Strategy in Digital Markets (Fall 2023/2024)

Master in Management Program at HEC Lausanne, also open to PhD students

Course overview

We live in an increasingly digital economy. Information technology (IT) has transformed a large number of markets and advances in Artificial Intelligence will likely further lead to important changes throughout the value chain of individual firms and across a variety of sectors.

The course Strategy in Digital Markets introduces students to some of the fundamental concepts, and strategic challenges and opportunities of digitization. We will explore how digital technologies shape markets and corporate strategy.

We discuss organizational issues, such as whether firms should rely on in-house IT or source these capabilities from the market. A central part of the course relates to pricing strategies and business models. Most prominently, we will discuss platform strategy from the perspective of entry, openness, and competition. We then focus on data as a strategic resource and the organization and market strategy of Machine Learning (ML) applications. Lastly, we discuss the role of governments in regulating digital markets and the strategic responses firms can take.

The overarching aim is to prepare students for careers in industry/consulting and/or dissertations in this field.


This is a Project-Based-Learning course. Each week we have a section on theory, and a section on empirical evidence. Learning is aided by three types of interactions:

1. Theoretical input videos

2. Flipped classroom and discussion of theoretical material

3. Discussion of research papers

The course will be held in a blended format. Class discussions will be in-person, guest speakers join via Zoom.

Learning goals

Learn, apply and critically evaluate models of technology adoption

Identify the organizational trade-offs of technology adoption

Learn what makes platform markets different

Learn under which circumstances data and ML can be a useful resource

Learn about interactions between government regulation and strategy

2. Subject-specific skills

Practice analyzing markets, firms and strategies

Practice reading, summarizing and critiquing academic papers

Practice how to draw conclusions from data and econometric analysis

3. General skills

Practice to develop hypotheses about general effects from observing examples

Practice presentation and clear communication of complex issues

Course structure

Guest speakers

Benjamin Shiller (Brandeis University) - Oct 03, 2023
Benjamin Shiller is an Associate Professor of Economics at Brandeis University. His research focuses on industrial organization and technological change. More specifically, he investigates the impacts of consumer data collection (pricing strategies, market concentration), consumer countermeasures (ad blocking), distribution formats (digital distribution, pricing, and resale restrictions), and information disclosure / mechanism design (vehicle crashworthiness ratings). Benjamin has a Ph.D. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Xiaomeng Chen (University of Pittsburgh) - Oct 10, 2023
Xiaomeng Chen is an Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Technology Management at the University of Pittsburgh. She studies digital platforms, focusing on the implications of various platform strategies on platform outcomes. Her work involves econometrics and field experiments to understand the causal impacts of whether certain platform choice can bring positive outcomes. Xiaomeng has a Ph.D, in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University, SC Johnson College of Business.

Tobias Kretschmer (LMU Munich) - Oct 17, 2023
Tobias Kretschmer is a Professor of Strategy, Technology and Organization at the LMU Munich School of Management. His work focuses on strategy and organization design in technology-intensive industries, especially platform markets and digital technologies. In a previous life, Tobias played bass in a thrash metal band and performed as a DJ in London, Singapore and Munich, playing tunes like this:

Alexander Staub (HEC Lausanne) - Oct 24, 2023
Alexander Staub is a postdoctoral researcher at HEC Lausanne. His research focuses on understanding drivers of knowledge contribution behavior in the digital economy by employing causal inference methods and field experiments. Before joining HEC Lausanne, Alexander was a country manager for an e-commerce platform based in Manchester and a visiting researcher at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard. He also has been co-hosting and producing the podcast “Desk Reject: der PhD-Cast” for early career researchers. Alexander has a Ph.D. from the Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Chiara Farronato (Harvard Business School) - Oct 31, 2023
Chiara Farronato is Glenn and Mary Jane Creamer Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School. Her research focuses on the growth of digital platforms, such as Amazon and Airbnb. Her work explores key decisions managers need to make when crafting growth strategies that attract new users and intensify use by existing platform participants.  Chiara has a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Hakan Özalp (University of Amsterdam) - Nov 07, 2023
Hakan Özalp is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam. Before joining the University of Amsterdam, he was at VU Amsterdam, LMU Munich and Leeds University Business School. His research explores the antecedents and the impact of industrial and technological change on platform ecosystems, firms, and innovation-based competition taking place within these ecosystems and across firms. Hakan has a Ph.D. from Bocconi University.

Michael Impink (HEC Paris)  - Nov 14, 2023
Michael Impink is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at HEC Paris. His research focuses on digital entrepreneurship and the impact of digitization on organizational structure. Before joining HEC Paris, Michael was a senior manager at Microsoft based in Seattle and Singapore, a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and at NYU Stern School of Business. Michael has a Ph.D. from NYU Stern.

Ananya Sen (Carnegie Mellon) - Nov 21, 2023
Ananya Sen is an Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon University (Heinz College). His research interests center around platforms with a special focus on the media, innovation and more broadly the digital economy. Ananya uses a variety of empirical techniques to analyze data from field experiments as well as observational data to gain insight into broad research questions. Before moving to Carnegie Mellon, he was a Post Doctoral Associate at MIT Sloan School of Mangement. He received a Ph.D in Economics from the Toulouse School of Economics.

