I have significant e-commerce, direct to consumer and retail business experience. I’ve managed multi-million dollar P&Ls, worked on iconic billion dollar brands and started my own direct to consumer cosmetics line. You’d think with that experience I would be deeply bullish on my ability to pick up and coming startups in the space. But I don’t particularly want to invest in digital brands or online retail. And I think it’s scar tissue.
I’m not saying flat out“no” I won’t ever invest in a DTC business or an e-commerce startup (I have and I will again) but a little bit of knowledge can make it hard to preserve creativity and imagination. Many founders can come out of a space where they have dedicated years of their lives and simply want space away from their expertise. They know too much. They’ve seen things. The scar tissue that forms to keep you working during the long dark soul of startup pain is still tender.
When I mentioned this lingering pain others pointed me to other areas they struggled to hear pitches or invest because of experience. Rental businesses and neobanks from Maia Bittner, certain e-commerce verticals from Lee Edwards, fitness from Jason Jacobs. It’s a common phenomenon among founders.
I’ve got lots of opinions why certain kinds of businesses won’t thrive or have business models that won’t make the kind of return my own personal investing thesis demands. But the truth is that I now have enough expertise to simply know more than is good for me. Ironically this means I should spend more time as an advisor or consultant on certain kinds of businesses but it takes a special founder to coax it out of me. Because I do have valuable insights and I want to share them.
But the last thing I want to do is pass on the trauma of my own experiences. Founders deserve to have their psychological safety preserved so they can build the company of their dreams. Some painful insights from a founder that came before them might help them avoid some pitfalls, but if they take our traumas too seriously they may never find their own path. And that kind of backward looking “it will never work” or “trust me kid I’ve been around the block” attitude can really bring creativity down. So I will always share my honest experience with anyone who asks but I’m hesitant to ever let anyone take my lessons to close to heart. You very well may be the one that breaks through where no one has before.
So when someone pitches me their new retail startup or DTC brand or cosmetics concept I try to be honest that I may nit be the best fit. I’ve got scar tissue. And if a founder insists that I can help I will try. But remember not all skepticism, fear, distrust or dislike is about you. Sometimes it’s all about the trauma of having lived it before. Asking someone to live it again is the ultimate act of trust. And maybe just maybe we get to firm new scar tissue together.