All Def Digital CEO Sanjay Sharma Is Stepping Down (EXCLUSIVE)

Sharma is forming his own media venture, backed by Russell Simmons and existing ADD investors

Sanjay Sharma
Stephen Lovekin/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Sanjay Sharma, after leading Russell SimmonsAll Def Digital hip-hop and urban-youth-culture media startup as CEO for the past three years, is leaving the company, Variety has confirmed.

Sharma is exiting L.A.-based ADD to start his own digital-media venture, a company rep confirmed. For the new venture — details about which Sharma is holding close to the vest — he has lined up seed financing, including from Simmons and existing investors in All Def Digital.

Even as he steps down as CEO, Sharma will remain on the board of All Def Digital and will act as a senior adviser to Simmons, who is the company’s chairman. Osman Eralp, Simmons’ long-standing business partner, will run day-to-day operations of the company with ADD’s existing management team.

“Sanjay has led our success to date,” Simmons said in a statement to Variety. “He has been able to channel the vision of All Def into a leading new-media brand in urban culture. I’m excited about his next venture, as a fan and investor, and in continuing to partner with him here at All Def as we continue to grow across platforms from Facebook to YouTube, and from Spotify to HBO.”

Sharma, for his part, said in a statement provided by ADD: “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished at All Def in just three years… It’s a great time to be in media and technology and, with All Def now firmly established within the industry, I felt it was the right time for me to start my next venture, while still partnering closely with Russell and the All Def team.”

Continued Sharma: “I grew up dreaming big because of Russell and hip-hop, and am extremely thankful for and proud of what we’ve built together at All Def.”

According to insiders, Sharma told All Def Digital’s employees about his plans to leave at an all-hands meeting a few weeks ago.

Simmons, an influential hip-hop figure who co-founded music label Def Jam Recordings, recruited Sharma to head up the fledgling startup in 2014. Sharma previously spent five years at fandom-focused network Machinima (now fully owned by Warner Bros.) as EVP of strategy and business development. A lawyer by training, Sharma earlier worked in the business and legal affairs department at Warner Bros. Pictures.

In 2013, Simmons originally launched ADD as a YouTube network in partnership with AwesomenessTV. Today, it’s a multiplatform network and studio with more than 6 million followers on social media. It currently generates some 280 million video views monthly, distributing its content on YouTube, Spotify, Snapchat, and Facebook and Instagram.

Under Sharma, ADD has branched into traditional TV and premium original series. That includes a first-look production and development deal with HBO and a half-hour comedy special for YouTube Red called “Snap!”, from comedy troupe Dormtainment, about a washed-up Atlanta snap-rap group that suddenly finds itself in the spotlight again thanks to a viral video.

The company also has expanded into theatrical motion pictures, live events, and brand partnerships through its in-house agency ADHD. In addition, the company manages a network of emerging and established talent including social-video stars, stand-up comedians, writers, actors, poets and hip-hop artists.

ADD has grown from about a half-dozen employees in mid-2014 when Sharma took the reins to around 50 employees today.

All Def Digital, based in downtown L.A. near the Staples Center, has raised about $18 million from investors including WPP Ventures, Allen DeBevoise’s Third Wave Digital Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Nu Horizons Investments, Greycroft Partners, e.ventures and Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital.