When Dan Levitan, along with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, launched consumer-focused venture capital fund Maveron in 1998, the pair decided on eBay as their first investment. Maveron's thesis was that technology was going to play a bigger role consumers' lives and how they buy products. At the time, that meant getting in early on marketplace startups, where customers could for the first time buy from a wide selection of products online. Today, it means that brands are able to go from "obscurity to ubiquity" in an unprecedented amount of time, thanks in large parts to investments in digital media like Facebook and Google.
As direct-to-consumer brands have come to dominate the new retail landscape, they've also brought with them a new set of vocabulary. Many of these terms -- CAC, LTV, AOV -- are important for any retail company, regardless of whether or not they sell directly through their website or not. But they've become increasingly important to DTC companies, particularly the ones who have taken on venture capital funding.
As they grow up, direct-to-consumer startups are starting to partner more exclusive product drops, giveaways and events, all in the name of cheaper customer acquisition. While many of these partnerships are only responsible for incremental revenue, they are one of a number of ways that today's DTC brands are trying to find cheaper and more organic ways to get more people to hear about their brands.
As the direct-to-consumer space matures, private equity brands are starting to play an increasingly heavy hand in picking category winners and losers. One of the most active private equity investors in the DTC space is L Catterton, which has taken stakes in Mizzen + Main, Peloton and Third Love. Most recently, it announced on Monday that it had invested $100 million in bedding brand Boll & Branch. Some of these DTC brands are taking on private equity because they believe it allows them to grow at a more manageable pace than if they were to take on venture capital money.
It's become one of the most talked-about subjects in the DTC world: one of the biggest challenges brands face today is the rising cost of customer acquisition, particularly on digital channels like Facebook and Google. But, the customer acquisition challenges DTC brands face goes beyond cost, and as such, it will take more than just an advertising channel offering low CPMs to win them over.
As Trump's increased China tariffs continue to take a toll on the US economy, many smaller DTC businesses are faced with some tough choices. But for most, it's not simply as easy as moving manufacturing out of the country.
SmileDirectClub will soon be one of the few companies that started as an online-only, direct-to-consumer startup to make it to the public markets, setting the bar for what it will take for other DTC companies, particularly in the health care industry, to go public. On Friday SmileDirectClub -- which sells teeth alignment kits direct-to-consumer -- made its confidential IPO filing public, revealing that the company generated $423 million in revenue in 2018, with a net loss of $74.8 million.
After gathering customer insight from subscribers around the types of wines they prefer over Vinebox’s past three-and-a-half years, and seeing users buying more cases of the individual pours outside of the three-month delivery cycle, Vinebox founder Matt Dukes launched Usual Wines, a private-label brand of wines made in-house. Usual wines, which launched eight months ago, are sold in packs of six and can be bought online and at Usual’s first branded store and wine bar in San Francisco.
Wine company Winc just launched its equity crowdfunding campaign on the Seedinvest platform, in the hopes that it can raise a Series D fund with the help of its fanbase. Winc has raised nearly $50 million from traditional investors. Now, it's turning to everyday people with some extra cash to spare asking them to invest in the growing company too. It's a rare move for the alcohol space, but follows in the footsteps of a few interesting brands.
On Wednesday, Gin Lane announced that it is shutting down its agency work, and rebranding to Pattern. Pattern will launch its own brands and operate them under one holding company, joining the long line of agencies that have tried to launch their own products.
Home insurance startup Hippo just reached unicorn status. Since the very beginning, the company worked with the branding agency Work & Co to help craft and evolve its strategy and products. While many upstart DTC brands sing the praises of bringing all branding in-house, this provides a helpful example of an agency partnership that helped a company be worth more than $1 billion.
Many DTC brands are no longer happy selling just products. Instead, they're expanding into services and platforms. But is this strategy to scale achievable or just empty promises to investors?
Most digitally-native retail brands start small, but as they grow they increasingly need to scale their customer service program. Recent headlines from growing companies like Rent the Runway illustrate the growing need DTCs have for centralized and proactive customer service programs.
A new boom of technology partners have seen an opportunity to seize on this next-stage DTC opportunity: Scale is difficult, and brands, despite product market fit and a customer base, might sink left on their own.
Outdoor Voices is dipping its toes further into the editorial game. The athleisure brand launched today a content marketing platform, The Recreationalist, which includes a blog and a zine. Outdoor Voices' overall mission, according to the brand, is to "get the world moving" and to "free fitness from performance." The Recreationalist will be speaking to that ethos as a hub of "guidance, inspiration and motivation."
A growing number of health and beauty brands are turning to cloud-based systems that can handle customer, financial and inventory data across all processes, from production to payment.
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