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EPISODE 70

Customer Acquisition, Seamless Experiences and Scaling with DTC expert Nik Sharma

With Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands

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Brands large and small are all fighting the same battle of customer acquisition. How you reach customers, and how much that effort costs, is in constant flux, which is why Nik Sharma is a big fan of constantly running micro experiments. 

Nik is the CEO of Sharma Brands, a company that remains one of the best-kept secrets among the DTC community and which helps brands scale into the tens of millions. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Nik takes us behind the scenes of what that scaling process looks like, including his strategies around customer acquisition. Nik explains how important constant testing is, and he shares some micro-experiments he recommends running regularly. Plus, he tells us why reading every review and every comment associated with your brand is the best leaping-off point for your creative process.

Main Takeaways:

  • Please Rate And Review: Reviews really do matter, and you should look at every single one to have a better understanding of what customers are saying, what they see as the value props and what isn’t working. You can then work backward with that information and create content that matches what your customers want.
  • Mo Money, Same Problems: Regardless of how big a company gets, the main problem any brand faces is that of customer acquisition. Bigger brands can throw more money toward getting their message to customers, but ultimately it’s about getting the right content to the right people.
  • The Mom Test: Your website experience needs to be seamless and frictionless that even the most technically challenged, or busy, can make it through without issue. It also needs to deliver the message that you want to send right up front. No one is going to search for the thing you want them to see, so put it front and center.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“We might test UGC, we might test influencers, we might test studio stuff, we might test just a whole variety of different types of content. We do the same thing when it comes to page experiences, so whether they’re landing pages, whether they’re listicles, articles, partnerships with companies like Morning Brew. And then of course, the last piece of it is the merchandising — everything from offers and pricing to products, to what gets people in the door, what’s the best product to sell them after that. And subsequent to that, how do we optimize for brands that are high consumption? How do we focus on subscription? How do we keep customer lifetime value high? How do we bring back repeat purchase rate without having to spend money to reacquire that customer? The goal is to figure an overwhelming majority of those types of things out so that by the time we’re done, there’s a very clear playbook that they can operate on for the next few months or a few years.”

“Customer acquisition is one of the biggest things that brands don’t necessarily understand [along with] distribution. After you get to a point where you’re able to acquire 1,000 customers a day sustainably and at reasonable prices, then how do you take those customers and service them further? How do you come up with products that feed those customers after what they’ve already bought if it’s not a high consumption product? How do you think through unique partnerships that attract eyeballs that then give you the opportunity to sell those customers onto your brand?”

“What we try to do is just be really innovative with the way that we message and get in front of people. For example, something as simple as like Judy, which is an emergency kit, being able to really hone in on understanding whether it be by surveys or by looking at what types of messaging has a better click-through rates and conversion rates, understanding the types of messaging that people are reacting to, and then going really deep on it, all the way to coming up with funky partnership ideas like putting Poo-Pourri and Judy together because both brands service emergency situations.”

“Most brands today probably run a very similar playbook of, ‘Let’s create some text, some images, put some ads up and run them to our homepage.’ We put that on steroids. We’re testing maybe 17 different versions of creative or testing 7 different versions of landing pages or homepages or sites that they’re leading to, along with 37 different audiences that we’re going after to understand which type of messaging converts better with which audiences.”   

 “One thing I always say is you got to treat your customers like Kim Kardashian on the red carpet and you’re her assistant, right? The brand is the assistant. You can’t expect your customer to go browse around your site and learn about your brand and learn why they need your brand, or how your brand is going to make their life better, or the deal that they might be able to get, or the coupon….you want to put everything in one simple experience so that somebody who has no time, somebody who has no patience, somebody you could assume they don’t have the knowledge of how to navigate a site can basically come to your site and get what they need and they know why they’re getting it and just create something really easy to use.” 

“You want to build a use case for somebody to go tell their friends why they bought what they bought from you. That’s the best way to market.”

 

Mentions:

Bio:

“Nik is the CEO of Sharma Brands, a strategic-initiatives firm working with a wide range of brands to help grow and scale revenue across digital platforms. Nik is one of AdWeek’s Young & Influential, Forbes 30 under 30, and an investor and advisor to some of the fastest-growing brands in commerce.

His work with hyper-growth brands like Hint Water, Pill Club, and JUDY has resulted in new strategies, milestones, and millions of dollars in additional revenue for the companies. He has a keen eye for sociological advancements in culture and a data-driven mind for what works and what doesn’t in a rapidly changing environment.

We live in a world where data is abundant but what to do with that data is where Nik thrives. The balance between research, content, distribution, and unknowns is his juggling act. Nik lives in New York where he spends much of his spare time solving the Rubik’s Cube of cost-effectively driving sales for his brand partners. And occasionally he’ll stop by a local Soulcycle or Rumble to let off a little steam.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles, co-founder at mission.org. Today, we’re hanging out with Nik Sharma, the CEO of Sharma Brands. Nik, welcome to the show.

