SSP 33 | D2C Companies


There is no bigger topic when it comes to consumer sentiment than the rising demand and focus on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance related issues. Today we’re looking at this challenge from the perspective of a leading VC who has invested in some of the most iconic consumer focused, mission driven businesses.

Ira Ehrenpreis has been investing in companies that are committed to making a positive impact on the world for more than 20 years. A double bottom line investor, even before impact investing was cool, Ira has helped build the category and the discipline in venture capital. He currently serves as president of the Western Association of Venture Capitalists and co-chair of the VC Network. He’s a founder at DBL Partners, which is perhaps the largest and most well-known impact investing and sustainability focused firm in the venture asset class. An early investor in companies like Tesla, The RealReal, SpaceX and Bellwether Coffee, Ira is a real visionary. He’s also a longtime friend, and always inspiring.

I recently interviewed Ira for the inaugural D2C Summit, a new conference I cocreated with Global Media Association FIPP, and want to share that conversation with you here on the podcast. In it, he talks about bold innovation across sectors and D2C business models, and shares several examples of how companies are using a focus on impact as a strategic advantage. Welcome, Ira.

Listen to the podcast here:

How Profit and Purpose are Combining to Create New 21st Century Iconic D2C Companies Like Tesla, The RealReal and Bellwether Coffee with DBL Ventures’ Ira Ehrenpreis


There is no bigger topic when it comes to consumer sentiment and the rising demand and focuses on environmental, social and corporate governance-related issues. We are looking at these challenges from the perspective of a leading VC who has invested in some of the most iconic consumer-focused mission-driven businesses. Ira Ehrenpreis has been investing in companies that are committed to making a positive impact on the world for years, a double bottom line investor, even before impact investing was cool.

Ira has helped build the category and discipline in venture capital. He serves as President of the Western Association of Venture Capitalists and Co-Chair of the VCNetwork. He is a Founder at DBL Partners, which is perhaps the largest and most well-known impact investing and sustainability-focused firm in the venture asset class. An early investor in companies like Tesla, The RealReal, SpaceX and Bellwether Coffee, Ira is a real visionary.

He is also a longtime friend and always inspiring. I interviewed Ira for the inaugural D2C Summit, a new conference I Co-Created with Global Media Association FIPP. I want to share that conversation with you here on the show. In this conversation, Ira talks about bold innovation across sectors and D2C business models. He shares several examples of how companies are using a focus on impact as a strategic advantage.

Welcome, Ira.

Thanks, Robbie. It is great to be here and especially great to be here with you. You talked about doing impact investing before it was cool. Robbie knows this because it has been many years reunion since Robbie and I were in business school together. She knows me from the very uncool days.

Ira was never uncool. The first question, increasingly consumers are demanding greater values alignment with the companies they buy from. They want more than just a good product. They are looking for organizations that are committed to societal impact. As someone who is invested in some of these newer consumer-focused sustainability companies like Tesla, The RealReal, Bellwether Coffee, how do you think about balancing expectations, that double bottom line challenge?

First of all, I would say, yes, that is what consumers are doing. They are demanding that companies meet a new standard of environmental and social goals. We are seeing this in spades. You referenced it but DBL, which stands for Double Bottom Line, is all about this idea that there is no trade-off. The ethos of our firm is to find companies where this idea of doing well, doing good, that historically, people thought meant zero-sum, meant compromise or meant concessionary. It has reached a point where we think through innovation, innovative business models, and through the kinds of entrepreneurs that we are seeing now.

The idea of 1st and 2nd bottom lines, not only aren’t mutually exclusive but they have become mutually reinforcing. It is through the vehicle from our lenses as a venture capital firm through technology and innovations that have made this possible. It is changing how companies operate. We are seeing this resonating with the values-driven consumers that you referenced in your question, Robbie. Consumers are demanding this.

We are seeing this playing out in real-time where the best consumer products are going through this metamorphosis. They don’t have to give up anything. They are creating their products either through evolution or revolution that are delivering value along the lines of sustainability. There is a ton of examples of this across a range of industries.

Consumers are demanding that companies now meet a new standard of environmental and social goals. @iraehrenpreis Click To Tweet

Let’s focus on one of those industries. People are interested in your experiences as an early investor in organizations like Tesla and SpaceX. What were the enablers behind that high-risk, bold innovation?

