We want to eliminate the middleman, just like you do. That’s why we don’t sell products or take any cut whatsoever of product sales. Instead, we focus on serving as an information source, helping consumers identify and connect with the best direct to consumer brands. Then we get out of the way.
Our mission and business model are the exact opposite of today’s dominant online and offline retailers, as well as the dominant search engines and ad networks, who are now positioned as powerful middlemen within transactions and (directly or indirectly) taking a cut from product sales. NoMiddleman’s entire purpose is to connect buyers with companies willing to sell to them directly, for free, and not impact the cost of the transaction in any significant way.
First, brands must fit our definition of a direct to consumer brand.
It’s an evolving future for direct to consumer brands, and it’s important to note that our evaluation criteria and definition of “direct to consumer” may also evolve over time. But here is the core of our definition, which will never change:
A direct to consumer brand is one that opts out of selling through traditional, middleman-heavy distribution channels, and only sells directly to consumers; or is on a clear path to that end.
That sounds fairly simple, but after hundreds of hours of research, we’re finding that many of the brands in our directory aren’t yet able to only sell directly to consumers. So that first part of the definition doesn’t apply to all brands. For the rest of the brands we evaluate, we’ve got to determine whether they’re on “the clear path to that end” of selling only directly.
To determine that, we ask another question: “Exactly how direct to consumer are they? And why?”
When we go about answering that question, we primarily look at these factors below, which we’ve separated into Thumbs Up (DTC Indicators), Gray Areas, and Red Flags.
Online exclusivity – products are sold exclusively on their own website or mobile app. Nowhere else.
Offline exclusivity – products are sold exclusively in their own retail stores.
Online, “Hybrid Channels” – Marketplaces like Ebay or Amazon, which take reasonable selling fees that are less than the markup added by traditional middlemen.
Online, Affiliate Programs – It could be argued that this is a form of wholesaling; i.e. if the affiliate commission is 5%, that product could be sold to consumers for 5% less. But we understand how it helps startup brands without a sales force, and it’s not typically a huge markup, so this is one that currently lives in the gray area.
Offline, Retail Partnerships – Strategic, short-term partnerships that give consumers enough value to justify any markup (like wanting to try a mattress before buying it). This could include traditional big-box retailers, or even better low-margin retailers like Costco, which typically only takes about 15% markup compared to the typical 50% markup in traditional retail.
Additional questions we often ask or research, regarding retail partnerships:
Wholesaling – This is a common one, and we are currently not including brands in our directory if they have a regular/consistent wholesaling practice. There are so many amazing brands that we’d love to include in our directory, if only they didn’t wholesale!
We don’t think wholesaling is evil or wrong, and we completely understand why businesses do it. It simply does not align with our definition of a true direct to consumer brand, because (1) wholesaling means selling through middlemen, and (2) a wholesaling discount means there’s an opportunity to pass a better price through to consumers, in our opinion.
Changes in Ownership – from acquisitions to IPOs, we’re always going to take a look and see whether a change in ownership is resulting in a loss of value to consumers, or if the new direction of the business is no longer direct to consumer by our definition.
Beyond the basic hurdles of qualifying as a true direct to consumer brand, we are also very selective regarding the companies we choose to include in our directory. Why? Because we’re curating a resource for consumers to find the best direct to consumer brands in the world, and there will soon be thousands of direct to consumer brands. We only want the best.
That’s why we ask the final question: “Exactly how does this direct to consumer brand pass through value to consumers?”
So in order to be considered as one of the best brands, a company needs to clearly add value for consumers.
We believe that the purpose of selling directly to consumers is to offer more value to consumers: either lower prices, higher quality, a better customer experience, or all three. If a direct to consumer brand doesn’t deliver on one or more of these, then we probably won’t include them in our directory.
Frankly, it’s not that expensive to provide good information, so our costs to keep the lights on are pretty low. Keeping our costs low is critically important and done by design, so we can focus our time on finding, evaluating, and connecting consumers with the best direct to consumer brands.
We do offer opportunities for brands to support The No Middleman Project, while gaining more exposure for their products. However, sponsoring brands must first be editorially vetted by us and included in our directory.
Eligible direct to consumer brands can then support The No Middleman Project by sponsoring their product category page(s). This sponsorship comes with some incredible benefits and exposure in your key product categories, and those details can be found on the Sponsor a Category page.
Our primary mission is to eliminate unnecessary middleman in everything, so it’s important to us that we never become a middleman ourselves! Because of this, category sponsorships have two important limitations:
Beyond category sponsorship, we’ll have other opportunities for brands to support The No Middleman Project through the sponsorship of podcasts, emails, and events. If you’d like us to notify you when those options are available, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Mark Cuban Company