Nik:

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Me, too. If we had video on, I would be trying to look at your whiteboard that you had on with probably 1,000 notes on it.

Nik:

All the secrets. It’s got all the secrets.

Stephanie:

Yeah. What kind of secrets are on that board? I was really trying to zoom in like what’s going on back there?

Nik:

It’s got all the goals for the week, starting with nine hours of sleep, all the way to-

Stephanie:

That’s a good goal.

Nik:

… how we plan to combat Facebook and Apple’s big fight that’s going to start January 15th.

Stephanie:

Oh, tell me a little bit about the big fight. I’m obviously not up to date on that. What’s going on?

Nik:

Yeah. So basically in the new iOS update, Apple is going to give pretty much everybody multiple opportunities to block tracking. And so it’s really going to hurt attribution for a lot of these ad platforms, especially for small business ad platforms like Facebook ads, Snapchat, et cetera. And so we’re basically starting to think through how we combat that going into the new year because a lot of the businesses we work with, they’re either brands that are just starting. And obviously, those are small businesses, but there’s also some mid-sized businesses doing anywhere from 200 to 800 million in revenue, but they’re also going to be just as effective. And so we’re trying to think through how we go about combating that going into the New Year, basically making sure that there’s not a ton of drop-off as it relates to the client.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I didn’t realize this was happening so soon. I was paying attention a bit to the taking away cookies and tracking and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t realize the iOS update was happening January 15th. So what are you guys thinking? What’s your strategy? What are you advising your brands to do? I know I just jumped right into it, but this is really interesting.

Nik:

Yeah. Well, as of right now, it’s a little bit up in the air. We have a few ideas going of how to combat it. But to be honest, there’s not a ton of information out that we have to work with. We’re trying to work with multiple different ad tech partners to understand how they view the impact happening. But at the same time, we’re trying to think through how do we basically start creating our first party audience ads much faster than running ads when we need them, so whether that’s by creating what I would call a prospecting CRM versus just a customer-centric CRM post-purchase, or trying to think through how do we still drive lower funnel conversion and attribute those sales properly, even though they might not be last click purchases. Yeah, it’s a big cluster of unknowns right now.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s tricky. I also wonder to what extent will a user maybe turn that feature off and then start to realize maybe how helpful that feature was when it comes to showcasing you the information that you want to see, or maybe ads that actually are helpful because I think right now, a lot of times people are like, “Oh, I want privacy and I want this and I want that”? But if you were to turn off a lot of the features that you’re talking about, then you wouldn’t really get the customized experience that people will do oftentimes appreciate in Google and other places. They wonder what that would look like.

Nik:

Yeah. Most of the people I’ve talked to have basically said a similar thing that they like the personalization and whatnot that comes with it. But there is definitely a pretty big group of people who would rather prefer that they never get targeted with an ad. Unfortunately, that’s the threat to a lot of the small business advertisers out there.

Stephanie:

Yep, interesting. Well, when you guys have a little more insight into that, I’ll just bring you back in here, how you guys are approaching it and what happens in January 15th.

Nik:

Yeah, definitely. Definitely.

Stephanie:

Cool. Give me a little background on Sharma Brands. I was seeing that you guys work with a lot of brands, some of which we’ve actually had on the show before, which is really cool to see. We’ve had [inaudible] and I think I saw two others. But tell me a bit about what is Sharma Brands and what do you guys do for the brands that you work with?

Nik:

Sharma Brands is like the secret of the internet. We don’t really talk about it much publicly. But basically, what we do is we work with brands that are either just launching or have just launched. We either guide them through the launch or we pick them up right after launch. We work with brands that are midsize, brands that are doing really well and ideally want to do better, or we work with brands that are pretty big retail businesses that want to get their ecommerce business set up and on track. And so we come in and handle everything from strategy to execution, to implementation. A lot of it is testing, a lot of it is focused on creative and messaging and offer testing merchandising. We also do everything all the way to producing national TV spots, satellite radio, like basically helping brands venture out from the more traditional just Facebook ads or building a website.

Stephanie:

Got it. What inspired you to create Sharma Brands? I saw you had a lot of roles. You were the head of D2C for a couple of companies. I think you worked at Hint. Is that what led you to creating Sharma Brands, or tell me a little bit about that journey?

Nik:

Yeah. I’ve always had a knack for wanting to work on multiple brands, which is probably why Sharma Brands works. But separate from that, I don’t know if we are even the perfect solution. I don’t think we aren’t because we don’t really do everything. But there’s not really a proper growth partner for a lot of these brands. There are media agencies, there’s media companies, there are creative agencies, there are product development agencies, but there’s really not many when it comes to true growth and helping them in things like scaling, going from 1 million to 10 million or 10 million to 60 million. And so we created this little niche where we help brands do just that. We try to stay on for no longer than six months per project. Our goal is to basically get in and do just an insane amount of testing so that by the time we leave, that brand knows exactly what’s going to scale and what’s not going to scale.

Stephanie:

Interesting. What kind of testing do you mean? What do you do throughout those six months to figure that out?

Nik:

It can be anything from copy, creative, landing pages, long form content. When I say creative, there’s a whole variety of creative. There’s the things like… We might test UGC, we might test influencers, we might test studio stuff, we might test just a whole variety of different types of content. We do the same thing when it comes to page experiences, so whether they’re landing pages, whether they’re listicles, articles, partnerships with companies like Morning Brew.

Nik:

And then of course, the last piece of it is the merchandising, so everything from offers and pricing to products, to what gets people in the door, what’s the best product to sell them after that. And subsequent to that, how do we optimize for brands that are high consumption? How do we focus on subscription? How do we keep customer lifetime value high? How do we bring back repeat purchase rate without having to spend money to reacquire that customer? The goal is to figure an overwhelming majority of those types of things out so that by the time we’re done, there’s a very clear playbook that they can operate on for the next few months or a few years.

Stephanie:

Yep. I’m assuming that when you were working at Hint and other places, you started seeing similar things that were working and weren’t working. Can you tell me a bit about what it was like working at those companies, or maybe you started uncovering a few universal truths around D2C?

Nik:

Yeah, working at Hint was great. It was a lot of fun. We grew really fast, which led us to a lot of challenges that we were able to overcome. But it gave me a lot of insight into the challenges that a lot of the brands face. Obviously, I think customer acquisition is one of the biggest things that brands don’t necessarily understand or distribution, which is, I think, one thing we’re really good at. But then after that, after you get to a point where you’re able to acquire 1,000 customers a day sustainably and at reasonable prices, then how do you take those customers and service them further? How do you come up with products that feed those customers after what they’ve already bought if it’s not a high consumption product? How do you think through unique partnerships that attract eyeballs that then give you the opportunity to sell those customers onto your brand? There’s so many things. Basically, it all stems down to distribution. Good brands are really good at product and brand building. But then the idea of then getting that in front of other people is where the tough part comes in.

Stephanie:

And so how do you approach customer acquisition now, where maybe it was different than prior to 2020 because it feels like there’s so many new companies in the space? Maybe not all of which will be here in a couple of years. There’s a lot of companies. I think more businesses launched in 2020 than in 2019 and prior years. So how do you approach trying to compete and get the eyeballs and find new customers for your brands in a pretty competitive market right now?

Nik:

To be honest, we don’t really take competitive brands into account. What we try to do is just be really innovative with the way that we message and get in front of people. For example, something as simple as like Judy, which is emergency kit you know, being able to really hone in on understanding whether it be by surveys or by looking at what types of messaging has better click through rates and conversion rates, understanding the types of messaging that people are reacting to, and then going really deep on it, all the way to coming up with funky partnership ideas like putting Poo-Pourri and Judy together because both brands service emergency situations.

Stephanie:

That’s a really good partnership.

Nik:

Yeah, no, it’s great. It’s really just about like how do we stay ahead of competition? Most brands today probably run a very similar playbook of like, “Let’s create some… text some images, put some ads up and run them to our homepage.” We put that on steroids. We’re testing maybe 17 different versions of creative or testing 7 different versions of landing pages or homepages or sites that they’re leading to along with 37 different audiences that we’re going after to understand which type of messaging converts better with which audiences.

Stephanie:

That’s great. So how do you think about creating all those different types of messaging? How do you stay creative? I know when I’m thinking through ad copy, even for our company, once I create one or two or three, then I’m like, “That’s all I got. I’m out.” How do you guys stay creative and create like, what’d you say, 17 different landing pages? I mean, like a lot.

Nik:

Well, I have a team that’s insanely creative, so that helps.

Stephanie:

That’s helpful.

Nik:

But outside of that, I think one thing we do, which is honestly something anybody can do, is we try to look at every single review. So if we work with a brand, we try to read every single review and we will literally use a whiteboard and make a tally of the different value props and how many times they’re mentioned and then use that to basically work backwards and understand messaging. So things like that to things like looking at comments on ads, to customer service emails and messages, to how are other people tweeting about it, how are other people taking press about a brand and then tweeting about the press or talking about that specific article. So we try to take in a variety of things. And then if all else fails, have a little glass of whiskey and take an approach with some fresh eyes.

Stephanie:

That’s good. When it comes to large brands and small brands, we’ve been going through some of these challenges, but are the challenges the same for both big and small, or do you see completely different challenges depending on the size of the brand?