The backdrop of investing in these companies and the sectors that you described was motivated by the idea that investing is about finding the areas and the industries that have traditionally been underserved by traditional incumbents and the venture asset class. That idea led our firm to this journey to find innovation that was going to disrupt incumbents in areas that then what we think of as the desert of innovation.

Part of being an investor in early-stage companies is this idea of David and Goliath analogy. We are trying to find ways where entrepreneurial teams that have much smaller balance sheets are working with long-standing incumbents. The whole idea is how do you tackle the incumbency. It was through that lens that we ended up finding industries that were ripe for transformational change.

We are looking for sectors. We have this trifecta framework that governs a lot of what we look at. We are looking for industries that haven’t been the beneficiaries of innovation and technology that are scratching the surface of what we think of as a multidecade innovation cycle, industries that were often tied to CO2, which is how the twentieth-century economy was built. We are looking to figure out how the 21st-century economies will be built.

Industries that were tied to CO2, what does that mean?

If you think about how the twentieth century was built, it was built on the backs of a carbon economy where industries were built insensitive to what the sustainability impacts were. Now, as we build the 21st-century economy, we are looking for industries, ideas, companies and entrepreneurs that recognize that there is a cost. Consumers are thinking about the cost of not being sustainable. It is that sustainability lens that we are seeing consumers pay attention to in ways that we did not have in previous years.

These industries often are characterized by oligopolies. You talked about Tesla and SpaceX. The auto industry has not changed in 100 years. We have seen the internal combustion engine essentially be the framework. We had not seen a new auto OEM IPO in over 50 years when we had backed Tesla. That fits well with the things we look at. SpaceX too. We had an oligopoly in the space industry. People thought you could not upend that type of industry either with a startup. It was with that mindset that we back those. Most of the rest of our portfolio has similar attributes around that trifecta idea.

What does the radical disruption and startup mentality mean in the consumer context? How do you think it can inform the ongoing relationships that entrepreneurs and the innovative intrapreneurs working inside large companies as many of the delegates participating now are doing? How can they form these ongoing relationships with the consumers they serve?

Part of what we have tried to do is question the past and think about where the consumer’s pain point is. Where can we find new ways of developing relationships with consumers? Let’s take the Tesla example. We think of the innovation there as being around the car, the software embedded within it, the factory innovation or some of the energy and solar innovation. When you think about the relationship with the consumer, one of the key innovations was how Tesla sold cars, how we sell the cars, and how we have appended the assumption that there is a bifurcation between the OEMs that produce the car and the dealerships that sell the car.

SSP 33 | D2C Companies

D2C Companies: In the 21st Century, consumers care about sustainability when choosing companies and products to do business with.


Robbie, when you and I were growing up, think about our trips to that area of our community, which had all the car dealerships in a row. That is how we buy our cars but none of those entities was the actual manufacturer. They were different companies. When you think about so many industries where the relationship with the customer is everything, how you monetize that, how you build long-term value, how you decrease a CAC, a Customer Acquisition Cost but increase a long-term value, it is all based on the embedded relationship that you build with that consumer.

One of the key innovations at Tesla was to think about this in a different way. It was the idea that when you and I were growing up, we may have gone to that dealership row. That is where we got our cars but when we went to the mall, we tended not to see many car dealerships there. That is what Tesla pioneered. It was the idea. It was very similar to what Apple did in many ways.

When you and I were growing up, where did we buy our computers? It wasn’t in the mall. That is a profound change in how we think about customer engagement, customer relationships, using innovation to change the way we engage with our customers. The RealReal, which is another one of our portfolio companies, is a great example of how we think about developing this relationship thinking about changing the script.

Can you explain what The RealReal does?

It has become the largest online luxury goods consignment store. It is an example of many things, including the circular economy and some other dimensions to its business but the other aspect to it is it becomes a virtuous flywheel for the customer. In that, a huge percentage of the customers are both buyers and sellers.

