business education #memo #MOOC

This is an opinion piece on the opportunities in business education for MOOC providers like Coursera and edX . All data is publicly available.

This first section is about 3 topic areas that present maximum potential for MOOC providers. I will lay out learning objectives, topic areas, skills that will be acquired, value prop for learners, my rationale, and product-market fit for each of the three ideas.

Business of Healthcare

Learning objective: Provide learners a holistic understanding of the healthcare system and highlight business opportunities to get learners excited about transforming healthcare

Topic areas: Healthcare’s New Economics, Technologies That Lower Costs, Quality of healthcare, Disruptive startups & investors

Skills: ability to analyze innovations in terms of their (technological, public policy, and structural) impact, develop a sense of consumers, change management

Value proposition: a millennial who wants to transform the business of healthcare

Rationale: Between 2016 and 2024, healthcare jobs will grow at a rate of 17 percent, which will shake out into 56,300 new jobs for medical and health services managers. This high demand for more medical and health services managers is driven by the large baby boomer population needing more health care in hospitals and nursing homes as they age. It’s also driven by the uptick in group practices and the need for managers and administrators to helm these facilities. Venture dollars into the sector grew at a CAGR of 32% (2011-­2015). Finally, millennials want to work in health care services, ~33% of the top 30 companies of choice for belong to the health sector (‘15 NSHSS survey).

I would offer this content in conjunction with an institute like the Mayo Clinic or Scripps Health to provide a holistic approach to healthcare management. Industry can help think about a plethora of strategies (and ease of implementation) and how to actually effect change in health care.

It is essential to develop such certificate programs to capitalize on the white space in the business side of health care and take the leadership in developing curated content for the industry which will be a great complement to the theoretical knowledge gained in a classroom.

product-market fit: There are some new courses in healthcare that have just launched on the various platforms so it is early to tell if they are adequate or sub­par. My hypothesis is that they are sub­par purely because they lack an industry partner. I believe that we are just scratching the surface and there is a lot of room for other learning products with more on­-the-­ground refactoring. Finally, the curricula does reflect limitations in the ability of faculty to address the novel elements of the required knowledge and skills to thrive in health care services.

Management Consulting

Learning objective: Find ways to improve an organization’s efficiency and increase profits

Topic areas: Interviewing clients, Influencing, Critical thinking, Case studies, Traveling

Skills: analysis, problem solving, presentation, change management, communication

Value proposition: professionals who want to transform their companies and students who want to be expert generalists in any industry

Rationale: Management analyst employment is expected to grow by more than 14 percent between 2016 and 2024, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. The BLS estimates that 103,400 consultant jobs will open up during that period. Further, as data collection becomes commoditized at large companies/startups, demand for professionals who can analyze data and provide actionable recommendations will skyrocket. These individuals will typically be roped in to spearhead an internal consulting shop at large/small firms. This product should be offered as a project ­based learning course because the best way to learn the ropes of management consulting is to actually do management consulting. Most all companies need people to assist with decision making, growing revenues, and increasing profits. Partnerships with startups will yield a lot of industry projects for learners to volunteer their time and cement the newly acquired consulting skills.

product-market fit: This product will fill a hole in the market. The goal is not to churn out more management consultants (not necessarily) but to equip learners with the core skills of a consultant so they can apply these to any context, like nonprofits, big corporations, startups, and even to improve their personal lives.

Product Management

Learning objective: learners will develop the ability to help their team (and company) ship the right product to their users

Topic areas: Business expertise, Growth hacking, Sprints, Communication, Customer focus

Skills: Problem solving, Design, A/B testing, Influencing, Marketing, Prototyping, User research and feedback

Value proposition: Learners with a technical background who want to constantly improve a product that has an impact on users; MBAs who want to break into the function

Rationale: B-­school graduates have been gravitating to technology companies for several years, often in marketing and finance roles. Product management has special appeal because students feel the job has a tangible impact on a company, it marries business strategy with “the thrill of building a real thing”. The perception of this role as a mini CEO job often differs greatly from reality though, this is an opportunity for us to take the lead on dispelling myths and curating a pipeline of relevant talent. For example PMs have note taking and scheduling responsibilities, so it’s more like being a glorified admin at times.

This learning product will be a specialization that focuses on the subtleties of product management. The material will clearly spell out the do’s/don’ts for a PM as well as highlight key responsibilities such as setting the cadence, brainstorming effectively, and managing product operations.

product-market fit: This product should be created to both improve upon the existing content on Product Management as well as fill critical gaps to help learners appreciate the true nature of this important function in the technology industry. I strongly recommend partnering with PMs who have worked on great products to provide a reality check to the material that is developed with academic content partners.

Low hanging fruits – bundling opportunities

What follows is a quick deep dive on what is required to survive and thrive in Operations Management for a business learner. This deep dive is based of off research conducted on the Coursera catalog.