Nik:

I think that a lot of the challenges on the macro side are the same, but on the micro… On the macro side, for example, customer acquisition, right? A company that’s doing 800 million versus a company that’s just launched, both are going to be focused on how do we acquire customers smarter, better, faster, cheaper with higher lifetime value? But on the micro side, it’s a little different because a company that’s doing even 50 million in revenue has a lot more awareness to play off of. They have a lot more scale to go leverage things like partnerships with other brands, they have budgets to go to places like The Skimm and Morning Brew and other places like that versus a company that’s just starting.

Nik:

They still have the same problem with customer acquisition, but they need to figure out even if they raised a little bit of money or if they did it, they need to figure out, “Okay, what is the fastest way for us to get 100 customers and then 1,000 customers and then 10,000 customers and then 50,000 customers.” And obviously every time you hit that milestone, it gets easier and easier, but it’s still the same. That’s the challenge of how do you get in front of as many eyeballs as possible and also relevant eyeballs. You don’t want to get in front of just eyeballs that are not going to convert for you.

Stephanie:

Yep. Are there any tools that you use to stay on top of maybe trends or what people are searching for, or even staying on top of like different kinds of audiences to reach and how to reach them in new ways, like new things you’re doing maybe this year that you weren’t utilizing in the past?

Nik:

One thing that we have started doing a lot more this year versus years in the past is really not taking creative too seriously. So, for example, like running memes as ads insanely outperforms things like really beautiful $30,000 photo shoots, or the way like… Do you use TikTok?

Stephanie:

Yes, I do. I love TikTok.

Nik:

I’m addicted to TikTok.

Nik:

With TikTok, I think if you look at the way TikTok has impacted culture or pop culture, I should say this year, it’s pretty fascinating. Like when Instagram was big and there were Instagram models or even you could even say like… yeah, you could probably say even like big YouTubers, they don’t really make news or make headlines, nor do they get, for example, flown out to fashion shows internationally to come walk in a runway. But TikTok has just completely taken 2020. And whether it’s like TikTok is being flown out to Rome for fashion week or it’s the fact that all of Snapchat discovers tabloid garbage is all influencers, there’s something about TikTok that resonates really well with the masses.

Nik:

And so one thing we’ve been doing is testing, not only just testing TikTok’s style videos, but also even the way… If you look in the comments of TikTok, I think the comment section is where the memes of tomorrow, or the memes of next month live. And so we’ve been [crosstalk] doing a lot of things where we test those. Those have been having really interesting results too. Just really like, again-

Stephanie:

All right, so give me some examples.

Nik:

… just a bunch of testing and fun stuff. My favorite is the… For example, if you were like this podcast is the perfect podcast for ecommerce operators, you would put the word operators in between the sparkles emoji, or just like random silly things that you see on TikTok. Yeah. It’s hard to explain, but it just works so well.

Stephanie:

No, yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah. Well, tell me some of the most interesting comments that you’ve seen on TikTok that you’ve turned into memes.

Nik:

Well, the sparkles one is probably the easiest. Let’s see. Outside of that, the eye mouth eye I think is hilarious. What else? What else? The concept of like it’s the blank for me. There’s just so many little inside jokes on TikTok that becomes so… Not only relevant on the outside world, but also people see it and they relate to it because they think they’re the only ones that know about it because TikTok is such a one-to-one thing, you know?

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah. And then when you were talking about creating TikTok style ads, I’m assuming you’re saying that you’re creating an ad like you would create a video on TikTok and then you’re actually putting it on other channels and platforms. Is that what you meant by that?

Nik:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Yep. I was just thinking about that actually a couple of days ago. My head of growth is like, “Oh, can you create some audio ads and video ads and all this to help promote the shows or whatever?” And I was like, “Well, what’s the easiest way for me to do that?” Honestly, creating it on TikTok, even if it’s an unlisted video-

Nik:

Oh, 100%.

Stephanie:

Yeah, so much easier than trying to do anything else.

Nik:

The best ads in ecommerce are ones that do not look like billboards on the street. That’s where a lot of brands go wrong is that when it comes to ads, they try to create this unique experience or this look that doesn’t resonate with the common person. It’s like no wonder they don’t work because they look like if you see an ad, there’s no chance you’re going to sit there and be like, “Oh, an ad, let me watch this whole ad.” All your ads have to feel like they’re not ads. They have to feel like content that somebody maybe not wants to watch or needs to watch, but something that’s intriguing enough where they’re going to watch the first little bit, and then it’s your job as the brand to hook them to watch the rest of it.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I love that. The other thing, now that we’re talking about influencers and spreading things, I heard that your fridge is famous. You tell me a bit more about this because when I heard that, I’m like, “Isn’t Nik an influencer? Why is his fridge famous and you’re known for your fridge?” So give me the deets on this.

