October 9, 2020 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
By: Elías González Rogel / Professor of the Financial Management area at IPADE Business School in collaboration with Great Place to Work® México
- Online education.
- Health and wellness at home.
- Entertainment and culture.
- Logistics and supply chain.
What characteristics must business models have to meet the habit changes caused by COVID-19 ? What industries have been affected and what new business opportunities are emerging?
We have been confined for months and our habits have changed forever. In the way of working, consuming, buying, learning, relating and having fun. These changes are radical and, in most cases, they are not a direct consequence of the pandemic, but of the acceleration in the digital transformation that it has caused.
Accelerating digital transformation
The spiral of economic deterioration caused by the coronavirus is accompanied by the acceleration curve of digital transformation. The connectivity enabled by computers and mobile devices has made the reinvention of business models inevitable.
According to a global study by Twilio, a cloud communications platform, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation in six years. In other words, the way in which we interact today is equivalent to what was expected for 2026. This is due to a cause over which we have no control.
How are business models changing?
With the support of digital technology, organizations must rethink their service model to move to the new schemes:
- from individual contact with your clients to multi-channel personal relationships (ie website, mobile app, chat, social networks, call center , etc.),
- from individual follow-up to requests for help to massive follow-up of the requirements of each person,
- from learning one by one to learning from each other.
- from managing market segments to communicating in real time with vibrant and growing communities,
- from offering help on a case-by-case basis to offering it continuously and permanently.
These guidelines will transform business models as we know them.
The specialist area in Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) of the consulting firm PwC assures that, to make it really worth leaving home and visiting a store, an automotive agency, a mechanical workshop, the cinema or a clinic, we will look for something that justify it . And he adds that, to generate and maintain a lasting relationship with their clients, organizations that attended exclusively in person must generate an individual or collective experience that cannot be achieved at home.
New business opportunities
Sources specialized in innovation and business model analysis, such as the International Institute on Innovation and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, agree on the existence of the following business opportunities:
1. Online education : Universities, schools and organizations around the world have had to decide whether to move their training to online systems or cancel classes.
There are opportunities related to the creation of multimedia content, workshops and specialized sessions. The creation and maintenance of technology platforms and businesses with a faculty capable of serving students remotely.
2. Health and well-being at home: Organizations related to the exercise and well-being of people offer classes online via streaming for their users. In this sector there is space for initiatives related to food and personalized diets, training and monitoring of athletes and online sale of food supplements. Most will need someone to help them implement their online strategy.
3. Entertainment and culture: museums, cinemas, theaters, libraries, academies and theme parks have had to abide by the prohibition of concentrating crowds of people. Therefore, there will be opportunities for those who help them digitize content and facilitate total immersion in remote events.
4. Logistics and supply chain: dependence on centralizing production in China has highlighted the risk that this entails. There is a new need for better distributed and coordinated sourcing across multiple geographies and suppliers that ensures the benefits of economies of scale. There are opportunities for those who can provide global platforms that reliably link buyers and suppliers.
5. 3D Printing: This industry will also find opportunities in the wake of the challenges created by this pandemic. By printing tools, sanitary objects, articles of personal use, such as oxygen masks or adaptations to press buttons.
The pandemic has had tragic consequences for millions of individuals around the world. However, the crisis has also caused a tremendous acceleration in the digital transformation of the global economy and, with it, the creation of business opportunities for those who decide to take them.
An Electric Car With Swedish Roots, and a Rebellious Streak
More than 60 years ago, Volvo introduced the world to the three-point seatbelt, a safety feature so standard now that it’s almost an afterthought. Over the ensuing years, Volvo, the Swedish maker of bland, boxy sedans, gained a reputation for safety above all else.
To be in a Volvo meant riding in a warm, protective cocoon, staid but reliable for you and your family. Cool and exciting, it wasn’t.
