Why is this interesting? - The Tracksmith Edition

On Tracksmith, running, and the third wave of DTC

Colin Here. I recently did a Q&A with the CEO of Tracksmith, a company focusing on serious runners (which I am decidedly not). The founder, Matt Taylor, came from marketing at Puma and used the creation of an app to self-fund the company. We had a wide ranging chat, but I was particularly struck by something he said on the parallels between company-building and endurance running:

It’s interesting because we live in a world where instant gratification reigns supreme. Tweets, headlines, soundbites — we’ve lost our ability to go deeper and wider. But I’m a runner and running requires building a strong foundation or base. You don’t win the race on the first day. You have to accept delayed gratification. This mentality is what underscores my approach to developing a brand: Establish a strong and broad base on top of which success can eventually be realized.

From the beginning we’ve invested in building differentiated products that are rooted in running culture and supporting them with rich storytelling, photography and experiences. We made a lot of deliberate choices to ensure that the brand feels like it’s been around for a long time — from the logo, to the name, to our tone of voice. We’ve also tried to stay really disciplined and clear-eyed about what Tracksmith stands for and making choices we believe are best for the long-term, rather than chasing quick gains.

Why is this interesting?

With the gold rush of direct-to-consumer brands, you get the sense that everyone is trying to quickly slap something together using the same agencies, the same colors, and the same paid Instagram strategy. But building strong core muscles and doing something that can stand for a long period of time requires taking some deliberately contrarian positions.

Simply put, Tracksmith feels like it has been around forever. It feels like it is a brand your parents ran in. Sure, there is the aesthetic consideration and art direction—it draws heavily from the classic styles of east coast collegiate running—but a big piece is their more thoughtful approach to the DTC playbook. Take the store: every online brand is opening retail space these days, but Tracksmith placed theirs at the end of the Boston Marathon route, a nod that only a small set will appreciate. Per WITI 5/29 on Public Records and flexible retail, they’re also housing a masseuse to help long-distance runners with the kind of physical ailments that come from covering many miles a day. Even its magazine, Meter, stands out from the pack with its writing, format, and art direction.

All those things make for a brand that truly knows who they are for. It is focused instead of pandering:

The seeds for Tracksmith came from a frustration with the way established running brands ignored the core runner, watering down their messaging to appeal to a broader fitness/athleisure base. So in establishing the framework for Tracksmith, it was important to speak to that runner who’d been left behind.

These are “serious” athletes, in that they’re committed to a lifestyle of training and racing, and everything that goes with it. At the same time, these are not professional runners; they fit their training alongside full time jobs, families and other personal commitments. Running has an incredible history of amateurism and our aim is to treat running with the respect it deserves and offer runners products and experiences that support their commitment to getting faster.

A lot of startups and brands today feel, well, cynical. It’s as if they were birthed out of a desire to be a VC pitch deck for a quick flip rather than an object that could turn into a future hand-me-down for your children. According to an interview in Outside, this idea of “recasting ordinary sportswear as a luxury ‘heritage’ item is central to Tracksmith’s special alchemy.”

This point is vitally important. The first wave of DTC were disruptive and interesting. The Caspers and Warbys of the world. The second wave were perhaps a bit more opportunistic, chasing the gold rush of capital and seemingly less interested in the intangible magic that makes a long-standing and iconic brand. (See: the inherent contradiction with things like Brandless.) But perhaps a third wave of these types of brands can balance a heartbeat with the spirit that goes into a category disruptor. Those that can take a view of the long game and actually do it for the love of the draft more than the love of incentive packages. Making things that people love for 20 years or more, outside or the trend scuffles.

And as more and more of these zombie, grown-in-a-lab DTC brands pile up (and subsequently drive up the CPMs of social advertising even more), those companies that actually have a vision will be the ones around to be handed down. (CJN)

Chart of the Day:

From the WSJ on NPS, which they titled “The Dubious Management Fad Sweeping Corporate America” (subscription required). I wrote a bunch about NPS in WITI’s May 10 Polling Edition. (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • WITI reader Matt sent over a link to The Training Commission this morning. Sign me up: “The Training Commission is a speculative fiction email newsletter about the compromises and consequences of using technology to reckon with collective trauma. Several years after a period of civil unrest and digital blackouts in the United States, a truth and reconciliation process has led to a major restructuring of the federal government, major tech companies, and the criminal justice system. … The Training Commission will run over the course of eight weeks in spring 2019, after which point the newsletters and all other related ephemera will be published on this website.” (NRB)

  • The clip of Gwyneth Paltrow finding out she was in Spiderman: Homecoming has been making the Twitter rounds. On the thread I found this Mary Sue story about how no one filming Marvel movies has any idea what’s going on. Here’s Brie Larson talking about filming Avengers: Endgame: “I had no idea what I was shooting, what the movie was. I didn’t know if anybody else was in a scene with me. I didn’t know anything. And it’s not until you show up that you get your pages for the day. But you only get your part. So it was like a scene that was completely black redacted, and then just my one line.” (NRB)

  • Not sure if I agree, but read it to form your own opinion: Everest is Over (CJN)

  • Friend of WITI Nick Paumgarten on the world’s most gnarly Downhill course. A really awesome piece that’s fun to read. (Previously in WITI 4/30.) (CJN)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)