A podcast based on the winning principle that entrepreneurs need only know the laws of economics plus the minds of customers. After that, apply your imagination.

128. Matt McCaffrey: Austrian Business Strategy (Part 2): Principles

Austrian economics helps entrepreneurs to develop and implement more effective business strategies, and to open up streams of continuous innovation. As Joe Matarese, CEO of Medicus Healthcare Solutions, said about Austrian economics in relation to business: It just works.

In episode #127, Matt McCaffrey outlined the Austrian strategy process of Explore and Expand, and its logic development. This week, he helps us dig deeper to identify the principles of Austrian economics that underpin our distinctive approach to business strategy.

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Realism: real people, real markets, real entrepreneurs in real firms.

Mainstream economics has never been able to help business, because of its focus on math, models, and prediction. Real people and their decisions and interactions and motivations and emotions can not be captured in equations and mathematical functions.

Austrian economics has carved out a particular area of focus in the behavior of real people in its study of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Austrians examine real entrepreneurial decision-making day-to-day; they highlight real people experiencing value and entrepreneurs’ role in generating that value. From this base, Austrian economics investigates how individual actions and choices and interactions lead to the formation of markets.

Dynamism: The market is a process.

Austrian realism sees the market as a dynamic process, continuously unfolding in interaction and innovation and change. Mainstream economics, with its preference for the greater mathematical tractability that comes with abstraction, has no capability of dealing with this real-world dynamism. The embrace and study of dynamic processes gives Austrian economics much of its applicability in business. The business world is never static. It can’t be understood in abstractions. It’s real and messy and changeable and unpredictable.

Uncertainty and complexity: embrace emergence.

Uncertainty is a keyword for Austrian economists. It’s a term that describes the real world in which entrepreneurial businesses operate. They can never know for sure what comes next; they can’t anticipate all of the interactions between competitors, changing customer preferences, technological advances and social and economic trends. There is no sure-footed way to plan for the future. Austrians recognize uncertainty and help businesses think about how to cope with it, how to narrow it, how to accumulate knowledge to lighten it, how to weigh decisions in the environment of uncertainty.

The new scientific term for uncertainty is complexity: in any system, the interactions are so many and their results are so unpredictable that modeling and forecasting are impossible, and outcomes are defined as emergent (i.e., outputs happen in a way that is not predicted by merely combining inputs). Austrian economics helps businesses deal with emergence.

Subjectivism: People are people, both as consumers and as providers.

One of the realistic principles of Austrian economics is to deal with people as people: we are all subjective in our valuations and judgments and emotions. We are not homo economicus: perfectly rational (in the mainstream economists’ definition of rational) in objectively weighing benefits and their opportunity costs. If all we are doing in producing goods and services for consumption is trashing the planet, then we can’t be rational, in their eyes.

In order to understand business and understand entrepreneurship, it is absolutely necessary to begin with subjectivism. Consumers’ subjective values ultimately determine what is produced; if consumers don’t value something, producers won’t make it. On the producer side, entrepreneurs’ subjective valuations of the resources they have available to them to assemble in a production process affect the value of their business.

It is entrepreneurs’ subjective evaluation that results in the identification of new uses for a resource, and the introduction of new innovations. Subjective values lie underneath every new business relationship with customers, from streaming movies to google searches to online travel booking. Subjectivism is everywhere in the economy and in business.

Time: How to plan in the present to satisfy customers in the future.

Austrians are unique in their understanding of the economic role of time in business. Entrepreneurs deal in future time. They imagine better futures in which customers enjoy greater satisfaction, and then they imagine how to bring it about and act on their imagination. Production — getting from imagination to consumption — takes time. Entrepreneurs are dealing with buying decisions in the present (such as hiring and buying inputs) for selling decisions in the future. They can’t know future prices or future customer preferences, so it’s a bet.

The consumption decisions customers make today reflect entrepreneurial decisions that were made weeks, months, years or decades in the past. Austrian economics helps entrepreneurs manage the contingencies of time.

Time makes the customer the boss.

