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EP. 3 - Nik Sharma - "The DTC GUY" - How To 10x Your DTC Brand & What He Learned from Gary Vee

by Rishi Sharma |

Nik Sharma Discussing How to Build a Career & How to Scale Your DTC Brand

Widely known as “The DTC Guy” on the internet, a Forbes 30 Under 30 member, AdWeek’s Young & Influential and resource brands and investors turn to for growth, Nik is a 23-year old DTC investor, advisor, and operator who has both assisted and led revenue growth at multiple organizations, including hint water and VaynerMedia. Nik worked on social media campaigns for A-list celebrities including Pitbull, Priyanka Chopra, MAGIC. Today, Nik words alongside brands and publishers to execute ROI-positive campaigns through cohesive digital strategies using paid, earned, and owned media properties.

Enjoy this powerful interview with Nik Sharma aka "The DTC Guy" as he shares insights, skills, stories & strategies that took him from Teenage Social Media Manager to working with emerging brands like Brightland, JUDY, & Haus! It’s a roller-coaster of an interview where rish questions them him on all the topics you could ever dream of - including career building, 2020 Commerce trends, Gary Vee & Vaynermedia, Brand building & everything in between! It is jam-packed with life-changing wisdom that will be sure to Maximize all areas of your brand and career immediately!

Connect with Nik

Twitter: @MrSharma

Text: 917.905.2340

Transcript :

Rishi Sharma: [00:00:26] Hey, everyone, welcome to take care of. Today's guest is on Forbes 30 under 30 list. Nick Sharma. Known as the DTC guy. He's the former head of DTC at Vayner media, and currently the founder of Sharma brands, an investment and consulting firm, focused on finding the next wave of iconic brands such as twice, haus, and many more.

Welcome, Nick. We're excited to have you here.

Nik Sharma: [00:00:50] Thank you for having me on. It's excited to be here.

Rishi Sharma: [00:00:52] Yeah. Happy to make this happen. So I'd like to start the conversation to give the audience a little bit more about your background. So if you could go in a little bit about your backstory, kind of where your dream again, how you started this entrepreneurial and brand journey of yourself.

Nik Sharma: [00:01:06] Yeah. Um, I mean, it started pretty non-traditionally I was in high school and realize that my. Strong suit was not necessarily taking tests. And so kind of as a way out, I figured, well, if I can make money doing something, I should be good. And so that's when I got interested in social media marketing. And you know, initially it started by working with local businesses and then just cold emailing like crazy.

I ended up. Being able to work with Pitbull, Priyanka Chopra, magic, just a bunch of cool celebrity type of profiles. And then from there, you know, I just always have been the curious type. And so I kept pursuing that curiosity behind marketing, which led me to San Francisco where I learned. You know, all around ad tech and data, programmatic, more sophisticated type of marketing.

And then after that, you know, I kind of had a good understanding around paid marketing as well as organic marketing. And then I joined a company called hint water. Yep. And my goal there was to basically scale the direct consumer business there. And then once I got to him, I really realized the fun side that comes with working on the brand side.

And so since then, I've just been really interested in going deeper and deeper with brands and you know, then VaynerMedia moved me out to New York last year. And since then it's, I mean, New York is like a playground for brands, so. It's just, you know, for me it's been a lot of fun just getting to know or getting to make a lot of friends who are founders out here and just going deeper on it.

And then, you know, as a byproduct of working with brands, whether they are not early stage or they are very early stage and also just having a lot of friends who are founders. The investment and advising side of Sharma brands was born like pretty organically. It was never an intention and basically I would say curiosity is just led me down this funny path over the last few years.

Rishi Sharma: [00:03:09] Yeah, I mean curiosity, and I think that constant learners, what we find in a lot of the interviews that we've had of, you know, great founders like yourself that are trying to make change in the world.

Nik Sharma: [00:03:19] But I'd like to kind of go back

Rishi Sharma: [00:03:20] to when you discovered that fun side of Brandeis and now, you know, involved with many rants.

What is it about branding per se that drew your interest, that kind of got you excited?

