Future, SEC Investigations and Visiting Founders

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 2, Autumn quarter

Covered in this issue:

  • Rational decision making. Why and by how much discount the future?
  • In search for a strategic fit – those sweet moments when stars actually align for a while. Resulting competitive advantage that holds due to the complexity of interdependencies. Cases: CapitalOne (data driven mass-personalisation) and Lincoln Electric (super productive manufacturing).
  • Real-Life Ethics: Guest Michael Marks on being bullied by huge OEMs while Flextronics CEO. And should a SEC-inestigated company throw an innocent CFO over board to settle? Role of the board in backing the CEO.
  • Guest selling their story: Smule co-founders Jeff Smith & Ge Wang. Andrew Mason of Groupon.
  • Peer-organized public company valuation training.
  • Analysis of a persuasive argument: 1 man turning 11 jurors around in the 12 Angry Men movie. The case of Silicon Valley’s most effective networker.
  • Cash flow reporting. And intangible assets, especially software.

And here on to the full notes:

GSBGEN378 – Decisions About the Future (Hardisty)

  • St Petersburg Paradox
    • how much would you pay to play a coin flip game where the 50/50 payout increases exponentially: ($2^n) for flip n?
    • people tend to offer a few dollars
    • expected value calculation is infinite: EV() = $1 + $1 + $1…
    • expected utility is finite because of the diminishing marginal utility of every next win
  • Rational decision making axioms
    • connectedness: A > B >= C
    • dominance: A > B >= C
    • transitivity: if A > B >= C then can not be that A < C
    • independence: it A > B then A+$10 > B+$10
    • temporal consistency
  • there is a common intuitive assumption that future societies are richer
    • advancement in technology, long-term economic growth, …
    • “spend now rather than save” = “us, the poorer, have more use of this than rich of the future”?
  • reasons to discount future:
    • analytic convenience (e.g.: infinite investment problem, ex: would make sense to grow social security reserves forever for wider benefit in the future, but recipients start dying at some point)
    • opportunity cost
    • impatience
    • uncertainty
    • interest & inflation
  • if you would not take $105, but take $110 in one year instead of $100 today:
    • delta = (100 / AVG(105,110) ) ^ (1 / 1year – 0) = 0.93
    • 93% discount factor, or “stuff in a year is worth 93% of it’s today’s value” for me
    • in 2 years: 0.93^(1/2-0)=0.865
    • discount rate: (delta-1) = 0.93-1 =0.7% per year
  • Pascal’s Wager – does God exist?
  • Ben Franklin’s decision making method

STRAMGT279 – Global Strategic Management (Roberts)

