Natalie Carlson

Assistant Professor of Management · The Wharton School

I'm an Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. My research focuses on entrepreneurship, digital platform work, and other forms of nontraditional employment, with a particular focus on emerging economies. My work draws on a variety of methodologies, with a focus on new computational methods and text as data. I did my Ph.D. at Columbia Business School.


Research

Peer-Reviewed Publications
Choudhury, P., Wang, D.J., Carlson, N.A. & Khanna, T. (2019). “Machine Learning Approaches to Facial and Text Analysis: Discovering CEO Oral Communication Styles.” Strategic Management Journal 40(11).

We demonstrate how a novel synthesis of three methods—(a) unsupervised topic modeling of text data to generate new measures of textual variance, (b) sentiment analysis of text data, and (c) supervised ML coding of facial images with a cutting-edge convolutional neural network algorithm—can shed light on questions related to CEO oral communication. With videos and corresponding transcripts of interviews with emerging market CEOs, we use this synthesis of methods to discover five distinct communication styles that incorporate both verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication. Our data comprises interviews that represent unedited expressions and content, making them especially suitable as data sources for the measurement of an individual's communication style. We then perform a proof-of-concept analysis, correlating CEO communication styles to M&A outcomes, highlighting the value of combining text and videographic data to define styles. We also discuss the benefits of using our methods versus current research methods.

Selected Working Papers
Carlson, N.A. “Differentiation in Microenterprises.”

Small unregistered firms contribute to a substantial proportion of global economic activity, particularly in developing regions. In explaining variation in productivity in these types of informal firms, research has focused primarily on the adoption of effective business practices and access to capital, with little focus on fundamental positioning. This article explores the nature of differentiation in microenterprises, introducing a text-based measure of differentiation using state-of-the-art sentence embeddings. Using a combined sample of nearly 10,000 microenterprises across eight developing countries, I estimate that a standard deviation increase in differentiation is associated with approximately an 11 percent increase in revenues and an eight percent increase in profit. I show that the relationship between differentiation and performance is substantially stronger for male microenterprise owners, and that the propensity to differentiate increases with years of education and decreases with age. Finally, I estimate the impact of common policy interventions on microenterprise differentiation. The results suggest that standard business skills training interventions have little effect on differentiation and that access to individual-liability microfinance may actually decrease it.

Carlson, N.A., & Hager, A. “Pathways to Growth in Microenterprise: Field Experimental Evidence from Zimbabwe.”

Recent work in entrepreneurial strategy has brought new richness to understanding how entrepreneurs make strategic choices between alternatives. In this article we consider how these processes may differ in the context of a large population of less studied entrepreneurs: microenterprise owners in lower-income economies. While much work on entrepreneurs in the industrialized world has focused on idea assessment, experimentation, and hypothesis testing, interventions aimed at microentreprises tend to focus on business practices and access to capital. We aim to synthesize the literatures by studying pathways to improvement in a highly effective entrepreneurial program in Zimbabwe. We focus on the puzzle of what appears to be an "invisible" pathway of performance improvement: an apparent strong treatment effect even among treated entrepreneurs who report no changes to their business operations. We show evidence that at least one mechanism for improvement may be in convincing those with promising businesses to "stay the course": that is, treatment reduced false negatives in idea assessment, in contrast to interventions in rich world settings that primarily reduce false positives. Adoption of new practices was not associated with additional performance benefit, while the benefits of scaling were limited to employment and business savings.

Burbano, V., Carlson, N.A., & Ostler, J. “A Sustainable Product Penalty and How to Avoid It: Evidence from Kickstarter Campaigns.”

New ventures are increasingly touting sustainable products, though research examining the effects of organizations’ sustainability characteristics has focused mainly on large firms. Compared to large firms, there is limited information available which can be used to assess the validity of self-framing and claims made by new ventures. Thus, individuals are likely to give less credence to new ventures’ self-framing and claims as compared to that of large firms; including those related to sustainability. The benefits to new ventures of offering sustainable products may therefore be more limited than existing research would suggest. We examine new ventures’ sustainability claims on the rewards-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and utilize machine learning methodologies to categorize their projects as touting sustainable products (or not), and then examine the relationship between product-level sustainability claims and reaching the project’s funding goal. We find that, contrary to extant research based mainly on large firm contexts, providing a sustainable product leads to a negative average response; that is, a lower likelihood of reaching the funding goal. We consider explanations for this sustainable product penalty and find evidence consistent with two mechanisms: perceptions of instrumentality and perceptions of lower quality. We find support that communications and framing by the new venture which are likely to reduce perceptions of instrumentality and increase perceptions of quality indeed increase the benefits of selling a sustainable product or service, such that the benefits can be net positive. We thus shed light on important contingencies under which new ventures can(not) benefit from selling sustainable products.

Zhao, J., Carlson, N.A., Ichniowski, C., & Kogut, B. “Practices and Culture in Multilevel Organizations: Evidence from Microfinance Institutions in India.”

Microfinance is a social technology that uses peer-to-peer social pressure to enforce and encourage repayment. By 2010, there existed over 100 million borrowers throughout the world with loans at microfinance institutions (MFIs), hierarchical organizations with loan activities carried out at local branches nested within a larger corporate structure. In this study we examine the determinants of performance at the local branch level, using a detailed survey to collect financial data, managerial practices, and employee attitudes at over 400 local branches of 19 MFIs in India. We show that while lending practices tend to be standardized across MFIs, organizational culture – specifically the prosocial attitudes of employees – varies considerably at the local level. Moreover, measures of prosocial culture are strongly and positively associated with local branch productivity and appear to reflect a founding imprint: branches of firms founded as non-profit evince a strong prosocial culture even after shifting to a for-profit business model. The results emphasize the importance of the prosocial culture in branches, with headquarters responsible for the routinization of practices across branches. We introduce three broad propositions with relevance to hierarchical organizations: first, that while practices may be corporate, culture is local. Second, local culture is likely to reflect an imprint of founding conditions. Third, local culture will predict variance in local performance.


Teaching

MGMT 117. Global Growth of Emerging Firms (Undergraduate)
Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023 (planned).

Syllabus for Spring '22 here! Past syllabus and more details here.

MGMT 817. Global Growth of Emerging Firms (MBA)
Spring 2023 (planned).