‘There’s only so many really illustrious people out there who put out products’: Ntwrk’s Aaron Levant on expanding the livestream platform beyond its celebrity roots
Subscribe: Apple Podcasts • Stitcher • Google Play • Spotify
Livestream shopping has yet to hit true mainstream levels in the U.S. but Ntwrk thinks it can help.
The platform has been around since 2018, and says it has doubled in size every year since launch. Ntwrk’s approach to livestream commerce consists of a combination of brand, retailer and celebrity partnerships, along with limited-edition drops.
As Aaron Levant, Ntwrk’s CEO, described it, the idea at inception was to create a “live, engaging, entertaining platform where some of the biggest brands and celebrities in the world are dropping exclusive products creating that kind of FOMO and tune in moments that you feel like you can’t miss — and things sell out fast.” Now, he went on, “we’ve done that at scale — and now we’ve gone much beyond that we’ve moved into new categories, new verticals, new supply side of the product.”
Levant joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about Ntwrk’s growth and ambitions, along with the overall U.S. livestream shopping market. One of the early inspirations for Ntwrk was the game show app HQ; “Once or twice a day, you get a push notification. And people would tune in at mass and be highly engaged. And I wanted to take that same ideology, but apply it for a product drop,” he said.
Levant has a background in fashion and streetwear, and those past professional connections helped give Ntwrk its initial cultural cachet. Leveraging past celebrity relationships, he said, “allowed us to build a pretty big audience base very quickly for very cheap because of these relationships we had.” The platforms has featured drops from brands like Nike as well as celebrities like Billie Eillish and Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s this direct relationship with the brand or creator that Levant said makes Ntwrk successful — and different from competitors. “We’re not a peer-to-peer platform,” he said, “not just anyone can sign up and start using our tools to sell.”
While Ntwrk is still seeing growth — and is expanding to new categories like collectibles and toys — it still represents a niche market in the U.S. Levant, however, still thinks the U.S. will catch up with other countries like China where livestreaming is more prevalent.
“Their use and adoption of intuitive mobile-first technology is still drastically ahead of us,” he said. “I think it’s just a few years before we catch up.”
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
On the expanding definition of creators
“A lot of really big brands and celebrities came early, and that allowed us to build a pretty big audience base very quickly for very cheap because of these relationships we had. And we always wanted to continue that. And we’ve still done that, to this day — working on exclusive products with some of the biggest names in popular culture broadly across gaming, art, music, fashion. But even that has a cap to it. We only have so many relationships. There’s only so many really illustrious people out there who put out products that have that kind of high urgency. So we’ve really continued to expand the supply side of our marketplace. So people like sneaker resellers today represent a much larger portion of the revenue than, let’s say, exclusive celebrity drops. And exclusive celebrity drops are the shiny object that sit at the top of that funnel that draws people in. But they really stay for the thousands of other livestreams that we have on a monthly basis.”
How Nwrk differs from other livestreaming platforms
“I think a key point of understanding how Ntwrk varies from other, let’s call it, social commerce or live video platforms that are in the market is we’re not a peer-to-peer platform. Not just anyone can sign up and start using our tools to sell like anyone could sign up for an Instagram or YouTube account or an eBay account, etc. Like I think almost anyone who has a pair of shoes can go sell on StockX, as an example. We are a B-to-C platform. We primarily work with businesses, we call them creators, but that’s any large person, entity or brand who has something to sell that we believe is additive or cool… And even that definition has expanded over the years. Where first it was just big celebrities and brands, now we’re working with retailers and professional resellers. But even in the resale world, we primarily work with people who have like a storefront or a warehouse with millions of dollars with inventory in it.”
The U.S. is still behind China
“Here’s what I think: China, broadly, in all mobile-first technology and super apps is five, six years ahead of us. So you could walk into a restaurant in Shanghai pre-pandemic and use WeChat to order off of a QR code at a restaurant. But not just look at the menu — actually dynamically order the food and pay for it and walk out never [having] dealt with a waiter. And now here we are post-pandemic, and we’ve just introduced a QR code that takes you to a static menu. We’re still behind them. So their use and adoption of intuitive mobile-first technology is just still drastically ahead of us. So I think it’s just a few years before we catch up.”