Research Interests: Online business models and online platforms; retailing and strategic consumers; interface of Operations, Marketing, and Economics.
My research interests are at the intersection of Operations, Marketing, and Economics, and focus on the study of new online business models. The advent of Web 2.0, together with the widespread diffusion of smart portable devices, have transformed the way customers shop and interact both with firms and with each other. In more and more industries, online platforms have emerged to facilitate–and regulate—both B2C and C2C interactions (Groupon, Kickstarter, Uber, Instacart, etc). These changes have brought with them a host of new challenges, and opportunities, for all parties involved. Platforms need to understand how to best design the ‘rules of the game’ to attract more users, minimize incentive conflicts, and encourage truthful information reporting. Businesses and customers need to understand the real benefit of participating to these new business models, and how to best leverage platform rules to their advantage. Governments need to understand the consequences of a clash between these new online business models and more traditional businesses, and the consequent impact on social and environmental welfare. Improving the understanding of these issues, and attempting to provide an answer to them, is the focus of my research.
Elena Belavina, Simone Marinesi, Gerry Tsoukalas (Under Revision), Designing Crowdfunding Platform Rules to Deter Misconduct.
Abstract: Lacking credible rule enforcement mechanisms to punish entrepreneurial misconduct, existing reward-based crowdfunding platforms can leave campaign backers exposed to two sources of risk: the risk that entrepreneurs run away with backers' money (funds misappropriation) and the risk of product misrepresentation (performance opacity). In contrast to prior work, which has mainly focused on studying the first, we examine the adverse consequences of both. We show that not only do both risks have a material impact on crowdfunding efficiency, but they cannot even be analyzed in isolation: rather, their joint presence leads to complex interactions that either dampen or amplify their individual adverse effects. In light of these results, we find that a simple deferred payment scheme with escrow, which the literature argues to be optimal, cannot overcome both sources of friction. We then propose two new designs that Pareto dominate this benchmark. The first design does not rely on escrow, and thus requires less involvement on the part of the platform---but cannot achieve optimality. The second design can restore full efficiency, but requires the platform to take a more active role: we thus provide guidance on how to ease its practical implementation.
Vlad Babich, Simone Marinesi, Gerry Tsoukalas (2017), Does Crowdfunding Benefit Entrepreneurs and Venture Capital Investors?, Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, Minor Revision.
Abstract: We study how a new form of entrepreneurial finance - crowdfunding - interacts with more traditional financing sources, such as venture capital (VC) and bank financing. We model a multi-stage bargaining game, with a moral-hazard problem between entrepreneurs and banks, and a double-sided moral-hazard problem between entrepreneurs and VCs. We decompose the economic value of crowdfunding into cash gains or losses, costs of bad investments avoided, and project-payoff probability update. This economic value is generally shared between entrepreneurs and VC investors, benefiting both. In addition, crowdfunding can alleviate the under-investment problem due to moral-hazard frictions. Furthermore, crowdfunding allows some projects to gain access to both VC and bank financing and the competition between those investor classes benefits entrepreneurs. However, competition from other investors reduces value to VC investors, who may walk away from the deal entirely. This can also hurt entrepreneurs who lose out on valuable VC expertise.
Abstract: We study threshold discounting, or the practice of offering a discounted-price service if at least a pre-specified number of customers signal interest in it, as pioneered by Groupon. We model a capacity-constrained firm, a random-sized population of strategic customers, a desirable hot period and a less desirable slow period. Compared to a more traditional approach (slow period discounting or closure) threshold discounting has two operational advantages. First, the contingent discount temporally balances demand when the market for the service is large, and reduces supply of the service (preserving higher margins) when the market is small, allowing the firm to respond to the service’s unobserved market potential. Second, activation of the threshold discount signals the market state and the consequent service availability to strategic customers, inducing them into selfselecting the consumption period to one that improves the firm’s capacity utilization. Yet, threshold discounting can be harmful in situations with chronically low demand. In contrast with past work on strategic customers, their presence is advantageous to firms in our context. A calibrated numerical study shows that threshold discounting improves firm profits over a traditional approach by as much as 33% (7% on average).
Simone Marinesi and Karan Girotra (Under Revision), Information Acquisition through Customer Voting Systems.
Abstract: We study the use of customer voting systems that enable information acquisition from strategic customers to improve pricing and product development decisions. In these systems, the firm presents customers with a product design and gives them the opportunity to cast a vote on this design, a vote that has costs and benefits. For example, voting may be cumbersome, but those that vote in favor of a design may be eligible for a discount if and when the design gets developed. Customers vote and the firm interprets the voting outcome to discern customer interest in the product, and to advise on further development and/or pricing of the product. We model the interactions between the rm and strategic customers in such systems as a game of incomplete information with voting embedded as a subgame. Our analysis shows that the design and effectiveness of a voting system depends crucially on the intended use of the acquired information. When the acquired information is used to advise on development decisions, where rm and customer interests are aligned, voting systems that reward voters with discounts on subsequent purchase of products, in effect incentivizing voting in favor of products, can elicit information from customers and improve profit. On the other hand, when the information is used to set prices, a decision where firm and customer interests are misaligned, such systems are ineffective. In these cases, voting systems that effectively incentivize customers to vote against products or those that partially limit the firm's future price flexibility should instead be used to acquire information. While both solutions improve firm profit, the former is preferred for high-value products, while the latter is preferred when voting involves less effort. Based on data for two representative products in the home decor industry, we find that these systems may increase gross product profits by up to 50% for development and by 20-30% for pricing.
Matching supply with demand is an enormous challenge for firms: excess supply is too costly, inadequate supply irritates customers. In the course, we will explore how firms can better organize their operations so that they more effectively align their supply with the demand for their products and services. Throughout the course, we illustrate mathematical analysis applied to real operational challenges--we seek rigor and relevance. Our aim is to provide both tactical knowledge and high-level insights needed by general managers and management consultants. We will demonstrate that companies can use (and have used) the principles from this course to significantly enhance their competitiveness.
Operations strategy is about organizing people and resources to gain a competitive advantage in the delivery of products (both goods and services) to customers. This course approaches this challenge primarily from two perspectives: 1) how should a firm design their products so that they can be profitably offered; 2) how can a firm best organize and acquire resources to deliver its portfolio of products to customers. To be able to make intelligent decisions regarding these high-level choices, this course also provides a foundation of analytical methods. These methods give students a conceptual framekwork for understanding the linkage between how a firm manages its supply and how well that supply matches the firm's resulting demand. Specific course topics include designing service systems, managing inventory and product variety, capacity planning, approaches to sourcing and supplier management, constructing global supply chains, managing sustainability initiatives, and revenue management. This course emphasizes both quantitative tools and qualitative frameworks. Neither is more important than the other.