Nik:

Yeah, the fridge racks up impressions. That’s for sure.

Stephanie:

Why? What is up with your fridge? Is it a fancy one?

Nik:

I’m just trying to look up real quick how many impressions the last one got. But no, it’s funny because obviously I worked at Hint and I’ve worked with a bunch of different beverage brands. Yeah. So the last tweet about my fridge has 151,000 impressions.

Stephanie:

Why? What’d you say?

Nik:

It’s nothing special. It’s just the fact that a lot of people know me as a beverage marketer or beverage person. I’m just looking at this tweet from September 14th and my fridge has Taika, has Empathy Wines, it has Jock Coffee, it has Dose, which is like a new wellness shot, it has JuneShine, which is hard kombucha, it’s got Sanzo, it’s got OLIPOP, Red Bull, Orgain protein elements, which is a adaptogens beverage, and then a bunch of Hint Water.

Stephanie:

Close to D2C fridge. You’re stacking it up.

Nik:

It’s basically a D2C fridge. Yeah. And then depending on when you open it, you might see different drinks. There’s another picture of the fridge I’m looking at. It’s all RISE cold brew. It’s got Lemon Perfect and it’s got Cha Cha Matcha’s ice tea lemonades.

Stephanie:

Interesting, interesting. And then so how are people engaging with this? How did it even start of you posted this picture and realizing people like to see what you were trying out, or what you were investing in, or what made them excited?

Nik:

Well, it started because a friend of mine, David Perell, basically posted a picture of my fridge, I want to say when I first moved to New York last year, or I think he might’ve done it when I lived in San Francisco. But then he posted about it and how like my fridge is basically a vending machine. And then all these beverage companies started responding. And then whenever I tweet about my fridge, I just get a flood of packages over the next 10 days from different beverage brands that want to be included in the next round of the fridge.

Stephanie:

That’s really funny. But I also feel like it’s helpful to see how to share things that get shared, that go viral because the best way to advise brands and other people is by doing it yourself.

Nik:

100%. That’s always been the thesis behind any kind of public account that I have. Whether it’s my community number, whether it’s my email newsletter, whether it’s my Twitter account, everything that I try to do is like, “Okay, I’m basically just testing it so that we can hopefully do this on a brand and it makes a big impact because maybe it’s something that they haven’t done before or just people in general haven’t done before.”

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah. That’s very, very cool. So when you’re working with all these brands, one thing that we’ve been discussing here at Mission lately is just about all these new users who are now online, a new demographic group is online shopping. They’re getting used to it, they’re going to be here probably for the long haul now that they have maybe ordered groceries or gone on Amazon for the first time. How are you working with your brands to ensure that their messaging and their interaction and that they may be personalizing things in a way that also connects with this new demographic of shoppers that weren’t here prior to 2020?

Nik:

So basically, how should brands prepare for-

Stephanie:

Yeah, having like an older generation now who are ready to shop. And I’m sure the messaging or the way that brands are personalizing is usually towards millennials or 18 to 35 or 18 to 40. Everyone seems to focus on that same two generations, but the older generation are the ones that have the money. They’re the ones who are ready to spend. They just haven’t brought it really online until recently. But it seems like a lot of things have to change for it to also work well with them.

Nik:

Yeah. I think tactically, there’s different things you can do, whether it’s the channels that you choose to advertise on. So whether that’s shifting budget out of Facebook and onto platforms like TV and satellite radio and connected TV even, or it’s… One thing that I’ve found at a previous brand I worked with was that the creative we would put out that has, let’s say, models or talent that looks like they’re in their late 20s, early 30s is what resonated best with the audience groups over 45.

Stephanie:

Oh, interesting.

Nik:

So it might just even be something as simple as a shift in your creative to reach [crosstalk 00:27:11].

Stephanie:

Yeah. I wonder why that would be the case.

Nik:

Everybody aspires to be better looking or younger or smoother skin or whatever it may be. And that might be a reason. I think another way though too is thinking through just the ease of how something as simple like your website functions. How easy is it for somebody to come in and shop? I always send landing pages or websites to my mom. She’ll look through it and be like, “This is confusing,” or she’ll be like, “This is perfect. It was one click and I was in the cart.” And so we always go for the ladder as the goal. But the other thing too is like… One thing I always say is you got to treat your customers like Kim Kardashian on the red carpet and you’re her assistant, right? The brand is the assistant. So you can’t expect your customer, you can’t expect them to go browse around your site and learn about your brand and learn why they need your brand, or how your brand is going to make their life better, or the deal that they might be able to get, or the coupon.

