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Nick Sarnicola: Embracing Opportunity, Early and Forcefully

Over the past decade-plus, Nick Sarnicola — along with his longtime partner Blake Mallen — has founded two lifestyle companies that have grown into global brands. He’s also acted directly as a sales leader and team builder, creating an entrepreneurial career that has included fashioning opportunity for thousands of other budding businesspeople.

His initial success was founded upon direct sales of healthy lifestyle products, then expanded into providing life-experience opportunities, and has continued into venture capitalization in the tech field. As his business success has developed so too have his philanthropic efforts, especially relating to entrepreneur development. All this before the age of 40.

The companies he co-founded — ViSalus (now Vi) and Liv — are the core of this innovative career. The venture capitalist company HashtagOne came later and is a growing concern. His charitable foundation NextGen is working to improve business education in schools, supplemented with greater extracurricular opportunities in entrepreneurship.

Sarnicola grew up in a blue-collar setting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While still a teenager he went out on his own in pursuit of a career and was very quickly drawn into the network-marketing sector while still working in traditional retail. He plunged into direct sales and very soon came into contact with Mallen, with whom he co-founded Vi, Liv, and HashtagOne.

“I was introduced at the age of 18 by a stranger while working at the mall making $5.50 per hour,” he told the Business For Home website in 2012. “I had no clue what network marketing was, but I knew I wanted to be ‘rich one day,’ so networking seemed to be a great way to do that.”

Building a Network of Businesses

The career of Sarnicola began early in life and proved wildly successful. By 30 he was already established as the co-founder of two successful companies and by 40 another came into being.

ViSalus

Both Sarnicola and Mallen were working as direct marketing distributors when they founded ViSalus Sciences, which was later rebranded as Vi. Their product line is focused on weight management and healthy lifestyle products, including the Vi-Shape meal replacement shake, Vi GO Instant Energy drink, Vi-Pak energy supplement, Vi-Trim Clear Control Drink Mix, the Neuro energy drink.

The product line is supplemented with positive reinforcement through social media and in-person events. The centerpiece is the Body by Vi Challenge, which inspires people to make and pursue physical fitness and health goals over a 90-day period. The company refers to this core marketing device as its “challenge marketing platform” and its been pivotal in driving over $2 billion in sales across 16 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany. The company’s “promoters,” who act as independent distributors under team leaders, handle the direct marketing of Vi’s product line. This interlaced system helps undergird the social networking aspect of the company’s web-based marketing structure, building the enthusiasm and support for customers that are vital to the brand.

The company expanded significantly in 2005 when Sarnicola and Mallen recruited Ryan Blair to join them in a major capitalization drive. He came on as CEO as Sarnicola shifted to chief of sales and Mallen took over as chief marketing officer.

“I got involved in ViSalus by creating it. The company I was [with] went out of business. I called Blake Mallen, who was my top leader in my team, and explained to him that there were no checks coming next week,” Sarnicola explained to Business For Home. “Our team not getting paid was not an option for us so we bought the assets of that company and created ViSalus as co-founders. We [then] met Ryan Blair and immediately added him as the third founder and CEO of ViSalus. All three of us are founders and shareholders.”

Initial growth was strong, but the 2008 economic downturn rocked the company — as it did so many others. Blyth, Inc., a home décor company also built on a multilevel marketing structure, acquired Vi during this period. This resulted in another infusion of capital, with all three of the current Vi principals staying on. Growth accelerated after 2010 and it has amassed revenue of over $2 billion.

Liv

Whereas Vi focuses on the body, the other lifestyle brand that Sarnicola co-founded seeks to enhance the spirit. Built around the idea that a person’s “Bucket List” should become their “Liv List,” Liv is a company that provides resources and opportunities to help people enhance their quality of life and their lived experience.

The company’s goal is to push people to stop living “on hold.” Instead, Liv motivates an embrace of opportunity that will, according to its webpage, “breathe life into the experiences of everyday living.”

“We offer our members exclusive and extraordinary access to three things: unique curated life experiences around the world, a community of like-minded people, and premium member privileges designed to enhance your daily living,” is how CEO Sarnicola explains the Liv experience in a promotional video. “We’re going to make sure that these are life experiences that you can’t get access to unless it was through Liv. These life experiences will be memories that you take with you the rest of your life. Access to people, access to places, access to things, and access to experiences that you never could have access to without this company.”

HashtagOne

With the addition of Todd Goergen — the founder Ropart Asset Management Funds and one-time director of mergers and acquisitions at Blyth (and currently chair of the Vi board of directors) — Sarnicola, Mallen, and Blair established HashtagOne. It is a venture capital fund that has invested over $1 billion in tech companies.

The partnership with Goergen dates back to Blyth’s initial investment in ViSalus.

“Blyth is owned by the Goergen family, a top business family in the world. When we brought Ryan aboard ViSalus, he immediately reached out to them,” Sarnicola related to Business For Home. “Todd Goergen believed [by] first putting a few million into us. When we became big enough, Blyth saw it as a good company for them to own as well.”

The HashtagOne portfolio includes Saucey, a premium on-demand alcohol delivery platform; Fownders, a platform for supporting entrepreneurs and business ecosystem development; MyTime, an online business management platform; Fragmob, a mobile app developer specializing in support for salespeople; and Elite Daily, a Gen-Y media content creator.

The investment firm provides “angel investing” seed money, preferred Series A stock capitalization, and direct mentorship to fledgling companies. Sarnicola and his partners step up to share their experience in company building, team leading, and crucial funding to help establish innovative new enterprises. It’s an extension of the business opportunities that Vi and Liv have delivered to individuals through direct sales network marketing.

