Thursday, September 24, 2009

Entrepreneurial Market Design

In the coming weeks, I'll be making a series of posts on a subject I term Entrepreneurial Market Design, the study of creating for-profit marketplaces. Such marketplaces often require innovations (market rules, information flows, timing adjustments, reputation mechanisms) to resolve longstanding inefficiencies (lack of market thickness, adverse selection, high transaction costs, etc). These innovations can create significant value for market participants, and at the same time offer a promising business model for the entrepreneur.

I've had the opportunity to study many such markets, in the capacity of academic researcher, case author, and advisor to students who are have started market-based businesses. The first set of markets I'll list are those founded or managed by recent HBS students with whom I've interacted. Future posts will go into greater detail on these.

TeachStreet. TeachStreet is a platform for matching students with classes, usually in a non-academic setting. Instructors of classes ranging from foreign language to cooking to SAT prep to belly dancing post listings on Users browse through classes and sign up, and Teachstreet takes a commission for each new student. Julie Sandler, a current HBS student, is currently investigating how to expand to the platform to include children's classes.

RelayRides. Concisely described as a peer-to-peer version of Zipcar. Car owners sign up to make their cars available for rental, naming their own rates and hours. Renters select from available cars. In theory, prices could be lower than in Zipcar and fleet size could be much larger. This looks like a classic two-sided network, but with some intriguing challenges of insurance, monitoring, and adverse selection. The founders are HBS students Shelby Clark and Nabeel Al-Kady.

ClearMechanic. ClearMechanic is a platform to better connect auto mechanics with their customers. In an industry often considered technologically backward and rife with trust problems, ClearMechanic is meant to offer transparency and online accessibility to auto-owners. Using ClearMechanic, customers can go online to see the where their repair is in the work queue, learn about the repair being done, and interact with the repair shop. It also serves a marketplace for complementary products, such as accessories, insurance, repurchase options. The founder and CEO is Brad Simmons, a former student of my MBA class Managing Networked Businesses.

VigLink. VigLink is a startup that describes itself publicly as “building a unique platform for the real-time optimization of affiliate marketing." The founder, Oliver Roup is a recent HBS graduate and former student of Managing Networked Business.

Cork'd. Cork'd is a social network for wine lovers. The founder is wine celebrity Gary Vaynerchuk, and the CEO is Lindsay Ronga, a former student in Managing Networked Businesses. Among other goals, Cork'd would like to match users with their favorite wines.

SaleAwayWithMe. SaleAwayWithMe is a website that offers users customizable notifications about sales from their favorite brands. SaleAwayWithMe differentiates itself from spammy newsletters in that specific brands can be chosen, their sales are consolidated into a single list, and users can set thresholds (e.g. only include the most popular notices, such as sale notices that XX% of recipients click on.) SaleAwayWithMe is in a very early state, and was founded by former HBS student Sumir Meghani.

I've recently spoken with all of the founders/managers of these companies, and each is willing to work with students who choose to study the business as part of the class project.


michael webster said...

I sent the mechanic site out to some executives in a well known car repair franchise system for their thoughts.

I will let you know what their reactions were.

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