Nik:

There’s so many brands that they clearly offer coupons when you Google, for example, like… I don’t know. If you Google like… we’ll say Jetblack because they’re not a business. If you Google Jetblack coupon, there’s probably 17 coupon sites that have a 10% or a 20% off coupon. But what you do is you now create an opportunity for somebody to leave the experience of checking out to go find that coupon. There’s a good chance to just get distracted and never come back versus something as simple as like… Basically, what I’m trying to say is you want to create everything or you want to put everything in one simple experience so that somebody who has no time, somebody who has no patience, somebody you could assume they don’t have the knowledge of how to navigate a site can basically come to your site and get what they need and they know why they’re getting it and just create something really easy to use.

Stephanie:

Yep, yeah. I think frictionless shopping is the way of the future. The one thing about coupons though, I feel like they’re just dangerous. Like you said, you leave the site… I know I used to back in the day, go through all these coupon codes and then I’d really get annoyed because none of them are working, all of them were expired. And yeah, it’s still feels like there’s room even on a website to be like, “You will never find coupons outside of our website. So don’t try. Don’t go looking around, don’t go testing like 1,000 different codes. You’ll find nothing. It’s only here.”

Nik:

Totally. The other thing too is like then you have companies like Honey, the browser extension, which are basically fraud companies, in my opinion, or scammy companies. And if you don’t create something of an offer for let’s say you run a… let’s just say a beverage brand called Three Stars, and somebody comes to the Three Stars’ site and they want to buy a variety pack because they’re a new customer and they want to try the flavors. When they get to the checkout and they see, “Oh, there is no discount. Oh, but Honey says…” The Honey thing pops up and you click it because you’re hopeful that there’s a discount. Even if Honey generates no discount, Honey is going to refresh the page and now that becomes a 10% affiliate cut. The brand is paying the Honey without them even realizing it. The customer is not getting any value out of it. But because you didn’t create the opportunity for them to check out without having to use Honey, you’re now going to end up paying Honey 10% if they have it installed.

Stephanie:

Interesting. I hadn’t realized that’s how it [crosstalk 00:31:03].

Nik:

Yeah. Honey is a really scammy business. It’s really scammy for brands.

Stephanie:

Oh, geez.

Nik:

I hate Honey with a passion.

Stephanie:

Oh my goodness. I actually think we had someone from Honey the long time ago before our commerce show was even live in the world. We had, I think, their COO on one of our other shows, Mission Daily. So if anyone’s interested, go check out [inaudible 00:31:24].

Nik:

Yeah. It’s a genius business model for them. Basically without showing the customer or without really showing the brand, they’re just ripping 10% off of every purchase. And if you’re selling like a $400 emergency kit, that’s 40 bucks that they’re making for everybody who just has an extension installed, but it’s-

Stephanie:

And the brands can’t control that, or they can’t say-

Nik:

No, they can now. When I saw it, I went to them and said, “You guys, you’re basically just taking credit for everything you’re not driving.” And they’re like, “Oh, well, it’s just the way that Honey works. We drive a lot of traffic.” And I’m like, “No, you don’t.” So then we just shut them off. They just don’t get paid now, even though they can still be used.

Stephanie:

Oh, interesting. So when thinking about outside of coupons, but more ways to connect with different users, what do you think about catalogs? Because we had a good discussion, I think, many episodes ago with one of the execs at Marine Layer, and she was talking about how great catalogs work for them. I haven’t heard many people talk about it. So it seems like there’s still an opportunity there though with so many people now working from home. I know I get excited about mail that’s actually fun to look at and helpful. So how do you advise your brands on connecting with an audience through catalogs or paper mail?

Nik:

Personally, I’m a fan. I think it’s a sign of luxury when I get a catalog, whether it’s from a company like Buck Mason or Todd Snyder or [inaudible 00:33:06], like it’s definitely a sign of luxury. The catalogs themselves are printed on very nice and chic paper. I think it just adds to the overall experience of being a customer at those brands. At the same time, if you’re a brand that’s just starting and you don’t have the capital means to do it, I think there’s ways you can create digital catalogs for fairly cheap and have them be digital experiences.

Stephanie:

Yep. When you have a catalog, I’ve heard some brands optimize for experience and fun and more of like a branding play versus others are focused on send them back to the website, get the conversion. How do you think about optimizing a catalog to work well?

Nik:

Well, I think it’s two ways. One, you got to feature products that I think people want. So if your spring collection is 250 pieces of clothing or 250 different SKUs, maybe you feature the 27 that people really want. But then secondly, I think from a messaging standpoint, it’s got to really make you salivate when you’re going through it. That was [crosstalk 00:34:36].

Stephanie:

Like Trader Joe’s catalog.

Nik:

Yeah. That was one of my favorite things about… Do you remember SkyMall?

Stephanie:

Yeah, yup.

