managemnet company strategy managemanet How to Expand Beyond a Direct-to-Consumer Strategy

How to Expand Beyond a Direct-to-Consumer Strategy

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HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR On Strategy, case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock new ways of doing business. Today, direct-to-consumer businesses are playing an outsize role in disrupting industries. Think of eyeglasses, shoes, mattresses, and even orthodontics. But after that initial disruption, industry competitors often adapt. Then what?   Today, we bring you a conversation about one DTC company – Smile Direct Club – that expanded beyond a single orthodontics product and channel to try to own an entire category of dental care products. Harvard Business School professor Len Schlesinger and Matt Higgins, the co-founder and CEO of private investment firm RSE Ventures, co-teach HBS’s short, intensive MBA program on direct-to-consumer businesses. They studied Smile Direct Club and wrote a case about its challenges as it scaled. In this episode, they break down how Smile Direct Club kept innovating its products and service — and ultimately moved beyond DTC channels, in order to thrive. This episode originally aired on Cold Call in July 2020. Here it is.

BRIAN KENNY: When it comes to vanity, no one holds a candle to the ancient Egyptians. From milk and honey baths, to exotic perfumes, to coal eyeliner, Egyptians were true innovators in service to beauty. Cleopatra herself was known to bathe in a mixture of milk and crocodile dung. Men and women alike carried grooming kits, and it was quite common for those to be buried with the deceased so they could look their very best for the gods. So it’s not surprising to learn that Egyptians may have been the very first civilization to practice orthodontics. Archeologists have reported finding mummified remains whose teeth were bound together by bands and chords in the pattern of modern-day braces. Centuries later, people around the world are still flocking to their local orthodontist in search of that perfect smile. Although the science and materials have vastly improved, the approach is pretty much the same, but disruption may be at hand. Today on Cold Call, we’ll hear from Professor Len Schlesinger about his case entitled, “SmileDirectClub: Better is Better.” I’m your host, Brian Kenny, and you’re listening to Cold Call, recorded in Klarman Hall Studio at Harvard Business School. Len Schlesinger is an expert in strategy, service quality, customer satisfaction, entrepreneurship, and organizational change. He’s a longstanding member of the Harvard Business School faculty, who also served as the president of Babson College in Massachusetts. And today we’re really pleased to have in studio, Matt Higgins. Matt is the co-founder and CEO of RSE Ventures, a private investment firm that focuses on companies across sports and entertainment, among other things. He is vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins and is a recurring shark on Shark Tank. But most importantly I think, Matt is an executive fellow at Harvard Business School and co-creator of a new short intensive program for the MBA students on direct-to-consumer businesses. Thank you both for joining me today.

LEN SCHLESINGER: Great to be here.

MATT HIGGINS: Thanks for having me.

BRIAN KENNY: Long introductions there, but we needed to provide all that context for people.

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, we’re almost done?

BRIAN KENNY: We’re almost done. Thanks for listening. Now I want to welcome you back today, Len. You have been a repeat guest on this show. Matt, this is an opportunity for us to take a dive inside a case study, but we’re going to discuss more broadly this Direct-to-Consumer course that you guys created. And that’s why the SmilesDirect case I think has been one that we brought to the fore today, really interesting example of disruption in a long established place. And of course, everybody has some familiarity with braces. I have three kids, so I am deep in debt literally and figuratively to our orthodontist, right? I think I might’ve paid for his boat. So anyway, Len, let me ask you to begin for us by telling us, how does the case start? Set the scene up for us.

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, the case starts Sunday night in December of 2019, just a couple of months ago as the executive team is preparing for their Monday through Wednesday exhaustive meetings on all the details of the business. They are three months away from having an IPO that was widely regarded as not being particularly successful and they are doing a very good job of keeping that out of their mind and figuring out what are the mechanisms for them to grow both from product and geography.

