Classified: What Uber (and others) teach MBA students about smart online marketplace design

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

woman holding a microphone in front of classmates and team
Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, pitching Tables Together during the Online Marketplace and Platform Design course. Photo: Jim Block

 

It’s a recent Tuesday evening at Berkeley Haas, and Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, has just five minutes to pitch her team’s idea for Tables Together. It’s an online marketplace that big corporations like Google could use to donate surplus food from their employee kitchens to organizations that feed people in need.

“There are matches that need to be made and we want to create a marketplace and solve the problem,” Maliwanag said, ticking off the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States each year.

After a few quick questions for the team, the rapid-fire pitch slam—part of the MBA class called Online Marketplace and Platform Design—continues. Students pitch ideas, among them a private plane rental marketplace to a community for matching skiers and snowboarders with coaches to a marketplace for tailors of bespoke clothing for events like weddings.

four students standing in front of a classroom pitching an idea
MBA students have just five minutes to pitch JetJunction, a private plane rental marketplace, during the night’s pitch slam. Photo: Jim Block

All of the pitches serve as practice for the students who are working toward final projects, says Assistant Professor David Holtz, who teaches the class, an elective that enrolls 68 students. The group is a split of mostly full-time and evening & weekend MBA students, on a journey that covers all aspects of online platforms—from A/B testing, network effects, and platform monetization, to reputation systems and discrimination in online marketplaces.

The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, Holtz worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. “I was exposed to a lot of interesting problems including reputation-system design, algorithmic pricing, and experiment design,” Holtz, a member of the Management of Organizations (MORS) and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group at Haas, says. “To this day, these topics form the backbone of my research, because, in addition to being extremely interesting, they’re also extremely difficult to solve.”

Taking apart the case

During the first half of a recent class session, Holtz asked students to split into groups to discuss one of the week’s assignments: Pick a company on the a16z Marketplace 100 list—Andreessen Horowitz’s ranking of the largest and fastest-growing consumer-facing marketplace startups and private companies—and come up with a new market mechanism that the company might trial using A/B testing.  

One MBA student team wrote about the online specialty food marketplace Goldbelly, suggesting that the company might add a feature that prompts site visitors to indicate that they’re trying to buy a gift. Then, Goldbelly could customize searches and provide a more personal message option at checkout.

students sitting in classroom working on laptops
Students share their ideas for a new market mechanism that a company might trial using A/B testing. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz then runs students through a business case called “Innovation at Uber: The Launch of Express POOL, a case directly related to some of his marketplace research that examines experiment design in two-sided markets. Set in March 2018, the case follows Uber through the launch of a new product called Express POOL, which offers carpooling riders a cheaper ride if they agree to walk a short distance to and from pick-up and drop-off points and wait a few minutes before being matched to a driver. 

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment. The big dilemma? Uber benefited from a cost-per-ride reduction with a five-minute wait time but didn’t want to make a change that could hurt the user experience. “Even if the company did decide that a longer wait time was preferable, what did that mean for the ongoing experiment the company was running?” Holtz says. “Should they change the product mid-experiment or let the experiment continue running as originally intended?”

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment.

Holtz then shifts to a whiteboard, where he outlines different types of experiments (also called A/B tests) that marketplace companies like Uber use to test new features. 

First is the “bread and butter” user-level test, which Uber could have used to compare the behavior of riders with access to Express POOL to the behavior of those who did not have access to Express POOL. The second kind of test, a switchback experiment, would give all riders and drivers in a given market access to Express POOL for randomly selected 160-minute-long chunks. Over two weeks, Uber would switch Express POOL availability back and forth to compare behaviors.