Polestar, Volvo’s new electric-vehicle luxury spinoff division, wants to rid the world of that boring bit. The company hopes to appeal to buyers who value Volvo’s sparse, classic Scandinavian design but want a Viking-in-sheep’s-clothing attitude.
“Both Volvo and Polestar are Scandinavian, and we share values,” said Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar’s chief executive. “But we’re sportier, with a performance element. Volvo would never aim for the driver experience as the focus. They would say, ‘No, we shouldn’t do that.’”
The all-electric Polestar 2 is available from the company’s first four dealerships in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. An additional seven shops are expected by mid-2021, which should put 85 percent of buyers who have reserved a Polestar 2 within 150 miles of one.
The new model joins the $155,000 limited-run Polestar 1 hybrid as the group’s first volume vehicle. The Polestar 3, an electric S.U.V. based on the platform used for Volvo’s XC90, is under development with no announced sale date. The company also recently announced that it would develop and produce an additional sedan, the Precept. Its interior will be constructed from such materials as recycled PET bottles, reclaimed fishing nets and recycled cork vinyl.
Polestar, which along with its parent is owned by the Chinese manufacturer Geely, joins a host of other brands from Europe and Japan that aim luxury vehicles at those who find the companies’ main offerings boring.
But Polestar claims — unlike Volkswagen’s Audi, Nissan’s Infiniti and Toyota’s Lexus brands — that it is working to be more adventurous. “We’ll have elements of joy and surprise unthinkable in the German context,” Mr. Ingenlath said.
Polestar shuns the traditional cues that buyers see as defining a luxury vehicle. No glossy wood-grain interiors, nor lots of chrome or infinite color variations. Instead, much of the interior, including the seats and steering wheel, is clad in a fiber made solely from vegan materials and inspired by the look and feel of wet suits. When wood is used, it’s reclaimed material. The vehicle can be ordered in one of only five colors.
“We’ll have no cheesy chrome letters on our car,” Mr. Ingenlath said. There are decals on the doors instead.
The company is steering buyers away from leather seating — though it is available as a $4,000 option — because it wants customers to be aware of how that leather was created, how the animal lived and died. “You should not expect leather to be standard,” Mr. Ingenlath said.
Design cues peg the vehicle in the Volvo cinematic universe. Both marques share the T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” headlights. The Polestar’s taillamp strip looks like a horizontal derivative of the Volvo XC40. And the overall exterior shape echoes its parent company’s sedans.
To sell its vehicles, Polestar is taking a page from Tesla and Apple, forgoing dealer showrooms in favor of what it calls Spaces — environments free of sales staff that allow customers to inspect the vehicles without someone breathing down their neck. To increase the perception that a Polestar is a work of art and not just a commodity, parts such as wheels and electric motors are even displayed in museum-like cases.
Polestar’s software, like Tesla’s, can be upgraded over the air to add new features. Unlike Tesla, Polestar won’t feature “fart mode.” “We’ll embrace elements that add fun to your life, but in our own way,” Mr. Ingenlath said.
Future tech could include video streaming when the vehicle is stopped; eye tracking to detect health or wakefulness, with solutions to stay alert; and interior climate preconditioning based on a knowledge of the driver’s habits and driving schedule.
While other manufacturers are playing up a similar future, the Polestar 2 is the first vehicle to exclusively employ the Google Android Automotive System as the brains behind its infotainment, system operations and navigation. Using the center-mounted touch screen, drivers can call up familiar Google tasks and download over 200 Android apps, including ones for AM and SiriusXM radio stations.
The Google smartphone app prompts the vehicle to recognize the driver so it can automatically adjust the seat position and show that person’s preferred touch-screen apps on the display.
With a few days behind the wheel, I found the Polestar’s driving characteristics to really shine. As with most pure-electric vehicles, acceleration is breathtaking — 0 to 62 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, faster than a 2020 BMW 840i Gran Coupe M-Sport. Seating is supportive, and the vehicle can easily take tight turns at much higher than posted speeds, with no tire squeal or loss of traction.