BRIAN KENNY: Great. And what made you decide to write this case? I want you to talk a little bit about the Direct-to-Consumer course you created.

LEN SCHLESINGER: So the Direct-to-Consumer course, okay, that we created was largely rooted in a very simple assumption about this phenomena of being able to bypass all the elements in the traditional distribution chain to have a manufacturer or provider get direct to a consumer disintermediating all of the other players in the space. It’s a marvelous, marvelous concept. And it leads to a conclusion that Neil Blumenthal, one of the co-founders of Warby Parker has recently stated as it has never been easier to start a business. And we believe that. It’s also never been harder to grow a business. And so the notion that we have here is that we wanted to strip the romance of the direct-to-consumer model, get very clear about direct-to-consumer is just a channel, not a business strategy, and begin to examine all of the things that these businesses are going to face, okay, once they’ve exhausted cheap cost of acquiring customers online.

BRIAN KENNY: Matt, let me turn to you for a second. So you co-taught this course with Len, you co-created it with him, must’ve been quite an experience for you. But tell us a little bit about the direct-to-consumer landscape. Help people understand what it’s all about.

MATT HIGGINS: I mean, I’ve had the privilege of investing in some of the greatest DTCs in the last 10 years and part of the inspiration for the course is the conventional wisdom of 2010 seems to have remained around a little bit too long. In other words, anyone with a great idea can launch a DTC business and you could just go on Facebook or Instagram and acquire customers for nothing. And next thing you know, you’re an IPO. We felt like no one had taken a pause and said, “DTCs in 2010 and the Warby Parker era are very different in what it means to launch a DTC in 2020.” So how so? So for example, in 2010, everything was about customer acquisition and you could get them on the cheap and you could arbitrage, right? That’s not the case anymore. There are no inexpensive ways of acquiring customers through Instagram or Snapchat and so forth because you have all the institutional players and corporations competing for the same eyeballs through those same channels. So that’s one example. Two, retail is dead, it turns out it’s not. And in 2010, you didn’t need to forecast how your DTC was going to evolve at retail. You didn’t need to even have a retail strategy. In 2020, you need to demonstrate, sure you’re going to launch by going direct to consumer, and that’s very valuable with a one-to-one relationship and scaling quickly. But sooner or later, sooner rather than later, you’re going need to have a retail strategy. So, the purpose of the course in a very short period of time was bringing in some of the greatest thought leaders in the country and break down everything one would need to know about the DTC space if they were a founder or an investor in 2020.

BRIAN KENNY: And SmileDirect was one of the cases that was written specifically for this course?

LEN SCHLESINGER: Completely new, full HBS style case.

BRIAN KENNY: Matt, you mentioned Warby Parker. Some people might be familiar with him, some might not. But who are some of the other real success stories in the DTC space that makes this enticing?

MATT HIGGINS: Well, it’s interesting. Some of them will be below the radar, right? We brought in a company called Magic Spoon, and what we tried to do is have everything in real time, right? So there’s not legacy cases. This is all happening right now, but Magic Spoon looked at the cereal aisle and said, “No one’s actually innovated in the cereal aisle.” We assume that the category is dead. Right? But it’s dead because the product itself is not marked to market. Nobody wants sugary garbage lacking nutrition for your morning breakfast. But that doesn’t mean the category is dead, it’s time for a new product. They birthed a cereal that is keto friendly, high protein, high fiber, tastes sugary, created an incredible brand that’s very nostalgic. And they launched in April and it was like a rocket ship, right? However, like everyone else, customer acquisition is starting to rise. Right? It’s getting more and more expensive. So what’s the next step they need to take? They need to figure out their retail strategy. So Len and I brought them into the course and they put their entire business on the table for the students to dissect.