The Foundation of Success

All of Sarnicola’s business ventures started with his embrace of network marketing. What started as selling via door knocking and small gatherings in his teen years has grown to stadium-sized events, extended life experiences for clients, and a social media platform global in reach. Sarnicola has great faith in the combination of network marketing and hard work.

“You know the goals just get bigger, the dreams just get bigger, the things that we want to accomplish just become greater. And I know that all of them are possible because, if a human being has done it, it can be done,” Sarnicola relates in a YouTube “Network Marketing Advice” posting. “It’s not a question of the human potential — it’s a question of whether you’re spending your time right.”

The concept of network marketing, which is deeply entwined with multilevel marketing, is not new. Companies such as Amway, Tupperware, Herbalife, Avon, and Mary Kay are all built on the model. These are direct sales enterprises that don’t have a traditional retail storefront delivery system and depend instead on layers of distributors who also act directly as salespeople and independent entrepreneurs.

Sarnicola is not just a founder and high-level executive in his companies Vi and Liv — he embraces his role as a direct salesperson and motivator. In fact, he is still Vi’s top distributor.

Growing up with the development of the Internet has played a huge role in Sarnicola’s success, since he has been able to take his in-person marketing skills and vastly expand them via social media.

When Business For Home asked him about the importance of social media in the success of ViSalus, Sarnicola responded: “As important as any other aspect of the business. I laugh when the competition says, ‘that company is run by kids.’ Yes — and kids dominate social media and social media is where the eyeballs are at. Facebook is run by ‘kids,’ as is Google, as is Zappos, as is YouTube. So, I take that as a compliment now!”

This has been especially important in building the lifestyle-support aspects of both Vi and Liv. It allows the companies to be a constant presence in people’s lives, providing support and inspiration, while also serving as the infrastructure for organizing in-person events — whether those be large special ones where like-minded customers can gather together or the more customized experiences that Liv provides.

This synergy between traditional network marketing and the expansive power of social media has made Sarnicola a much sought after motivational speaker at conferences and other large-scale events. He also distributes his ideas via YouTube and other direct access methods, along with mentoring executives and up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Giving Back To The Network

The concept of paying it forward in order to support budding business owners and entrepreneurs is a driving force in Sarnicola’s philanthropy and it ties in well with his venture capital endeavors.

NextGen

This is most clear in his 2011 founding of NextGen. It is a private foundation and came into being after Sarnicola had worked with Venture for America (a fellowship for college grads), Remembrance Ranch (a therapeutic retreat for troubled youth), and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE, a business skills training program for youth).

These experiences led Sarnicola to the conclusion that the U.S. education system did not provide a sufficient level of training in entrepreneurship skills. NextGen first partnered with NFTE in 2016 to develop curriculum. It now supports a number of summer camps, after-school programs, and the distribution of teaching methodologies in schools.

“Our current education system is not designed to educate, inspire, or adapt to the changes and challenges facing the world. NextGen exists to encourage individual ideas and dreams. We are committed to teaching today’s youth the skills of entrepreneurship so they can follow their passions and interests rather than a traditional career path,” is the foundation’s mission according to its webpage. “Our passion is to educate, encourage, and empower young entrepreneurs to take charge of their own destinies. We foster entrepreneurship through mentorship, education, and funding.”

This is a topic near and dear to Sarnicola’s heart.

“My greatest passion is to teach the subject of entrepreneurship and support those who innovate companies that can also create social impact in some way. My business partner, Blake Mallen, and I started as 19-year-old entrepreneurs who self-taught ourselves everything when it came to building billion-dollar brands,” Sarnicola is quoted as saying in a press release announcing a $10,000 seed money grant to a 21-year-old’s startup via the Rooks-Sarnicola Entrepreneurial Institute. “But, we wish we had had the education, training, and support early on to help set us up for success. So, we’re doing everything we can to support vision-driven entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey and give them shortcuts to success. It’s the whole reason why NextGen was born.”

The Rooks-Sarnicola Entrepreneurial Institute is a recent partnership with Muskegon Community College. It will include the Lakeshore Fab Lab, which will be an entrepreneurial hub in the area where Sarnicola spent his childhood.

ViCares

In addition to his NextGen efforts, both Vi and Liv also have charitable arms.

ViCares, a charitable platform global in scope, funds programs centered on providing nutritional support to those in need. It’s a corporate social responsibility platform that includes donations tied to sales and matched donations to food banks, youth programs, and disaster relief organizations. There are also direct volunteer programs organized by ViCares in support of community improvement efforts and disaster relief mobilizations. Finally, partnerships with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) are also a regular aspect of ViCares’ operations.

Liv2Giv

Likewise, Liv2Giv — the charitable arm of Liv — incorporates the company’s delivery of unique “lived moments” with the opportunity to experience service-oriented travel, know as “voluntourism.” It is not uncommon for many people’s bucket list to include places lacking in the amenities that first worlders take for granted. The Liv2Giv motto is “attitude of gratitude” and its charitable donations and in-service coordination are meant to “help communities create self-reliance and sustainability.”

Another Liv2Giv effort is the Ella’s List Program, inspired by an 8-year-old with terminal brain cancer who was embraced by the Liv community. It led to the establishment of ways to help critically ill children gain access to experiences before it’s too late.

Conclusion

The career of Nick Sarnicola — like most successful ones — has been built on hard work, an embrace of successful methodology, and a little bit of luck. Entering his career years at the moment when traditional sales techniques met the Internet, Sarnicola was able to dive deeply into the synergetic possibilities made possible by social media. He’s accumulated a fortune doing so and is committed to expanding the opportunities of entrepreneurship that he once discovered and then went onto embrace.

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