Nik Sharma: [00:03:32]

Well, it really, for me, it started at him because, you know, hint was. It's a very functional product. Their flagship product is their water. And it's very functional in the sense that it helps a lot of people get off of soda or juices or vitamin water, Gatorade, and really just drinking more water.

And to me, the coolest part about I was doing over there was that I was able to help people get off of, you know, these bad habits and onto to drinking water and become healthier. But then we were able to see the impact of it so quickly, whether it was through comments or. Customer service emails. And then to me, the coolest part is the fact that we can do this at scale, you know, behind the computer and how like we can help thousands of people a day, you know, make the switch from soda to water, which was awesome.

And so that's where I really got obsessed with it, was really being able to help people at scale. And then, you know, even all the brands that I've worked with since I worked at hand. Most of them are very functional. I don't necessarily like to work on brands that don't have a functional purpose. A, because they're, they're usually just commodities, which aren't as fun.

But B, I think it just goes back to being able to help people at scale, which I think is fascinating. And then the branding side of things is fun to me because that's where, you know, you take something that. Like, for example, your mom has always probably told you not to drink soda and to drink water, but then you infuse branding and you make it relevant to so many different people who have different mindsets and psychographic backgrounds and all that stuff.

And it makes it really fun because you kind of gets the sandbox to play in. To almost treat each customer differently, but somewhat in the same way. Yep. And that's, that's really why I find branding to be a lot of fun.

Rishi Sharma: [00:05:24] Thank you for going into that. So I think a lot of what you said is kind of also what Gary y'alls talks about.

Gary V who you worked for at Vayner media. So. You know, he's become a big star in regards to social media mindset. So what did you learn from that experience of working there for, think you said about a year now. So, so you left recently.

Nik Sharma: [00:05:46] I think the most interesting thing about Gary is, and I guess it's hard to see this through the videos and the content, but Gary's really built this machine called interact, which is the holding company of all his other companies.

He's built this machine to work almost around him. And in almost all the businesses, he's kind of the brains behind it or the, you know, the strategist behind, whether it's like Vayner media, Vayner sports, Vayner productions, the gallery media group. There's so many companies within the interacts, but he's really built an organization, or I shouldn't say built an infrastructure and a system that works really well around him and really efficiently around him.

To where, I mean, it's pretty insane, like the number of things he touches in a single day. And to me the most fascinating part was just how he built this system to work for him around the entire, like the entire ecosystem of Vayner X revolves around Gary. Not to say that they don't have their own leaders, but like with every client that we touched, Gary was very much involved.

He goes really deep, which you don't necessarily see it through the content because a lot of the content doesn't get filmed when it's client work, but he really does go deep and that was something that really fascinated me about working at the banner.

Rishi Sharma: [00:07:05] Thank you for going into that. I think people will be interested to hear that for sure.

But one of the most impressive things from your young age to where you are today is how you built your career. So I'd love to kind of go into and say, you know, what were the keys that you did? Just your curiosity that you would say, help you build that

Nik Sharma: [00:07:22] career. I think the first thing was that I just really never gave a shit about being vulnerable.

Like I had no shame and anything from cold emailing to, you know, if I saw somebody that I wanted to talk to, I would just run up to them and talk to them. And like that honestly gave me a ton. And then I was always very focused around, you know, having strong relationships with people. So whether it was like.

I mean, when I was younger, it would be like artists, managers, for example, where I would just try and become absolute homeys with these people to today where it's like they're brand founders or their investors or private equity firms. I've just always valued relationships a ton. And then the third thing was.

Just putting out content on the internet. I didn't realize like, Hey, how easy it is, but B, the kind of return or impact it has on my own career. I mean, even today, like a lot of the companies that I'll invest in will come my way because of something they've read of mine on the internet. Or like there was a company where I was in San Francisco and I'm a public texting number and I blast it out to the San Francisco area that, Hey, I'm out here in San Francisco.

If anybody wants to come grab a drink with me, I'll be here at this time. And there was one guy that showed up named Kevin. I met him that night and the next day I decided to send him money to invest in this company. So there's just all these opportunities that come because of being connected on the internet, which I think is just, it's like it's all free.

There's no cost to being on the internet and putting out things on the internet. Yeah.

Rishi Sharma: [00:09:01] No, I think that's, it's a very valuable, valuable tip to put yourself out there to make sure that you're connecting with people and then serendipity happens. So I think that's

Nik Sharma: [00:09:10] 100%

Rishi Sharma: [00:09:11] great values right there. But was there any resources or anything else beyond, you know, putting content out there that helped you understand things or anything else?

Nik Sharma: [00:09:20] Yeah, I would say there wasn't necessarily like books or blog posts or anything that I read. In fact, I probably, um, maybe one of the most, like. Unread people out there. I have always had this thought that like I would rather go to the source. Yup. And so a lot of times if I, you know, if I wanted to learn about how influencers are doing X, Y, or Z, I would just go to them.

Or if I wanted to learn from some, like whatever I wanted to learn, I would just try and find a source or somebody who's actually doing that and just go ask them questions directly. Rather than reading something that was filtered through somebody else's words.

Rishi Sharma: [00:10:01] Yeah, go to the source of the well of knowledge and get it from them.

That makes perfect sense

Nik Sharma: [00:10:05] actually. And even then, like there was this, almost like there really was no issue at all getting in touch with any of these people because like no one asked them anyways. Yeah. So I was just like, okay, I can just ask these people any kind of questions and yeah. Will all respond.

And

Rishi Sharma: [00:10:21]

the internet, and totally empowers that, especially with like Twitter where you have like direct access. So yeah, that makes perfect sense. And the books that I've read that I've gotten the most value are actually the ones from

Nik Sharma: [00:10:32] the founders themselves,

Rishi Sharma: [00:10:33] people that are actually doing the work. So definitely agree with that for sure.

So I'd like to take it to Sharma brands now. What is it and what are you trying to achieve with this new venture?

Nik Sharma: [00:10:45] So Sharma brands was this idea of. You know, last year I did a lot of work with brands. Basically anything from scaling their growth to helping brands launch, you know, it's Sharma brands. It's basically the operating.

But it's also adding the component of investing in advising. It's essentially what I was doing kind of on my own, but now under a real name. You know, with the hope that in the future we actually develop brands of our own and leverage the team that we have to build them. You know, after both learning how to do it with other brands and also leveraging the resources and capabilities that we have internally.

Rishi Sharma: [00:11:26] Thank you. Thank you for going to answer that. So DTC has been in the news a lot recently that the IPO of Casper that just happened this last week. I'd like to just kind of understand what is the DTC brand today at 2020 and you know, what does it mean?

Nik Sharma: [00:11:40] Well, at it's fundamental, it really just means you deliver an experience to the customer directly.

Like if you think about before the Costcos and the Walmarts of the world. Almost everything was, was DTC just without a Shopify presence. Yup. And I think in 2020 I mean fundamentally it means the same thing. I think your question is more so like how do you win in 2020 and I think the answer to that would be, I think the early wave of direct to consumer brands was all about being tactical with media and understanding how to buy media.

The second wave was all around like selling commoditized products with the emphasis of branding and aesthetic and community and events. And this new wave, I think that will really shape 2020 is around products that are actually not only like required or desired, but products that are moats within their product, not necessarily like one of the four cookware brands or one of the five leggings brands.

These would be products that have a specific reason to exist and a specific value prop as to why people would buy it in the first

Rishi Sharma: [00:12:51] place. Thank you for going into it. I'd like to just go a little bit more specific. Is there like a particular brand that you would show as an example to what you just said?

Nik Sharma: [00:12:59] Yeah. I mean, Judy is probably the most relevant example. You know, Judy's biggest competitors today are the red cross and triple A's first day, which don't necessarily include anything for. Really emergencies other than if you fall and cut yourself. Yup. And so the Judy products in itself, it doesn't require, like you don't need community and content and Instagram following to be able to sell the product because the product itself is so good and it's just something that people see and they realize they would need.

Whereas, you know, if you're competing in the commoditized market, whether it's leggings or cookware or. Any of these other direct to consumer brands. You're really just competing against multiple others and you're most per se are, they might have moats in supply chain, but a lot of times they just don't have mode at all.

