Distribution in a Downturn

Jul 12, 2022

When money is cheap, distribution is expensive. In the last two years, we saw companies look for distribution advantages:

  • Newsletter writers and podcast hosts raised venture funds (Packy McCormick's Not Boring Capital, Mario Gabriele's Generalist Capital, Harry Stebbings' 20VC, Sahil Bloom's SRB Fund)
  • Companies proprietary software advantages for distribution by open-sourcing more of their core product
  • Consumer social apps like TikTok and Instagram paid their creators just for posting
  • SaaS companies invested heavily in community
  • Web3 companies airdropped users with tokens and NFTs
  • DeFi companies offered unsustainable yields to customers
  • Streaming media companies spent record numbers on producing and acquiring content
  • Companies hired and retained employees with significant levels of stock-based compensation
  • Roll-up vehicles acquired Shopify and Amazon brands and consolidated their distribution

Proprietary distribution is the foundation of most successful businesses. Would customers come regardless of how much the company spends on acquiring them? Distribution advantages that are not proprietary get competed away. Take a look at the numerous open-source competitors that most SaaS apps have.

Even many forms of proprietary distribution are no longer proprietary. Content marketing is possible for any company through a newsletter writer's venture fund (at the right price). Successful shows on Netflix get replicated on Prime Video. Users game web3 airdrops and don't stick around.

We've already seen some companies with good, but not proprietary, distribution fail. Direct-to-consumer companies that relied on paid ads imploded as the cost of customer acquisition shot rapidly increased (all good channels eventually get saturated). SaaS communities became communities of other vendors, not customers.

As money gets more expensive, it will be interesting to see what distribution turned out to be proprietary and what wasn't.