The Polestar’s rapid acceleration came in handy while driving down a winding almost-empty lane in the Malibou Lake area in the Santa Monica mountains. Coming upon a driver traveling at half the speed limit, I was able to overtake her on a curve that had little forward visibility, something I never would have tried even in my own internal-combustion “sports sedan.”
The cabin is spacious, and the trunk big enough to fit a large swivel office chair once the rear seats were folded down.
The Launch Edition starts at $61,200, including delivery; a potential $7,500 federal tax credit would reduce the cost to $53,700. For this and all E.V.s, a Level 2 home charging station is a must; with it, charging to 80 percent of its Environmental Protection Agency-rated 275-mile range will take about eight hours.
As with every electric vehicle I’ve tested, that range is optimistic. After I drove 55 miles in a mix of city and freeway traffic, my range had dropped by 70 miles.
Those who opt for the $5,000 performance package get Öhlins dual flow valve dampers, Brembo front brakes, 20-inch wheels and what some may find to be gaudy gold seatbelts.
A glass roof traveling the length of the interior is standard in the Launch Edition. There’s no sun shade, as the glass filters out 99.5 percent of ultraviolet light, according to the company. Still, I found having the bright sun always shining on my head to be an annoyance, and with Southern California typically devoid of clouds, that feature would be a deal-breaker for me.
On the other hand, what may be a deal-clincher for some is the vehicle’s understated yet attractive design, one that garnered much attention over a weekend’s driving. My test vehicle was noticed multiple times, including by several people who flagged me down to discuss the car. I received more attention in the Polestar in two days than I did after a week’s worth of driving an Aston Martin DB9 and a Lamborghini Huracán.
Perhaps that’s because in Los Angeles, even high school students drive Range Rovers and Maseratis. But with just a few thousand available this year, the Polestar looks as if it will stand out for some time to come.
Help! My Travel Agency Shut Down and I’m Out $2,000
Dear Tripped Up,
Earlier this year, I used STA Travel to book a British Airways flight from Tucson, Ariz., to South Africa, scheduled to depart in March. Then the pandemic hit, one of the flight legs was canceled and I canceled my trip. After some back and forth, STA secured a refund from British Airways. I was told by an STA representative that my airfare — $2,059.36 — would be credited back to my credit card account within 60 days. Two months came and went. Then I learned that STA had gone out of business. Kaitlin
When I first read your email, I was hit with an inkling of hope that your credit card company could rush in and save the day. Still, I set off to learn more about the laws and policies at play, so I did usually do when I start a Tripped Up column: I emailed some industry sources and started a Google Doc to organize my thoughts.
The notes became a rabbit hole, expanding with news coverage of STA’s collapse, a list of potential interview subjects, email addresses for international press offices and lengthy financial documents. From the chicken scratch, one truth emerged: Anyone attempting to recoup funds from an out-of-business company will likely confront uphill battles, tall orders and every other cliché in the book.
“In general, when a company goes into bankruptcy, basically it’s the vultures picking over the bones,” said Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. “The last people who will get a piece of those bones are going to be the unsecured creditors: the consumers.”
Formerly a major travel agency for youth and student trips, STA Travel filed for bankruptcy in August after a crippling flurry of pandemic-related cancellations; it was the first major travel agency to fall because of the pandemic. Although STA’s Instagram account has been dormant for more than two months, the comments live on as a record of unanswered questions and in-limbo refunds: “I have a student that is needing an update on her refund status and there is literally no way to reach anyone,” wrote one user. “I wonder how many people got robbed of their hard-saved holiday money,” lamented another.
From the start, your case felt like a maze of sharp corners and dead ends. First I visited the STA Travel website: shut down. Then I emailed the customer service agent you had corresponded with: bounceback. When I reached out to the press office of Diethelm Keller Group, STA’s former parent company that is based in Switzerland, and I got the following statement back: “As STA Travel Holding AG is in insolvency proceedings, Diethelm Keller Group is not in a position to provide further support or information.”
