Meet a Creator: Nico Norena, The Succulent Bite

Nicolas (Nico) Norena is a creator economy veteran. The Miami-based food influencer and entrepreneur founded his social media studio, The Succulent Bite, in 2015 at age 22. Since then, he has grown his online following to several million across channels such as Instagram, TikTok and Youtube; has created content that reached over 360 million people in 2022 alone; and was named to Forbes’ 2023 “30 Under 30: Food and Drink” list.

Like many full-time influencers, Nico began his career as a side hustle — he launched The Succulent Bite while he was working as a sales rep for a large pharmaceutical company, then quit that job once he was able to support himself fully as a content creator. Since then, he has encountered many of the pain points most common to influencers: starting a business, invoicing and getting paid by brands, communicating with brands while creating content, etc. Fortunately, emerging creator economy startups and a network of industry experts have helped him navigate these complex processes.

Citi Ventures’ Director of Venture Investing Jelena Zec recently sat down with Norena to learn more about his experience in the creator economy, his views on the space and what he thinks the industry could use. His comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.

JZ: When did you get into food and start posting food photos, videos, etc.?

NN: My passion for eating began when I was about 3 months old (or so I’ve been told), and the one for photography started when I received my first film camera at the age of 4. In 2015, I had the world-famous “aha!” moment and realized that it was time to combine my passions and share them with the world, so I created The Succulent Bite to provide fellow hungry foodies with a guide to the restaurants where I have had delightful experiences.

JZ: When and how did The Succulent Bite go from being a hobby to a career for you?

NN: As my follower base started to grow on Instagram and other social media platforms, I started working with global food and drink brands as well as local and chain restaurants to create mouthwatering advertising and promotional campaigns across channels.

I began seeing traction in my audience growth in the early years of my journey. Back then I used to create content while visiting restaurants, showcasing photos and videos of the desserts and dishes served. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 lockdown we were all in, I switched my content to recipes. It was then that I saw exponential growth across all my platforms and engagement. I think this was due to the fact that I was now putting out content that people could not only be entertained by, but also try out at home!

At first, agencies and brands would send me free products to review; within the last four years, however, I established brand partnerships and was able to make the jump to becoming a full-time digital content creator and entrepreneur.

JZ: Which brands have you worked with/are you working with now?

NN: I’ve worked with a wide variety of global consumer, snack and alcohol brands, including McDonalds, Coca Cola, Kellogg's, Bud Light, Tostitos, Disney and Chevrolet. In 2022, I worked with Univision on a year-long campaign in which I hosted a cooking segment for a dozen episodes of “Despierta América,” the largest Hispanic live television morning show in the U.S. More recently, I partnered with Visa on a campaign in which I toured Barcelona, Spain, deciding where to go and what to eat via live polls of my followers.

JZ: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur in the creator economy?

NN: Different moments in my career have brought different challenges!

When I first started, my biggest challenge was managing myself and my channels as a business. Back then I had little to no knowledge of how companies are formed and all the details that go into it. To solve this, I asked other business owners what the first steps looked like. From them I learned about corporations, accounting, law and finances. I had to do lots of reading on the subjects and got professional advice on the best ways to go about each one. Setting up systems was a key catalyst for growth.

As years passed I faced other challenges as an entrepreneur, such as the importance of having a strong mind, clear goals and a strategic growth plan.

A common challenge I see entrepreneurs in the creator economy facing is handling payments from brands. For example, some brands require the creator to be onboarded as a vendor, which takes time. Another aspect is reading and understanding contracts. These can get long and tricky, especially when looking at exclusivity, usage and fine print throughout. Contracts also usually have 60-day payment terms, which for a creator who is getting started can be a long waiting time.

Another part of the process that can be challenging is communicating with brands in real time while creating content. These brands usually hold onboarding calls and share detailed briefs, which are excellent tools! But sometimes questions can come up in the middle of filming content, and chatting in real time is not always an option.

JZ: What kind of platforms do you use to manage your business, how are they working for you and what products and services (if any) do you feel you still need?

NN: I use QuickBooks for my invoicing and of course have an accountant, financial advisor and lawyer. I have also started to use influencer marketing platforms like Influur and CreatorIQ to connect with brands, negotiate contracts, receive briefs, submit content, get paid, etc. Influur in particular really helps me make the whole process faster and more efficient — allowing easy communication in real time, fast payouts and friendly contracts.

JZ: What is your vision/goal for the future of The Succulent Bite and yourself as a content creator?

NN: My goal is to continue growing my channels and creating mouthwatering content for my audiences. I’m also constantly looking to expand the team, make longer-form videos and offer content in multiple verticals to cater to different aspects of the topic I love: food!

Lastly, I’m always seeking opportunities to invest in the industry in order to get more involved and continue expanding. In fact, I recently invested in Influur — one of the things I love about the creator economy is that we creators can help support and be a part of the companies that are supporting us!

For more from Nicolas Norena, visit The Succulent Bite on YouTube, Instagram and more.

To learn more about the creator economy, the startups in the space and the opportunities it presents to financial institutions like Citi, read our article.