Operations management is an essential business skill for today’s knowledge worker. Employees of SMBs and Fortune 500 companies alike need to master operations management to help their companies streamline global supply chains, reduce waste, minimize costs, procure sustainable materials, and analyze make ­or ­buy decisions. Further, decision making is highly de­centralized in today’s interdisciplinary global workplace and operations management will help develop a culture of critical thinking and process ­driven mindset in employees.

Three courses will form the backbone of this bundle:

1) Operations Management (UIUC offering)

2) Operations Analytics (UPenn offering)

3) Scaling operations: Linking strategy and execution (Northwestern offering)

In addition to these core courses, three supplementary courses will provide employees with an exhaustive toolkit to thrive in business operational roles:

1) Influencing People (UMich offering)

2) Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management (Univ of Virginia offering)

3) Business English: Meetings (Univ of Washington offering)

The core courses form the ‘ammunition’ for operations management. Specifically, the UIUC course is an introduction to the topic. UPenn’s analytics course will help inculcate a data driven culture and internalize the process of transforming data into better operational decisions. Finally, Scaling operations (Northwestern offering) will focus on linking the big picture strategy of a business to execution realities, enabling managers to maximize company value efficiently.

The supplementary courses will form the ‘barrel’ for operations management. Typically, organizations look to develop core skills in employees but forget the soft skills that can empower them to get work done efficiently. Influencing People will help employees learn influence tactics that enable them to be more persuasive and influential in working with superiors, peers, and even subordinates. Operations Management involves a lot of interdisciplinary collaboration and communication, the course on Project Management fundamentals will make it relatively easier to manage operations projects. Lastly, a complex business function like Operations where multiple stakeholders are involved (suppliers, retailers, consumers, logistics, warehousing etc) necessitates coordination via meetings, learning to organize/conduct high quality meetings will be invaluable.

This set of six courses will set up an employee for success by being a ‘barrel’ who is fully loaded with ‘ammunition’. Organizations usually have an oversupply of ‘ammunition’ skilled employees but no ‘barrel’ skills causing a lot of inefficiencies. But, this learning pathway will correct for that and empower business operations managers to succeed in the workplace of the 21st century.

Final thoughts

Many millennial learners -­ the best and brightest of this generation ­- aren’t going to business school and are being shoved into management roles because they are great at their jobs, because their company is growing rapidly, or both. But the talents that make you a great individual contributor are not the same ones that will make you a great manager. I’d recommend that MOOC providers build out a general management series that will tackle:

— Setting goals for you and your team

— Performance management

— Managing engineers and artists

— Organization design

— Executive communication

The course content should be supplemented with mentors who can guide students throughout the duration of the course and offer real ­world insights from their professional experience.

Hopefully, some of these suggestions if implemented will helps MOOC providers inch closer to a clear monetization pathway (relevant courses will bring employers/talent) and higher completion rates. In closing, here is my attempt at the virtuous cycle in MOOCland (inspired by David Sachs :)).




Flexport #DealMemo

This #DealMemo is inspired by Aaron Batalion’s Medium post. I realize Flexport is past Series A and is not really ground floor now. But I loved the idea and wanted to put down some thoughts. Everything that follows is based on publicly available information.

Learn more about Flexport.


Very strong C-suite, 2 out of 4 CxOs have relevant industry experience. CEO is a serial entrepreneur. Rest of the leadership team consists of regional heads (presumably for Hong Kong and Amsterdam) as well as a seasoned customs broker w/ 25 years of experience.

I did do some LI sleuthing and noticed that they recently transferred a Logistics Manager from SFO to NYC, who is also the first operations hire into the NYC office. The second layer of the team looks good overall and there are a bunch of folks w/ logistics chops.

I noticed that a lot of folks have been promoted to senior roles from within, always a good sign for any company. This team can create magic in the Logistics-as-a-service (LaaS) space.


Flexport is a licensed freight forwarder for the internet age that uses people and software to manage the complexity of international trade.

Let me try to unpack this one liner.

A freight forwarder, is a person/company that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get goods from the manufacture/producer to a market, customer or final point of distribution. International freight forwarders have additional expertise in preparing and processing customs documentation. Information typically reviewed by a freight forwarder includes the commercial invoice, shipper’s export declaration, bill of lading and other documents required by the carrier/country of export, import, and/or transshipment.

Yes, if you have never been in the logistics industry or managed a global supply chain you wouldn’t know. But logistics is as complex as it can get. The best companies in the world are still trying to figure this out and often times run a heavily bandaged process.

Finally, I firmly believe that complementarity between software and humans is the path to building a great business. Doctors need to marry clinical understanding with an ability to communicate it to non-expert patients. Software might be able to do one or the other, but they can’t combine them effectively. Better technology in medicine won’t replace professionals; it will allow them to do even more. So too in logistics. Flexport has got it right.