I contacted the Arizona Attorney General’s office after discovering one address for STA in Arizona — possibly a franchise — but was told by a spokeswoman that all consumer complaints are confidential.
I considered calling British Airways, but decided against it; after all, the airline had already canceled your tickets and refunded your money (to STA). Customers hoping to cancel active reservations might have luck by appealing directly to the travel company in question, but anyone waiting for an in-process refund from an intermediary like STA probably would not.
I also thought about what would happen if you were to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, but decided that the particulars of your situation would almost certainly translate into more wasted time. There are simply too many layers of gray areas: Only one of your flight legs was canceled by the airline, you purchased tickets from a third-party seller and your refund had already ostensibly been approved.
Travel insurance wouldn’t have necessarily been a magic bullet, either, said Jennifer Fitzgerald, the co-founder and chief executive of Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace. Even when policies do cover the financial default of a travel supplier, they come with loads of caveats, restrictions and conditions.
“Not every travel insurance policy includes financial default protection, and not every provider will be covered,” said Ms. Fitzgerald. “For example, third-party sellers, like travel agencies, will tend not to qualify as travel suppliers, so travel insurance financial default protection won’t cover them.”
I got about 10 pages into a 90-page bankruptcy document outlining the liquidity ratio of STA’s New Zealand arm before (to use another cliché) going back to square one: the credit card company.
Some credit cards include financial insolvency protection (designed to help cardholders when a travel merchant goes bankrupt) in trip cancellation insurance. Others, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve card you used, exclude financial insolvency protection from insurance, handling it through standard disputes channels instead.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase said, “A cardmember can submit a dispute as a result of merchant financial insolvency, which we review on a case-by-case basis.”
The Fair Credit Billing Act, a federal law enacted to protect consumers from unfair credit billing practices, doesn’t have a specific carve-out for a merchant’s financial insolvency, but it does consider “charges for goods and services you didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered as agreed” one of several types of billing errors that consumers have the right to dispute. And although every credit card dispute hinges on the particulars, this is the easiest, most actionable move for lone consumers battling a company that has all but evaporated.
You might wonder, as I did, whether things are more complicated because you’re an American citizen trying to get a refund from an insolvent Swiss company for a canceled British flight. But so long as the consumer’s account with the credit card issuer (a bank, most likely) is based in the United States, and credit is issued to a United States resident, the transaction is covered by the billing error rules of the F.C.B.A.
To protect your rights under the F.C.B.A. in the Before Times, you would have had 60 days from the statement with the billing error to dispute the charge. But these times are hardly normal. That’s why a representative at JPMorgan Chase — citing “your atypical situation with this merchant” — issued you a full refund.
My quest unearthed other tips: Even if you’re filing a dispute through a credit card’s online channels, be sure to also submit the dispute in writing, via snail-mail, to the address the card issuer specifies for billing errors (a condition of the F.C.B.A.). The Federal Trade Commission has a good sample letter online. If you’re not making headway, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has jurisdiction over the country’s largest banks.
One final word of advice — and one final cliché — from Mr. Rheingold: “It’s about the squeaky wheel, right? Putting something out on social media: ‘Can you believe what this company did to me?’ Or saying, ‘I’ve been a cardmember for the last 20 years and I’m getting rid of it from now.’ That’s not legal advice — that’s just practical. That’s when you get your money back.”
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Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ Editor Starts Her Own Publishing Firm
Two years ago, at what seemed to be the pinnacle of her 25 years in publishing, Molly Stern’s career came to an abrupt halt.
As publisher of Crown, Ms. Stern had released 2018’s biggest blockbuster — Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” which sold more than two million copies in its first two weeks. Less than a month later, Ms. Stern left the company in a shake-up, after Penguin Random House merged the Crown and Random House publishing divisions.
