X of Y: How to Ensure Your Startup Is Defensible
Entrepreneurs often pitch their ideas as “the X of Y”. Match.com for farmers… Foursquare for parking lots… Gilt Groupe for grandparents. It is both efficient and lucrative to take what already works and extend it to a new niche, a new country or a new context. Innovation through localization or specialization has launched many successful businesses.
On the flip side, say you have a truly innovative and disruptive idea. Good for you! That’s only the beginning. Companies like Groupon and Gilt launched with unique business models, but now they each have a slew of imitators and have spent fortunes to stay at the front of the pack. In a time of easy capital, fast development and expensive intellectual property rights, how else besides capital can a company stay defensible?
Dave is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, a transformative eyewear company that designs and sells vintage-inspired glasses for a fraction of the price of retail stores and distributes a pair to someone in need for every pair sold. Prior to Warby Parker, David was an Associate at Allen & Company, a merchant bank, where he invested in seed-stage and venture-stage healthcare and digital media companies, and advised M&A transactions exceeding $20B. Previously, David worked at Bain & Company, where he formulated and implemented business strategies for some of the world's leading retail and technology companies. David was also Special Assistant to the Founder and CEO of The TriZetto Group, and has held strategy and business development roles at Genomic Health and Crescendo Bioscience. David is on the founding Entrepreneur Board of Venture for America, an organization dedicated to mobilizing graduates as entrepreneurs in low-cost cities. He graduated with a BS in Bioengineering with Honors from UC Berkeley and has an MBA from Wharton Business School.
Quantitative/operational/technical co-founder CEO of ModCloth.com, a community-centric eRetailer of independent designer fashion and decor. ModCloth brings a unique never ending stream of limited edition styles to market the community loves, through a lean and responsive supply chain, and through actually engaging the community and designers in the merchandise development process. ModCloth was the Inc #2 fastest growing company in America in 2010.
Katia Beauchamp is the Co-Founder and CEO of Birchbox, the beauty subscription brand that brings members access to the newest and best in high-end beauty. Launched in September 2010 and named WWD Beauty Inc’s Digital Innovator of the Year, Birchbox reimagines beauty retail online. Subscribers receive a monthly box of 4-5 deluxe, curated samples and visit birchbox.com to learn more via articles and videos and purchase full-size versions of the products they love. Through this novel retail and marketing channel, customers are able to touch and feel an editor’s selection of products in their own homes. With subscribers in all 50 states and a growing list of more than 150 fantastic beauty partners including NARS, Kerastase, Stila and Deborah Lippmann, Birchbox gives beauty brands access to engaged consumers in a grassroots, but glossy environment. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30, Katia attended Harvard Business School where she met her business partner Hayley Barna and discovered her entrepreneurial ambitions.
Peter Coles is a professor at Harvard Business School in the Negotiation, Organizations, and Markets Unit. Peter's research focuses on entrepreneurial market design, the study of creating for-profit marketplaces. New 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, while at the same time offering promising business models for entrepreneurs.
At HBS Peter teaches "The Online Economy: Strategy and Entrepreneurship", a second year elective course, and teaches the doctoral course “Market Design” in the Harvard Economics Department. Peter has written case studies on prediction markets at Google, strategy at Microsoft's adCenter, pricing and the "market ecosystem" at TheLadders.com, defending against competitors at Birchbox, and numerous other topics. At Harvard, Peter advises dozens of MBAs each year in launching their own start-ups.
Peter graduated from Princeton University with a degree in pure mathematics and has a PhD in economics from Stanford University.