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The Dark Side of Scalability, According to Nik Sharma

September 6, 2022
Mae Rice

“In order to succeed you need to do things that DON'T scale.” DTC growth marketer Nik Sharma tweeted that back in 2017 — and he says it’s just as true today.

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“In order to succeed you need to do things that DON'T scale.”

DTC growth marketer Nik Sharma tweeted that back in 2017 — and he says it’s just as true today.

Even though plenty of marketers treat “scalable” and “good” like synonyms.

The price of scalable marketing strategies

Rely on established, scalable marketing strategies and ”you end up looking like everybody else,” Sharma told MarketerHire.

Sure, you can put your own spin on your Facebook ad creative — but you’re still running Facebook ads, like 10 million other businesses.

To truly distinguish yourself, try tactics you’re not sure you can scale, Sharma advises.

Less-scalable marketing strategies include...

  • Events: “I don't think anybody starts an event [hoping to scale it to] 15 times a year or more,” Sharma said. (Even SXSW is still once a year!)
  • Community: If a community scales too fast, it can lose the culture that made it attractive in the first place.
  • Custom Lamborghinis: The YouTuber founders of Happy Dad, a hard seltzer brand, recently toured California in a custom, logo-ed Lambo to promote their launch. The turnout looked like Lollapalooza.

But… what if the strategies kill, and you want to scale them?

You can figure it out, Sharma said. He did.

The power of (initially) unscalable approaches

When Sharma worked at Hint Water, he and the team piloted influencer marketing in 2017 — when it was less established than it is today.

To kick off their first partnership, they sent YouTuber Sara Dietschy free products and took her to lunch before collaborating on a sponsored video.

The high-touch, relationship-first process didn’t seem scalable. But Hint scaled it anyway. How?

  • Network effects helped. Dietschy told fellow creators about Hint Water, and soon it was “the drink of choice in every New York City creator's fridge,” Sharma said.
  • So did automations. The Hint team automated tracking and attribution on influencer content.
  • Influencer marketing took off. By 2022, Business Insider forecasts that the influencer marketing industry will be worth $18B.

Our takeaway?

When marketers call a strategy “scalable,” they really mean that it has scaled successfully many times before.

But everything could scale, in theory — even the less-scalable strategies above.

  • Events have scaled — see the TEDx conferences around the world.
  • Communities have scaled — just look at Reddit, and its endless subreddits.
  • Even logoed Lambos could scale if Lamborghini subsidized them, seeing the value in free YouTube and social promo.

Trust yourself to scale your own, original ideas. It’s worth it.

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is editor in chief at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she loves learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture.

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