That's exactly what happened in the mattress category. That's what happened in the meal kit category. You just have all the friends that don't necessarily have a reason to stand out or stick it out, and they just end up becoming these like stale brands where they're just competing with each other. And eventually what happens is all they do is just drive down their own costs of margin because they have to drive up the spend in marketing.

And you know, that inverse relationship not only hurts the singular companies in there, but the entire category as a whole.

Rishi Sharma: [00:14:27] It becomes a race to the bottom.

Nik Sharma: [00:14:29] Yeah, exactly. And you know, you can kind of see it coming with the pet food space, which is a little scary. But you know, we saw it happen with the blue aprons of the world.

And then of course Casper, we just saw and yeah, there's just, I mean, even these mattresses, like there's probably five factories in total that make all hundred and 80. You know, brands of mattresses. Yeah. And there's just like nothing unique about them except for the branding and the content or the popups, et cetera,

Rishi Sharma: [00:15:01] capital raised, essentially also.

So, yeah. Thank you for breaking that down. Providing that example. So if you are looking for an investment in a lot of these, have you, like you said, came from serendipity, but are there particular criteria beyond just it being a functional product that you're looking for in a potential investment.

Nik Sharma: [00:15:19] Yeah.

It's an interesting question. So I think a lot of investors rely on their own backgrounds or histories to give them pattern recognition. And my pattern recognition. Comes from distribution, um, or marketing. And so when I think of brands that I want to invest in, my first thought is, okay, if all else were to fail, is this a company that AI could jump in and potentially say from a marketing perspective or B.

Even before that, what is this brand doing that's so unique that they almost have a moat within distribution? And so my favorite example of that is this company called bright land, which is a olive oil company. And you know, when I met with their founder, she told me that there are direct to consumer brand, but they're not afraid of retail.

And in fact, with retail, they're actually planning to start with, you know, the most elite retail companies like the Nordstrom's of the world. Yeah. Eventually they're going to work their way down to the target. And when I heard that, I was just like, okay, well she gets it. You know, both from a retail, from a food service, and from a direct to consumer standpoint, like e-commerce.

She's absolutely killed it, but a lot of the times when I looked at investments, I basically filter it down to a, does it have value props that make it attractive? B, what's the competitive landscape and see is there a moat within distribution or the product itself that can't be, you know, necessarily disrupted by a competitor?

Yeah. It's

Rishi Sharma: [00:16:48] almost like that. She took that Tesla approach right where you sells a high end car and then you, over time, you get it down to the average end consumer. So thank you for breaking that down. So taking that to the next step, where do you see the categories of Branson. And the next 10 years, like where do you think commerce and branding goes from this point?

Nik Sharma: [00:17:10]

I think it actually, it's going to be this nice fusion of online and offline. We're already kind of seeing experiential makes a huge difference. I mean, you know, there's a brand that I invested in where. They can sample product and make the same amount of money in a day sampling product and selling bottles as they do online.

So online and offline fusion really excites me. I also think we're just going to see this awesome Genesis of branded content where we're going to start to get a lot of our, whether it's like informational content or just even like what dirty lemon is doing with creating shows. You know, we're just going to start to see a lot of cooler branded content come to life.

And I'd say those two are the main two that I'm excited for. I also just think, you know, because so many things have been tried and or done. I think it's going to be really interesting to see the new type of brands that come out. You know, brands like, like Hilma that just launched recently and really see what they're trying to tackle and how they tackle it too.

And then from a advertising perspective, I'm very excited to see what happens to, right now it's the standard is Facebook ads and Instagram ads. So I'm excited to see where that evolves. You know, whether it's the other platforms, whether it's to. Completely other mediums, what like going offline and just kind of how these dollars start to play out over the next.

Three to five years.

Rishi Sharma: [00:18:36] Yeah, definitely. A lot of mediums, podcasting. I know Spotify is making a lot of investments into that category to try to make that a little bit more programmatic and all these streaming services, you know, that's coming down the line as well. So definitely some exciting trends to come about.

So I'd just like to get into some, the final questions. So podcast, we like to also break down the routines, habits, rituals. So sir, do you have a morning routine? Is there any particular rituals that you take into the work you do? If you could just expand on to

Nik Sharma: [00:19:06] that. Let's see. Routine wise, I would say there's not a ton.

