Issue No. 254: An Open Letter to DNVB CEO’s


Pictured: Outdoor Voices, led by Founder Tyler Haney


You deserve more praise. I worked alongside one of your kind for a time. I learned a lot about the personal costs of building a product and then a brand from scratch. Frankly, the costs are high.

By the time that people know who you are and what you’ve accomplished, demand is probably already there. That $3-5M in revenue is as close to automatic as it gets. In fact, that accomplishment has lost its luster. Now it’s on to $15-25M. But people rarely see what you had to go through to get to that $1M mark.

What people don’t know is that DNVB executive teams build two products from scratch, supply and demand:

  1. The product: the shirt, or the luggage, the pants, the shades, the coats, or whatever it is that people know you for.
  2. The brand: the aura of that product, the name recognition, the association, the behind-the-scenes partners, the spokeswomen, the ambassadors, the inevitability of success.

You stressed over supply chain woes. You cried some nights. Your cofounder or your creative director drove you nuts because they didn’t realize how close the company was to crumbling.

You stressed over cash flow problems. You cried some more. Your job was equal parts: (1) innovating and (2) just figuring it out.

You stressed over the difficulties of getting Trent, the very normal VC, to see your vision early. Some DNVB’s paths were easier than others. But yours was not easy at all. Absolutely nothing was given. And still, you held it together.

And after all that, you managed your minimum viable product. You were in possession of 10,000 units that people didn’t really want because those units weren’t close to the fifth-generation products that are on the market today. That first-generation of leggings just weren’t that great. So you relied upon the brand to get you through those days. You managed to convince consumers, retail / tech media, and investors that your success would be inevitable. And that your brand will be around for 100 years. They felt the impact of those statements and they agreed with you. But everyone that reads this knows that the mirage was hard to keep it up in the beginning.

“We may not be great today but we will be. Buy in early.”

Turning a logo into a greater meaning takes a decade and you had to do it before those 10,000 units of first-gen mediocrity bled you dry.

So here we are, years later and it’s still hard – but it’s not as hard as it was. There are dozens of DNVB CEO’s, just like yourself, who understand the toils of creating supply and demand for your company. And then stressing over the balance between the both of those products.

DNVB CEO’s run brands that are relatively lean and almost always running at a deficit. You don’t have the ad budgets and marketing forces like the legacy companies or the software platform. But you survive. And once you make enough noise, retail pundits will call you on your inefficiencies and inexperience. They’ll actually root against you. That’s what retail ‘experts’ do. But please know that many of us praise what you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time.

You started your company in an age that required your retail independence. On day one, your brand couldn’t depend on wholesale purchases from Nordstrom or Target or Whole Foods or Walmart. And that independence made you more viable in the long run. And now, those retail powerhouses are now knocking at your headquarters.

So please, continue to innovate. And when you’re emotionally or mentally maxed out, remember that your companies will be the foundation upon which the future of retail is built. People will wear you, consumers will shop you, and malls will bend over backwards to work with you.

And then, the retail experts will reluctantly write that your brand successes were inevitable all along.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 251: 10 thoughts for 2018


  • Brand: Nike will make small gains against Adidas by copying the German brand’s “creators” playbook (click above) but Adidas will remain the brand for rebels and the message will resonate better in 2018, as consumers shun the status quo.
  • eCommerce: Podcasts will continue to mature their eCommerce operations. There will be more examples of refined stores and high quality brand plays in merchandise.
  • Digital Media: Netflix is on to something and may scare the likes of AMC and Cinemark in 2018. Will Smith scored a big win with 11M week-one views. This is out of the 53 million Netflix subscribers. Expect the streaming service to redefine what Netflix means by building on the critical momentum of “Mudbound” and the viewership success of “Bright.”
  • eCommerce: Amazon will cut its affiliate spending by upwards of 40% in 2018. This will most likely affect independent media groups and some of BuzzFeed’s most recent efforts.
  • Digital Media: 2018 will be the year that Youtube influencers take ownership over their eCommerce presences and flock to white glove services that are fully vertical.
  • DNVB: Walmart will buy 1-2 more digitally vertical native brands in 2018. They will also test a smaller-box urban storefront, by a different name, for their higher end brands.
  • Brand: Brands with evergreen products will reduce Google SEM spend and shift to Amazon search products. Remember, Amazon is now a $1B+ advertising business.
  • eCommerce: Spurred by GGV Capital’s belief in China’s commerce sector, brands will begin spending considerable time working with China’s trove of mobile-first eCommerce platforms to grow through international channels. In 2008, it was SEM. In 2012, it was social. In 2016, it was the Soho pop-up. In 2018, it will be American exports in China.
  • eCommerce: Shopify will develop a ‘featured’ marketplace for its top Shopify and Shopify Plus performers and it will compete against the likes of Wish and others. Expect this to be launched in the form of a mobile app with one-click purchasing. Tobi, Harley, and crew will also launch their first of many private label brands to appear on this marketplace app.
  • Digital Media: 🗣2PML will become a leading commerce podcast in 2018. It will become the go-to 20 minute pod for polymaths with little time for market research, continued education, and Porter’s Five Forces analysis.

Follow @2PMLinks for this thread and other updates.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 250: 🗣 Listen up!

The 2PM community is a vibrant one of thousands of smart, curious, and polymathic-types who lead in professions to include: branding, commerce, data, and digital media. covers the many ways in which these industries converge and where there is disruption or opportunity.

After a few months of lobbying by my wife (and great feedback from subscribers), 2PM will begin releasing a weekly podcast that will recap news and developments. In addition to recaps, there will be a scripted deep dive into one retail touchpoint each week. If you’re a member of this community and you have something to contribute, expect an invitation to join the pod.