Use the mall example. When we were growing up and went to the mall, I do remember buying goods. I sure don’t remember selling my goods in that same mall. Whereas in The RealReal, the idea is you can take some of your assets sitting in your closet that actually have increasingly lower utility, both sell and use the proceeds to then buy something new and different. It is a circular economy, both in the sense of the underlying goods and second life but it is also a flywheel relationship with the customer, him or herself.

You have called that the reCommerce sector of what The RealReal is doing. It is interesting. A lot of the delegates are trying to figure out how we build ongoing engaged relationships. You are talking about giving the customer multiple opportunities and ways to engage with the organization and within the community under that organization’s brand, which is fascinating.

Back to the auto example, the OEMs that have spent so much effort building that car ultimately see the relationship to the dealership down the street. What I’m describing is you want to have that glue that enables you not to be transactional but to build a relationship over time.

I’m glad you circled back to the car example into what Tesla has done. You brought up a couple of important points, things that they did across different spaces. First, they built a different kind of car. The product itself is a different kind of car that is post-CO2 era, different way of thinking about it but they also rethought the relationship with the customer. They had recognized that historically, the manufacturers were disintermediated. They had to go through a dealer. They did not have a direct relationship with the customer.

You really want to have that glue that enables you not to be transactional, but to ultimately build a relationship over time. @iraehrenpreis Click To Tweet

You drive the car off the showroom floor, and then it is your problem or it is the dealer’s problem but it is certainly not the manufacturer’s problem unless it is some real defective part issue. They said, “We want to have the relationship direct with that consumer.” The delegates are all dealing with this challenge. Many of them have gone through resellers or other kinds of third parties and are now trying to figure out, “How we build a direct relationship with the people we serve,” which is not easy.

I would say to your incredibly well-articulated summary is, Tesla went out not to build a different car but to build a better car. That was the profound missionary statement, which in many ways defines what we think of them as a double bottom line. The mission we are on is this idea of not doing differently for different sake, not finding a small segment that may not be filled by incumbency but by trying to find a way to be better through innovation. We deliberately went out not just to build the greenest car, the most environmentally friendly car, which is what the dialogue was at the time. The dialogue when we invested was, “Cars that were good for the planet often look like a golf cart and went 30 miles.”

It was the idea of sacrifice and having to be concessionary. That was turned on its head with this idea. What if we could be a car that accelerated faster than Ferrari? What if we could be the iPhone on wheels? What if we could do all these things that you weren’t getting from a traditional car? One of the real lessons coming out of it is by building something from scratch or at least questioning the status quo, you are able to uproot all these dimensions in terms of sales channels that enable and unlock a set of other opportunities that we did not have.

It is not just about being different. It is about being better in terms of what the customer wants. It is about understanding why they are coming to you in the first place and what it is that they are hoping to achieve. In that case, where you corrected me, which was right on, it wasn’t about just something that is different. It was about combining a lot of different values that the consumer had that they felt like they had to settle and not get everything that they wanted.

That is a good insight as you are building for the customers that you serve to think about what it is that they want and how you can layer in the benefits that they need in new and better ways than the organizations that have come before you. In the case of large and traditional organizations that have an intrapreneurial bend, how can you beat yourself? How can you be better than you were by following the customer’s lead and to a great extent? Can you talk about some of the other consumer-oriented sectors that you find interesting and why you are investing there? What are the best or most interesting direct-to-consumer spaces that you are seeing?

We are seeing it across so many sectors. I will give some examples. The food and ag industry are very similar to the dynamics we saw in the energy and the auto industry. It is an industry that is among the largest markets in the world. It is a multitrillion-dollar market but it also has an enormous climate impact. Going back to how consumers are incorporating sustainability lens in ways we haven’t seen before and gone back to this idea of oligopolies, we have an industry where it is century-old oligopolies like Cargill, John Deere, Dole and Monsanto.

We see that the consumers have a need and desire for products that we haven’t seen served by the oligopolies. As you look at some of the newfound emerging companies in this space, we see companies like Beyond Meat coming into that trend. We have backed a number of companies that are trying to meet some of the consumer demand around these issues.

We have a company called Farmers Business Network, a great example of trying to democratize access to tools, technologies and the ability for small farmers to deliver to the consumer. What we thought of as what the ag community did, it is why farmer’s markets have become much more popular than when we were kids. It is this idea of developing this relationship between production and consumption.