It really depends on a day to day basis. Usually I'll get up around six or six 30 in the morning. I try and hit a seven o'clock or eight o'clock workout class because I find that working out in the morning is like, that feels like the hardest thing in the day and everything else. That day is easier than what I've already done.

So I love doing that. And then usually I'll also make those workout classes, like a meeting or something of that sort. It's like for today, for example, I'm going to go rumble, which is a boxing class. With Austin reef, who's the founder of morning brew. And for me that's super convenient because I don't have to commute anywhere else to go meet Austin and we get to have a good time together.

Yeah. So I usually work out and then it's day to day. It's very different. You know, Mondays and Thursdays are days that I'm usually out and about meeting with clients and usually in branch offices. And then Tuesday, Wednesday, I'm usually at home just cranking away. and then Friday is usually up in the air.

But I would say Friday I try and spend a good amount of hours just, you know, whether it's being with people who are just seeking advice or they, you know, like I'll go meet with brands. If you know, they just want to chat about growth and shoot the shit. But Fridays are usually my days for that. And then, you know, the weekend is, it all depends.

Today I'm working out and then meeting with Austin and then, uh, probably just hanging out. And then tomorrow I'm speaking at a brunch work event, and then probably just going to prepare for the week.

Rishi Sharma: [00:20:45] Thanks for breaking down your week and kind of how, how you go about your routines. Final couple of questions, but what does personal care mean to you?

Nik Sharma: [00:20:54]

Personal care? It's an interesting question because I started to take it a lot more seriously this year. For me, it's a few things. It's making sure I'm sweating every day. Whether that's by not Ubering and walking everywhere in New York, or that's getting an actual workout in where I'm just very focused for, you know, 45 minutes to an hour of just working as hard as I possibly can physically.

And then the other main thing for me is sleep. So a lot of people don't necessarily put enough hours in asleep. So I actually, I got an eight sleep bed, thanks to eight sleep, and I've been really tracking my sleep a lot more closely this year. And then I would say the last piece of it is. Just being really conscious of what I'm putting on my body and in my body.

So whether it's the skincare brands that I'm using on my skin, or whether it's the foods and the beverages that I'm consuming, just being hyper-conscious of what's going in and what the function of each one is, and making sure that it's achieving that function. That's great.

Rishi Sharma: [00:22:02] So have you noticed a difference since you started making this change in your life?

Nik Sharma: [00:22:06] Huge difference. I mean, just from sleep alone, I've noticed that my stress levels are down. My mood is in, you know, it's much better. I feel like I can take on a lot more during the day when I have more sleep with exercising on a daily basis. It just gets my brain pumping in a way that, you know, I'll come up with new ideas or whatever.

Like my brain just works better when I exercise. And then, you know, the third one has been great too. My skin is clearer and you know, just like my physical says it's working.

Rishi Sharma: [00:22:41] That's great.

Nik Sharma: [00:22:42] Yeah. That's great.

Rishi Sharma: [00:22:43] Is there any common math or some back that you know, become culture that you like to debunk that bothers you.

Nik Sharma: [00:22:51] Probably the most obvious one for me is that, you know, you have to go to school to make anything of yourself, which I don't necessarily think is true, although I don't advise people not to go to school either. I think it's a decision that everybody has to make on their own, but I think that's one big one.

The other big one would be that you don't need eight hours of sleep a night. You definitely need eight hours of sleep a night.

Rishi Sharma: [00:23:16] A great, great. So thank you so much for being on the podcast and with anybody wanting to connect with you. How can they connect with you online?

Nik Sharma: [00:23:23] Two places are usually the easiest one is Twitter where I'm at, mr Sharma.

And then the second one is you can just text me. My phone number is (917) 905-2340. And I try to respond to everybody that I can. Sometimes it can be a couple of days late, but I do my best to get back to everybody.

Rishi Sharma: [00:23:43] All right. Thank you so much, Nick, for being on the podcast. Really appreciate it.

Nik Sharma: [00:23:47] Thanks for having me.

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