LEN SCHLESINGER: But the students come to me with all the same players. They’re looking at Warby Parker that essentially reinvented the eyeglass business. They look at folks like Everlane who are reinventing direct-to-consumer in apparel. They’re looking at the big ones, Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s who took on Gillette and found what we affectionately call a sleepy TAM, a parent organization that wasn’t paying attention to what was going on in the marketplace and a large population that was feeling unserved to underserved, that was appreciating being served in a new and different way.

LEN SCHLESINGER: And so, everybody gets excited about being the next Warby, being the next Dollar Shave Club, being the next Harry’s, and the purpose of what we spend our time on is to understand, okay, now we can tell you how to do that. Now once you’ve found them and once you’ve gotten that going, be very clear, there are a few landlords on the internet who are going to be as bad as any other landlord you complained about in a physical environment and you’re very quickly going to be trying to figure out, A, how to find more customers at an economically attractive rate and level, and also how to move beyond one or two products into a full product assortment that can generate enough revenue to build a business.

MATT HIGGINS: I think one of the things that the course revealed too is that, Amazon’s been around for a long time at this point, right? And yet still a founder, an investor is not entirely sure to Amazon or not to Amazon. What are circumstances that really mean you should be Amazon or not? We talked about Allbirds, which, Allbirds has a beloved sneaker. And sure enough, a knockoff shows off created by Amazon on Amazon that’s doing phenomenally well. What does Allbirds do? How do you compete?

BRIAN KENNY: And some of those very questions come up in the SmileDirect case. So let’s dive into that. Can you tell our listeners, Len, what is SmileDirectClub? What are they doing?

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, anybody who has experienced orthodontia or has forecasted the prospects of orthodontia for themselves or their children should be interested in what’s going on here. Orthodontia used to be a very idiosyncratic specialty. Much of orthodontia got democratized over time with Align Technology inventing essentially plastic liners that substituted for all the metal that you had in your mouth and did a very effective job of being able to serve as a substitute. It also increased the number of dentists who were able to practice dentistry. And most importantly, it extended orthodontia to adults. Well, like all good things, patents expire. And so, when the Align Technology’s patent expires, here you have this opportunity to actually offer aligners at a much lower price, with a lot more patient involvement in the process, with tele-dentistry as opposed to live dentistry. So, the two founders go off and they find 500 customers and they are the Smile Direct Club. We figured out how can we actually get them to actually do their own impressions in order to avoid having to go to a dentist to do all of the impressions. And if you think about it, it’s really hard. And the amount of energy you have to spend in finding the right materials and the right support to get an impression that actually works for being able to do aligners is a big hairy deal. So, they are entrepreneurs, and they’re just entrepreneurs looking for a space. They got into this space, they immersed themselves in the level of detail, the likes of which you often do not see. And after working with 500, they figured it out. And so, they started a business off of the 500 to essentially replicate what they were doing, which is they would mail out kits to people to do their own impressions. People would do their own impressions, they would be sent in to a headquarters where it got reviewed by a dentist. The dentist would decide whether or not the aligner technology was suitable for being able to solve the basic smile problems that were in evidence. And if it was, then actually they produced the aligners to manage the process of them communicating at specific intervals through anywhere from six to 10 months until they had the smile they were looking for.

BRIAN KENNY: The case gets into the cost a little bit; the savings were enormous as you mentioned. Can you be more specific about that?

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, orthodontia early on was in the 10 to 18,000, the standard price of Invisalign with dentists at the time was around 6,000, they came to market at 1850. So, you noticed that.

BRIAN KENNY: Sounds too good to be true, and its disintermediation taken to an extremely new level, right? So we call it disruptive innovation, whatever you want to refer to it as. This was not all smooth sailing and it’s still not all smooth sailing. So I want to talk about the issues that they’ve had, but then take it back more broadly to talk about DTC and the kinds of challenges that DTC businesses face.