Austrians utilize the concept of consumer sovereignty as an analytical tool. It means that consumers are the ultimate decision-makers in all economic systems, because what they buy or don’t buy determines what is produced. Their power is a result of the time it takes to produce. The value of resources that entrepreneurs assemble today depends on what consumers think and feel in the future.

Forecasting is tricky and best avoided, but patterns can be recognized.

A consequence of time and consumer sovereignty is the fragility and inaccuracy of forecasts. How is it possible to forecast consumer tastes in the future? There are some exceptional entrepreneurs who get it right. What’s their secret? Austrians’ understanding of dynamics and complexity can help point to the processes most likely to be associated with success, without attempting to forecast it.

One alternative to forecasting is pattern recognition. Jeff Bezos said that consumers are unlikely in the future to ask for higher prices, lower quality or slower delivery. That’s pattern recognition. It’s generalized and broad based and lacking in precision and specificity. But there is a consistency to some patterns that entrepreneurs can recognize and act upon, adding their own idiosyncratic insights and guesses to shape the actual value propositions they will make to consumers.

Out of all this emerges the Austrian entrepreneurial method.

We’ve all been educated in the scientific method. It’s utopian: experiments conducted with strict controls will yield the truth.

The entrepreneurial method is different, but with equal status, and greater applicability in open — i.e., human — systems where control is not an option.

It’s a bit messy and hard to characterize with precision, but it’s nonetheless real. It starts with imagination — imagining a future in which customer dissatisfactions are addressed and resolved. Their world is made better. This is proactive creativity on the entrepreneur’s part, triggered by existing highly dispersed knowledge, including tacit knowledge, held by the entrepreneur and others.

The entrepreneur designs a business model that might be able to resolve the identified customer dissatisfactions in the future and assembles resources that he or she believes, in the right combination, could accomplish the task. There’s no correct way; the entrepreneur draws on the realism of Austrian economics to best understand the challenges and how to address them.

The entrepreneur then advances with her or his own form of experiment. It’s not controlled in a closed environment. It’s a hard commitment of resources in a definite format to make a value proposition to customers. The experiment consists in ascertaining the customer’s response: like or dislike, buy or not buy, use and enjoy or use and reject? The experiment does not end there. It is continuous — receive the result, decide on how or whether to change the proposition, and try again.

Gut feeling or intuition or personal subjective heuristics all have roles to play in entrepreneurial decision making. Austrian economics captures these phenomena in the concept of judgment under conditions of uncertainty.

Organizing for the exercise of judgment.

Since judgment is the ultimate generative energy in producing value for customers, and since it’s personal and individual, how do firms grow? If judgement rests with a single entrepreneur, such as a founder, growth can’t scale, and will quickly reach its limits. Austrians have the organizational design solution: delegated judgment. Austrian leaders are able to design and implement non-hierarchical organizations in which every employee is empowered to exercise entrepreneurial judgment.

They do so by substituting value codes for authority. Value codes are the unwritten codes (although they might be found in the employee handbook) and conventions of “how we do things around here”, how we generate value for customers, the mission and purpose and internal methods of the firm.

Additional Resources

“Austrian Entrepreneurial Principles” (PDF): Download PDF

Austrian Perspectives on Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Organization by Nicolai J. Foss, Peter G. Klein, and Matthew McCaffrey: But It On Amazon

127. Matt McCaffrey: Austrian Business Strategy (Part 1): Emergent, Not Planned

Strategy is not the formulation of a plan. It is emergent from a process of exploration and discovery. Austrian economics is the best guide for entrepreneurial firms to put in place the methods and organization that unleash the power of emergence. Matt McCaffrey joins Economics For Business for a detailed exposition of the Austrian approach to Business Strategy.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

A firm is a vehicle for entrepreneurial action to generate value.

All businesses and all firms are entrepreneurial. They start from — and continue with — an aspiration to generate value for both customers and the firm, and they act on this intention by assembling assets (resources, people, cash, machines, software, etc.) that are required to realize and deliver value. The goal is to bring a good or service to market that is valued by others. Value is the ultimate goal.

There are clear conditions for this action to take place.

There must be a decision-making authority for the firm, because someone (or some collaborative group) must decide how to select and assemble just the right combination of resources and make a specific product or service from the assembly. We call that decision-making authority the entrepreneur.

