Future of Commerce and Retail Hot Takes With Web Smith
When a guy has the Twitter handle @web, that makes you want to learn more. I’ve been fortunate enough to hang virtually with Web Smith for the last few years which has exposed me to sharp thinking about brands, retail, parenting and, uniquely in my echo chamber, Columbus, Ohio. Web’s 2PM email newsletter is a Must Read for anyone trying to stay ahead of the curve on where commerce is going (it’s free but there’s a membership program providing access to additional analysis and data resources, which I recommend). Web let me shoot him some questions and his Five Question Interview is below.
Hunter Walk: Tell us what you’re up to now and a little background about how you got here.
Web Smith: Well admittedly, I’ve bounced around a bit but I’ve had the pleasure of building some great relationships within the industry. My wife’s career is very important to her, so it’s very important to me. That means that I’ve had to set aside opportunities that would move us away from her current assignment.
Over the last eleven years, I’ve spent the entirety of my time in roles that have allowed me to execute on my beliefs, theories, and hypotheses re: consumer psychology, digital media, and D2C eCommerce.
My first startup was founded in 2008 and sold in 2010. It was an early eCommerce / media play in the action sports space. Soon after, our family moved to Columbus, Ohio for my marketing position at Rogue. There, I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of the large scale eCommerce business — specifically paid advertising and improving efficacy. Since my days at Rogue, I went on to become the cofounding CMO of Mizzen + Main and I’ve led commerce for Uncrate and Gear Patrol. I am currently serving as the Director of Partnerships for Cotton Bureau while building 2PM into my fourth startup in the eCommerce space.
HW: DNVBs — can they be started from anywhere or do you think we’ll see the majority out of Silicon Valley, or NYC and LA?
WS: I believe that retail startups are best started outside of SV, NYC, and LA but I completely understand the appeal of building in those cities. There is something about capital scarcity that helps DNVB founders manage expectations and innovate early around CAC. Often times, this is unnecessary in cash-rich areas like Silicon Valley and New York City. While they can’t be started from anywhere, per se, I do believe that the midwest is a wonderful place to build a retail startup.
HW: When you hear about a new DNVB, what’s the first thing you look for to assess whether it’s got a chance to succeed or not?
WS: The first thing that I look for is founder-product fit. Does the founder embody the brand? Is the founder _the_ brand? The more this is the case, the better shot the product company has. You didn’t ask but the next thing that I look for is whether or not the brand has a great sales mentality. Product first companies often think about creative and digital marketing more so than they think about getting the product into the right hands. I believe that engineering-first mentality is indicative of this focus and it’s not always the winning hand in DNVB startups. It takes a blue collar sales mentality to get the ball rolling towards driving an efficient $5M, $10M, and $15M in annual revenue.
HW: When you see a traditional CPG or retailer acquire a DNVB do you think they should integrate or let them run separately, perhaps even remain competitive to the company’s in-house brands?
WS: The power of a DNVB’s brand is its independence and its voice. Let’s face it, DNVB’s are more-than-likely commodity products. Sometimes, the differentiator is the brand’s voice. CPG brands that acquire DNVB’s are better suited by fostering those young brands behind the scenes, while letting them continue to foster the authentic relationships that made them M&A targets in the first place.
HW: What’s an overrated trend right now in the commerce space and what’s (or who) is underestimated?
WS: An overrated trend? Building brand-less products at the dawn of the voice commerce era. Amazon and Google’s emphasis on voice commerce will narrow options for consumers and turn stalwart brands into commodities, anyway. Why make Amazon’s job easier?
As far as underestimations go, I’d recommend that people take a look at what’s been built in Columbus. Rogue is at 500+ employees now, having never raised a dime of outside investment. A quick look at their public data and you’ll see that they’re driving 2.5M monthly visits and offering thousands upon thousands of SKUs. Their manufacturing operation, front office, retail, and fulfillment is all under one roof. And their adjacent product sourcing from Nike, Adidas, etc is bar none. There are a lot of smart, silent-but-deadly operators under that 600,000 sq. ft roof.