  • Briefest current definition of strategy by Van den Steen:
    • just enough management decisions…
    • made up front…
    • to be combined with local information for implementation
  • Strategic positioning: performing different activities or similar activities differently than rivals (Porter 1996)
    • variety-based: deep niche or wide horizontal selection of products
    • needs-based: serving most or all needs for particular group of customers (does NOT mean “serve every random need that is voiced by any customer”)
    • access-based: a function of customer location, scale, …
  • Operational effectiveness: doing similar activities betterthan competitors
    • competition on OE alone is mutually destructive, winners being those who can outlast others in the cycle of becoming more generic and alike
    • pursuit of OE is seductive because it is concrete and actionable
  • Manager-to-client ratios – a reflection of need-based strategic positioning
    • Bessemer Trust: 1 per 14 families (>5M investable assets); virtually no loan traffic, but investment & estate management to accounting for racehorses & aircraft
    • Citibank Private: 1 per 125 clients (>250k minimum assets); primarily lenders
    • same value chain couldn’t profitably meet the needs of both groups
  • Straddle: an attempt of an incumbent to retain their business AND emulate a disruptive newcomer at the same time
    • Ex: old airlines trying to retain their business while creating no-frills offerings to match the low-cost players
    • usually results in enormous straddling penalties from lack of efficiency of activities (over- or under designed for their purpose), inconsistency of image/reputation and limits on internal coordination & control
  • Strategic fit between activities can be just a simple consistency (companies who want low prices advertise less), reinforcing or optimisation of effort
    • As competitive advantage raises from entire system of activities, the more intertwined & complex the fit, the harder to untangle and replicate it by competition
    • a certain combination of…
      • position (brand, monopoly/barriers, first mover, AAPL fanboys)
      • capabilities (design, Sony & miniaturisation in 70s)
      • resources
    • quickly diminishing multiplied probabilities that each activity can be successfully copied: 0.9 * 0.9 * 0.9 * 0.9 = 0.66
  • Strategic continuity (esp saying no to things decidedly out of scope) does not imply a static view of the markets & competition
  • Capital One case (SM-135)
    • “80% of strategy is figuring out where the world is going and 20% is about what a company is going to do in response to that” (Fairbank, CEO)
    • “Decision-making process should be a competition of ideas, not people.”
    • “Most executives spend 1% of time recruiting and 75% of time managing their recruitment mistakes.”
    • [VIDEO: Fairbank in Stanford]
    • on broadening the data-driven culture to new areas (like auto loans): “Find sleepy, boring industries that are informationindustries in disguise” (Fairbank)
      • slow moving
      • less competition
      • great people are usually not rushing into those
  • Capability [to execute a strategy] = there is a replicable process
  • “being free of preconceptions &  free of knowledge are different things”
  • Intel builds fabs as “copy true” – exact replicasof past fabs (factories of that same generation)
    • they know they don’t know why, but it worked – why introduce unnecessary additional risk to what is very complex production anyway?
  • Books:
  • GM labor contracts with unions are 3′ stack of paper
    • Toyota’s supplier contracts: 2 pages
    • Goog indicator of trust
  • Trust-driven incentive systems require promotion from within
    • participant oversight & control
    • manager’s open doors, worker councils
  • Piece-rate payments to employees are illegal in Germany
  • Difference between labour security:
    • job security – in tough times you can do less/worse, but you are not laid off
    • income security – union favourite for optimising for “an average worker”; in tough times prohibitive cost leads to layoffs
  • Fewer non monetary perks
    • seems “less caring” in some hiring competition today
    • alternatively can be viewed as removing them creates more employee choice and freedom
  • International ignorance: After Citibank & Traveller’s merger, fewer than 1/3 of Traveller’s board members had passports!
  • Intel was hailing itself to be a DRAM company, but allocated resources based on margin
    • resource shifted naturally to high-margin processors instead
    • org responded to incentives despite of the top-down communicated strategy
    • Moore & Grove had to reactively decide, how to deal with it (org diverging from agreed strategy!)
      • checking question “what would we do if we had just taken over this company today” led to shutdown of DRAM business
  • Multiple coherent patterns (ex: flexibility vs breadth; agility vs rigid process)
    • Mix and match does not work.
    • Beware of alleged “best practice” out of context.
    • Multiple models in one firm almost surely means trouble, mis-fit
      • Could be a good hint which parts of the organisation define as independent BUs, where to draw formal interfaces!

GSBGEN566 – Real-Life Ethics (Mark Leslie, Peter Levine)

  • Tech startup blogging policy case recap
    • setting a policy — or not — impacts employee behaviour…
    • as it creates a moral compass…
    • for the CEO dilemma: do you back internal (key employee) or external (key partner) in conflict?
      • decision to not create a policy implicitly means you are trusting employee judgement
    • not solving the problem in time (misjudging the scale of the issue) just makes both sides dig their heels in more
  • Michael E. Marks – guest speaker with real-life cases from his Flextronics CEO period
  • “It is lonely at the top… but you do get to eat better”
  • Selection of tactics available for an EMS (contract manufacturer) pressured by their OEM clients
    • negotiate
    • coordinate with other suppliers
    • avoid negative precedent -> ruins the future market “appropriate terms”
    • prepare for worst (mainly mentally, hard to do much practically)
    • call the bluff -> don’t know the reaction
      • People bluff in business much less than you think!
    • push the issue further down the chain to your suppliers
  • All big companies are by design bullies at times: towards smaller partners, suppliers, even customers
  • Stock market / investor relations consideration: one time payout or long-term loss of customer (discussed by analysts forever)
  • “Goodwill bank”: do favours to partners who have a positive goodwill deposit for their past favours
  • Often when you do the “right thing” according to your moral values, negative raminifications are on so many people notyou
    • Ex: CEO firing 10,000 people due to the business cut by a pissed customer whose ethically questionable proposal CEO refused
  • On CEO asking advice:
    • should always be able to go to their board, not external mentors, etc
    • if not – have you got a wrong board?
    • board only has something to do in crisis
      • CEO dies
      • needs to hire a new CEO
      • CEO needs help/decision (= NOT business as usual)
    • normal, routine board meetings can feel like a waste of time – but are needed for continuous context for when the crisis (above) hits!
  • A good sign of fraud is that only a few people seem to know about some proposal.
  • Leadership stock purchase plans (putting in own/lent money, not just options)
    • Lenovo carried out a stock purchase plan for top management by peer pressure: if you’re not buying, are you in the CEOs circle of trust any more?
    • VP level participation/impact (and thus motivation to buys stock) is very dependent on CEOs leadership style
  • SEC investigations
    • unlimited police power
    • arms-length teams reporting to board, not management team
    • tactic to isolate all accused: if 10 managers involved, you have each bring their external counsel
    • 2005-09: 2300 filed SEC litigations. If 1/5 of all investigations litigated: 2000 investigations/year
    • VERY expensive to be in this process, innocent or not
  • “firing” and “resigning” are synonyms in US corporate culture, for the mark on your CV
  • personal ethics VS fiduciary duty
    • mirror test: “if I make this decision for shareholder’s benefit, will I be able to look in the mirror and answer – who am I?”