A second condition is that someone or some group must bear the uncertainty of the action. It may not turn out the way that was expected. It may not be profitable. Less value may be generated, or none at all. This bearing of uncertainty is also the role of the entrepreneur.

It’s hard to get the operations of the firm just right, because of complexity and change.

Why is all this so hard, and the outcome so uncertain? Two reasons: change and complexity. The subjective valuations of customers, who decide what is more valuable and what is less valuable, are changing and reshuffling continuously, depending on situation, mood, the choices of others, and a myriad of other influences. These changes can become trends, fads, segments, and competitive advantages and disadvantages.

Continuous change contributes to the complexity of the resource assembly puzzle: there are innumerable ways in which resources can be combined and recombined in a firm, and getting the assembly just right is a difficult challenge that is never perfectly resolved.

Therefore, the Austrian view of capital as a flow is a fundamental contribution to rethinking firm strategy.

The resources assembled in an entrepreneurial firm are not valuable in themselves, but because they produce a good or service that the customer values and is willing to pay for. This value — translated into revenue through the customer’s willingness to pay — flows back to the firm as income. The flow of income is affected by each element in the firm’s capital combination and by the degree to which the combination is well-integrated for the value generation task. Customers drive the capital formation task. The entrepreneur is engaged in a never-ending process of combining different capital goods to find the combination that is the most serviceable in generating value. Treating capital as a value-generating flow helps entrepreneurs in practice to manage the persistent process of applying resource combinations in the market to ascertain what value they generate. It’s dynamic process with no pauses.

There are four implications for firm strategy — and they all contrast starkly with the traditional business school view of strategy.

The business school view of strategy takes the form of sophisticated data-fueled top-down planning models. Only a few special minds can take on this intellectually and computationally difficult challenge. Historically, the list of models has included Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model (a model of industry structure and how to create barriers to entry and competition); SWOT analysis (a model of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the firm’s point of view, with strategic implications for the management of each element); PESTEL analysis of the business environment (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal factors) and how they affect firm performance. The common thread for these models is that they are implemented top-down: the strategists apply the tools, draw conclusions, and instruct the rest of the organization how to act.

Matt McCaffrey’s contrasted this top-down strategy approach to the Austrian strategy approach across four dimensions.

Learning versus Rational Design

The top-down models attempt rationalization: they view strategy as a rational design problem, to shape a distinctive internal competence to seize an external opportunity and evade external threats.

This approach overlooks the crucial problem of learning. In circumstances of uncertainty, unpredictability, complexity and change, learning is the essential method of making progress. Changing conditions can never be known fully enough or fast enough by people at the center (in the strategic planning department) compared to front line employees. Firms must find a way to make use of this front line knowledge, through learning.

Dispersion versus Centralization

To enable the freedom to learn and to apply learning, decision-making must be dispersed through the organization. A single mind or single planning unit can not centralize all the knowledge and can’t centralize decision-making. A strategic plan is not feasible. Organizational design and decision-making processes must be decentralized and dispersed.

Implementation versus Formulation.

A comprehensive plan is impossible. Firms must seek a more adaptive framework. Processes and methods and forms of organization must be capable of adaptation to unforeseen events and new information. Continuous deliberate adjustments must be made in the light of new circumstances, which may arise every day. Therefore, Austrians see strategy as emergent not formulated via a planning process. Adaptive firms implement entrepreneurial actions, and then adapt to the learning, new knowledge and new circumstances that present themselves as a consequence.

Structure versus Strategy

The business school approach is that strategy must be fully formulated, and only then can it be used to shape the structure and processes of an organization. Austrians take the opposite approach: the structure of the firm (its organization, processes, and interfaces with the external environment) shapes strategy. Hayek used the term “structure of production”. This structure can be changed, but not instantly or seamlessly. Structure and strategy influence each other to some extent, but business schools tend to make strategy prior: that a firm is organized in response to the CEO’s vision. Austrians understand that this is not realistic because it’s not possible to restructure an existing organization every time a new vision comes along. There’s a high cost to structural change, and strategy must adjust.

Emergent strategy is based on business rules.