LEN SCHLESINGER: Well, let me start with the disruption question and the problems they face there, and then I’ll defer to Matt to actually talk about this in the context of DTC. The subtitle of the case is, “Better is Better,” and that’s the most important part that needs to be understood here. This really is in the framework that Clay Christensen has given us of disrupting. This is as classic a case of disruption as you’re likely to find. They come to market, they solve a real problem. The real problem is people who are uncomfortable about their smile. They’re not there to solve health problems. They’re there to solve smile problems. And they can’t solve all of your problems, they can make it better. And so the issue is if they’re making it better and solving the primary problems that an individual is identifying, okay, they’re doing their job. And because they’re not promising to be everything to everybody, it’s coming out at a much lower cost. And that’s what makes that work. Now, the assumption over time, if you think about this in terms of disruption, the pattern is you come into the market at a much lower price, you attract a large population, that happened. And as you’re working with that larger population, you figure out from that large population how to improve and you reinvest the cash that’s being generated through sales into evolving the nature of the business over time. And in many respects, that’s what the case is about. Now the reality of that is you are making lives very difficult for the entrenched orthodontia industry. So there are so many folks who are working to essentially ensure that SmileDirectClub doesn’t get access to the broad scale consumer base. So you have regulators claiming that they’re illegally performing dentistry. And a million things from that, there are concerns about the extent to which the impressions are accurate. There’s the extent to which there’s a pressure to accept into SmileDirectClub people who have bigger health issues that you don’t want to be responsible for being able to solve. So the phenomena we see here are almost identical to anything we see in disruption except it’s much louder now because you have regulators and you have an entrenched industry that is-

BRIAN KENNY: That don’t want to be disrupted.

LEN SCHLESINGER: They’re now playing defense.

BRIAN KENNY: So, Matt, how common are these kinds of issues in the DTC businesses that you see? Are they all disruptors this way?

MATT HIGGINS: Not at that scale maybe necessarily. I think what’s interesting about this case, if you approach it from an empathetic standpoint, not an entrenched interest, 1% of people in America are taking advantage of orthodontia. It’s about 4 million customers, right? But they estimate the market could be more like 85% and globally, significantly more. So if you look at it, 85% of the market could have an availability or a need rather to correct a smile in some capacity. And yet only 40% of all counties in America actually have an orthodontist. There’s an unmet need and the price of anywhere from five to 8,000 is a significant barrier. And I remember growing up poor, I had no access to orthodontia. Forget about that. You did whatever you could do. So, if you approach it from that standpoint, that’s where I think DTC is at its best. Take a step back. That email was written in 2013, companies launched in 2014 with a cell phone. In 2019, they’re IPO-ing, right? With a $5 billion market cap.

BRIAN KENNY: They went from 500 initial patients to 750,000?

MATT HIGGINS: 750. So that can’t happen without the availability of going one-to-one and developing an intimate relationship and delivering a message to an unmet customer and bypassing the supply chain and the entrenched interest. So what’s interesting that I think the SmileDirect case illustrates, that because of the speed by which a DTC can operate, it almost takes too long for the entrenched interest and the regulatory bodies to catch up. It’s this big gray area, and then a solution is mediated and ideally the customer wins. And I think you’re seeing that a bit in the His category, which is handling erectile dysfunction and its hair replacement. There are these other categories whereas prior to DTC, the conventional wisdom would be avoid over-regulated industries at all cost with entrenched interests. And I think that’s what SmileDirect has demonstrated: you can challenge that.

BRIAN KENNY: Well, let me ask you this. I think some people would hear about DTC businesses and think, well, these are fly by night operations. They’re just in it to make a killing and then they’re just going to shut down and move on. And certainly some of the accusations that have come out from the regulating agencies about SmileDirect would be in that vein. That’s not how DTC businesses think of themselves, is it?

