Memo: DTC’s Good News

The list of pending consumer IPOs is extensive. They include: Fabletics, Fanatics, Flipkart, Hungryroot, Impossible Foods, Liquid Death, Lovevery, Rokt,, Shein, Skims, Klaviyo, and Instacart. Birkenstock, a longstanding retailer that has seen DTC success, is said to be pursuing an initial public offering as soon as September thanks to a reported 340% increase in demand, according to‘s analysts.

The impending 2023 IPOs of the above retailers as well as technology companies including Klaviyo and Instacart, plus with the continued growth of retail media, signal increasing odds of liquidity events for direct-to-consumer brands, who may take part in a potentially exciting fourth quarter wave of IPO filings. According to Will Braeutigam, US capital markets transactions leader at Deloitte:

Expectations for active Q4 public listings are on the rise and companies have started to re-engage around the IPO process.

Klaviyo, the leading independent eCommerce marketing software provider, has recently turned profitable, a crucial milestone ahead of its IPO. However, it faces challenges such as intensifying competition, slowing revenue growth, and a high dependence on eCommerce clients. Similarly, Instacart, the online grocery delivery service, has had a decent bottom line ahead of its IPO, with advertising accounting for more than a quarter of its annual revenue. However, it faces challenges such as slowing gross transaction volume growth and increasing competition. The Information explained it this way:

Klaviyo’s backers also face the reality that valuations have fallen sharply since 2021, when the company was valued privately at more than $9 billion. One publicly traded comparison is HubSpot, which is trading at around 12.8 times its last year’s sales, though it offers a broader range of tools than Klaviyo. Another marketing software firm that could be more in line with Klaviyo’s business is Braze, which is trading at around 9.4  times last year’s sales. An average of those two, applied to Klaviyo’s $472.7 million in 2022 revenue, implies an enterprise value for Klaviyo of only $5.3 billion.

Instacart tells a similar tale, according to Insider:

Given Fidelity currently values its Instacart Series I shares at $45.10 each — the same value as its Series H shares — the startup’s share value has been slashed by nearly 64% in the last 30 months, largely during the first part of last year, and remains near record lows.

These IPOs are significant barometers for several reasons beyond the typical: employee liquidity, corporate influx of capital, and a valuation benchmark. The online retail industry is in dire need of more successful exits. The shadow of 2021’s boom and IPO bust looms over the industry, but recent successes like Oddity’s IPO and current $2.5 billion market capitalization are positive signals. In 2022, Oddity, who owns makeup brand Il Makiage, climbed from a 2021 tally of $110.6 million in net revenue to $324 million the following year. LVMH’s private equity arm, L Catterton, earned a substantial return.

There is a surprising parallel between Oddity’s success and the potential of Instacart and Klaviyo to find post-exit success: each of the three companies is highly dependent on its own platform’s retail data. Instacart and Klaviyo have used millions of consumer data points to its collective advantage, Instacart more directly with its burgeoning retail media operation.

Despite the slashed share prices of Instacart and Klaviyo, it has not become the prevailing narrative for either company. And there are positive indicators in addition to Klaviyo and Instacart’s potential promise. The continued general growth of retail media is a key signal for DTC brands; we’ve extensively covered retail media’s promise here:

The advertising category, which includes advertising on eCommerce platforms, social media, and other online channels, has been growing rapidly as consumers increasingly shop online. This provides an opportunity for DTC brands to reach their target audience more efficiently and effectively. The WSJ notes (ironically) that Instacart “might be too reliant on ads.” I disagree; as long as sales volume continues to grow, retail media’s growth will be a multiplier for Instacart. And if retail media continues to become a reliable revenue generator for DTC brands, it may become the rising tide needed by DTCs proverbial fleet of ships.

After a soft June where revenues were flat compared to last year (despite rising prices), the Belardi Wong survey of DTC sales, cited in the header image, the retail category showed a surprising +4 percent YOY. The breakdown by category looked like this:

  • Apparel: 10% YOY
  • Shoes and Accessories: 8% YOY
  • Home decor: -5% YOY

The Big Takeaways

The upcoming 2023 IPOs of Klaviyo and Instacart, along with the continued growth of retail media, indicate increasing odds of liquidity events for DTC brands. Here’s why:

  • Profitability of Klaviyo: Klaviyo turning profitable in the first half of 2023 signals a strong financial position likely to attract investors during its IPO. This is a positive sign for the DTC brands using Klaviyo’s services as it indicates the company’s ability to provide sustainable and potentially more innovative services in the future.
  • Increased value of customer data: The surge in eCommerce growth and Apple’s privacy changes have made customer data more valuable to merchants. This has led to increased funding for marketing startups like Klaviyo and Attentive, indicating a strong demand for their services. DTC brands, which rely heavily on online sales and marketing, stand to benefit from enhanced tools and services provided by these companies.
  • Intensified competition: The increasing overlap of features among startups and the entry of big players like Shopify and Amazon have intensified competition in the marketing tools space. This is likely to lead to the development of more innovative and cost-effective tools for online merchants, benefiting DTC brands.
  • Diversification of client base: Klaviyo’s efforts to diversify its client base beyond eCommerce and reduce dependence on Shopify clients indicates its intention to expand and strengthen its market position. This could lead to the development of more tailored services for different industries, benefiting a wider range of DTC brands.
  • Valuation challenges: The lower-than-expected valuation of Klaviyo at its IPO could signal challenges for other companies in the space and lead to a reassessment of valuations. This could result in more realistic valuations for DTC brands, making them more attractive investment opportunities for investors.
  • Growth of retail media: The continued growth of retail media signals an increasing shift of advertising dollars towards online retail platforms. This presents an opportunity for DTC brands to access a larger audience and potentially achieve higher sales. The increased advertising revenue for online retail platforms could also lead to more investments in enhancing their services, benefiting DTC brands.
  • Interest of investors in Klaviyo’s IPO: The intense interest of investors in Klaviyo’s IPO indicates the attractiveness of the online marketing tools space. A successful IPO of Klaviyo could lead to increased investor interest in other companies in the space and potentially more liquidity events for DTC brands.

The road to liquidity events for DTC brands is not without challenges. The intense competition in the eCommerce space means that companies need to continuously innovate and invest in growth to stay ahead. Moreover, the high valuations of many DTC brands mean that they need to meet high expectations of growth and profitability to justify their valuations.

The points raised above could signal increasing odds of liquidity events for DTC brands. However, DTC brands need to navigate challenges such as intense competition, high expectations of growth and profitability, and the need to continuously innovate and invest in growth.

By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes with art by Christina Williams and Alex Remy

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