What, then, replaces top-down strategic planning? Austrians use the term “rules”. Rules are an internal device to help managers and employees make decisions on the spot in response to learning and new knowledge. Matt McCaffrey gave an example: whenever there is a break in the supply chain, repurpose old capital goods and bring them into the production process as a low-cost way to fill the gap. It’s a broad and simple rule, and it enables decision-making to go forward at the point of the supply chain break. People close to the action can use their local knowledge to solve the problem within the guideline of the rule.

Another example was given by Bob Luddy, CEO of CaptiveAire, who set the rule for his firm to always have the best price in the marketplace. It’s a simple rule that requires tremendous local knowledge about prices of systems and components, of competitive offerings, and about turnaround time (a cost element of price) among many others. Sales and marketing people as well as engineers can make decisions following this rule.

Rules sustain firm uniqueness.

Business school strategists often focus on competitive advantage as the goal of strategy. But the concept of competitive advantage comes from neoclassical economics and the depiction of markets as bounded cage-fights for market share between similarly-resourced rivals.

Austrian strategy focuses more on firm uniqueness. A firm’s distinctive rules can result in a unique mode of delivering value, and a unique perception in the eyes of customers. A brand is a set of rules that generates such a unique perception.

The ultimate distinction: strategy is exploration.

Strategy is emergent, not planned. Strategy is entrepreneurial. It’s a continuous process of learning through action and discovery. Sometimes, firms discover things they really wish they hadn’t. That’s part of the process through which, eventually, strategy evolves. It’s emergent. Over time, a firm can adopt some simple rules that seem to bring some order, but adaptation to new circumstances is always required. Profit is the signal that adaptation is successful.

We use the term explore and expand to capture the Austrian approach to strategy. Firms are always exploring, seeking ways to improve performance. When some experiments yield promising results, they can be expanded. Explore and expand is a trade-off: how much of the available resources should be allocated to each type of activity. Entrepreneurs manage the trade-off in order to succeed. There’s no strategic plan from on high to make the trade-off for them.

Additional Resources

“Emergent Strategy Process Map” (PDF): Download PDF

Austrian Perspectives on Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Organization by Nicolai J. Foss, Peter G. Klein, and Matthew McCaffrey: But It On Amazon

“Entrepreneurship and Firm Strategy: Integrating Resources, Capabilities, and Judgment through an Austrian Framework” by Matthew McCaffrey and Ulrich Möller (PDF): Download PDF

“‘When Harry Met Fritz’: Rules as Organizational Frameworks for Emergent Strategy Process” by Nicolai J. Foss, Matthew C. McCaffrey, and Carmen Elena Dorobăț (PDF): Download PDF

126. Joe Matarese Defines a Whole New Level of Customer Value to Build a High Growth Service Firm

Firms that can unlock the deep secrets of subjective value can unleash powerful, long-lasting value streams. When these flow in a confluence with well-identified market drivers, revenue and profit growth can be greatly accelerated.

Joe Matarese tells Economics For Business how he conjoined these two forces for his medical staffing service firm, creating a dynamic market leader from a three-person startup.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Market Drivers are strong, lasting forces capable of projection.

Austrians are skeptical about prediction, but it is reasonable to project some forces into the future. Demographics is one — the progression of age cohorts through the demography of a country can be mapped quite accurately. Increasing longevity is another, based on ongoing increased investment in health care and advances in the associated technologies. When Joe Matarese identified a shortage of doctors, he was able to confidently assume the shortage would continue.

When customer problems result from these forces, a market segment opens for solutions.

One customer problem fed by these forces is staffing for critical roles in hospitals — doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, etc. Staffing complements need to be assembled, absences caused by holidays, maternity leave, etc. need to be covered, and the natural churn of individuals taking new jobs, retiring, or moving requires flexible response. Not only staffing but scheduling is required — the right medical team for the specific operation at the appointed time.

The problem-to-solve is functional. The deep value is subjective and intense.

Joe’s core insight was about the intense emotional need, not just the functional need. He observed his client — an operations executive in a busy hospital system — stressing out about the problem. Operating room staffing is life-and-death. Unfilled team roles would often arise at the last minute, threatening the healthcare mission of the hospital.

