Issue No. 219: On TheSkimm

Opinion: The Skimm treats its readers like they’ve never read an article, looked at a map, or accidentally seen a CNN segment in their dentists’ waiting rooms. Its patronizing tone assumes that female news consumers tune out anything of import if it’s not processed through verbal eye-rolls. The very existence of such a service, especially one marketed specifically to women, is insulting.
As a fan of The Skimm’s business, I can understand how a lack of intellectualism can seem demeaning to an educated audience. But I also applaud the two founders for accomplishing two things with their unique style of content: a) keeping a very busy professional class semi-informed b) helping to make a general populace curious for real, intellectual depth. 
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Issue No. 197: Urbanization Outfitters.

A last word: seven thoughts on DNVB’s

We discuss the macroeconomics of eCommerce quite a bit. At least once a week, we will discuss digitally-native vertical brands (DNVB’s) ranging from consumer packaged goods startups to athletic apparel and high fashion upstarts.

Here’s a great definition of what constitutes a DNVB by Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos.

In a recent discussion with Hendrik Laubscher on the longterm viability of vertical brands, he made some interesting points on influences that will determine brand durability.

  1. How do DNVB’s succeed in an economy that places premiums on horizontal eCommerce (Walmart, Amazon, Target)? They enter new spaces and establish consumer loyalty. The consumer relationship can be just as important as the product itself.
  2. There is no middle of the eCommerce market in any vertical. Either you’re great or you’re gone. Amazon destroys “middle” by using their financial muscle to drive said business into the ground.
  3. So how are the DNVB’s doing as a whole? A lot of the supposed winners are cash hungry, burning platforms of doom. I am not going to name anyone but ask yourself one question — why are certain brands constantly in publications such as Recode, TechCrunch, or Fortune? Fashion public relations is often a cost-center disguised as a profit-center.
  4. Consumer Packaged Goods startups (Harry’s, Walker and Co., Dollar Shave Club) have a lot of upside as publicly-traded incumbents are in need of millennials for continued growth. There is a premium on CPG-specific DNVB’s for this reason.
  5. For DNVB’s to survive they must be both vertical and specific. What do they possess? (1) A limited selection of products with marketing and operations optimized for longterm margin growth and (2) an authentic story. TracksmithTuft and Needle, and M.Gemi have stayed true to their roots, are cash efficient, and are run by driven entrepreneurs. They have solved customer retention woes by using tech, clever brand-differentiation, and the sourcing of excellent products.
  6. The sudden growth of the vitamin and supplement category has long term growth prospects. As health becomes a global driver of decisions these MLCs are able to access educated customers with a new breed of products that are cost effective and have repeat purchase implications.
  7. For DNVB’s to be sustainable — LTV, retention costs, and unit economics need to be the priority on day one. The brands that succeed have to operate like they’ve raised little to no money at all.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 188: Will Snap Pop? A lot of coverage here.

Last Word: Will Snap Succeed? Ben Thompson addresses:

Snap’s bet is that Facebook, with all of the baggage of putting your best self forward, will never be truly able to step into this brave new future. No, capturing that future won’t be as simple as re-making the connections you already have — new users will need to be won, feature by feature and innovation by innovation — but that is exactly what Snap insists it does better than anyone else.

So will Snap succeed?

The trouble for the company is that some of the conditions necessary for its success are out of its hands: on a macro level, the timing of The Great Unbundling, an important aspect of advertising moving away from TV, is as uncertain as ever. On a competitive level I suspect Snap is more surprised than anyone at how effectively Facebook has leveraged Instagram to foreclose Snapchat’s growth.

I do, though, have faith in Snap itself: Spiegel and team are the most innovative in tech, brilliantly laddering up to new opportunities, and creating new markets. The products will be great; we’ve known for 30 years, though, that that is not always enough.

See more of the issue here.