The format will be 20-25 minutes per week, with a link to the audio in your inbox at 2PM EST on Monday. The pod will be direct, succinct, and digestible – just like these letters. Expect more news on format and partners in the final few issues of 2017’s letters.

This is the opinion of Web

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 248: The nine boxes

On: “The End is Already Here” by @LukeOneil47

For quite sometime, I was fascinated by the storm that is digital media. If Jonah Peretti is scared, so is just about everyone else. Buying, selling, shifting, moving, falling, rising – the tectonic plates beneath the foundation of digital media are moving ever faster. Only visionaries capable of playing three dimensional chest will remain on the sturdy ground. Count Jessica Lessin as one of them.

After a three-year stint in and around the digital media space, I have seen enough to know that executives must be forward-thinking to survive this whirlwind. I know some who are, I know many who are not. So O’Neil’s words strike me because many will read them today after reading Peretti’s words on Buzzfeed’s future. Here’s a striking para from O’Neil’s essay:

Dailies who aren’t already well ahead of the game in terms of reverting back to subscription models, or of significant enough national prominence, or don’t find their own relatively benevolent billionaire owner, will continue to either be neutered or flattened out by conglomerates into content distributors. The ones that don’t will buy some time, but will ultimately become vanity projects read only by people wealthy enough to remain interested in the superficial comings and goings of other wealthy people.

To Luke’s point,the remedies that I envisioned were tactical departure for most in the media space (and very difficult to execute). These were the five points on my whiteboard:

  1. Build a premium subscription product for our most loyal. Do not ignore this advice, bosses. Recurring revenue is something that we can build upon.
  2. Let’s treat news like a commodity but let’s treat our platform as a brand. This means avoid discounts or promotions. It also means that we must think like a CMO.
  3. Direct-to-consumer commerce and native advertising partnerships should be influenced by affiliate data. Affiliate revenue is a treasure trove of data.
  4. Let’s measure success, not in DAU or MAU but in affiliate / D2C commerce conversion. What are eyes without the ability to influence the mind (i.e. cart conversions)?
  5. Let’s build a community, not a readership. Communities persist, readerships do not.
Read Neiman Lab’s 2018 predictions in journalism, including Luke O’Neil’s “The End is Already Here.
This is just my opinion. – @Web Smith


See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 238: Inclusivity has many forms.

The Launch of Cotton Bureau’s Blank

I first mentioned Cotton Bureau in Issue No. 203, where I expounded on what I found fascinating about the Commerce startup (and fourth fastest growing company in Pittsburgh). Most recently, their focus has been on sizing inclusivity. In Issue No. 217, I wrote:
Cotton Bureau is one-step closer to filling a void left behind by American Apparel’s bankruptcy. They’ve begun manufacturing a new type of tee for all shapes and sizes. It’s called “Blank” and it has the potential to solve a gaping sourcing issue in a major fashion segment.Women and men needed better, more accurate t-shirt sizing. 

From this simple assessment,Blank was born. From the now-successful Kickstarter for the project:

You see, finding a wholesale t-shirt manufacturer that fits all our criteria has been…challenging (to say the least). We need a brand with modern fits, a wide range of colors and fabrics, ethical manufacturing, reliable quality and consistency, always-available stock, and it’d be reeeeal nice if it was made in America. Finding a brand that checks all those boxes and oh yeah also fits women is damn near impossible. If you can find a women’s brand that comes in our preferred colors and fabrics, it’s only available in mega-tiny junior sizing. If it’s sized to fit most women, the cut is awkward, the fabric isn’t anywhere near our standards, and it comes in whatever color you want…as long as that color is pink. It’s frustrating for us as a company, and every bit as frustrating for you as our customer.

In a recent conversation with a Senior Editor of a lauded men’s publication, the gentleman posed the question to us: “but what’s the angle to cover for men?” He asked this un-ironically but in doing so, it established why I believe there will be a successful product market fit for Blank’s offering.
Sizing woes can illicit a sense of embarrassment or even shame from consumers – especially men. Men seem to be more ashamed to seek a solution to sizing inaccuracies. But this is nothing new, it took a decade of female consumers lauding performance fabric sportswear for men to do the same. Now, athleisure is leading the industry in product innovations and companies like Lululemonand Outdoor Voices are widely accepted by all.

Long before American Apparel exacerbated the sizing issue by marketing their products as exclusionary, this practice was found in tween retailers. Many can remember being a normal-sized kid while needing to purchase an XXL tee from A&F or American Eagle. In a normal world, XXL would be worn by an NFL tight end. Today, you’ll see the same practices at Hollister and other retailers who target teenage and young adult consumers.

For adults, sizing in t-shirts hasn’t improved either and the product shaming has only increased. American Apparel set this market trend, years ago. Though it’s now owned by Gildan, producing a wider offering with accurate sizing would still be viewed as detrimental to the brand.
By the conclusion of our chat, that Senior Editor recognized that there was, in fact, an industry problem and he welcomed the solution. I have a feeling that many consumers will welcome Blank, just the same.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.
See more of the issue here.

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. 
See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 211: Now fully shoppable is now fully shopable for readers of GQ, Vogue.

With increased competition from new digital publications over the last decade, alongside an industrywide plunge in advertising spending, it is little surprise that Condé Nast is intent on cultivating new revenue streams. In recent years it has widened its focus, from magazine publishing to more varied media initiatives, with minority stakes in several fashion e-commerce start-ups, including Vestiaire Collective, Rent the Runway and Farfetch. – New York Times 

Graphic of the Week: Online Advertising


See more of the issue here.