The third type of experiment Holtz describes, which Uber did use with Express POOL, is a synthetic control experiment. It is the most accurate form of testing, Holtz says, but also the most complicated to run and the “noisiest.” Using the synthetic control experiment, Uber identified two sets of markets that, in aggregate, were as similar to each other as possible. The company then launched Express POOL in one set of cities, but not in the other. By comparing behavior in the two sets of cities, Uber could estimate the impact of both.

man in classroom teaching
The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, he worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz’s knowledge of how to apply A/B tests comes from deep research. He has conducted multiple large-scale experiments analyzing the effects of marketplace design choices on Airbnb. One study examined whether coupons would lead more Airbnb bookers to write more reviews—with the eventual aim of facilitating better matches on the platform and increasing revenue. Comparing behaviors of buyers who received coupons to those who didn’t, he found that the coupons led to additional reviews that were more negative, on average, and that the reviews didn’t affect the number of nights sold on the site or total revenue.  

In a separate, widely cited study, he and his co-authors examined the effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers at Microsoft. They scoured anonymized, aggregated data describing emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls, and workweek hours of more than 60,000 U.S.-based Microsoft employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Results showed that under firm-wide remote work, collaboration patterns become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts of an organization. 

Impressive guest speakers

For Lena Corredor, MBA 25, knowledge gained in Holtz’s class is providing an opportunity to explore the challenges of building a successful entrepreneurship marketplace, which is her startup idea.

“This class is really eye-opening for me because it’s not as straightforward as it seems,” she says. “When you think about the different sides of a marketplace, one would think if you build it, they will come, but it’s not the case. The design elements he talks about are very important to business success.”

During most classes, Holtz opens with a guest speaker, and his roster includes an impressive industry bench of leaders including Sudeep Das, head of Machine Learning/AI at DoorDash; Martin Manley, co-founder of Alibris and former U.S. assistant secretary of labor; Ania Smith, CEO of Taskrabbit; and Briana Vecchione, a technical researcher at Data & Society’s Algorithmic Impacts Methods Lab (AIMLab); among others.

man sitting in classroom gesturing as he speaks
Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, said they were drawn to the class in part because of the impressive guest speaker roster. Photo: Jim Block

Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, an entrepreneur in Mexico before coming to Haas, said they were drawn to the class for two reasons.  “First, I knew that the professor had a great background and first-hand experience on this topic,” they say. “Second, I knew that the class would have a lot of guest speakers and that was interesting to me as this level of exposure is very valuable.”        

Looking toward the future of online marketplaces, Holtz said he’s excited to see where entrepreneurs will take new technologies, such as generative AI, AR/VR, and blockchain-based tech. To that end, he said he expects the students will hear more from a group of investors and VCs who are guest judges at the last class—Raphael Lee, Vickie Peng, and Lindsay Pettingill.

“They weigh business pitches all the time and will have a better sense than anyone of where we are headed,” he said.

28th annual Women in Leadership conference to celebrate resilience 

At a time when the world—and especially the job market—is full of uncertainties, it can often seem impossible to rise above the challenges many women face, from the workplace to their personal lives. 

The 28th annual Women in Leadership conference aims to shed light on these challenges—and more specifically, the resilience that women exhibit. This year’s theme, “Leading with Resilience,” features speakers who will discuss their experiences in maintaining strength and overcoming adversity as women, from the personal to the professional to the physical. The conference will be held Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Haas School of Business, with an additional optional event the preceding evening at Ivy Room in Albany. 

“Thinking about the theme for this year, we wanted to focus on what was happening in the broader world and physical environment,” said conference co-organizer Jillian Geary, MBA 24. “And this topic of resilience kept coming up for a lot of us in the room.” 

Organized by the Women in Leadership club, the conference is one of the longest-running and highly attended events at Haas. 

The conference will feature speakers such as Yasi Baiani, co-founder and chief product officer at Raya; Shripriya Mahesh, founding partner at Spero Ventures; and more.

closeup of a female student
Jillian Geary

Geary, who worked for a diagnostics startup amid the pandemic, discussed how her background in health care helped inspire the conference themes of leadership and resilience. She noted that, especially during such a time of uncertainty, she discovered the importance of collaboration.“I think of this conference in a similar manner—that we are smarter when we come together and create an atmosphere for people to share the challenges they’ve been through, rather than solely share their biggest successes.” 

