While it may seem like there’s a new digitally native, vertically integrated brand launching every day, including bedding manufacturers, apparel retailers and beauty brands, discovering them isn’t always easy.

Stephan Aarstol, founder and CEO of Tower Paddle Boards, wanted a way for brands like his, which sells directly to consumers through its online storefront, to be easy for shoppers to find. He started No Middleman as a resource for consumers looking to buy directly from creators to save money, instead of trying to find products through Amazon.com Inc. or Google.

“I love Google, I’m an SEO guy,” Aarstol says. “I love Amazon, 50% of [Tower Paddle Boards] revenue is from Amazon. But the Internet tends toward monopolies.”

His worry is that without some kind of directory, direct-to-consumer brands can get buried in search results even if they are selling on Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, or buying Google Shopping Ads.

The site is organized by product category, covering areas like food, fashion and footwear. Users can also search for specific kinds of products, such as beach cruisers or foundation makeup, to hone in on one of No Middleman’s 1,500 subcategories. The brands are chosen and categorized editorially, with the directory doing up to three hours of research on a company before making a final decision on if they make the cut and get a full profile written up for the site. The brands that are chosen are notified of their listing on the site, but otherwise have nothing to do with their profile.


Retailers range from DNVB staples like beauty brand Glossier (No. 175) and eyewear seller Warby Parker (No. 174), to more traditional brands like Inditex Group’s (No. 500) fashion brand Zara and furniture seller Ikea (No. 75), which all get at the heart of what a good direct-to-consumer business does, Aarstol says.

“Are they passing on their savings?” he asks. “Leveraging the direct-to-consumer branding isn’t enough to get you on the list.” Some digitally native brands like men’s apparel brand Bonobos, owned by Walmart Inc. (No. 3), and accessory maker MVMT Watches (No. 433) aren’t in the listings because No Middleman deemed that they aren’t offering significant savings over third-party sellers.

Brands aren’t charged for their listing on No Middleman, and the site doesn’t use affiliate links in its posts. Instead, Aarstol says, sponsorships will pay for the site and the time it takes for the editorial side of the house to find the brands. Those sponsorships will include a listing at the top of a category page and will last for a year, with a single set price for each category ranging from $3,000 for niche products to $10,000 for more popular categories.


However, Aarstol says he won’t be pursuing sponsorships heavily for the first year and will instead focus on getting more products across categories. Right now, there are about 200 retailers in the directory with another 50 in the pipeline, but he hopes to eventually have more than 5,000 listings. And he’s not worried if sponsorships aren’t growing and new listings languish.

“If it doesn’t take off, it’s still a valuable resource to consumers,” he says. “We could have just one or two guys running it for the sake of the consumers. The other path is that it really takes off, and we could get buy-in from the brands who sponsor categories.”

He also sees potential for a kind of direct-to-consumer trade group, where the brands in the list share tactics and contact lists to better compete with the online retail giants. “Everything that Amazon does, these direct-to-consumer brands can do if they work together,” he says.