Nik:

SkyMall just made you want to buy everything in that magazine because everything was like, “Oh, a random flashlight for under my desk chair. Sure. That now seems like something I totally need.”

Stephanie:

Yep, yep, I agree. I just saw something in a catalog that I actually ended up buying. It’s a… What is it? A candle lighter, but it’s not like a big flame thing. It’s operated by battery. It has this really long stick on the end and it’s intense, it’s awesome. Everyone should check it out. We’ll link it up in our show notes. But I bought that from a catalog because it was showing it going inside a really deep candle. I was convinced. And it’s amazing.

Nik:

Yeah, no, totally. It’s all about like building… You want to build a use case for somebody to go tell their friends why they bought what they bought from you. That’s like the best way to market.

Stephanie:

I think you also have to have good paper quality though.

Nik:

100%.

Stephanie:

I hate the catalogs that come with just like icky, thin paper, and it’s just 1,000 pages and I’m like, “It doesn’t feel curated. Just every thing is here. I don’t even know how to look through this in a way that makes sense for me,” versus the ones that are just 10 pages. It’s what you want to look at, or just the best thing that feels like it’s personalized, even though it’s probably not. I’m okay with that as long as it feels high quality.

Nik:

Totally.

Stephanie:

Let’s jump over to a little bit higher level ecommerce question of where do you guys think ecommerce as a whole and D2C is headed over the next couple of years? What are you preparing for right now, or what big thing?

Nik:

Well, I think that ecommerce, as a whole, is going… There’s been a ton of innovation this past year and the year prior, both on the side of operations, things like understanding you can’t blow cash on acquiring customers, all the way to understanding how to optimize shipping costs or manufacturing costs or even using tools like Settle, which let you basically hack your cash flow. I think, to be honest, over the next year or two, it’s just going to be a lot of growth in the category across many different categories that maybe thought they weren’t going to be ecommerce. Everything from sitting at a restaurant and now… Obviously, we see QR codes everywhere, at least in major cities, at restaurants for scanning and getting the menu.

Nik:

I think we’re going to see that you’re going to start paying your bill through Apple Pay after you order your meal, all the way to things like better experiences with packaging and unboxing or just how you learn about a brand for the first time after you buy it. But I think there’s also going to be a rise in things like marketplaces. There’s a company that I just joined called The Fascination. And basically, the entire idea behind The Fascination is to take a lot of these cream of the crop direct to consumer CPG brands that are independently trying to acquire the same customer and basically put them together, create content around it, and create shoppable content.

Nik:

So, for example, if you have a daughter who’s moving to… I don’t even know if people are going to be going to college next year. But let’s say she’s going to college next year, and it’s like the ultimate list of things you need for your dorm, it’s got your mattress topper, it’s got your pillows, your comforter, it’s got your desk lamp, it’s got organizers. You would be able to basically shop all of this in one page with one checkout through The Fascination. And on the back end, all these brands are getting orders basically pushed into their order queues. The Fascination basically just takes a tiny cut, like an affiliate. But the brands own the customer, they own the relationship with their customers, they have the ability to remarket to those customers. And The Fascination acts as a front of acquiring the customer and now selling maybe eight things at once.

Stephanie:

Oh, that sounds really cool. I think that’s much needed with so many new brands popping up right now too. It just feels like sometimes I don’t even know who to trust and who’s actually got their back end filled out. Is this just the landing page that they’re testing out to see if people actually want a product that they haven’t even developed yet? So it seems like it’s needed to have a trusting source like that to say, “These are some of the best brands and we’ve verified them and you’ve got customer service here and we’re reputable and blah, blah, blah.”

Nik:

Yeah. And that’s another thing too is there are a lot of sketchy brands that have launched because the barrier to entry is so low. What The Fascination is trying to do is basically the same way you have like a kosher sticker on food items or a gluten-free sticker that’s very universally known. I think they’re going to basically try to do the same thing, but for four brands.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Yeah. I will have to check that company out, maybe bring them on the show. Sounds like [crosstalk 00:42:39].

Nik:

Yeah, yeah. They would be a great one to bring on.

Stephanie:

Yep. The other trend I’m excited to watch this next year is last mile and see how that evolves, especially with the food delivery companies and the DoorDash and Grubhubs of the world starting to actually just work with local retailers to fulfill last mile deliveries. And I think that whole industry is about to have a big evolution. So that’ll be an interesting one to watch.

Nik:

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean companies like Ohi or even FastAF, they’re doing some pretty awesome things when it comes to last mile delivery.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep, yeah. I agree. All right. Well, let’s move over to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Nik?

Nik:

I’m ready.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s up next on your reading list?

Nik:

Ooh, I would say the book Supermaker by Jaime Schmidt.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s a good one. Yep, sounds good. What is your favorite business book that you refer back to?