We have a company called Apeel that is tackling food waste. How many of us go to the market, buy our fruits and vegetables and at some point, we see a subset of those have spoiled? What this company is doing is finding a fully natural way to do shelf life extension anywhere to between 200% to 500%. It is that avocado now, instead of lasting ten days, it is lasting anywhere between 20 and 50 days but doing so through a fully natural process, some natural Apeel that keeps the oxygen out in the moisture in inside a piece of fruit or vegetable.

SSP 33 | D2C Companies

D2C Companies: It’s that sustainability lens that we’re seeing consumers pay attention to in ways that we just didn’t have in previous years.


That is important when consumers go to the store. If you went into a set of supermarkets or retailers across the country and globe, you have a choice. You can get a traditional orange, avocado, lemon or you can get an Apeel based one that has this dynamic of shelf life extension. The good news from a consumer standpoint, it retains all the healthy and is even healthier than a typical piece of fruit and the spoilage doesn’t occur but going all the way back to the supplier. There is a value prop across the entire supply chain. A great example of a win-win across the entire spectrum, as opposed to the consumer, winning but it would be at the expense of the supplier. This is a company like many that is delivering value across the board.

This is a conference about direct-to-consumer but one of the things that I tell when I’m working with organizations that are building relationships with their consumers is, “Look at what your customers are asking for, what your members want but also use your telescope to see what’s changing on the horizon.” Your example, particularly of Apeel but also with companies like SpaceX, are creating technologies that are going to enable new direct-to-consumer relationships. The companies that are in the D2C space need to be looking out on the horizon that, “What are the technologies that are emerging that can help me better deliver on my promise to my members to more fully solve the problem.”

Many years ago, the best way to deliver news was through print on paper. Now, that may not be the best way. It is certainly not the only way to deliver that value. Organizations that are using apps and browser-based experiences are finding new ways to get closer to their customers. What you are pointing out is that the same thing is possible in terms of the Earth space Nexus, how media companies are able to connect with their customers around the world. With also, the example of Apeel, being able to offer a different kind of food decision-making process and food experience.

I love the example you gave because it is the precise example that characterizes SpaceX. A lot of people think about SpaceX as the first and only reusable rocket and ultimately radically reducing cost per pound to get to space. That was the foundational principle of the investment. The example you bring about how we read our news is related to what SpaceX is doing, perhaps even more so for this audience. When you think about what SpaceX is doing, it is using that foundational technology to build what is called Starlink, which is an internet system that is meeting consumer needs across the globe. It is going to be one of the most important dimensions to how we judge SpaceX’s success.

When you talk about reading news differently, that is true for you and me. It is true for this audience and half of the world’s population but it is not true for the other half. Half of the world, as we sit and have this conversation, has been left out. Half of the world is reading the news the way they read news 100 years ago and does not have access to global broadband. As much as when we wake up and spend our day until we go to sleep, we are reliant on the evolution that you reference. Half of the world doesn’t do that.

What SpaceX is doing is building a constellation that, for the first time ever, is going to enable every longitude and latitude to have that opportunity. When the folks in the audience think about their businesses, and this is an important one to understand, technology unlocks a doubling of the potential market that has existed for the companies that are in the media space who are thinking about their own businesses. With the example I give, Robbie, the number of companies that are going to be innovating through the sustainability lens is just at the start. It is making sure that big and small companies understand these trends to see what it means for them.

Do you have advice for the delegates that say, “I’m interested in what these emerging trends are?” I hope I’m not putting you on the spot but how they should be thinking about staying current and using their telescope to look out on the horizon and see what might be relevant, to stay connected with some of these emerging innovations?

That is the golden question we get asked all the time. There is a range of possibilities and how to do that. There is no one answer. I would be presumptuous to somehow think that I have the answer for everybody. We know that there are lots of companies that do that through building venture capital arms, what’s called the CVCs, Corporate Venture Capital, analogs to what a traditional venture capital firm does. It enables those companies that build those CVCs to get that window of insight into the innovation side of the house.

Some who don’t build it in-house partner and build relationships with the venture and entrepreneurial community to do just that, we spend a pretty decent percentage of our time, where large companies come in and want to have discussions around innovation roadmaps. It enables us to both expose trends, drivers, things we are looking at, and underlying portfolio companies, as well as to hear about needs. There are a lot of that goes on.