The global logistics market is roughly 10% of global GDP.

The Transportation sector has grown at 7% every year since 2011 and is expected to generate $3.8T of revenue in 2016.

The US accounts for > 40% of this global sector.


As of last April Flexport had more than 100 staff and had grown its revenue by 25% each month since it was founded in November 2013.

The biggest impediment to growth will be regulation/compliance. That means slowing down your salespeople when they’re closing a deal to ensure compliance gets priority. But the company is well aware of this and that is why an overwhelming majority of their customers are put on a wait list immediately after signing up.

Why will Flexport win?

  1. Strong team
  2. Great idea
  3. Vibrant market
  4. Solid traction

There is a huge market pull for a LaaS platform provider to help navigate this complex process. By taking away the grunt work from companies (telephone calls, fax/email, EDI, ASNs, etc) and their supply chain managers Flexport is well poised to help unlock immense value in an industry that has remained surprisingly low-tech and difficult to navigate.


6 filters for truth (hat tip to Scott Adams)

  1. personal experience (human perceptions are iffy)
  2. experience of people you know (even more unreliable)
  3. experts (they work for money, not truth)
  4. scientific studies (correlation is not causation)
  5. common sense (a good way to be mistaken w/ complete confidence)
  6. pattern recognition (patterns, coincidence, & personal bias look alike)

the nearest we can get to the truth is Consistency. look for confirmation on at least two of the dimensions listed.

where is software not eating the world?

software is eating the world. it uses the smartphone and the internet as knife and fork to do so. looking to learn a foreing language? hello duolingo. want to learn coding? start on codecademy. wish to take an econ class? sign up at coursera. looking to dine at a snazzy restaurant? reserve using opentable. looking to meet that special someone? get on tinder. hungry & busy/lazy? order on grubhub. dream of a wardrobe that has infinite selection? stitchfix will take care of that. one can keep going on.

software is literally everywhere, right? wrong. one sector that software is yet to devour is affordable housing. how can we leverage software to provide reliable affordable housing? this is a huge market globally and ripe for disruption by software. many families spend close to 30% of their annual income on housing.

are there other sectors where software is not eating the world but could/should?

day 5-7, cleantech + the future + it’s a wrap



The similarity in the two charts above is unmissable (no points for guessing the second chart, timeframe gives it away). The renewable energy sector that started out with immense promise and enormous market opportunity is now in a shambles. But this is in no way an attempt to dismiss the huge potential that exists and continues to be untapped. This is a point of view and should be taken as such. I will find time to write a separate follow-up on this topic.

Cleantech startups made the following judgement errors per the contrarian czar:

  1. markets & competition – problem with huge markets is that you can’t protect yourself from whatever monsters are out there, ready to eat you up
  2. secrets – Solar costs fell slowly over a number of years. Wind power came down a bit quicker, but there was still no real step function to it. Improvements in battery technology have been fairly incremental as well. No real secrets.
  3. durability – What are the odds that your incremental solar cell technology is going to be durable over that kind of timespan? When there’s an identifiable pattern of incremental progress, it is very unlikely that you’ll have the last mover advantage when you make a marginal addition
  4. distribution – companies literally couldn’t distribute the power they would generate. Even if you build a huge, efficient solar farm in Southern California, how do you build power lines to get the energy to L.A.? In practice, people tended to ignore the difficulty of connecting with the grid. It was assumed not to be a very interesting or major problem.
  5. timing – Where you are on the timing curve is incredibly important. The usual timing argument in cleantech goes like this: cleantech is inevitable because it’s really important. The big wave will come 4 or 5 years from now. So we should start now and we’ll catch that wave when it comes.
  6. financing – Solyndra for instance, took $1.65 billion in late stage venture financing. When investors put in that kind of money into a company, it has to grow phenomenally large for things to work out. A good, broad rule of thumb is to never invest in companies who are looking for less than $1 million or more than $1 billion.

Moving on now to the future of human progress. This chart is pretty self explanatory and no points for guessing where a tech optimist will land.


Finally, to wrap up this series on zero to one, my favorite chart:


Let us all move vertically, intensively, from zero to one, by doing new things that don’t necessarily scale!

day 4, founder traits


These charts are a great way to think about and identify startup founders. There are many founders on either side of the trait spectrum but close to zero who will have a blend of the extremities. That tells you a lot about founders and startups. Not for everyone.You have to display polarizing traits.

The chart below depicts the self-reinforcing loop that is prevalent among successful founders. They realize that they possess certain extreme traits and start exaggerating them. Soon, other (press, members of community, etc) start focusing on these traits and finally the founders just morph into someone really different.