SANTA ANA, California – Many major YouTubers make money by running ads on their videos. Not the Nelk Boys. Creators regularly say and boast that they don’t earn any income from the platform, despite their frequent video uploads, high views, and millions of loyal subscribers.
The fact that their channel doesn’t generate revenue is neither a coincidence nor a coincidence. Their videos revolve around parties like fraternity and elaborate pranks that sometimes promote illegal activities. They drink, curse and make crude jokes in front of the camera. The police show up a lot.
YouTube doesn’t like that. That’s why last year, after a series of incidents where the team encouraged fans to follow Covid-19 safety guidelines, Nelk’s channel was disabled for monetization.
Nelk Boys’ answer: Who cares? Advertising is not an important part of their lives.
Team leader Kyle Forgeard, 26, said: “Every video, we’re swearing, we’re doing something questionable or illegal, we’re making references to sex or mentioned drugs,” said Kyle Forgeard, 26, the group’s leader. “So we didn’t make any money on YouTube.”
Instead, they’ve sold 6.6 million of their fans on Nelk Lifestyle, which is a state of mind and a growing suite of products and subscriptions, all summed up in one sentence. puzzling mouth “send in full. “
“It was originally meant to be a tough party, but now it’s evolved into ‘Whatever activity you do, give it your all’,” said Forgeard. “If you’re in the gym, you have to fully deposit in the gym.”
And while their work is often like playing on YouTube, a visit to Nelk’s headquarters paints a more corporate and holistic picture of life Send to the Full.
All in one working day
Outside a posh building in a posh office park in Santa Ana, Calif., there is little sign of the Nelk Boys, save for a van parked in front of boxes of new pickup trucks. group, Happy Dad, and a bright red Lamborghini with “Full Sent” taped to the hood.
The inside is similarly quiet. During the reporter’s visit, most of the staff in the open space office focused on working on videos and business development.
The scene at the office – and later, at the sprawling house where the boys lived – was in stark contrast to Nelk’s public image.
“If you take the settings depicted in 80s and 90s college movies and give them the technology,” says Joshua Cohen, founder of Tubefilter, a website specializing in the creative economy. of 2021 America, it’s basically Nelk.” “They are popular because they always look like they are having a good time and embody this seemingly idyllic party existence.”
In addition to going “all in” with their parties, members of the group posed as real estate agents and fortune tellers; changed the QR code on the restaurant’s menu; troll Trump supporters (later meeting with the former president); and Zoom-enhanced teleclasses – anything to freak out their fans and ruffle the fur of others.
“If you’re a certain guy, that sounds great,” Cohen said.
Nelk was first founded in 2010, when Mr. Forgeard was a freshman in high school. The name is an acronym, short for its original jokes: Nick, Elliot, Lucas, and Kyle, who grew up together in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. The “N” and the “E” didn’t last long, but the “L” – Lucas Gasparini – continued to shoot and upload videos with Mr. Forgeard.
From the start, Nelk’s YouTube channel brought in around $500 a month in ad revenue, a number based on the number of impressions each video received. “We made more money from YouTube at that time than we do now,” said Forgeard. When that number rose to $5,000 a month in 2014, Mr. Forgeard and Jesse Sebastiani, another Nelk member, moved from Toronto to an apartment in downtown Los Angeles.
Their first big success came in 2015, when Mr. Forgeard and his friends put a large package of Coca-Cola in the trunk of their car and began offering “coke” to passersby in Venice Beach. Not long after, the police showed up; When they opened the trunk, the officers burst into laughter. The video immediately became a Nelk classic and has garnered over 44 million views.
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Over the years, the Nelk Boys have traveled across the country filming pranks and parties, and bringing in new talent. Steve Deleonardis, 22, became a member in 2018 and Salim Sirur, 19, from San Jose, California, joined the group last year after Mr Forgeard discovered him online.
Through it all, the guys stick to their tried-and-true method: go a little bit to serve the brand.
In 2020, however, the group has gone a little further with its antics. Last September, after Nelk promoted a live college party at Illinois State University, YouTube turned off their channel’s monetization, citing a violation of its “creator responsibility” policy. of the foundation and claimed that the boys were “creating a widespread public health risk”.
“We couldn’t go anywhere at first, so we tried to make it work by filming around the house,” Forgeard said of the pandemic, “but Nelk is very reliant on it,” Forgeard said of the pandemic. on traveling, that’s all our business, being a traveller only.” (They eventually stopped promoting their stops to prevent large crowds.)
“A lot of YouTubers are fierce, they are trained in journalism,” said John Shahidi, one of the group’s business partners. “With Nelk, what you see is what you get.”
Forgeard says that’s what insulates them from the backlash: Backlash is part of their brand. “A lot of YouTubers are fake or they’re too good online. Then you go to a party in LA and they’re high in the bathroom,” he said. “We’re always real, we don’t want to fake the camera.”
In winter 2020, Mr. Shahidi joins as president of Nelk business, which includes Full Send merchandise line; he encouraged Mr. Forgeard and Mr. Deleonardis to work harder in marketing their lifestyle through products. He also brought in his brother, Sam Shahidi, to oversee Nelk and Happy Dad at the executive level.
According to the company, Nelk sold $50 million of Full Send merchandise last year and could surpass $70 million this year. Merchandise is sold in a “discounted” limited edition, so the hype remains high. Mr. Cohen, at Tubefilter, said of the tens of millions of dollars generated: “These numbers are really high but if you look at the top group of YouTubers and online video stars, here is what they do. can do. “
The Happy Dad hard seltzer line is also bringing in a lot of money. When the drink was released in June, rowdy fans lined up outside some stores, eager for the chance to meet the creators. Vending machines quickly sold out online and in liquor stores across California.
“Money on YouTube is a dime compared to building businesses as a salesperson,” said Forgeard. “We’re not going to sacrifice our content or make changes to make $500,000 per month from YouTube,” he added. “Maybe in the short term we don’t buy Lambo like other YouTubers, but we could have a billion dollar business with this hard seltzer.”
Happy Dad is just the first step towards what they hope will be an entire line of products and services. John Shahidi imagines Nelk will one day compete with multinational corporations like Amazon, Anheuser Bush and Apple.
“With our audience, we can build pretty much anything,” said Forgeard. “Maybe we can start a company specializing in menswear or we can sell condoms if we want to. We can open Full Send gyms. We can deliver pizza. “
Mr. Shahidi says they can “have a network of drivers that can ultimately deliver anything in our ecosystem – whether it’s a hoodie or 12 packs of Happy Dad or a protein bar”.
One way Nelk won’t make money is through pump and sell crypto schemes, which have become popular with other influencers. They recently warned fans in a Twitter post against investing in altcoins that are being looked down upon by creators. “When all of you TRUST and invest, they will sell and make tons of money from YOU!” tweets read. “Don’t fall in love with it.”
Recently, the group flew around the country promoting Happy Dad, meeting fans and of course getting into trouble.
In April, Mr. Forgeard was arrested for driving a Segway around a shopping mall posing as a security guard to film a video. The charges were later dropped, but the hashtag #FreeKyle was trending on Twitter and fans raised money for his bail.
For some creators, that would be a scandal. For the Nelk Boys, it was a boost. “Once you have your own platform,” Forgeard said, “you can do whatever you want.”