SANTA ANA, Calif .– Lots of big YouTubers make money running ads on their videos. Not the Nelk Boys. Creators often and proudly state that they don’t make any income from the platform, despite their regular video downloads, high number of views, and millions of loyal subscribers.
That their channel does not produce any income is neither a fluke nor an accident. Their videos revolve around fraternity-type parties and elaborate pranks that sometimes promote illegal activity. They drink, swear and make crass jokes in front of the camera. The police show up often.
YouTube doesn’t like it. This is why last year, after a series of incidents in which the group encouraged fans to flout Covid-19 safety guidelines, Nelk’s channel was demonetized.
The Nelk Boys’ response: Who cares? Ads were not a big part of their livelihood.
“Every video, we swear, we do stuff that could be questionable or illegal, we make sexual references or references to drugs,” said Kyle Forgeard, 26, group leader. “So we’re not making any money on YouTube at all.”
Instead, they sold their 6.6 million fans on the Nelk Lifestyle, which is both a mindset and a growing following of subscriptions and products, all summed up by the cryptic tagline for everyone except a “full send” brother.
“It started out as partying, but now it has become, ‘Any activity that you do, give it your best,’” Forgeard said. “If you are in the gym, you have to send completely in the gym.”
And while their work can often feel like a game on YouTube, a visit to Nelk’s headquarters painted a much more calm, corporate image of Full Send’s life.
All in one working day
Outside of a nondescript building in an unassuming office park in Santa Ana, Calif., There were few signs of the Nelk Boys except for a truck parked in front of transport cases from the new seltzer. group drive, Happy Dad, and a bright red Lamborghini with “Full Send” stamped on the hood.
Inside there was a similar calm. For the duration of a reporter’s visit, most of the open-plan office workers were with their heads down, working on videos and business development.
The scene in the office – and later, in the sprawling house where the boys live – contrasted sharply with Nelk’s public image.
“If you take the fraternities depicted in the college movies of the ’80s and’ 90s and give them the technology of America of 2021, that’s basically what Nelk is,” said Joshua Cohen, founder of Tube filter, a website that covers the economics of creators. “They are popular because they always seem to be having fun and embodying that seemingly idyllic party existence.”
In addition to going “full send” with their evenings, the members of the group have pretend to be real estate agents and fortune tellers; modified QR codes on restaurant menus; troll supporters of Trump (then met the former president); and Bombed zoom distance lessons – anything to piss off their fans and ruffle other people’s feathers.
“If you’re a certain type of guy, that sounds pretty cool,” Mr. Cohen said.
Nelk first trained in 2010, when Mr. Forgeard was a freshman in high school. The name was an acronym, denoting its original pranksters: Nick, Elliot, Lucas and Kyle, who had grown up together in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. The “N” and “E” didn’t stay too long, but the “L” – Lucas Gasparini – continued to record and upload videos with Mr. Forgeard.
At first, Nelk’s YouTube channel was bringing in around $ 500 per month in ad revenue, a sum based on the number of impressions each video received. “We made more money with YouTube then than today,” Forgeard said. When that figure rose to $ 5,000 per month in 2014, Mr. Forgeard and Jesse Sebastiani, another Nelk member, moved from Toronto to an apartment in downtown Los Angeles.
Their first big hit came in 2015, when Mr. Forgeard and his friends put a big packet of Coca-Cola in the trunk of a car and started offering “coke” to passers-by in Venice Beach. Shortly after, the police arrived; when they opened the safe, the police burst into laughter. The video was an instant classic from Nelk and garnered over 44 million views.
Go to “Complete sending” when sending complete
Over the years, the Nelk Boys have traveled the country filming pranks and parties and bringing new talent into the fold. Steve Deleonardis, 22, joined in 2018, and Salim Sirur, a 19-year-old from San Jose, Calif., Joined the group last year after Mr Forgeard found out about it online.
Through it all, the boys have always remained true to their proven methods: going a little crazy in the service of the brand.
In 2020, however, the group took it a step further with their antics. Last September, after Nelk promoted an in-person college party at Illinois State University, YouTube demonetized its channel, citing a violation of the platform’s “creator responsibility” policy and stating that boys “created a generalized risk to public health”.
“We couldn’t go anywhere at first, so we tried to make it work by filming around the house,” Mr Forgeard said of the pandemic, “but Nelk is so travel-based, it’s our whole thing, being a show traveler. ” (They eventually stopped promoting their stops to avoid large crowds.)
“A lot of YouTubers are putting themselves forward, they are press trained,” said John Shahidi, one of the group’s business partners. “With Nelk, what you see is what you get.”
Mr. Forgeard said that’s what isolates them from the backlash: the backlash is part of their brand. “A lot of YouTubers are fake, or they’re so nice online. Then you go to a party in LA and they do drugs in the bathroom, ”he said. “We’ve always been real, we didn’t want to be fake for the camera.”
In the winter of 2020, Mr. Shahidi joined as president of the Nelk company, including the Full Send product line; he encouraged Mr. Forgeard and Mr. Deleonardis to look more into the marketing of their lifestyle through products. He also brought in his brother, Sam Shahidi, to supervise Nelk and Happy Dad at the executive level.
According to the company, Nelk sold $ 50 million in Full Send merchandise last year and could exceed $ 70 million this year. Merch is sold in limited edition “drops”, so the hype remains high. Mr Cohen, of Tubefilter, said of the tens of millions of dollars being generated: “These numbers are really high, but if you look at the top echelon of YouTubers and video stars online, this is what ‘they are capable of doing. “
The Happy Dad hard seltzer line also makes tons of money. When the drink released in June, rowdy fans lined up outside some stores, eager to meet the creators. Seltz quickly sold online and in liquor stores across California.
“YouTube money is pennies compared to starting businesses like a seltzer,” Mr. Forgeard said. “We’re not going to sacrifice our content or switch to make $ 500,000 a month with YouTube,” he added. “Maybe in the short term, we don’t buy Lambos like other YouTubers, but we could have a multibillion dollar business in our hands with this tough seltzer.”
Happy Dad is just the first step towards what they hope will be a full line of products and services. John Shahidi imagines that Nelk will one day be in competition with multinationals like Amazon, Anheuser Bush and Apple.
“With our audience, we can build just about anything,” Forgeard said. “Maybe we’re starting a men’s grooming business or we could sell condoms if we wanted to. We could open Full Send gyms. We could do the pizza delivery.
Mr Shahidi said they could “have a network of drivers who can possibly deliver anything in our ecosystem – whether it’s a hoodie or a 12-pack Happy Dad or protein bars “.
One way for Nelk not to make money is through crypto pump and dump schemes, which have become popular with other influencers. They recently warned fans in a Twitter post not to invest in alternative currencies peddled by the creators. “When you all trust them and invest, they sell and make tons of money with YOU! ” the tweet read. “Do not fall into the trap.”
Recently, the group has been traveling the country promoting Happy Dad, meeting fans and, of course, getting into trouble.
In April, Mr. Forgeard was stopped accused of driving a Segway through a shopping mall posing as a security guard for a video. The charges were later abandoned, but the #FreeKyle hashtag popped up on Twitter and fans raised money for his bail.
For some creators, it would have been a scandal. For the Nelk Boys, it was a boost. “Once you have your own platform,” Mr. Forgeard said, “you can do whatever you want.”