Issue No. 231: Commoditization is the enemy.

A last word: what does a DNVB mean anyway?

After issue number 230’s feature on Pixlee’s DNVB round up, I received no less than twenty-seven emails from readers seeking clarification on the list.

For one, I would have made a few additions and deletions to the list. But it’s also important that we narrow down the meaning of what the industry means by DNVB. In issue number 228, I highlight differing distribution strategies.

Under the startup umbrella, there are retailers and vertical brands. The difference between the two depends upon the company’s level of exposure. By all accounts, Andy Dunn is the godfather of the vertical commerce business and in May 2016, he wrote the penultimate piece on the online retail business.

Two paras stood out:

The digitally-native vertical brand is way more customer intimate than it’s competition. The data is better because every transaction and interaction is captured. You don’t have to combine data across businesses, because it’s all one business. You are not blind to your wholesale business, because you don’t have a big wholesale business. It’s one CRM. It’s one store, where everybody knows your name.

While born digitally, the DNVB need not end up digital-only. This means the brand can extend offline. Usually its offline incarnation is through its own experiential physical retail, or highly selective partnerships. In nearly all cases of partnerships, the brand controls its external distribution versus being controlled by it. Any offline retail is not about warehousing product, it’s about marketing the brand and delivering great one to one customer service. It may be pop-ups. It may be permanent locations. It may be installs at existing retailers.
There are numerous arguments for being a retailer, the first being a retailer’s hundreds or thousands of touch points. Many of the finest brands on earth fall under this category. But as I mentioned in 228, DNVB’s are data-driven with eCommerce as the core competency. These strategies cannot be more different; one strategist employs a data scientist and the other strategist employs of VP of Sales.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.


See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 217A: The Department Store of the Future?

For Spring, long-term success may hinge on how well it puts the right selection of clothing in front of the right shopper — bringing the moments of discovery of shopping in the physical world to an online storefront. Many e-commerce players have tried and failed to deliver a comparable experience.

Graphic of the week


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Issue No. 200: Introducing Cotton Bureau

One look at Cotton Bureau’s “Wall of Fame” and you’ll understand what sets them apart from the rest. While the shirts’ designs are varied, the common theme of superior design is shared throughout the collection. The platform is completely custom-built (in-house) with no support from: Shopify, Demandware, Magento, or Big Commerce.
And that’s just the surface level. I’ve never seen a company of their scale accomplish so much with a $500k seed round (via Chalk it up to their midwest roots and cofounders who are both creative and technical. Here, you have a perfect storm competing in a tough eCommerce niche.
I first met Nathan PereticJay Fanelli, and Michelle Sharp at their new Pittsburgh headquarters. Launched in 2013, they’ve been operating in 800 sq. ft. until, well, this month. They have re-designed a former 5,000 sq. ft. warehouse space to usher in Cotton Bureau’s growth phase. Their pride is both palpable and deserving. The building’s energy was infectious and the paint hadn’t dried. With 18 employees (only eight who are full-time), they’ve already eclipsed their 2016 and Q1 2017. When I last spoke to their soft-spoken CEO, he casually told me that they sold 24,000+ shirts in January and they aren’t slowing down.

Their high profile partners include: the no. 3 Podcast on iTunes (Pod Save America), Vox Media, Serious Eats, BuzzFeed, Propublica, Tapbots, and a certain @RogueNASA team.

Michelle Sharp on Cotton Bureau’s IP factory: 

Designers and communities submit their t-shirt ideas, and Cotton Bureau evaluates them to see if they’re right for the site. If they make the cut—and only about 15% of submissions do—Cotton Bureau puts them on the site for a time-limited pre-order sale. Once the sale ends, we print all the shirts they need—in near-exact quantities—and ship them out. All shirts are printed in Pittsburgh. Cotton Bureau ships all shirts ourselves, and handles all the customer service (returns, refunds, exchanges, lost packages, etc.) forever. 
With the platform that they’ve built for themselves (and the ability to grow on cash flow), their next step is what should be most exciting for the 2PML audience. They’re preparing to start producing their own American-made tee shirt blanks, themselves. Not only would this initiative begin to supply Cotton Bureau’s rabid fans, it could evolve into a business of its own.
More on that here on Lumi’s “Well Made” Podcast

Over the course of 2017, 2PML will feature a series on Cotton Bureau’s evolution from web design studio to eCommerce company to an increasingly equitable brand, representative of activism and ingenuity. They are durable enough to continue thriving in our ever-changing digital ecosystem, with 90-99% less funding than their competitors. Midwest founders are so resourceful.

– @Web


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Issue No. 198: 🚨 That’s Bold.

Today, I have the pleasure of announcing our first partner for 2017. I’ll start by providing some context into what I was looking for in a brand partnership. Do they provide value to the 2PML readership? Is their story compelling? Are they an industry leader in media, data, brand, or eCommerce?
Bold Commerce checks all of these boxes and more. And I’m proud to announce them! I am excited to work with CMO Jay Myers and Melanie Fatouros-Richardson to tell their story and to provide readers the opportunity to connect with them, in a host of ways.
Who they are: 
Bold Commerce is Shopify’s largest app development partner, crafting some of the most successful eCommerce apps available on the market. The success behind this Winnipeg-based company lies in its ability to provide two of the most coveted things in the business world — money and time. – Business Elite Canada 
When Bold Commerce launched as a Shopify-only agency in 2012, Tobi Lütke (Shopify’s founder/CEO) and Harley Finkelstein (COO) only had 11,000 stores on the platform. Fast forward to today and Shopify is hosting 400,000+. With 160 employees and growing by 8-10 each month, the agency’s client list includes: Microsoft, NPR, TimeLife, Proctor and Gamble, Zippo, Cirque De Soleil, and Google.
Not only do they lead data-driven design for brands that are starting, expanding, or re-platforming from Magento or Demandware, they have generated a steady stream of apps over the years. This includes 18 publicly available Shopify apps, 90 private apps, and five in the pipeline by Q4 2017.
In a recent article in Winnipeg Free Press, Myers alludes to Bold’s trajectory:
Myers said Bold’s vision is to expand — “We’ve stated we want to be a billion-dollar business with a staff of 500” — and build what he calls a high-tech campus in Winnipeg, where Bold can help incubate other software companies. “Instead of investing cash, we’ll invest our expertise” in these start-up companies, Myers said. “We could have used something like that when we started and we can help them learn from the mistakes we made.”
One of the common themes in tech media is the explosive-growth of VC funded startups. We hear about it so often that we take it for granted. Bold Commerce seems to have accomplished just as much, without the funding or the hype-cycle – proving that there’s more than one way to achieve their rare level of success.  In a series of posts, 2PML will highlight where they are and where they are going. You may not recognize the name but you know their work. Those humble Canadians.
Interested in a warm intro to the Bold Commerce team? Reply to today’s letter and let’s discuss. Follow @2PMLinks for more updates.
See more of the issue here.