Maria Roche (Harvard Business School) - Nov 28, 2023
Maria Roche is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. She teaches Strategy in the MBA required curriculum. Her research focuses on the sourcing, production and diffusion of knowledge, which she examines in various contexts including cities, co-working spaces, universities, and open source platforms. Her work, published at The Review of Economics and Statistics, Organization Science and Research Policy, has been featured in The Atlantic, and the WSJ. Maria has a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech.

Grazia Cecere (Institut Mines Télécom) - Dec 05, 2023
Grazia Cecere is a Professor of Economics at the Institut Mines Télécom, Business School, LITEM. She is Director of Research at the Institut Mines Télécom, Business School. She obtained her doctorate in economics from the University of Paris Saclay (France) and the University of Turin (Italy). Her main research areas are digital economics with a focus on privacy economics, algorithms and machine learning, mobile app economics and digital marketing.

Imke Reimers (Cornell University) - Dec 12, 2023
Imke Reimers is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Business Economics at Cornell University. She is broadly interested in the industrial organization of digital markets, information, and intellectual property. Her research mainly focuses on two specific questions: 1) how does intellectual property policy affect access to information; and 2) how does information technology affect consumer and firm decisions as well as the functioning and efficiency of markets? Imke received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota. Before joining Cornell University, Imke spent a year at the NBER in the digitization and copyright initiative, was a faculty member at Northeastern and also became a national champion tennis player in her age group.

Evaluation for Master students

Class participation

You are expected to contribute to the discussion in class. Your active contribution is essential for the quality of class discussion. In my experience class is more interesting for everyone when everyone participates. To be prepared for class, you need to watch and read the material, i.e. videos and research papers for that day before class. I will sometimes cold call and sometimes not call on those who are volunteering to encourage the right climate. If you are not prepared for a particular class, please let me know at the beginning of class. Things happen, and I don’t need to know the reason, but I prefer not to embarrass you by exposing you as unprepared.

To make sure that everybody has the right incentives to prepare for class, there is a rather short weekly assignment and two essays to be completed during the semester. The course closes with an open book final exam.

Weekly assignments (25%)
Following along all semester will be crucial for learning success. However, I do understand that some weeks are busier than others. Therefore you can choose 10 out of 12 papers to read and answer questions about. This will be in the form of online quizzes that you complete before class. The quizzes will be such that it is not necessary to read and digest the paper in full detail (this is what the group assignment is for), but I expect that you carefully read the introduction, discussion and conclusion sections. If you cannot answer a question based on that alone, you can always go back to the paper and read more details.

Essay (50%)
For two research papers, you will need to write a reaction paper. This means that you will write a detailed discussion of the research paper, relating to the concepts discussed in class and beyond. Detailed instructions and an example reaction paper will be provided. You can choose which two papers you want to react on, but you must have submitted two reports before week 14.

Final exam (25%)
The final exam will be open book. This is an individual effort over 60 minutes and involves a discussion of a case study using the theoretical concepts we have learned in class. The date will be announced.

Re-examination procedure: Students are required to redo failed assessments. The resits will be during the official resit examination period. A student who fails to deliver the required individual assignments can be re-evaluated in a short oral exam; the readings will be the same. Failed group assignments can be redone in the same format as the initial assessments, albeit in a new group or individually. The final exam can be redone in the same format as the initial assessment. The grade will be calculated on the assessments that are not redone along with the assessments that are redone as per the weighting scheme of the original syllabus.

Evaluation for PhD students

This course is open to PhD students. PhD students are strongly encouraged to actively participate in class, follow along all semester and read the assigned papers and case studies before each class. There are two types of graded assignments.

Active contributions (25%)
PhD students are expected to actively contribute in the discussion of research papers (Friday sessions). Every week, I expect every student to pose at least one question / provide a discussion point. This needs to be done during class and by posting a question / discussion point on the discussion board on Moodle before class. The questions on the Moodle discussion board can be narrowly related to the week’s research paper (e.g. regarding methodology) or broadly related to the overall topic discussed in the week.

Reaction paper (25%)
For one research paper, you will need to write a reaction paper. This means that you will write a detailed discussion of the research paper, relating to the concepts discussed in class and beyond. Detailed instructions and an example reaction paper will be provided. You can choose which paper you want to react on, but you must have submitted your reports before week 14.

Research proposal (50%)
Your second assignment is a research proposal of 15 pages, double-spaced, due four weeks after the last class. This research proposal should be deeply rooted in the literature that we have discussed in class (i.e. beyond the specific papers that we have discussed). Students need to develop hypotheses, describe (anticipated) methods, potentially provide some preliminary findings, and discuss the contribution to the literature and implications for managers/policy.

Re-examination procedure: Students are required to redo failed assessments. The assessment can be redone in the same format as the initial assessment. The resit assignment will be due four weeks after the instructor has informed the student about failing the assessment.