It’s very easy to march down a path of enabling status quo. It’s very hard to have a mindset to disrupt what you’re doing. @iraehrenpreis Click To Tweet

There is no one way but I do think it all comes down to mindset. It is very easy to march down a path of enabling the status quo. It is very hard to have a mindset to disrupt what you are doing. It is one of the traps and reasons with David-Goliath, where Davids have become bigger winners. Over my years of being a venture capitalist, there have been more Davids that have become winners because of the challenge that larger companies often have in exploring the question you asked.

I’m based in Silicon Valley. Early in my career, I mostly worked with startup companies here. They move so quickly and are able to innovate creatively and aggressively in part because they don’t have the heavy baggage of a large successful company that they need to support. One of the metaphors that came to my mind when I started working with big companies was the startups are like little speedboats zipping around you.

You are not able to move fast because you are a big cargo ship carrying a lot of valuable cargo, which makes it harder for you to turn quickly and to be nimble. You bring up an important point about how you can continue to move that ship forward but also make some big bets, be innovative, and not always be held back by the responsibility and weight that you carry with your historical legacy.

There is a sector that highlights how radical innovation can be. I love talking about it because it is a bit of a newer investment and a newer idea. It is around what we think of as a mash-up. This is the other dimension around sectors I was going to encourage people to think about. Whatever industry you think you are in, think about another industry that has experienced similar kinds of industry evolution where maybe the mash-up, as we call it, actually creates an opportunity.

We know that automobiles and energy go together, and batteries in ways we went ahead many years ago, but there is another one that highlights this that we have found super interesting. That is the trend around conservation, which is becoming an important dimension, sustainability on the one end. The other industry that often doesn’t get talked about is death care.

You said death. Let’s talk about death.

Few people talked about it. More importantly, there has been little innovation in that sector. We backed a company that is trying to do something different. If I said close your eyes and think about a cemetery, it wouldn’t have been the same as hundreds of years ago. It would have been the same as hundreds of years ago. There has not been innovation. We all think of a cemetery the way we have always thought about it.

This company asked the question of themselves, “Why not trees instead of stones? Why not think about a final resting place that isn’t a beautiful forest?” What they have done is they have created the opportunity to improve an end of life for families and figure out ways to preserve vulnerable forest land in perpetuity. They have created land trust the same way nonprofits have created land trust in conservation in a for-profit regime, that overhauls how people can find a final resting spot. Instead of going to a cemetery, you have a tree with a beautiful marker.

The last time I checked, my family did not decide on a Sunday to go hiking in a cemetery but we do go to some beautiful places with sequoias and forests that we spend time as a family. These are those kinds of incredibly beautiful places your family wants to go and ultimately can remember your loved ones in a very different way than we ever have before.

I bring it up because when you think about consumer choice, it is unlocking a choice that consumers have never had before. We have never had even questioned this idea of, “Can we have a final resting spot in places where we consider to be the most beautiful on planet Earth?” We have always thought about our final resting spot to be in a very traditional cemetery. It is another example that we like talking about as to question everything and particularly in industries that have not changed in a very long time.

SSP 33 | D2C Companies

D2C Companies: By building something from scratch, or at least questioning the status quo, you’re able to unlock a set of other opportunities that we didn’t have historically.


You could almost make it like a card game that says, “Here are some massive trends that are happening. Here are the industries.” How would you rethink this industry in light of conservation, healthier lifestyle or whatever the trends are? The opportunity that you are pointing out is a great example. How you can take a very staid and non-changing business that you might think there are no other alternatives, take a step back and say, “Let’s rethink what the goals are of this?”

To your point, what are the goals of your resting place? One of them is, “So that my family will have a place to remember me.” There is a physical place for reflecting, remembering and connecting. How would we do that in a beautiful way? That is one way of asking it. Another one is, how do we do it in light of this need to be more conservation-oriented?

Other additional overleg here is, how do we find industries that have traditionally not had a digital relationship with a customer? When you think about how people have traditionally bought plots, it is not by going online the same way you would have found your hotel room, as an example. You typically have a physical requirement to go to a cemetery. In this particular case, this company’s better place for us is building a digital relationship that isn’t just better from a financial standpoint but is a better consumer experience. It unlocks a way of providing a suite of products and services to the customer that you did not have before.

