Everlane produces modern apparel essentials with a focus on transparent and sustainable supply chain practices. As one of the original DTC merchants that launched as part of the first wave of digitally native brands, Everlane has a unique lens on the evolution of digital commerce.
We sat down with Michael Preysman, Everlane’s Founder & Executive Chair, to dive deep on:
- Tactical advice for ensuring Everlane’s brand partnerships drive long-term ROI
- Why he compares present-day growth channels to a form of “guerilla warfare”
- How tooling like Disco helps merchants leverage data and audience insights
“When DTC is dominated by huge players like Amazon, the only way SMBs can win is by effectively coming together — particularly through platforms like Disco. That long-term, collective growth is far more enriching than any short-term wins.”
A Decade of DTC Competition
Everlane launched in 2011, a period where, as Michael recalls, breaking into the industry was more operationally difficult because foundational infrastructure like Stripe was just in infancy.
Back then, Everlane built with Braintree on top of a custom stack built by their in-house engineering team. As he puts it, it was a widely accepted norm that founders would not be able to get their eCom brand off the ground without sufficient technical talent or engineering leadership.
In addition, securing a founding team that was sophisticated in the tech stack of the time thus marked you as a desirable investment to VCs. Down the line, the industry began placing less of an emphasis on bespoke tooling once two catalytic growth platforms became the new normal.
Catalyst I: Instagram
Before the rise of Instagram and adjacent social channels like Snapchat and TikTok, user discovery was practically a nonexistent opportunity for merchants outside of Facebook.
Yet, within just a few years, these apps had become the new American shopping mall, shifting the fundamental use case of how shoppers found products to purchase via online channels.
Catalyst II: Shopify
The emergence of Shopify’s commerce platform, and its broader app ecosystem, almost entirely did away with the industry’s reliance on a custom tech stack for every new brand that launched.
The popularity of Shopify enabled anyone to launch a storefront without a technical team or co-founder. While brands still needed to work with dev agencies or freelancers, the core team itself didn’t need to be technical. As a result, more brands began entering the DTC ecosystem.
In Michael’s words, this era resembled a metaphorical “wild west” in the timeline of digital commerce, where anyone who mastered the right tools could choose to play the game.
The Emergence of Guerilla Warfare
Michael compares the DTC growth landscape today to a form of guerilla warfare between rival merchants. He points to three specific trends that have accelerated this heated competition.
- There are more potential shoppers than ever to compete for, due to dozens of varied channels like Google Search, TikTok, or even new distribution platforms like Substack
- More and more long-tail merchants enter the market across new categories every day
- Leaders like Meta and Apple can rewrite the paid acquisition and retention rules across growth channels at any given moment, thus leading to ongoing arbitrage opportunities
As a result, hyper-competition and a dire sense of self-preservation have become the norm.
“Honestly, my friends who run eCom businesses say it feels like a knife fight every day. You have to come in with your arsenal of tools fully loaded, but you don’t know what tools you’ll have to use that day. The game changes so fast.”