Temporary staffing service providers would sometimes fail to deliver the scheduled stand-in. Stress for the executive intensified.

The solution for a deep-seated and intensely felt emotional need is to transfer the burden to the service provider.

Think of the intense burden the administrative executive bears when she’s not confident that her staffing plans are secure, and her routines and methods are not foolproof. What if there is a failure at the time of a scheduled operation and it can’t go forward? Or patients can’t get nursing care because of under-staffing? How much value is there in a service that can relieve the stress?

Joe Matarese conceived of the emotional solution: take the responsibility off the shoulders of the executive and take it on as a service of his firm. How is that achieved? Bulletproof processes and routines. Comprehensive databases of people and their skills and attributes, and of client facilities and their needs. The latest technology for profile matching and precision scheduling. Impeccable implementation. And, most importantly, intense listening to continuously monitor customer feelings, combined with the responsiveness to act on those feelings.

Growth follows when these market drivers, functional drivers and emotional drivers are aligned.

Medicus Healthcare Solutions quickly gained market share in its initial geography. Growth comes from adding new customers, expanding territory and the underlying forces of an aging population consuming more healthcare.

But growth is a management challenge. One area of great challenge is managing people. Those who signed on for the early stages of growth and development may not have the skills — or the interest — for the later stage tasks of management like strengthening processes and systems. Making sure the team is perfectly tuned to the demands of the current stage is difficult but critical.

Further acceleration of growth is driven by innovation.

Medicus Healthcare Solutions has always grown faster than the market. How? Through an intense search for new knowledge and its application in the form of unrelenting innovation — never resting in the search for better ways to provide client service. For example, in addition to continuous improvement in precision tailored scheduling, Medicus added a consulting service. Scheduling solves the client’s immediate short term problem, and does so again and again. Consulting can examine the client’s systems and solve the problem in the long term by designing and installing internal systems as good as Medicus’.

Joe has a long experience with innovation and how to manage it, and promised to come back to the Economics For Business podcast in the future to share his knowledge.

Additional Resources

“Driving Growth With Core Customer Value Insights” (PDF): Download PDF

“Medical Staffing and the Revolutionary Innovations We Need,” presented by Joe Matarese at the Mises Institute’s Medical Freedom SummitWatch the Video

Medicus Healthcare Solutions: Visit the Website

125. Steven Phelan on Innovation In Contracting

Entrepreneurs seek to provide markets with new value through innovation wherever they can identify an opportunity. Their vision is broad enough to include free market institutions such as contracting, where they identify new and better ways to expand the mutuality of value and better relationship models than those in the traditional legal approach.

Download The Episode Resource “Contracting In The New Economy” (PDF) – Download

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Traditional contracting starts from an adversarial mindset.

Traditional contracts are written in anticipation of conflict. They aim to anticipate everything that can go wrong. Then they try to put every contingency in black-and-white. Clauses are inserted to give one party the upper hand over the other. This approach fosters negative behaviors that undermine the relationship and the contract itself. Often, little room is left for flexibility when conditions change in unexpected ways, leading to costly problems like litigation, mediation/arbitration, renegotiation, churn, and shading (withdrawal of effort by one party due to lack of trust).

A new form of contract called a relational contract aims to address the problem.

A relational contract approaches negotiation not from a transactional perspective but from a relational perspective: what are the best provisions to ensure a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between the two contracting parties? Instead of focusing on how the value pie is divided between two parties, the shared goal is to maximize the total amount of value that can emerge from the partnership. There is a genuine good faith effort to align the two parties’ interests and to develop a fair and flexible framework to handle unexpected changes and events in the future.

The relational contract is designed to try to solve what economists call the hold-up problem.

Contracts refer to future events, and specifics (such as delivery times) can never be determined with certainty beforehand. The contract is said to be incomplete — not every contingency can be specified. The hold-up problem occurs when one party uses this situation to extract concessions from the other party, knowing that it would be costly for that party to change the arrangement.

Defense contractors, for example, are notorious for under-bidding costs and then adding to their revenue and profits via change orders. A contract may call for “best efforts” but this can never be defined specifically or completely.