There was an earlier speaker at this conference from the GoodTrust. When you think about the ability to have a company at the end-of-life sphere that has a digital relationship, it enables partnerships, a suite of products, and us to tap into the void that has existed in this industry by building that digital relationship. It is super important. We take it for granted in so many other industries but oddly take for granted that it doesn’t exist in this industry.

There is a question here, which I have to ask, “What kinds of potential mash-ups do you think media should be thinking about?”

We have seen a set of industries where media companies have been playing an increasingly larger role. We think of media in a narrower way than we think about new media now. It is through some of the examples I’m describing that I do think to touch a bunch of industries. One of the nice things about being a VC is we are seeing these industries evolve to a point where what we thought of the definition of those industries in our rearview mirror turned out to be very different than what they are turning into. We have a company that is doing immersive audio. It changes the way we think about having relationships with physical environments. A number of media companies are super excited about what that can unlock for the way in which they are tapping into a physical relationship with their customer based.

Can you give an example of what that means? What would an immersive experience be that a media company would offer using this audio immersive technology?

When you think about entertainment venues, we thought about some of the largest and best audio experiences being ones that require super expensive audio equipment. For anyone who has been to a Cirque du Soleil show, a physical property around Disneyland and Disney World or thinks of some of the larger companies that have a physical footprint to extend their digital footprint. Any media company that has a physical environment that has an audio experience, had to spend millions of dollars to create an audio experience for their customer.

With the Cirque du Soleil show, if you have ever been to one, what you would see in some of the parking lots are trucks and trucks of a multimillion dollars’ worth of equipment to create that amazing audio experience that we all have. What if we could have that same experience in museums or smaller footprints we go to? What if, instead of it being a Disneyland, what about the Disney stores having that same experience? The cost to enable the extension of the physical footprint from an audio experience standpoint has been limited to a very small percentage of where those media assets can go offline. What this is trying to do is democratize access to a range of physical footprints that heretofore have not been accessible.

Be open-minded to the idea that you didn’t think about. @iraehrenpreis Click To Tweet

I have so many more questions but I’m going to close out by asking you a question about Tesla. I know that people are interested in that model as an innovative direct-to-consumer business that has scaled and changed the landscape in several industries. Let me ask you lessons from Tesla and the path ahead. You have been involved there since the very early days as an investor and a board member. The company is gigantic. It has a $580 some odd billion market cap. Can you talk a little bit about the journey from 50 to 50,000 employees and maybe some tips for how to think about the scaling process as organizations grow and thrive?

We have touched on this idea of question everything. Don’t take for granted the status quo and the way other companies have done it. That was in the DNA of Tesla from the onset, the idea of changing so many dimensions to the business. We talked about the channel relationship from a sales standpoint and the way in which technology is embedded in the car, the idea that your car is more like your iPhone.

Your iPhone doesn’t have a terribly high utility when you take it out of the box, but when you start downloading apps, it gets better over time. The more apps that you download, the higher the utility of that phone. That is the changing mindset of the vehicle. It is the idea that instead of depreciating 10% to 15% when you drive it off the lot and another 10% or 15% every year thereafter, the idea is it gets better over time because over the year updates in software. That is a different way of looking at the world.

There are so many examples I could give around the idea of questioning it but doing so from the standpoint of what is better for the consumer and thinking about what delivers a better customer experience. That is something I would start with. The second thing is, how do you maintain it as you grow? You mentioned scale. Often people think about being able to question and do that as a young company, but how do you do that when you get to be a large company?

Google is notorious for finding structural ways to create time in one’s day and think about new and creative ideas. That is one way to do it, but the overall concept is to maintain a culture that continues that entrepreneurial spirit that led to success in the first place and not be afraid to do things that are different. There was a quote, if you can believe, by the US Patent Office in the late 1800s. The quote was, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

It is an ironic quote that would come from the Patent Office. You think about the forge of the Edisons, the Wright brothers, the Jobs, the Wozniaks, for example, who did not listen to that ridiculous comment and were deterred. That is an important part of building a company that has a continuous innovation culture.