ACCT219 – Financial Accounting (Guttman)

  • In highly leverage companies: cash management needs to be tight (there is interest cost on net cash)
  • Ordersare a non-event on financial statements, yet
    • inventory, liabilities, cash can change due to production
    • revenue & COGS on shipment
  • Dividends & interest received are under Cash Flow from Operating activities in US
  • In theory in US either direct or indirect CF methods are allowed, yet for reconciliation with Net Income in I/S, everyone ends up doing indirect

Sloan Investment Club – Valuation training

  • Difference in cashflow-based valuation methods
    • DCF (what are the estimated future cash flows worth today) – a banker spending a day on valuation is already a lot
    • Buyout (what am I willing to pay today to get to the 20% IRR I want over next 5 years) valuations are built often in months, with full access to the books, etc
  • Buyout people look at EBITDA (and -based multiples), because “everything else below that _I_ want to engineer”

MS&E 472 – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

Ge:

    • Pan flute flowchart:
      • Startups are like pan flutes – you really shouldn’t do one… unless there is some curiosity you cannot satisfy any other way
    • By sanctioning a rebellion you take all the fun out of it and it dies
      • Case in point: giving a drum kit to a child
    • Academic institutions / experiments around computerised music:
      • Stanford CCRMA
      • Princeton Laptop Orchestra PLOrk
      • Stanford SLOrk
      • Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra MoPho
    • What is a musical instrument?
      • A 500-year old Stradivarius in my hands? No, it is not
      • Music = “expressive sound”
      • Instrument -> allows you to be musically expressive (defined via the user)
    • YouTube as definite research source for startups (to see pre-product if people care)
      • Smule’s Ocarina app born after final confirmation that the “clay ocarina tutorial” video on YT had 4M views
    • Technology should create calm – from ubiquitous computing research
    • AutoRap Stress test:

Jeff:

  • Hanging out at a VC firm in ER role is one of the worst places where to contemplate a startup idea
    • culture focused too much on analysing why it would fail
  • gesamtkunstprodukt – “the total product (of art)”, usable as a product management principle
  • can you build a catch into the first 30 seconds of first-time UX?
    • if yes – you get high K-factor
    • ex: a virtual lighter app on iPhone. yes, you can blow it off too – something that you want and demo very quickly to your friends.
  • mobile business models trend from paid apps -> content inside free app
    • Smule’s extra layer: subscription model to get all content across all of the company’s different apps
  • Hiring philosophy: don’t sell, roll down the curtains and show the real culture & life inside the company as best as you can
    • help people to self-select in

View From the Top speaker series

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon. (video will be available here at some point, I guess). I never met Andrew in person before, but I expected him to be a bit more energetic, outgoing and edgy. Might be the post-IPO communication rules kicking in, or might be that he has just become more rounded, balanced and serious as the company (and his role) have grown?

  • Tech industry is not as homogenous as it is served sometimes – you can divide tech companies to two by asking “how long could their staff stay at home and do nothing and business would still continue?”)
    • Pure tech (GOOG, FB, …) – 6 months?
    • Operational (AMZN, GRPN, …) – 5 days?
      • More demanding, daily “street fight”
      • Actually not the best fit to be located in Silicon Valley: what do you do when you need to hire 3000 non-engineering people quickly here?
  • Everything “local” is an easy business to get into, hard one to scale
  • On evaluating Groupon clones to acquire:
    • #1 – people: are there strong leaders who can continue growing the business semi-autonomously
    • will it work with US folks being physically over only rarely?
    • speed of growth via M&A first, only now getting to proper integrations on culture, tech
      • often much slower than the acquired party would wish
  • Disconnect between tech press & geeks vs GRPN: your mom loves it, not you.
  • In China, referral traffic from e-mail is virtually nonexistent – bad for models optimised around that channel

OB278 – Organizational Behaviour (Flynn)

