The Man Who Kick Started the Direct Brand Economy

The Man Who Kick Started the Direct Brand Economy

Virtually all retail brand growth last year came from Direct to Consumer (DTC) companies. When people hear DTC they tend to think of direct marketing, but the two are radically different.

DTC brands have existed for decades in catalogs, magazines and direct mailers. However, all of these predate the digital DTC revolution that started in 2010, when technological innovations like cloud services and 3PL solutions enabled companies to sell new products quickly, cheaply and directly, online (see Rise of the 21st Century Brand Economy).

You Know Warby Parker
The recognized first-mover brand to take advantage of these digital technologies was Warby Parker, the upstart that managed to take on the long-established eyeglass business and completely upend it.

Do You Know David Bell?
David Bell is the former marketing professor at the Wharton School who advised Warby’s founders, and who has become the de facto “professor” of the DTC revolution.

It was just a few years ago that four of David’s students were working out the business model in his class that would let them sell quality, stylish glasses online at a fraction of the usual retail price. The company has since gone on to not only defy the odds of winning against a larger, long-established brand, but to also become the defining model for the hundreds of DTC companies it has now inspired.

The Warby Parker Model
Scores of entrepreneurs have come to believe that the Warby Parker model can be used in thousands of other categories, to sell everything from suitcases to sofas. Each one of them confident that their business has the potential to be another giant-slayer, just like Warby.

The Wharton Effect
The founders of Allbirds, Harry’s, Helix, and dozens of other DTC companies all attended David’s classes at Wharton, and continue to be involved with the school and its students as alumni, lecturers, advisors and board members. This hotbed of innovation has developed to the point where the founders of Burrow, a furniture start-up, recently graduated from Wharton with a business plan… and two million dollars in seed money.

To encourage the rise of similar new businesses, David launched Idea Farm Ventures, an advisory that helps build and invest in DTC companies. As you might expect, his company is supported by many of the original players in the DTC revolution, including the co-founders of Warby Parker.

A Direct Connection to the DTC Leaders
At the IAB, we believe that openly sharing information and insights is crucial to the growth of DTC companies. That’s why we will be hosting our first-ever Direct Brand Summit this month. We have invited David and other DTC luminaries to be our keynote speakers and educational breakout leaders so that attendees will have numerous opportunities to meet and collaborate in a future-forward environment.

We firmly believe that everyone who supports the digital advertising ecosystem, from media publishers and agencies to technology partners, will all thrive in the Direct Brand Economy, and that the IAB Direct Brand Summit will be the new meeting place for the DTC revolution.

The IAB Direct Brand Summit will be held in New York City on October 30 – 31, 2018. The event is sold out, but the wait list is currently open.


Craig Coleman
Vice President, Marketing
at IAB