Nick Vivion – Travel Filmmaker & Co-Founder of Unicorn Booty

Nick Vivion is a 27 year-old traveler and filmmaker currently based in Seattle. Thanks to an ex-Army brat father, Nick has been traveling since he was very young. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where his parents enrolled him in a French magnet school because it happened to be the closest elementary school. The French proved useful when his father left the UMKC English department for a job in the private sector, and moved the family to Basel, Switzerland, via London, when Nick was 9 years old.

He went to high school in Switzerland, learning German and starting two businesses. Nick was accepted to Duke University, but deferred for one year as he wrapped up the second of the two businesses. The business was selling alcoholic ice pops called Freaky ice all over Switzerland, doing business in three languages.

After graduating from Duke in 2006 with a degree in Literature, Business and Film, Nick knew that he wanted to tell stories. He bought a video camera and a laptop and traveled around the world. This coinciding with the growth of YouTube and user generated content. Nick shot and uploaded countless videos, eventually becoming a regular contributor to the early days of Current TV. By selling a video a month to Current, Nick funded his travel around the world. During this time, YouTube exploded and Lonely Planet TV launched their online video site. Inadvertently, Nick had become an independent travel filmmaker.

Today, Nick has a YouTube partner channel with over one million views and a growing base of 3,000+ subscribers. Travel is an essential part of his being, as he believes in the transformative nature of travel. By sharing the joys of the world with his audience, Nick hopes to inspire and infect others with his passion for experiencing the world in all its diversity.

Nick is also an idea-hound, and at any given time has a dozen start-up ideas brewing in his head. He looks forward to those moments in time when one particular idea bubbles to the top and becomes a tangible thing. This satisfaction of creation is perhaps one of the most intoxicating things in the universe.

What are you working on right now?

I recently co-founded Unicorn Booty, an online community that connects consumers with gay-friendly businesses in a fun and unique way. We believe that by spotlighting diversity-minded businesses, we can effect change faster than any politician. Consumers want to know about businesses that reflect their values, and are willing to be fiercely loyal to such brands. And as the gay market is estimated to be at $825 billion by 2011, there is a huge opportunity to get in front of this largely underserved market.

Unicorn Booty is a daily giveaway site targeted to the $825 billion LGBT/gay market, where a different company sponsors each day of the year. We then give away a product or service from that day’s sponsor to one lucky user. Users simply comment on that day’s product for an entry to win. They can also share it with their social networks (viral!) for extra chances to win. Each day’s product/service will be shared via blog, a custom video, photos and many tweets and Facebook posts. It is a completely integrated social media campaign for each day’s company, allowing them to be inserted into the roughly 1.37 billion online influence impressions happening each day. To date, Unicorn Booty already has over 5,700 Facebook fans and followers – and we just launched on April 15!

People are passionate about free stuff, as well as learning about gay-friendly brands, and businesses get a targeted, active, engaged and loyal consumer base interacting with their product on their sponsored day. Businesses benefit from this new migration to social consumer marketing that is more sticky and memorable than traditional one-way advertising. They get the interaction and engagement with potential customers, while their potential customers are rewarded with a chance to win a free product.

By targeting a community with shared interests, we are able to cultivate a much more involved, engaged and loyal community that is more valuable to sponsors. Users spend an average of 5.5 minutes on our site, leading to an average of 25 hours of pure brand engagement for the day’s sponsor. The best part is that we give 10% to a different non-profit every quarter! We truly believe in creating a holistic system that benefits our community, the businesses that sponsor a day and society at large.

For a video about how our site works:

2 Trends that excite you?

Interactive Marketing.

Interactive is essential. I firmly believe that by 2015, it will be virtually impossible to engage with customers in any other way. Why would you pay $50k for a static one page magazine ad when you could pay a fraction of that and get a completely integrated and interactive campaign that immerses your customer completely? Delivering engagement is always far more valuable than impressions, and this is only going to become more and more true in the next few years. My business revolves around this concept, because as consumers ourselves, we know how we want to be approached. And a static ad is far less attractive to us than a dynamic campaign.

Tablets and such.

I fantasize about the day that we all have thin, foldable e-readers that we can put in our pockets. These aren’t the rigid iPads, these are completely malleable OLEDs that can be bent in any which way. This is going to bring newspapers back into the fold, and is going to provide an endless market for content. As a content creator, this makes me giddy. As an interactive marketer, this is a goldmine. The endless appetite for content will be coupled with a more sophisticated approach to content consumption, which gives me great latitude to be a creative marketer.

Basically, by 2015, we will be at the point where we can do anything we can imagine!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life is the most difficult thing for an idea-person. You have this constant flow of ideas, and you are almost paralyzed with indecision. How can you choose just one? How do you determine if this is an idea that you want to spend months or years of your life on? It can be impossible, and it prevents many intelligent people from taking the leap.

