HomeInterviewsWildwood Ventures, Interview With Founder and Managing Partner David Wagner

Wildwood Ventures, Interview With Founder and Managing Partner David Wagner

David Wagner
Wildwood Ventures Founder and Managing Partner David Wagner

Denver, CO-based Wildwood Ventures is a venture studio creating and investing in companies at intersection of the outdoor and wellness economies. Founder and Managing Partner David Wagner replied to our questions and helped us understand what makes a venture studio unique.  

VCWire: Hi David, can you please tell us a bit about yourself? What’s your background? 

I’ve spent most of my career in the world of consumer brands, specifically with lifestyle brands that equip people for the activities they love. I spent 17 years at VF Corporation, which owns iconic apparel and footwear brands like The North Face and Vans. At VF, I worked across our portfolio on a range of strategic, brand, consumer, and innovation fronts, culminating in a six-year stint on the executive team.

Before joining VF, I honed my skills in consulting at McKinsey & Company and learned the basics of private equity at Banc of America Capital Investors. On the personal front, I am from North Carolina and now live in Colorado with my wife Jennifer and our four kids.

VCWire: Can you introduce Wildwood Ventures?

Wildwood represents the realization of a long-held dream for me, and we’re super excited about this investment company we launched last May. Wildwood is a venture capital firm that operates in what we call the market for healthy and active lifestyles. Our approach at Wildwood involves partnering with founders in the earliest stages of new venture creation. We guide founders in building businesses that can change people’s lives through the right technology.

VCWire: What is your overall strategy (geo/amount/sectors)?

Wildwood focuses on two dynamic sectors: Outdoor and Wellness, which together represent more than $1 trillion of U.S. GDP and are growing much faster than the overall economy. Within these sectors, Wildwood focuses on the earliest stages of new venture creation as both a co-builder and investor across B2C and B2B businesses. While our primary focus is presently on the U.S. market, we believe our investment approach is equally relevant in countries around the world.

VCWire: Beyond capital, how do you support startups?

One of the ways we stand out from other investors is that we use a founder-led venture studio model. Essentially, this approach involves our team working alongside startup founders, contributing expertise and resources as if we were part of their founding team, yet allowing them to maintain overall vision and ownership of their startup. Through bespoke Entrepreneur in Residence programs, we empower founders to achieve product-market fit faster and more cost efficiently than they could on their own. To achieve this, we roll up our sleeves alongside them in areas such as strategy development, consumer understanding, product management, tech, developing go-to-market plans, marketing, and fundraising.

Another significant way we assist startups is through our extensive industry expertise and network. For instance, our anchor investor is my former employer, VF. This partnership not only allows founders to access capital indirectly from VF, but it also opens doors to valuable assets like commercial opportunities with VF’s brands or relationships with VF’s leaders. Our VF partnership serves as a major differentiator for Wildwood, enhancing our ability to support and propel startups.

I also want to mention a third, softer, but equally meaningful way that we support our startups. We work hard to ensure a great experience for all founders across every aspect of our operations. Founders, regardless of whether we invest in their ventures, are our most important stakeholders. Our mission is to assist all of them in their journeys to change the world. This commitment also extends to small gestures that all VCs don’t always do well.  For example, we commit to always give founders timely and detailed feedback on their business, even when we choose not to invest.  We also make every effort to convey our genuine care for our founders as humans, rather than viewing them solely as a means to achieving a strong return.

VCWire: What do you like to see in founders? And what don’t you like to see in them? Is there something that impresses you at first glance? 

Because we participate so early, our investment decisions primarily revolve around the founders – even more than the business idea they bring. In the pursuit of attaining product-market fit, businesses will frequently navigate a winding path, requiring founders to have exceptional vision, resilience, and a diverse array of hard and soft skills.

During the initial pitch phase, we work hard to bring a very objective approach to founder assessment. This evaluation encompasses not only factors like their past experience and subject matter expertise, but also considers softer attributes such as emotional intelligence, learning agility, and founder purpose. Those are the key things we look for in every founder.

VCWire: Please, tell us a bit more about your portfolio. You can list five startups whose paths have made you particularly proud. 

We are very excited about our portfolio. After only 10 months of operation, we’ve already cultivated six exciting portfolio companies, each that makes us proud.

Out & Back was our first investment, and they’ve built a very efficient recommerce marketplace for outdoor gear. Kinsa has established a tech-enabled marketplace catering to plus-sized outdoor and active apparel. Roots has successfully launched a consumer app for digital well-being and screen time management, catering to all of us who are addicted to our phones. Chimani is another awesome consumer app that helps people explore the great outdoors, with a focus on national and state parks. Outway is a B2B SaaS platform for land management, a first of its kind. And our newest investment, Flowcart, facilitates e-commerce collaboration between brands and influencers, who are increasingly driving consumer perceptions and trials. 

VCWire: Which sector/s would you bet 2 cents on in the next five years? 

That’s an excellent question. Firstly, we’re seeing a surge of new startups tackling the loneliness epidemic. Despite the promise of social media to foster connection, it’s actually led to increased isolation, alienation, and a lack of genuine relationships. 

The other example I’d like to highlight is the professionalization of the resale market, or what we call recommerce. With ongoing, constrained consumer purchasing power, increased durability of so many new products made, and the transformative power of real-time data, companies like Out & Back are truly professionalizing this space, taking market share from both traditional players like eBay as well as new product sales channels.