Co-organizer Alyssa D’Cunha, MBA 24, likewise noted that she hopes that the conference will help normalize difficult conversations surrounding hardship through a mixture of keynotes, a fireside chat, and panels on topics ranging from navigating male-dominated fields to living a balanced life.

She added that their ultimate goal is for attendees to leave the conference with a toolkit, having discovered their own resilience. 

close up of female student wearing blue shirt
Alyssa D’Cunha

D’Cunha, who has a background in mechanical and materials engineering, highlighted the significance of addressing how women can navigate and succeed in male-dominated industries. Kellie McElhaney, Haas lecturer and founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership, will lead a conference workshop on the topic.

“I remember having a less than ideal conversation about having reached parity already, and how there is no longer this equality or equity problem that we need to address going forward,” she said. “We want to talk about how you navigate conversations like that with your superiors and what it means to be equity fluent.” 

On Friday, Feb. 23, there will be a pre-conference “Story Slam,” inspired by Haas tradition of Story Salon, where students share their lived experiences with storytelling.

Conference tickets are available now.

Pitching with purpose: Students imagine future of mobility for automaker

nine people standing on stage holding a check
Pitch winners with judges (left-right) Nick Triantos; Tafflyn Toy; Henry Chung; Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25; Srivatsa Chakravarthy, EWMBA 25; Oleksandr Krotenko, EMBA 23;  Simeon Ryan, EWMBA 25;  Ju yup Kang; and ChangWoo Kim. Photo: Jim. Block

A student team that imagined a plan for Hyundai Cradle to build an electric-powered mobile medical fleet and market it in North America won the 2023 Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) Challenge.

Hyundai Cradle, Hyundai Motor Group’s Mountain View, Calif.-based open innovation and investment arm, sponsored the challenge, which was held April 23 at Berkeley Haas. 

Cradle challenged students to develop novel business models for the company’s future PBV market launch in North America. Hyundai Motor Group is in the final stages of building a flexible automobile base, called a skateboard, that can be used to produce many kinds of PVBs—vehicles ranging from ambulances to passenger shuttles to delivery fleets for small businesses.

The first-place team took home $15,000 for its pitch. Winning team members included Srivatsa Chakravarthy, EWMBA 25; Oleksandr Krotenko, EMBA 23; Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25; and Simeon Ryan, EWMBA 25.  

The competing teams, composed of graduate students from across all three Haas MBA programs and the UC Berkeley School of Information, participated in a semester-long series of training sessions, focused on the Lean Startup method and customer discovery training. The top three finalist teams were then tasked with finding and validating novel business models for PBVs that they pitched to judges at the end of the program. 

“This was a fantastic way to showcase students from across all three of our MBA programs,” said Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP). “The program also provided a perfect opportunity for our MBA students to work with top graduate students from across the campus.”

Solving real problems

The winning group pitched a fix for emergency medical services that they described as “antiquated, expensive, and ripe for technological disruption.” The team suggested that Cradle partner with industry leader AMR (American Medical Response) to capitalize on the company’s market share and need to contract with an outsourced fleet.

two men and one women pointing, wearing suits speaking at a conference
Victoria Marcus, EWMBA 25, pitches during the 2023 Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) Challenge. Photo: Jim Block

Marcus, who works in corporate finance, said she was excited to work on solving a real problem experienced by a company outside of her industry.

“Going through the pitching process with judges was the pinnacle business school experience I’ve always wanted to try since I started my EWMBA,” she said. During Lean Launch, she said her group conducted more than 30 interviews with potential clients. “We had to pivot a couple times from our original idea to make sure we were solving problems for them,” she said. “Ultimately this led us to think hard and adapt so we could develop a detailed business plan that would benefit potential clients.”