I am a firm believer in manifestation and the law of attraction. I don’t force anything, and I just put my ideas out there and let them exist. I try not to pressure myself to pick one or to make something happen, because I find that patience will bring you the resources you need. For example, my current venture was not something I had really expected to do. It presented itself and the timing was right. I was able to gather the resources to make it happen. It was mostly unplanned, but once it had the momentum I committed 110%.

Some say that ideas pick you. I just say that you have to be in tune with what is going on in the world around you. If you are paying attention to the signs, you will find the tools you need to bring your idea into reality.

What is one mistake that you’ve made that our readers can learn from?

When I was 17, when I was living in Switzerland, I started a company called Freaky ice. It was from the Netherlands, and it was basically a Mr. Freeze with alcohol. It came in five flavors. At the time, Smirnoff Ice was huge in Europe. Everyone loved alcopops, and I just knew that hot party people were going to love a frozen alcopop.

When the Dutch distributor came to visit me in Basel, she told me that each pallet of product had 7,128 ice pops on it. So to get one of each flavor, I would have to buy 35,640 Freaky ice. But if I wanted exclusive rights to the territory of Switzerland, I had to buy a minimum of 10 pallets of product – 71,280 ice pops at a cost of around $30,000.

I knew this was going to be the Next Big Thing, and I had to have exclusive rights. I didn’t want Bacardi or anything huge alcohol company to swoop in and steal my idea. So I convinced my investors that I had to buy 71,280 Freaky ice in order to secure the investment.

That left me with very little marketing cash, and very little cushion for contingencies. Which was a huge mistake, because the Swiss government actually shut me down 6 months in because I had not properly labeled my packaging. They were cracking down on alcopops being sold to people under 18 (the legal hard liquor age in Switzerland), and I was their first target. I had to pay to have the product analyzed and re-labeled, at a cost of nearly $5,000 – or half my remaining capital.

So the lesson is never spend more than you have to at the start of your business. Be capital efficient. Negotiate. And always remember that people are selling you things – their only goal is to move product. This oftentimes means that they do not have your best interests in mind. Follow your gut, and prove your concept with as little upfront cost as possible.

What is one book and one tool  that helps you bring ideas to life?

Wraeththu by Constantine Storm.

It is a novel about a new kind of human race that takes over the world. It reminds me that there is magic in every one of us, and that every challenge, failure and success is just an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

Evernote is essential to my humanity. I would go insane if I did not have this software! It allows me to keep my notes centralized across devices, and it makes it very easy for me to discover an idea I might have had a long time ago. It also is a fertile ground to cross-pollinate ideas, as you can see relationships between subjects that you might never have seen before.

What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d like to solve the problem of carbon visualization. I think this is a huge-picture idea, but I’d like to find a way to visualize my individual carbon footprint, by tying into all the available public data our there: Facebook usage, TripIt trips, credit card purchases, etc. There is so much data out there! You could build an algorithm to estimate a person’s total life carbon footprint. It would be an estimation, but I know that a visualization of your impact is always more effective at getting reductions. You could also build in a revenue model that offers specific reduction recommendations for a fee.

Why did you start Unicorn Booty?

My partner and I didn’t see any marketing out there that was holistic and that was approaching us in ways that we wanted to be approached. We also grew tired of the empty promises for LGBT rights in Washington. One day we read that the gay market was estimated at $825 billion in 2011, and it dawned on us that harnessing the purchasing power of this demographic could have huge implications. If we could build a site that allows diversity-minded companies to get in front of interested consumers, we knew that we could effect change on the micro level. Small-to-midsize companies who wanted to be gay-friendly could then have an outlet to demonstrate their diversity commitment. We knew that many Fortune 500 companies advertised to the LGBT market – but what about smaller companies?

We also wanted to create a place where consumers, businesses and non-profits could co-exist. We wanted to demonstrate that you can and should build a successful company by building philanthropy into the fabric of your company culture. And whether you call it triple-bottom-line thinking or socially conscious capitalism, we simply believe that modern capitalism has to be about serving the community in as many ways as possible. We want to show that you can provide immense value to multiple stakeholders and still make a decent living.

What has been the most memorable place you have filmed around the world?

As a traveler, it can be painfully difficult to choose favorite places, because you don’t want to diminish the impact of any place over another. However, the one place that always stick with me is Mongolia. I shot a couple of short films there for Current TV, one about Mongolian Throat Singing and one about eating in local yurts/gers (Mongolian-style tents). The Mongolian Throat Singing film was actually my sister’s idea, and before shooting the film I had no idea what it was about. The power of the voice shook me to my core – I had never heard anything like it before, and I got a private performance from one of the best in Ulanbaatar. It was an unforgettable moment, and the film is still one of the most popular on my YouTube channel.


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