Digitally Native Resources for the Digitally Native Consumer Economy

I’ve spent a large chunk of my time this year trying to understand how the consumer landscape is evolving. Most of it has centred around…

I’ve spent a large chunk of my time this year trying to understand how the consumer landscape is evolving. Most of it has centred around the direct-to-consumer phenomenon, the rise of digitally native brands, and their effect on the consumer economy.

My methods are many, but not new. I scan industry news, study articles and research reports. I talk to founders, other investors, and friends (not mutually exclusive groups, I like to think). And simply being a consumer who interacts with a lot of brands, digitally native or otherwise, has provided useful context.

For a VC looking for early-stage consumer companies, every aspect of your life informs your view of the landscape. It’s not always easy to know where the most impactful information is going to come from, whether you’re a founder, analyst, or investor. The next big thing, whether it’s a company or product inspiration, could be at the bottom of a news article, something your friend mentions in passing, or hiding in an Instagram ad.

That said, whenever people ask me what ‘external’ sources of information I’ve found most useful so far, I keep referring back to the same names. The following compilation is an attempt to highlight them all in one place.

NB: This is by no means an exhaustive list (in fact, it’s meant to be the opposite). It represents sources that I’ve found a) helpful on a consistent basis and b) provide free or a mix of free/paywalled content.

Finally (you knew this was coming), if you’re working on a consumer project or want to exchange thoughts on a topic, I’m right here.

Talk Like a Local: Primers

  • Andy Dunn’s Book of DNVB: The post is over two years old and many other have chimed in since, but this remains one of the best descriptions of DNVBs and why they’re exciting.

  • Teddy Citrin’s Direct-to-Consumer Landscape: This walks through some of Greycroft’s investment criteria for DTC companies, using their investment in Hubble as an example. It also includes a spreadsheet that lists a set of verticals, assessments on different qualitative and quantitive features, as well as incumbents and DTC challengers. I find myself coming back to it when looking at a company in a vertical I’m less familiar with.

  • For a European perspective, see Levin Bunz’s piece on how he views the DTC opportunity. Bonus: A spreadsheet with European DTC companies, as well as a breakdown of verticals.

  • IAB’s report on the Rise of the 21st Century Brand Economy: Come for the headings, stay for the details. At 180 slides, this feels like a beast of a presentation. And in some ways, it really is, but enough of the deck is visual and easy to digest. It starts by laying out what’s happening to traditional brands and the emergence of the DTC model. It also dedicates sections to the less flashy parts of the modern consumer value chain, including the production, fulfilment and data stacks that are powering a lot of digitally native brands.

Pick Up An Accent: Research Reports / Data

  • Loose Threads: Research and analysis on the changing consumer economy. The content comes in different forms, with special in-depth reports, industry playbooks, letters to brands/CEOs, as well as shorter, sub five-minute reads. Altogether, this forms an exceptionally well-rounded mix of content. I spent three years as an investment banker so have seen my fair share of questionable industry research but am yet to be disappointed by a LT piece. Occasionally a report will be free, but the majority (and really good stuff) is only available by via paid membership or purchasing an individual report.

  • CB Insights (CPG): Whole section of (free) research about the disruption of CPG. Find market maps for whatever vertical you want to explore and get a handle on who’s doing what, where, and how.

  • 2PM: Membership provides access to a number of databases, including top retailers, DNVBs, independent publishers and agencies. Primarily covers US companies.

Stay Informed: Newsletters

Curating the curated. Here are the few I’m guaranteed to open and find something useful, every time.

  • Lean Luxe: If I had to unsubscribe from all but one, this would be the survivor. LL highlights news and opinion pieces relevant to modern brands and consumer trends across the board. Each briefing packs in a lot of articles, but the format is tight, keeping it easy to skim and pick out whatever you’re interested in. It’s free and after a while you can request access to the accompanying Slack channel. An active community that includes founders, operators from brands, agencies, the media and investors.

  • 2PM: I lied. It might be this one. The Monday brief delivers and summarises the most interesting, if not always the most obvious, stories around eCommerce, DNVBs, Media and Retail. Paid membership provides access to additional briefings and access to their databases (see above).

Other notable mentions:

  • Business of Fashion: Focuses on, er, …fashion. There’s also plenty of in-depth pieces and editorial content that broaches adjacent industries. I dip into it whenever a long-read catches my eye. Paid membership provides unlimited access to content plus other benefits.

  • Glossy: Tends to stay in the fashion and beauty lane, and where this intersects with tech. Recently launched a members tier that offers unlimited access to long-form articles, Slack channel and events.

Hear The Stories: Podcasts

Everyone loves a story. While it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across a red-hot trade secret, the anecdotes in the following interview-based podcasts are worthy of your ‘auto-pilot’ time (gym, commute, airport etc.). Familiar names include Glossy and Loose Threads. The 20 Minute VC has also run a couple of notable consumer-focused episodes, with both founders and investors. A few favourites: Forerunner’s Kirsten Green and Eurie Kim, Maveron’s Jason Stoffer, Hims founder Andrew Dudum, Glossier COO Henry Davis, Daily Harvest founder Rachel Drori. I’m sure there’s plenty more.

No I’m Not Procrastinating: Social Media

  • Ryan Caldbeck on Twitter: He’s the CEO of CircleUp, the funding platform for early-stage consumer brands, but also the author of a few very sharp tweetstorms. The first I came across, about the new opportunities in CPG, made waves. Ryan also offers thoughts on why incumbents are stuck, observations as an investor and CEO, data, board management and a host of other topics. Definite follow.

  • Thingtesting on Instagram: Do you enjoy aesthetically wonderful pictures, informative product reviews, and an investor perspective on the item and category? If any of those take your fancy, let Jenny’s account help you break up the usual stream of overpriced breakfasts and espresso martinis. Oh, and see if you can spot yours truly in the mix ‍✨

You read (or scrolled) all the way down — thank you! I may update and add to this list in the future. If there are other resources you feel strongly about, please comment.