The new approach is said to produce healthier and more sustainable partnerships.

In the article A New Approach To Contracts, the authors call for a “what’s in it for we” partnership mentality in contracting, where both parties have a vested interest in the other party’s success. Included relationship-building elements such as shared vision, guiding principles, and “robust governance structures” to keep the parties’ expectations and interests aligned.

Our guest, Steve Phelan, has written extensively about expectations management in negotiations, and concurs that contracts can perform as instruments of expectations management. However, they can’t be perfect, and the authors’ integration of trust-building mechanisms into contracts (e.g., regular scheduled trust-building meetings) seemed to him to be a bit artificial.

A better approach is to focus on identifying good-faith actors — those who work hard to follow both the letter and the spirit of the agreement. As is always underlined by the “Think Austrian” approach, subjectivism (in this case good-faith actors) brings better business solutions than hard and fast rules and mechanisms regarding how to build contractual trust.

It’s important to get there by the best route, since trust lowers transaction costs.

The new approach to contracting extends to psychological contracts.

Psychological contracts are unwritten relationships in which an individual holds a belief in mutual obligations between themselves and another party. An often-cited example is an employment relationship. There may be a written employment contract but, beyond that, an employee may have tacit expectations about job security, personal development, recognition, promotion, growth, personal well-being and respect. If these are not met, they may withdraw effort. Employers are well-advised to empathize with the unwritten expectations of the psychological contract in order to optimize employee motivation.

A brand promise can be a similar psychological contract. Brand make overt promises regarding the benefits they claim to bring to users. In turn, users create their own expectations — as we always emphasize, value is subjective and customers engage in a value learning process when they interact with brands. Their subjectively-defined expectations undergo continuous change, especially as they make comparisons with alternative offers and alternative sources of satisfaction. It’s imperative for brand owners to monitor the evolution of customer-perceived mutual obligations. Customers hold a strong perception of how much consumption work they have to do to receive the benefits that the brand promised, and if the equation gets out of balance, they’ll withdraw their effort.

Additional Resources

“Contracting In The New Economy” (PDF): Download PDF

“A New Approach To Contracts” (PDF): Download PDF

124. Irene Ng: Designing New Consumer Experiences in the Era of IoT

Value-as-experience is an insight from Austrian economics. Value is not inherent in objects or even in services. Value is not derived from functional use, but is the good feeling the consumer experiences during consumption. Consistent with the Austrian understanding of the market as a process, value is a process. It plays out in time in the consumer’s mind. Consumers learn what is valuable to them in the process of choosing and consuming and evaluating.

These insights add some under-appreciated marketing considerations to a firm’s capabilities, such as an appreciation of situational traits and of the importance of context. Irene Ng provides the E4B podcast audience with a set of contemporary tools to design new experiences and even create new markets in the era of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

To design experiences, start by thinking in terms of ecosystems.

Ecosystem thinking pays attention to how knowledge, people, technology, processes and the environment are connected and work together. Systems awareness is becoming wider and wider, observing the interaction and value creation among multiple service systems. Consumers’ value experience occurs within a service system, and thus the service ecosystem worldview is increasingly important for entrepreneurs in an ever more connected, digital and data-driven world.

The subjectivist viewpoint is fundamental to designing consumer experiences.

We are taught from the youngest age to have an object view of the world. We describe situations using nouns: for example, in a room, there is a chair and a piano. Meaning and purpose are identified via the nouns we use. Economics shares some of this noun-based view of the world: assets, knowledge, material things, property.

For the design of consumer experiences, verbs are more relevant, not just as descriptions but as connections between objects and people and behavior and thinking. If I play the piano or drink tea, I am connecting objects and people in action. The world becomes a matrix of verbs and interactions. What individuals do impacts on objects and on other individuals. Design becomes a matter of what a system of objects and people and connections and actions and flows can do.

IoT brings new capacities and new affordances to service ecosystems.