There is perhaps the most important from the lens of backing young companies but it does apply to every company. That is this idea of resilience and fortitude. It is an important part of building a long-term enduring company. Every great company will have those bumps in the road. We all have experienced where we find our challenges. I have not seen a more resilient team than that Tesla team. It stared death in the face so many times along the way.

It does go back to how we think about impact investing. You have a team that is there because their core is purpose-driven. They are mission-oriented and trying to create something different for their legacy. They are there because they are passionate about what they are doing as opposed to clocking in and clocking out. I marveled when I would often be at the Tesla factory and it would be 11:00 at night. There would be a parking lot full of cars. It wasn’t because like a traditional industry where there was a second shift.

The vibrancy, excitement, and recruiting capability, being able to recruit above we are at and retain when things get tough is all a function of what we think of as an impact company, which is the other dimension. I would maybe end here by describing Tesla as one of the important ways to not only overcome adversity, uncertainty, and unchartered territory but also recruit the very best to want to do something purposeful and legacy creating.

This leads well into the final question that I see that several people have asked in different ways. What’s next? What business ideas are exciting to you? What industries are there to be disruptive? How are you spending your time looking forward?

SSP 33 | D2C Companies

D2C Companies: Like the early technologies that enabled the internet had profound implications on media companies, so too does this generation of unlocking have a similar potential impact


I feel incredibly privileged to wake up every day and get the answers to those questions that I couldn’t have answered in the morning because there are incredibly creative, passionate entrepreneurs that walk into our office, pitching new ideas every day. Many of the things that I’ve described in this session are things that, if asked before I met that entrepreneur, I would not have thought of myself.

Any credit we get is a credit to the entrepreneur. We are only as good as the entrepreneurs that we back. It is a mindset issue of being open-minded to answer the question you asked, not by way of a written answer, structure, analytical framework or industries that one thinks they’ve somehow glommed onto but rather being open-minded to the idea you did not think about it. We had not thought about the idea of reasonable rockets before Elon did that. We did not think about the idea of changing. We thought a lot about conservation. We did not think about it through the lens of uprooting the death care industry before a better place for us.

The good news is the sustainability lens that we started the discussion with is at its infancy of evolution. The number of companies that are going to be innovating through that lens is just at the start. The industries that we have talked about are not industries that have had a decade-long set of innovation around it. We do think the energy, automobile, food ag, Earth space Nexus, and a bunch of others are in the first inning of decades-long innovation ahead.

I do think the more important answer I could give is it is all the things we are not talking about. For the folks in the audience who are thinking about how they incorporate innovation into what they are doing, it is to try to take that lens and the aperture and widen it as broadly as possible. What we do is try to suspend disbelief and not say no before we questioned. That is what we spend our days doing. We say no a lot during the taste because we get pitched a lot of companies and ideas but you got to stay open-minded for that idea you did not think about.

Thank you so much, Ira, for joining us. It has been a real pleasure.

Robbie, it is so great to do this with you. Everyone knew back in the day that if we were going to get a conversation going, doing it with you, Robbie, there is no one better, so thanks for the time.

That was Ira Ehrenpreis, Founder of DBL Partners. This episode was done live at the FIPP Direct-To-Consumer Summit. I’m delighted to be able to share it with you here on the show. For more about Ira and DBL Partners, go to For more about the summit and to access the other interviews with stories from the economist, Strava and Nike, among others, go to For more about my work with subscription and membership models, go to If you love the show, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Mention this episode if you especially enjoyed it. We read all the reviews and we want your feedback. Thanks for your support and thanks for reading.


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About Ira Ehrenpreis

SSP 33 | D2C CompaniesIra Ehrenpreis is Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners.

Ira is a recognized leader in the venture capital industry, having served on the Board, Executive Committee, and as Annual Meeting Chairman of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA).

Ira was recently awarded the 2018 NACD Directorship 100 for being “one of the most influential leaders in the boardroom and corporate governance community.”

Ira has invested in a wide range of companies, including SpaceX, and serves on the board of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) and numerous other companies.

Ira received his JD/MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford Law School, where he was an Associate Editor of Stanford Law Review. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude.


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