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Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. David Denberg

Jul 12, 2021

Building Community in Ecommerce

david denberg headshot

Ecommerce has been evolving since the moment it began. From the birth of Amazon until this very moment, the way entrepreneurs create, sell, and connect with consumers has been migrating further from transactional and increasingly toward personal.

This trend toward community is something David Denberg knows better than most. He’s spent the better part of a decade as Lead Curator and Partner at Summit, a company curating invite-only conferences and retreats for global communities of entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, philanthropists, and beyond. He’s been creating thoughtful events and spaces for leaders and likeminded people to share, explore, and collaborate. See how he does it as well as the impact community can have on his own ecommerce ventures.

Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? 

A: I’ve learned that if you tell someone how much hard work it’s going to take to do something, they don’t necessarily understand it. Someone said to me, “Hey, this is what it looks like to get from A to B,” and I had to learn how hard it would be and how much work it would take to get there.

A few times I’ve said to myself that had I known how much hard work it would take, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It’s a good thing to not know how much hard work it’s going to take to do these things, so I go in with intensity and focus.

We, as a business, cultivated the direct consumer channel and I think had we better understood, even earlier than 5 years ago, how to focus on that, we definitely would have invested more.

Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?

A: Look for much better customer service, for starters. The brand has direct communication with the customers, and in the digital era, there’s accountability in a way that there hasn’t been for how brands interact and treat their customers. I think ecommerce is going to get faster and there’s a better feedback loop between the customers and the brands creating it.

Ecommerce will reflect the changing needs of customers and hopefully shipping providers can find a way to get goods to the end user even quicker. Such as how Amazon has been able to revolutionize two-day and one-day shipping, I don’t think there will be a fee for Amazon. I think we’ll get to a more expedited ecommerce delivery system, and there’s already proof of this happening.

I saw a DoorDash rep explaining the company’s IPO and how they want an expedited shipping system for consumer brands, not just just food delivery. I’ll give you an example: Sephora is now using Postmates delivery service. Consumers can order goods so directly. Brands don’t even have to put orders in a box and consumers don’t have to go to a brand’s website. Localized retail is now using these direct technology systems to piggyback onto their distribution. 

Now we’re getting products quickly. As I was mentioning earlier, that’s a game-changer. In my opinion, the whole ecommerce customer service thing was really pioneered by Tony Hsieh.

I read his book “Delivering Happiness,” and it totally changed my perspective on what it meant to have a happy company culture. To make sure that the customer really feels great and safe in making a purchase and then returning it easily if they want to. 

I feel that sometimes brands say there’s a return policy, but they never actually want you to return anything. They just want the customer to be fully appreciative and happy. 

Q: What is your best failure? 

A:  In 2018, I started a company in Singapore, and I did a separate project in Tokyo. They both were events that were designed to bridge East and West, and build cultural relations between different business leaders. 

For everyone who came externally, the events were a big success. Everyone had a great time and said thank you, but financially, they were not a success. They were some of my biggest losses, which was fine because that happens sometimes. I put in more energy and more work to accomplish something that was really far away versus building on the local opportunities and everything that I had previously done.

I said, “Hey, we’re doing something here, everyone come because it’s going to be great!” versus, “Hey, there’s already something happening here, let’s do something where people are already going.” There’s energy already going towards that place versus creating criteria and overcoming criteria to create momentum for a place.

Ignite the waves and the trends that are happening and ride those waves and trends versus trying to make the waves because it’s a lot more work. It’s not always worth the reward, but we make sure we got it right.

I’m one of the original partners with Summit and I helped put together the Powder Mountain Project. I learned that basically, I’m never doing international events again. I put all this work into building Powder Mountain and that changed my life. It made everything easier and more successful. It was a great lesson about riding the wave versus making the wave. It’s so much harder to start something rather than follow how it’s going.

My mom was a founder 25 years ago and she was ahead of her time when it came to natural beauty products, but she made it. The market has grown year after year because more people woke up and said, “We want clean beauty products.”

That’s an example of the wave. It’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and the market keeps getting bigger and we’re riding that wave as opposed to riding trends as they’re happening, which is a great way to grow a business. 

I can’t remember exactly, but we put a gift guide out and one of the OCF products was on there. It was pretty fun and I love and appreciate that. That’s something I’ve seen in my experience as an entrepreneur and changes the whole game because at the end of the day, if you can achieve the same results and do half the amount of work in half the amount of time, you have more time to do other stuff by working smart and hard. 

Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?

A: In store, I have a skincare studio and we moved our facial treatment rooms outside so that you could do sessions and get your skin taken care of outdoors in Southern California, which is really lovely. Content that has been created for digital marketing has been geared more toward people who are staying in their home versus traveling, for example.

The types of products and content reflects the people’s need to make an in-home wellness spa experience. Additionally, we’ve really focused on our direct-to-consumer channel because a lot of spas and retail have been closed. 

Internally we’ve taken this time as a team to gather, refocus, and recalibrate what we really spend our time and focus on for 2021. I hope next year is a little different, but it’s still a good one for ecommerce.

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