(An interview by Alyssa Ingham)
If you are a parent, aunt or uncle, educator, or come in any sort of contact with toddlers, you’ve probably heard of the YouTube.com children’s sensation Blippi. With his endearing mannerisms and incredible dance moves, Stevin John has turned his Blippi character into a full-time job. Blippi has over 1 billion views on YouTube, and a lineup of merchandise including books, children’s apparel, plush dolls, DVDs, CDs and more (just look up #blippi on Instagram to see some adorable mini Blippi lookalikes wearing his suspenders and glasses). I was fortunate enough to take up a few minutes of Stevin’s time as he packed merchandise orders for his worldwide fans in places like New Zealand, UK, Australia, and of course the USA.
Stevin has grown his Blippi brand immensely since starting the company in 2014, from a 250-square foot studio now to a 2500-square foot studio filled to the brim with merchandise and filming equipment. Stevin has seen comparative growth in his two YouTube channels, already earning himself two YouTube play buttons and getting more monthly views than household names like Sesame Street and Lady Gaga.
Blippi is clearly dominating children’s YouTube, what is your background and how did you get started with Blippi?
I used to live in Los Angeles, and I worked mainly filming, producing, and editing commercials and ads like the ones on YouTube. Another thing that I did was internet marketing and web development. My general background is internet marketing and video production. After 7 years of living in LA, I decided to move back to Washington State where I grew up. I was planning on buying a couple of rental properties; I grew up knowing that real estate was a good investment. I thought I wanted to be a landlord and travel to LA a few times a month. I did that for a while, and I decided being a landlord was not the full time job for me. Back in Washington, I spent a lot of time with my nephew Hunter, who at the time was two years old. My sister was going through financial hardships at the time, and rather than paid content, she was allowing him to watch YouTube videos for kids. Quite frankly, at the time, the content was garbage. The production value was just not there. Because I knew the internet and understood the business of YouTube, I thought creating children’s content would be something fun for me to do, especially to be able to create directly for Hunter. But then, in the back of my mind, I thought maybe I could turn it into a business, and Blippi was created.
Blippi has become a well-known and loved children’s character, where did the name and character come from?
Well the name came from countless hours of listing potential names… I think I came up with about 800. I was looking for the shortest single word with repeating letters that kids could say, and that was just generally happy sounding. I sat there coming up with names, “Blublu”, “Beebah”, “Saku”, “Blippi”. From there I did trademark searches, domain search, and social media search to see availability. So the name search isn’t really a fun story, it was a strategic move.
But when it comes to the character, Blippi is really just me, exaggerated on happiness, and excitement. I just really try and convey the emotions that a child would have in certain situations I would be in. As far as the character’s outfit, I had a few versions. The first outfit had every single possible color, and it just looked too… crazy. It was totally out there, polka dots, lightning bolts, every color and shape and everything. It basically was just a clown suit. I began looking at the psychology of colors, and narrowed it down to orange and blue. I just thought, “What would I look decent and presentable in, but if a kid wore it, it would look adorable?” That’s how the character came about.
Why did you pick orange and blue?
All I did was considered the science of colors. I knew I wanted to keep it simple after the first outfit so I thought about using just two colors. Orange I saw was creative and fun, blue means trustworthy and honest. I couldn’t see two better possibilities. They were also visually appealing when put together. It worked out great.
That first outfit sounds crazy, was it a shirt with a ton of different patterns?
It was like, polka dots here, small one here, and laser bolts here, the pants were crazy too. Just think about if that was my daily outfit. (laughs)
Sounds like you made a wise choice on the outfit selection (laughs). Once you had decided on the name and outfit and began to create content, how did you go about growing Blippi so quickly?
It’s funny, people do tend to think of how quickly it grew, although I’ve been doing it for three and a half years. I started January 2014, that is a quick onset of growth of zero views to coming up on a billion views, that is quick, but in my eyes, you know, I literally have worked 24/7 every single day on this. There is obviously a couple days I’ve had where I am not physically working, but even the days I am trying not to concentrate on it, I still find myself checking emails and thinking about growing my brand. As for how it grew so quick, I would say the most important is having a passionate person working on it all day every day. Every thought I have seems to be about Blippi, growing the brand, my next steps, how my previous steps are going, but also, I think, the foundation of Blippi is three main things. The internet marketing skills, video production skills, and most importantly, I started it for a good reason. It’s rewarding to me to be able to create good quality content for my nephew, as well as every child having readily available educational content to access for free. Typically in all industries, the content that is free is low quality. I try to have the very best content accessible to everyone. I’m approachable and very similar to Blippi in real life, parents can tell that. It’s very genuine. Although the show is for kids, parents seem to be really involved with everything I do, which is awesome. Parents have Blippi themed birthday parties; subscribe to email lists, liking the Facebook page. It’s great to see the parents being involved and helping grow the brand.
You touched on this a little bit, but why do you think audiences connect so well with Blippi?
Kids connect well with Blippi mainly because all Blippi really is me, but with a little bit more energy, But in real life, I’ve always been the guy, say, at a kids birthday party, you know, every adult is standing around, I’ve never been afraid to be the adult who will go play tag with the kids. I think kids are really smart, and they can tell that the character is authentic and genuine. They can tell that who I am on the show is who I really am. I mean, yeah the energy is a little different, obviously I don’t talk super high pitched all the time, I’m not like, you know, dancing around everywhere (laughs). I think kid’s intuition is strong, they can tell I am interested in the things they are interested in. I am trying to provide good content to them in a genuine way, whether to my own family member or if its somebody else’s kid, it’s the same way I would do it.