Irene listed 4 new capacities of IoT that contribute to new ways to design experiences:

  1. Liquefy information: A physical object’s information can be sent across space and time. When several information flows are combined for greater information density (e.g., from multiple objects in a kitchen used during cooking) we have more knowledge on which to base an experience design.
  2. Turn objects digital: Software and sensors embedded in an object give that object new capability. For example, a running jacket can communicate location and speed, measure temperature and heart rate, and provide programmability.
  3. Assemble individual objects into a service system: Objects and devices connected and working together exhibit abilities that they don’t have individually. A door lock plus a camera plus a tablet plus the internet can perform as a remotely monitored security system.
  4. Enable transactions between separate task spaces: A task network (such as cooking in a kitchen) can be linked to another task network (e.g., grocery shopping) and a transaction between the two enabled (deliver fill-up ingredients when inventory runs low).

Now a designer can think about a new set of affordances: properties of a system that show users what actions they can take. Ideally, the consumer will perceive the new affordances without the need for complex instruction.

Marketing changes its focus from consumers’ personal traits and segmentation to situations and contexts.

The design of an experience shifts from the use of objects to connected things with information flows in a system. A customer’s perception of the experience within the system may be affected less by their personal traits (as is often assumed in segmentations such as “early adopters” or “social approbation seekers”) and more by situational traits and context.

For example, the situation of “taking my morning coffee” affects an individual’s perception of how well a coffee mug meets their needs (how well does it fit under the spout of the coffee maker), along with a chair to sit in or a news service (paper or digital?) to read. How well do all these artifacts and services work together in this situation?

Similarly, context affects system perception. An individual might like a certain style of streaming music at home, consumed through a sound system while eating dinner, and an entirely different style for working out in the gym, consumed through a portable digital device and earpods.

The design of experiences considers situation and context, and can potentially accommodate a very broad range of people through personalization rather than cater to a narrow market segment.

The human being remains the best sensor in the system, and all design must support and enhance this role.

There may be a temptation for digital designers and technicians to become immersed in the capabilities of an IoT system and forget that it is the human who judges the value of the system through the experience it enables and supports. The human is not outside the system, but is the master sensor, providing both inputs, outputs and judgment. IoT systems provide support, using data to enhance the human experience. Empathy is still the designer’s number one tool to identify the market drivers — the dissatisfactions to be addressed — that underpin favorable human perceptions of the value of IoT systems.

Additional Resources

“Designing New Consumer Experiences in the Era of IoT” (PDF): Download PDF

“The Internet of Things: Review and Research Directions” by Irene Ng and Susan Wakenshaw” (PDF): Download PDF

“Service Ecosystems: A Timely Worldview” by Irene Ng (PDF): Download PDF

“Mimicking Firms: Future of Work and Theory of the Firm in a Digital Age” by Irene Ng (PDF): Download PDF

Value & Worth: Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy by Irene Ng: But It on Amazon

123. Sergio Alberich on Capital Structure and Capital Flexibility

The proper selection of a firm’s financial source does not guarantee its success, but the wrong one assures its failure.

Austrian capital theory delivers actionable insights for business. Austrian theory emphasizes capital’s economic role in generating customer revenue flows. Since these flows are variable, entrepreneurial capital must exhibit a capacity for agile and flexible combination and re-combination to keep revenue flows refreshed and current, Since capital structure plays an important role in entrepreneurial judgment, decisions, and action, it must support fast, flexible and unconstrained decision making. Businesses can benefit from their understanding of capital through this Austrian lens. Sergio Alberich helps the Economics For Business podcast listeners, and business practitioners in all kinds of businesses at all stages for their development, to Think Austrian in matters of capital structure.

Download The Episode Resource “Austrian Capital Financing” (PDF) – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurs designing a firm’s capital structure should view their choices through the twin lenses of ownership and control.

Ownership and control are tradeable assets for the entrepreneurial firm. In order to obtain capital financing, one or the other or both might be offered up by the entrepreneur or requested by the financier.

How will shared ownership play out now and in the future? Will ownership imply only a share in any future returns? How great a share is the entrepreneur willing to trade? What will it feel like to receive only a portion of the return the entrepreneur worked for? How much more ownership will be given up in future financing rounds?

Can ownership be traded without any loss of control over decision-making and future investments? Alternatively, how much control should be traded? A board seat? An investment committee? The financier wants the entrepreneur to be free to make the decisions for which he or she is best-informed and most capable, and yet wants to be protected from managerial error.