MATT HIGGINS: Well, I think the word is almost a cliché. Right? To some extent. It’s why we said “Moving Beyond DTC,” it’s like it’s our version of a disclaimer. But the point of that statement is DTC is a launch vertical that enables a company like SmileDirect and a couple of kids to go ahead and launch something and five years later, they’re at tremendous scale. Right? So the point of the course was to say, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water because we scoff at the fact that some of these are fly by night or spending a ton of money on marketing to try to acquire customers and then the money runs out. That tells only a partial part of the story. So, a thoughtful DTC is one with an omni-channel strategy at inception that recognizes that DTC enables me to ramp up quickly and have an intimate relationship and tell my story in a way that I couldn’t if I had to launch at retail, right? But I need to morph beyond that pretty quickly because the cost of acquisition is going to get a lot higher.

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, the evolution of that in the context of SmileDirectClub becomes pretty obvious in the case. What we discovered is lots of people have difficulty doing their own impressions. And so, the quality of the impressions are not super high. They have to be done again. It’s kind of a pain. And so, the next step was, well, how can we actually quickly and easily get access to a higher quality input for an impression? And so they started Smile Stores. Okay? The first Smile Store was in a WeWork space in New York. A place where you assume you’d have tons of millennials who might want to try this and stuff like that. And then they moved to several hundred DTC SmileDirect stores, some of them in CVS and Walgreens, others freestanding locations where you now can in under 30 minutes do a complete 3D x-ray of the mouth, get all of the data necessary for a perfect set of data that you can send to an orthodontist to review whether or not this is a suitable customer, and then to convert that data into a set of aligners. And that’s been an amazing change when you start thinking about it, it’s new technology, it eases a customer pain point, and it makes it even more accessible for people to be able to actually experience the process of understanding this and actually being sold it a little bit. This is a large platform for orthodontists. This is connected to a whole portfolio of 260 orthodontists just in the United States alone, let alone other locations in the world. And I remember in the context of our conversation about this in class, people were saying, well, I had a student whose father was an orthodontist who’d just filter through venomous attacks on the business. Then I said, “Well, I wonder what he would say about telemedicine.” Because the parallel is, and the data is, is Kaiser Permanente… 52% of the PCP appointments now are done through telemedicine, higher degrees of satisfaction, much better access. And so, in some respects, we’re seeing the same story being played out by an entrepreneurial venture as opposed to an established healthcare system. And I’m not claiming they’re perfect.

BRIAN KENNY: Are there competitors on the horizon? Are there people nipping at their heels?

LEN SCHLESINGER: Yes. There are a whole portfolio of competitors now. Everybody is now in the smile space. Maya Love.

MATT HIGGINS: Candid is another one that copied them pretty quickly.

LEN SCHLESINGER: But the difference is because they’ve grown and they have a more established financial base, they’ve been able to make a series of investments that changed the nature of the economics. So two things have happened that differentiate them from all of the other players. One is they’re now completely vertically integrated.

BRIAN KENNY: Take about that a little bit.

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, they made the decision, okay, to control the process of producing aligners from end to end. And so, by virtue of having now established one factory with another factory being built in Texas, okay, they not only have materially more flexibility in being able to respond to demand, but they increase the gross margin of the business by about 35 points. The second thing it’s enabled them to do is experiment with new technology with aligners. So one of the things, and I actually wore these several years ago. One of the marvelous things about it was I lost 20 pounds. And the miserable part about it is I lost 20 pounds because I had these aligners in my mouth for 23 hours a day. And so people don’t want to do that. So now they’ve developed a 10 hour a day technology that allows people to wear it before bed, when they’re asleep, and when they get up.

BRIAN KENNY: With the same efficacy or is it-

LEN SCHLESINGER: With the same efficacy, just a longer life cycle. So instead of six to seven months, it’s 10 to 12 months. And so all of a sudden now, we are discovering, because we’re dealing with three quarters of a million customers, we’re discovering a whole new portfolio of pain points that you would never discover if you were working through one or two orthodontists dealing with their own patient place and recognizing in some respects that there aren’t even enough orthodontists to deal with the patients in a traditional fashion.

