Empire state of mind: inside the business of building Sidemen’s brand with manager of the creator collective Jordan Schwarzenberger

Posted by Dina Zubi in Analysis

2 years ago

Creator collective Sidemen have spent the past decade becoming a giant in digital entertainment. Their primary YouTube channel has over 14 million subscribers, garnering more than 60 million views per video. Their business is an ever-expanding empire as they find new ways to connect with their loyal army of fans.

For those uninitiated into the Sidemen universe, the group consists of Olajide ‘JJ’ Olatunji (KSI), Tobi Brown (TBJZL), Vik Barn (Vikkstar123), Simon Minter (Miniminter), Joshua Bradley (Zerkaa), Harry Lewis (Wroetoshaw) and Ethan Payne (Behzinga). They met via gaming online and formed Sidemen in 2013, with Lewis joining in 2014. Their combined YouTube following across four Sidemen channels and individual platforms is now over 100 million.

Managing the world of Sidemen is co-founder of Arcade Media, Jordan Schwarzenberger. Along with Aaron O’Neill and Sam Uwins, he launched the business in 2021 and initially managed Holly Hubert, AKA Holly H. As of 2022, Sidemen is Arcade Media’s only client – and that’s a strategic decision.

“The most elite people – whether that’s Drake, Post Malone or Kanye – have very dedicated, focused teams because their worlds are ecosystems in their own right,” says Schwarzenberger, an alumnus of Vice, LadBible Group and YMU. He’s in charge of creative, O’Neill handles commercial and Uwins – who is Sidemen’s long-term accountant – looks after finances.

By working together, the trio realised they could drive the YouTubers’ next era of success. “It’s about building their own brands – creating entities of the Sidemen world that live beyond them and that can last when they’re finished,” Schwarzenberger explains.

Since Arcade Media took over as Sidemen’s management in April 2021, they have launched three major projects – XIX Vodka, food concept Sides and their subscription-based membership club, Side+. The creators also have various individual projects, but Arcade Media manages the group and its ventures as a whole. “For our own sanity”, notes Schwarzenberger.

So far, it’s been a speedy ride. XIX Vodka launched in October 2021 and its fried chicken delivery service Sides came the following month. Its first physical fast food restaurant opened at Boxpark Wembley in February 2022.

Schwarzenberger cites Mikey Pearce and Verity Bowditch’s vegan restaurant Clean Kitchen and Spencer Matthews’ non-alcoholic spirit brand CleanCo as examples of other influencers who have built successful businesses. His ambition is for the Sides concept to open across thousands of locations.

“I think Sides on delivery has been brilliant and people have loved it,” he says. “But to see it in Boxpark has been a game changer for us because people get to experience it in the flesh. You can’t put a price on that experience.”

Building the Sidemen membership club

The main focus of the Sidemen brand right now is membership club, Side+. Subscribers pay a monthly fee of £6.99 for exclusive content such as behind-the-scenes material, prize giveaways and exclusive interaction with the YouTube creators, as well as access to the SideCast podcast.

“Ultimately, the aim is to always give more,” says Schwarzenberger. “Keep creating, keep coming up with new ideas, new physical tangible events and new access points for Side+ members. We want to create a constant flow of exciting opportunities for them to engage with the guys.”

If the YouTube group were to venture into the metaverse, this would also be within the Side+ realm of content.“People from around the world have a shared connection through Sidemen and now Side+ is their way to connect with each other.”

From January 2022, Side+ also became available as an app on Xbox, making it easier for fans to access content. This is one of many steps towards diversifying the group’s platforms as much as possible. “Social media has become much more monopolised – there’s really only a handful of players dominating the space,” Schwarzenberger says.

Sidemen are not alone in launching independent platforms to connect directly with with their fans. Take culinary YouTube collective SORTEDfood, who offer exclusive recipes, shopping lists and cooking advice through their membership club and app Sidekick. In the US, YouTube star and KSI’s nemesis-turned-collaborator Logan Paul set up his Maverick Club and TikToker Bryce Hall launched his Party Animal University, better known as PAU Club. It makes sense – this business model is much more lucrative than what YouTube has to offer.

Diversifying revenue streams

Looking to the future, Schwarzenberger’s goal for Sidemen is to develop their own brands so they are no longer dependent on brand collaborations. “I’ve spent many years working with brands and connecting brands with talent – I enjoy a lot about those relationships. However, talent and creatives should not be reliant on brands – you have to get to a point where you never need to work with them, rather you’re working with them for strategic benefit.”

With that, our time is over. Schwarzenberger’s philosophy on cultivating talent and building a strategic empire around an audience is a refreshing approach to creator management. In some quarters, it remains a campaign volume game rather than an inspirational big picture, blue sky vision. We still grapple with the idea that digital creators are the once-in-a-generation talent defining culture and entertainment.

Schwarzenberger understands all of this and is deeply ambitious. He talks about having a “mindset” of being less reliant on social platforms. Building things, monetising, bringing the audience closer to the creators and each other – it’s all very Web3 and where digital culture is going. My view? Watch this space – Arcade and Sidemen have already launched so much, but I think we’re going to be blown away by what’s to come.

By Dina Zubi, staff writer at CORQ. Picture credit: Jordan Schwarzenberger via Instagram