  • Organizational repairs (from Heath, Larrick and Klayman paper – PDF here)
    • Motivational: increase energy and enthusiasm with which individuals pursue a task
    • Cognitive: improve the mental procedures individuals use to pursue a task
  • Very good article by Malcolm Gladwell on dotcom boom era tech sector hiring and effectiveness of interviews in the process: The New-Boy Network
  • Dinner party guest list rule: every person invited should know half of everyone else – creates minimum necessary sense of familiarity, yet enough new acquaintances and interesting conversations
  • Deal junkies vs commitment persons in VC industry: always looking for the next hot thing or preferring to work with investments already made
  • Pipeline volume for Heidi Roizen (Softbank): 10 incoming plans a day, 1 in 50 invested, 2h per day spent on feedback to declined proposals (to build and maintain relationships for the future)
  • Movie as a persuasion case study: 12 Angry Men
  • Quick straw-polling of initial stand before discussion
    • many juries do that even when explicitly asked not to
    • can enforce group think
    • at the same time – polarises votes for both sides
    • intends to create a baseline, “could we get out of here easy if it happens we all agree anyway”
  • Partipants divide their positions into dichotomy
    • if I choose A (guilty), I believe 100% he is guilty
    • THEREFORE those who choose B (not guilty) must believe he is 0% guilty
    • this allows for strategy introducing doubt:
      • convince A’s that they should vote B-s even if they have 99% belief in guilty
      • reduce the gap from 100 -> 1 unit only
      • much more doable than talking black to white
  • Spotlight is on minority opinion who needs to explain
    • majority not compelled to say anything
    • minority needs to work (questions) to get their arguments out
  • When introducing a counterargument
      • solidify the schema you are attacking (show evidence that supports it)
      • THEN break it with your argument for maximum impact
      • Knife argument example in the movie:

  • When casting a re-vote, pick the question posed carefully to make it easier to change sides
    • instead of just “guilty or not” -> “if everyone thinks guilty, we are done” (fatal) & “if someone still feels not guilty, we discuss a bit more” (less committing)
  • Foot in the door
    • enter with a non-controversial ask: “do you like puppies?”
    • follow-up with the real ask: “can we put a 2m puppy statue in your yard for a few weeks”?
    • experiments
      • compliance grows 17% -> 76% after the person agrees to the non-controversial lead
      • “can you fill in this survey” vs “can I ask you a favour? – yes – can you fill in this survey?”: 54% -> 87%
  • Demonstrations are extremely effective
    • underused because speakers (esp higher raking!) assume the audience expects from them conclusion, analysis and opinion, rather than the display of the path that took them there
    • to lay the foundation for your demo, ask the audience to state/confirm the underlying facts
  • Emotional contrast
    • people who control the equilibrium (tone, emotion, pace, etc) of the argument win
    • emotion is a divergence from equilibrium
    • when using emotion for contrast: the switches are more powerful in a bouquet
      • calm discussion -> emotional reaction to someone’s behaviour -> switch back to calm discussion
    • lack of response to someone else’s outburst un-validates it
      • option: stay completely quiet until it becomes awkward
      • the silence forces the emotional side to cool and start offering concessions to break the silence
  • Case: Heidi Roizen
    • saying “no” well:
      • consistency (over time: predictability)
      • “no, because…”
        • most people don’t bother the additional effort investment to explain
        • explanation leaves room for re-engagements (asked can come back after fixing a few issues)
      • protect the key nodes in your network from overflow
    • strongest predictor of future relationship: anxiety of first meeting
      • does this person make you comfortable or not?
      • what can you do to increase comfort of the first meeting’s context?
  • Informal networks
    • people feel bad asking and good giving
      • a self-motivator to get yourself over the natural tendency to not as (= be greedy, incompetent, …): it opens doors for others to give (help, information, feedback…; = feel good)
      • successful transaction, no matter how small, builds basis for future relationship
    • asking open-ended questions feels more appropriate (less pushy, leaves discretion & room for the others)
      • yet, research shows more specific asks get more response
    • wrong to assess “can this question be answered in this group” and self-censor based on that
      • secondary contacts/networks are mathematically much larger than any present one
    • physical proximity (ex: office layout) still a major network efficiency driver despite of all the tech improvement
      • people are lazy.

CS207 – Software Economics (Wiederhold)

  • Of all intangible assets, intangible property is only the part that is owned
    • Property: patents, copyright (US: both federal protection), trade secrets (US: state protection varies)
    • Not property: customer loyalty, employee competence
  • Discount rates for risk: 15% (on top of interest) is a low end for well functioning, established software companies
  • Need for maintenance -> enables long-term income
    • Software set apart from other intangibles
      • unlike some other IP, ex: a book on 16th century explorers
    • IEEE definitions for maintentance drivers:
      • Corrective: bugfixing
      • Adaptive: externally driven (underlying OS changes, API/interface changes)
      • Perfective: (growing/changing customer expectations
  • “Standard bodies are very hard to manage because you need people who are both smart and patient. Rare combination.”

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