Her departure baffled many in the industry because of Ms. Stern’s track record for spotting both commercial and literary hits. A natural next move would have been to set up shop with her own imprint at a rival publishing house, but as she surveyed the landscape, she decided she wanted to build something from scratch.
“What I really wanted to do was tend to my own obsessions and figure out how to do it independently,” she said in an interview this week. “The opportunity to do something new was just too exciting.”
Ms. Stern is starting a new publishing company, Zando, with an unusual marketing and publicity model. Rather than relying chiefly on bookstores, retailers, advertising and other traditional channels to promote authors, she plans to team up with high-profile individuals, companies and brands, who will act as publishing partners and promote books to their fans and customers.
Zando is in advanced negotiations with several potential partners, Ms. Stern said, though the company was not prepared to name them or announce projects. Zando’s partners will get a cut of the royalties; Ms. Stern declined to provide specific breakdowns.
Launching a new publishing venture in an oversaturated media ecosystem — not to mention during a pandemic and economic crisis — may seem like a risky undertaking. But Ms. Stern has aligned herself with deep-pocketed backers.
This summer, she received a significant start-up investment from Sister, an independent global studio that was founded in 2019 by the media executive Elisabeth Murdoch, the film industry executive Stacey Snider and the producer Jane Featherstone. Ms. Stern, Ms. Murdoch and Ms. Snider will sit on Zando’s board of directors, along with Matthew Lieber, co-founder of the podcasting company Gimlet, and David Benioff, one of the producers of “Game of Thrones.”
Ms. Murdoch said in an interview that she wanted to invest in Ms. Stern’s publishing company because it aligned with Sister’s goal of producing high-quality entertainment from emerging writers. The team behind Sister produced the HBO series “Chernobyl” and the British thriller “Broadchurch.”
“When you have a world of massive consolidation and homogeneity, Molly and Sister have a huge passion for new voices,” Ms. Murdoch, the daughter of the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, said.
With her industry experience, Ms. Stern may also have an advantage when it comes to signing authors. During her tenure at Crown, the company published blockbusters like Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” as well as breakout works of translation like Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” which won the Booker International Prize. At Crown, Ms. Stern helped the actress Sarah Jessica Parker start her own literary fiction imprint, an experience she drew on in creating the business model for Zando.
“That’s an advantage she has from being in the business for as long as she has,” said the literary agent David Kuhn. “There will be authors who have worked with Molly in the past who will be much more open to trying something different.”
By aligning authors with cultural ambassadors of sorts, Zando aims to deploy star power to keep its books from drowning in a sea of online content.
“Discoverability is a real crisis,” Ms. Stern said. At Crown, when she was publishing books by lesser-known authors, the lack of broad support was constantly frustrating, even when authors got positive reviews and retail promotion.
“You felt that you were publishing into a vacuum,” she said. “To find an audience is increasingly complicated.”
Several celebrities and public figures, including Jenna Bush Hager, Emma Watson and Reese Witherspoon, have started book clubs and emerged as literary influencers. Ms. Witherspoon’s endorsements helped turn novels like “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Where the Crawdads Sing” into hits, and she has made her media company, Hello Sunshine, into a book-to-screen factory.
As an independent publishing company, Zando can also experiment with distribution in ways that might be challenging for legacy publishers. Ms. Stern said she would rely on traditional distribution networks to get print copies to bookstores but also plans to experiment with alternative distribution channels such as direct-to-consumer sales. She also plans to make audio a centerpiece of the company’s content; after leaving Crown, she has advised Spotify on how to build its audiobook business.
Zando expects to publish its first books in the fall of 2021. Ms. Stern, who will take on the role of chief executive, initially plans to hire eight staff members and later to grow to a staff of 20. She came up with the name as a nod to the first letters of her sons’ names, Zach and Owen.
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