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Bigbelly’s Belly Gets Bigger, says Harvard

Harvard Business School published an article on its blog about a daring new “strategy pivot” currently being undertaken by Needham, Massachusetts-based Bigbelly—proprietor of those sleek, self-compacting, solar-powered waste stations you see all across the Eastern Seaboard.
 In 2015, Bigbelly’s CEO announced that the company is planning to expand its market reach to the “smart cities” realm by incorporating “Wi-Fi access, sensors, and digital advertising” services into its bins.

Mitchell Weiss, a professor at Harvard Business School, along with Christine Snively, are using Bigbelly’s pivot to survey the “opportunities and challenges” of tech companies “moving away from selling one-off products toward licensing products or services on a subscription basis (SaaS).” Or the “anything as a service” model (Xaas)—“server infrastructure, applications, and administrative support.”

The blog post makes note of the fact that Bigbelly’s public sector consumer base is renowned for its bureaucracy and “glacial sales cycles” will make the transition challenging. That said, if Bigbelly can get the angle of their strategy pivot just right, their relationship with government has the potential to deliver enormous business.

According to Weiss, Bigbelly “aims to leverage the power and connectivity already embedded in the waste stations for a public increasingly hungry for data.” To properly address the concerns of their new customer base about wireless Internet privacy, for instance, Bigbelly will have to reorient its employees to a “SaaS mindset” by shifting toward sales solutions that manage “ongoing, long-term customer relationships” rather than “one-time sales.”

In addition to Wi-Fi, which remains Bigbelly’s major selling point in their strategy pivot according to the blog post, the company plans to incorporate “real-time sensors to their trash cans” that collect a wide swath of usage data. Weiss wonders aloud, “How different will things be when private companies have more up-to-date information on the condition of a city street—for example, whether it has potholes or not—than city governments do?”

Bigbelly also has plans to incorporate targeted advertising into its bins that takes into account the “demographics of the passers-by,” as well as “data from users’ connected devices,” like Sidewalk Labs’ LinkNYC program. Weiss explains the twofold concern that ethical tech companies must now consider in developing products that lie between “enhanc[ing] citizens’ lives and…engag[ing] the community early on in issues of data and privacy.”

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About the Author


Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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