During the pitch day, Kia’s vice president of new business planning, Ju yup Kang, a judge for the competition, outlined how KIA is transforming from a car company to a “full mobility solution provider.” Henry Chung, senior vice president and head of Hyundai Cradle, said the students had clearly put in a lot of effort to develop creative solutions to difficult problems. 

Chung; Kang; Changwoo Kim, a chief coordinator at Cradle; Tafflyn Toy, an open innovation project manager at Hyundai Cradle; and Nick Triantos, chief architect, automotive system software at Nvidia, served as the final challenge judges.

Team Ingenium took second place ($10,000) with a pitch for all-in-one fleet management. Members included Reggie Draper, EMBA 23; Michael LaFramboise, MBA/MEng 24; Matthew McGoffin, MBA/MEng 23; and Michael Yang, MIMS (master of information management and systems) 23.

Team Mobility Moguls took third place ($5,000) for a strategy that addressed a mobile future for police & security. Team members included Anmol Aggarwal, EWMBA 24; Suveda Dhoot, MBA 24; Hrishikesh Nagaraju, MIMS 24; Nithin Ravindra, EWMBA 23, MIMS 24; and Lutong Yang.

a group of students holding three large checks
The three prizewinning teams in the Haas Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBV) pitch competition with checks. Photo: Jim Block

 

U.S. News ranks the Berkeley Haas EWMBA Program #1 again

The Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program ranked #1 among part-time MBA programs in U.S. News & World Report, reclaiming its top spot.

The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Program came in at #11 and the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives ranked #9 in the 2023-2024 Best Graduate Schools report, published today. 

The changes in the part-time and full-time MBA outcomes are largely due to drastic changes in the rankings factors. 

The Berkeley Haas EWMBA Program, which includes our evening, weekend, and Flex cohorts for working professionals, regained the top spot after four years, thanks to its improved peer assessment and an increased emphasis on the significant work experience of Haas students. Chicago Booth dropped to #2 from #1. 

The FTMBA program tied with Columbia and Duke for the #11 spot this year. Columbia and Haas previously tied for #8, while Duke ranked #12 in 2022. U.S. News increased the weight of placement success—compensation and employment within three months of graduation—to 50%, compared to 35% previously. The weighting of quality assessments, including the peer and employer polls, decreased to 25%, compared to 40% previously. 

Haas reported significant increases in career outcomes for the FTMBA Class of 2022. Starting salaries were up more than $10,000 from the prior year, and 92.7% of graduates had started jobs three months after graduation. Amazon, Bain Consulting, and McKinsey & Co. were the top three hiring firms, followed closely by Adobe, BCG, Deloitte, and Google. While many Haas graduates benefit from stock options, which do not factor into U.S. News, and some take lower salaries initially to land the jobs of their choice, their lifetime career earnings are among the top three of all business schools, according to Payscale.

“The ROI of the Berkeley Haas MBA remains strong,“ said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs. “According to the Financial Times, our alumni reported earning the fifth highest salaries in the world three years after graduating.” 

View the ranking methodologies for full-time MBA programs and part-time MBA programs.

The Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program ranked #9 among EMBA programs, compared to #7 last year. This ranking continues to be based entirely on peer assessment by deans and full-time MBA directors.

In the U.S. News specialty rankings, based on peer assessment, the FTMBA ranked in the top 10 in the following areas:

  • #4 Real estate
  • #4 Nonprofit
  • #5 Entrepreneurship
  • #6 Business analytics
  • #8 Finance
  • #9 Management
  • #9 Marketing
  • #10 International

Overall, the five ranked Berkeley Haas degree programs appear in the top five in key rankings:

  • FTMBA: #4 among U.S. schools in the Financial Times
  • EWMBA: #1 among part-time MBA programs in U.S. News
  • MBA for Executives: #1 in the last published Economist EMBA ranking (2020)
  • MFE: #1 TFE Times and #3 QuantNet
  • Undergraduate: #2 in U.S. News