There are many factors that can stand in the way of capital flexibility, and organizational issues of ownership and control become paramount.

Debt and equity are the basic choices as building blocks of capital structure.

Debt and equity are basically different kinds of contracts between the individuals managing / operating a project and those funding it. Debt is a fixed claim with a known annual return to the debt holder. Typically, the debt holder has no control over management decisions and is not involved in managing the company (although there are some covenants that can be written to provide some distant control).

The return on equity for the financial investor is residual, after debt repayments are made, leaving entrepreneurs relatively free to allocate costs and direct operations. But equity holders typically hold voting rights, and can therefore exercise some control in some circumstances. They may also exert strong influence on management decisions based on relationships. For example, family and friends investors may exert special relationship influence.

There are some debt-equity hybrids — most notably convertible notes, debt that is convertible into equity at some future stage or event. The negotiation of this instrument brings more complexity to the ownership-control debate, while giving the entrepreneur leeway to consider issues of valuation in the future rather than at the current financing.

Entrepreneurs must also consider human factors, especially the number of people in the capital structure.

Another major consideration for entrepreneurs is whether to raise debt or equity from a few people or many (e.g., via IPO or a bond that hedge fund investors can buy). Raising capital from large numbers of investors creates categorically different situations for the entrepreneur. An IPO, for example, can not be a highly tailored instrument. Institutional conventions and regulatory rules impose many requirements about how entrepreneurs and their managers communicate, how they frame financial risk, and about the nature of widespread shareholder engagement they take on. Just think of the interaction of Elon Musk on Twitter, with the SEC, and with short sellers.

In general, the fewer the number of investors, the greater the operating flexibility for the entrepreneur. There are fewer people to convince when business seeks to make a major change, or to pivot.

Sergio Alberich outlined 4 levels of consideration for the financial investor providing capital to the entrepreneurial firm.

Level 1: How are the factors of production combined in the firm, and how might the combination change in the future? Elements of this level of consideration include the stage of business in its growth journey and the assessed maturity of its business model, industry, and competitive set; the nature of the business’s relationship with partners, suppliers, channels and customers; and the state of knowledge regarding product, service and market development.

Level 2: What is the nature and scale of cash flows now and in the future? Are there mature, reliable cash flows? Is one part of the business a drain on cash resources? Is cash coming in from investments for operating expenses (which are not really flexible).

Layer 3: What are the possibilities for returns? Both entrepreneurs and investors seek profit – not just accounting profit on the P&L but returns on equity. At an early stage, a company may worry about generating future cash flows and less about the cost of equity (in terms of sacrificed future returns) to finance growth. A more mature company with cash flows in the present pays much more attention to the cost of equity, and to cost of capital in general, seeking to preserve as much return as possible.

It is often the case that entrepreneurs give up too much equity in order to secure early stage venture capital funding, whether directly of via convertible loans. To keep the entrepreneur motivated with equity that promises future returns, it is best for them to deal with just a few investors who understand this motivation.

Organizational design is relevant, too. For example, a law firm with 100 partners, each of whom own 1 share, and limit their business model collaboration to sharing real estate costs and IT expenses, while effectively running 100 projects, might be creating a politicized nest of vipers. A partnership with shared equity in one business, where everyone stands to lose a lot if there is a bad decision, is likely to be much more collaborative, conducting a unified business, rather than acting as a co-operative of individuals sharing costs.

In the end, subjectivism in entrepreneurship prevails.

As we emphasized in episode #108 (see Mises.org/E4B_108), businesses perform best when entrepreneurs are free to make subjective decisions. The proper source of capital is one that most enables this subjective freedom, which may not be the optimum source based on spreadsheet calculations. Subjectivity and entrepreneurial judgement are not math. The best economic role of capital finance lies in helping entrepreneurs make better human subjective decisions. This is the essence of the means-ends calculation for both entrepreneurs and investors. Austrian economics gives by far the best guidance on this economic role of capital.

Additional Resources

“Austrian Capital Financing” (PDF): Download PDF

“Austrian School vs. Neoclassical School” (PDF): Download PDF