BRIAN KENNY: Matt, you’ve looked at a lot of these DTC businesses and it sounds like SmileDirect, to your point earlier about moving beyond that model, finding ways to extend into other areas. I think the case talks about them doing retainers now, so they’re starting to create a lifelong relationship with the customer. Is this a pretty standard way the DTC businesses should think about the next step of where they go?

MATT HIGGINS: That’s interesting. I mean, I think oftentimes launch with one product. I’d mentioned Magic Spoon and look at Casper, right? You launch with one product, one SKU, and you quickly realize that’s a lot of money to spend on a single customer with a very low projected lifetime. My point is like Smile, which arguably wants to own the smile and has now launched other products, toothpaste and flossing and whatnot, you find with these DTC companies, they’ll launch in a single vertical, single product, and quickly realize, we need to own a category. So in the case of Casper, it’s to own sleep, and Smile, it’s to own a smile. And Everlane, it’s to own transparency about how your clothes are created. So I think that’s another trend that we’ve delved into deeply throughout the course of the week is that you really need to expand beyond and increase the lifetime value of your customer by owning categories as opposed to owning products.

LEN SCHLESINGER: The marvelous thing about this from a case perspective, I’m teaching this, so we released the case in late January, we taught it ten days later. In the ten days from the time the case got an approval, right? There were two major signal events that we had to teach into the discussion that weren’t in the case as a longterm case teacher here at the school that usually is in years or sometimes decades. Let’s deal with the ’90s at General Electric. Right? And so now it’s, let’s deal with this week at SmileDirectClub. So, from the time we wrote the case, so we taught it, one is they announced a full line, a full line of dental consumer products that are oriented towards the smile to be launched exclusively through all of the Walmarts.


LEN SCHLESINGER: So, you start thinking about the kind of market power that provides and the kind of brand extension that provides. The second thing they did was, now that they’ve got full capability and their historical relationship with Align Technology disappeared after December 31st, they announced that they’re going into business directly against them and selling to orthodontists as well. And so, they will provide a lower cost alternative to orthodontists who still want to practice in the traditional way. Now I said, “Well, that’ll be interesting,” except I went to my dentist who now practices orthodontia, right, ever since Invisalign was there. And I walked in and there was a brochure on the table for another brand. Right?


LEN SCHLESINGER: I said, “So what happened? Now you’re doing this brand of aligners.” He goes, “Well, it’s $3 cheaper.” So everybody, the space is being disrupted. Okay? And the reality, the fundamental rule that we’ve assigned to this of these great DTC companies is they discover what one of our speakers at the course, Ben Lerer of Lerer Hippeau called sleepy TAMs, which were totally addressable markets that are asleep.

BRIAN KENNY: Sort of adjacencies that they find…

LEN SCHLESINGER: And so, the total addressable market for what SmileDirectClub does, I mean, you’re going to laugh, it’s 90% of the people in the world. Right? And so when you start saying there’s 90% of the people in the world who have some sort of malocclusion that we should be in the business of addressing. So we’re at 1% of 1% of 1%. Okay? And so we have enormous upside, yet the dentists have already defined this as a mature business growing at 2% a year. So think about that complete difference of perspective in comments 2% a year, and DTC seeing themselves as just barely scratching this.

BRIAN KENNY:  How scalable is it though? One of the key questions in the case is about, do they go global and to what extent? And you’re talking about an enormous market, can they actually deliver on that?

LEN SCHLESINGER: So, we will see, I mean, that will be SmileDirectClub “B.” But the reality of this, in 2020, they’re forecasted to go into 13 new global markets. Again, in the last two weeks, Germany and Hong Kong, they’re doing it in very different ways. So they have an acute level of sensitivity to the fact that the American model in and of itself just isn’t going to work everywhere. So for example, in Germany, you actually need to have a dentist in the office. So in Germany, in SmileDirectClub, they have a dentist in the office. It still works in the economic model. In Hong Kong, they’re doing it differently. And so, they need to accommodate the local idiosyncrasies and the characteristics of the market. But what they have is a core idea and an easy design process and a well-defined customer journey. That is widely accepted that they can begin to tweak in a variety of different ways to make this better.