Nik:

Atomic Habits.

Stephanie:

And you’re on it. You’re like, “Are you top of mind? I got this great.” Sounds great. What topic or trend do you not understand today that you wish you did?

Nik:

Bitcoin.

Stephanie:

I’ve had a couple of people say that. What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you.

Nik:

The nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me is-

Stephanie:

I had to stump you. You were too on it. You were too lightning.

Nik:

Yeah, that’s a good question. Honestly, my favorite is when just people just reach out randomly and say, “Hey, how’s your day?”

Stephanie:

You like that? Sometimes I’m like-

Nik:

I love it.

Stephanie:

… “What do you want? Get to the point.”

Nik:

Yeah. Well, sometimes you can tell when people have a reason for asking. But when a genuine friend just texts you out of the blue and just says, “Hey, how’s your day going?” It’s always nice to know.

Stephanie:

Yep, yep. Okay, a friend. I thought you meant just like a random Twitter person.

Nik:

Oh, no, no, no.

Stephanie:

I’ll get messages on Twitter like-

Nik:

No, no, no, a good friend.

Stephanie:

… “Hi, how are you?” I’m like, “What? Who are you? Why are you asking me how I am?” That’s weird. Ah, 2020. What’s up next in your travel destinations when you can travel again? Where do you want to go?

Nik:

I want to go to Jamaica actually with a friend of mine, Chris Hall, and a few of his friends. He’s got a pretty good setup there in Jamaica for quick trips out there. So I’m looking forward to hopefully in February maybe go there for a few days and just unplug from work.

Stephanie:

Oh, that sounds fun. Chris, bring me out there as well. That’d be great. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Nik:

Ooh, actually there was… I forget the name of the comedian, Andrew Schulz maybe. He just launched a stand up. I saw it yesterday and I added it to my list. So that’s next up on my queue.

Stephanie:

Oh, that sounds good. I’ll have to check it out. If you like it, I’ll check it out. What are you most excited about to add to your fridge next?

Nik:

Ooh, that’s a good question. There’s a beverage that we are launching called Barcode in-

Stephanie:

Barcode.

Nik:

… Q1 next year. It’s with the former head trainer of the New York Knicks, who’s also a big celebrity trainer, as well as with Kyle Kuzma, who’s a championship Lakers player. It’s basically a healthier version of Gatorade and it tastes incredible and it’s got everything. It’s like everything he would prescribe or give to his athletes, but bottled up in one drink.

Stephanie:

Oh, that sounds good because I do like Gatorade. But then when I’m drinking, I’m like, “I know this isn’t good for me.”

Nik:

It’s horrible for you.

Stephanie:

Yeah, it is delightful though.

Nik:

It is.

Stephanie:

All right. And then the last one, if you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Nik:

I’ve actually been thinking about this recently. It would probably be about the struggles of commerce that people go through. So it would only be focused on problems people have had in their business, not the successes and not focused on people who’ve successfully exited. It is strictly focused on people who have, for example, not figured out how something works or how they’re going to get through something. I don’t know why, but I always keep thinking my first guest is going to be Paul, who’s the founder of Prose, which is a haircare brand.

Stephanie:

Okay. I think that sounds great. I love stories like that, where people can actually learn something and because there’s so many… Any media article is always like, “Oh, here’s the end result. And now, they’re a billion dollar company. Oh, and they exited, Oh, they got acquired.” It’s like, well, what actually happened where they failed because I don’t want to fail too and I know they have some kind of knowledge of things that I could avoid, that’s why I love biographies and stuff because you can read it and essentially accelerate your knowledge through that person’s life and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls they went through.

Nik:

Totally. And not only that, but also then for all the people listening who might be starting a business, or might be getting themselves into a position where they’re not really sure what to do, it almost becomes an encyclopedia where, “Oh, Paul had no clue where to get you pumps at low MOQs for his shampoo bottles. How did he figure out what they were and where he could find them and not get ripped off?”

Stephanie:

Yep, yep, yeah, or I always love the stories when people are going overseas to find manufacturers and hearing things that they encounter. I forget what brand we were talking to on the show where they… I went into one of the warehouses and they were selling apparel and they were like… and all of the employees were smoking and all the stuff smelled like smoke. It’s like I would have never realized that unless I actually went over there and was doing an audit before moving forward with one of them.

Nik:

Yeah, totally.

Stephanie:

Very cool. Well, Nik, thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing all your knowledge. Where can people find out more about you and Sharma Brands?

Nik:

The easiest is my website, which is just nsharma.co, or the second easiest which I read every tweet, every message is my Twitter @mrsharma.

Stephanie:

Awesome. Yeah, just go to Nik and say, “Hi, how are you?”

Nik:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

All right. Thanks so much, Nik.

Nik:

Thank you.

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