BRIAN KENNY: But if they’re going through a dentist, are they no longer a DTC business? Because now they’re half and half, right?

MATT HIGGINS: Well, I think that’s the point of the whole class. There is no such thing as a pure play DTC beyond a certain point of inception, right, if you want to be successful, stay a DTC and perish eventually or you evolve and move beyond DTC. So they’re like all the other companies that we looked at over the course of a week that they began in that vertical and then they… What you quickly find is that, but when you have any type of real world presence, it doesn’t mean dedicated retail. But if you’re a DTC and you have any type of real world presence, you find some interesting things. Your conversion rate is a lot higher than when you are online exclusively. Your returns are a lot lower because if a customer has an intimate relationship with you and understands you, they’re much less likely to return it. So this information is now out there and becoming more and more conventional wisdom. And one of the topics we looked at is what are some of those ways that those DTCs can bridge to retail? In the case of Smile, it was doing a partnership with CVS and now it’s selling those additional products.

BRIAN KENNY: So, Matt, I want to ask you, now having experienced this for the first time, any big surprises for you when the students started to tackle these issues?

MATT HIGGINS: Oh, that’s a great question. I mean, for one, it was a wonderful, amazing experience that the big surprise is how much they crave the real world experience of a founder, like these very tactical questions that frankly, I felt a little bit embarrassed that I was introducing to the august institution of Harvard that we’re talking about to Amazon or not to Amazon. Part of my inspiration was that question needs to be litigated before you launch because it may determine whether you win or lose. And yet I didn’t feel like it was adequately covered in the cases. That was one of the most popular segments of class and I was ashamed that we’re getting so hyper tactical and technical. So, I’d say that was my biggest refreshing surprise is how much the students craved really granular insights that they couldn’t get on the internet or in a case.

BRIAN KENNY: That’s great. Len, how about you? Was this the experience you hoped it would be?

LEN SCHLESINGER: More. The reality is we’re here today to do this podcast, but we’re also here today to design next year. So there are very few things in my life where I’m willing to forecast out another four day block a year in advance. This is really special. I think what the students have told us is, in many respects, it’s much of what they came to the Harvard Business School for. So it’s great stuff to learn as a faculty member. It’s great stuff to teach. So, on every dimension, the case, the logic of the course, and the experience of the course have been just absolutely grand.

MATT HIGGINS: I think from my perspective, being out there in the world and doing investing and meeting founders, I’ve never seen in a concentrated period, all these topics covered. And I think our goal, and Len and I were talking, let’s try to shorten the learning curve, right? Let’s introduce these topics that you really can’t get anywhere else and just make the journey easier.

BRIAN KENNY: That’s awesome. Well, I would suspect that our listeners now with all this insight, will never think the same about some of these direct-to-consumer products that they’re buying.

MATT HIGGINS: I’ll never think the same about crocodile dung by the way. Because I’m still wondering, what is that?

BRIAN KENNY: Oh, you’ll have to ask Cleopatra. Thank you both for joining me. It’s been a lot of fun.

LEN SCHLESINGER: Always a pleasure.

MATT HIGGINS: Thank you.

HANNAH BATES: That was Harvard Business School professor Len Schlesinger and Matt Higgins, co-founder and CEO of private investment firm RSE Ventures – in conversation with Brian Kenny on Cold Call. We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about business strategy from the Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review. We’re a production of the Harvard Business Review – if you want more articles, case studies, books, and videos like this, find it all at HBR dot org. This episode was produced by Anne Saini and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Special thanks to Maureen Hoch, Adi Ignatius, Karen Player, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

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