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Utah Business

Spacestation, a Utah-based startup is changing the way the world thinks about funding YouTubers and other social media influencers.

Spacestation is investing in the next generation of YouTubers

A single Snapchat in 2014 spawned billions of YouTube views, millions of dollars in investment into dozens of companies, and 180 people on the payroll of what might be the coolest company in Utah.

Shaun McBride was working in the snowboard and skateboard industries until, on a random flight, a drawing on his phone started the dominos in motion. “We have a saying here: ‘Take every small opportunity and try and turn it into a big one,’” says McBride, better known as his uber-popular internet personality Shonduras.

That first small opportunity was a doodle of a woman sleeping on a plane. She had colored hair, and Shonduras doodled a My Little Pony body with her head on it. Someone posted it to Reddit, and soon after, he had 500 followers on his Snapchat account.

From there, McBride started filming his life and posting it to YouTube, which then exploded into multiple YouTube accounts and more than five billion views. He was onto something.

Starting a company

Spacestation, founded in 2017 by McBride and Sean Holladay, is parent to Spacestation Gaming (a professional eSports team), Spacestation Integrations (an influencer marketing operation), Spacestation Investments, and many other spinoffs. But it all started with a question: which company would work better—gaming or influencer marketing?

The team launched both arms simultaneously, deciding they would go after whichever one worked. Both did. They were soon helping influencers and YouTubers build out the creator economy while simultaneously riding the eSports wave. “This was before Fortnite was mainstream,” McBride says. “Once Fortnite hit like a year later, it was full speed ahead.”

On the influencer side, the company was making mega-stars out of creators. For example, the photographer and videographer Peter McKinnon has grown from 100,000 YouTube subscribers to 8.5 million under Spacestation’s care—which all started with one introduction to the more prolific YouTuber Casey Neistat.

“That single connection Shawn made grew Pete’s subscribers by 100,000 in a day. So from Casey came Pete, then all of a sudden, we set Pete off on this really great trajectory. But then we helped Shawn, not just with follower growth, but to build a business around it.”

Today, not only have McKinnon’s follower totals exploded, but he also has his own line of camera backpacks with Nomatic, Adobe Lightroom presets for easy photo editing, camera filters that bear his name, and many more opportunities.

Spacestation, a Utah-based startup is changing the way the world thinks about funding YouTubers and other social media influencers.
Shaun McBride (left) and Sean Holladay (right), co-founders of Spacestation. Photo appears courtesy of Spacestation

Investing in creators

In 2019, Spacestation started its investment arm by investing in the cereal company Magic Spoon. By August 2020, Magic Spoon’s valuation increased eight times, Holladay says.

“This is a brand that is attractive and interesting. Not because there’s anything new—people have been investing forever,” Holladay says. “It’s just attractive because you want the access that we have and the club that we’ve created and the connections and communication that’s there.”

From August 2020 to August 2021, Spacestation did 52 deals and more than another 50 in 2021. “Through that process, we found other founders that you’d recognize here in the valley, as well as other influencers and individuals that would come into this investment club and invest with us into these deals,” Holladay says. “It wasn’t like we sat down and said, ‘Alright, let’s start an investment firm’ … It was just us investing because we knew it was a great way to diversify. We’d get into something, and then we’d call our buddies, and they’re like, ‘What? Can I write a check?’ And this created about a 300 member club that will invest with us.”

McBride describes Spacestation as an “incubator of opportunity.” And he has the chops to incubate the next generation of creators, having done it himself. “From one Snapchat account, we were able to create this. Now we’re teaching other people how to build the creator economy,” he says.

Spacestation, a Utah-based startup is changing the way the world thinks about funding YouTubers and other social media influencers.
Photo appears courtesy of Spacestation

Creating an animation studio

The company’s next foray is an in-house animation studio, spawning several new cartoon videos and an NFT series—the first being PiRATE iSLAND, a 1,000-piece NFT series that corresponds with the first video in the animated show. McBride and his daughter Adley voice the main characters.

In the initial animation, a pirate tries to stop a fairy, voiced by Adley, from stealing his treasure by throwing a root beer barrel. “That took us so much time and effort, and it’s just a quick blip in the video,” McBride says. “I wish we could showcase that more. I just want to have an end screen that really shows the root beer bombs, like, look how beautiful this is. There are splinters and the fuse and everything.’”

That’s when McBride and Holladay came up with the idea to mint NFTs based on the series. Anyone who holds an NFT that appears in a future animation video will be paid royalties for using the item. McBride says they expect to give out $250,000 in licensing rewards by the end of the year.

Additionally, NFT owners will be sent merchandise and have the opportunity to win free stuff. The second episode of PiRATE iSLAND, “STiCKER POX,” dropped December 17th with a collection of 25 NFTs derived from characters and props in the episode. The third episode’s premise, centering on a hair salon, has also been revealed.

The first set of NFTs didn’t sell out immediately, but McBride and Holladay aren’t worried. They’re providing value and utility to the owners and haven’t put any money into marketing. They also haven’t taken any investor money into their own company, so everything they do is on their terms.

Spacestation, a Utah-based startup is changing the way the world thinks about funding YouTubers and other social media influencers.
Sean Holladay (left) and Shaun McBride (right), photo appears courtesy of Spacestation

Building the next generation

A year from now, Spacestation plans to have blockchain gaming and plenty more investments. Like the phrase, “Take every small opportunity and try to make it a big one,” McBride hopes people will learn from his experience and create a big opportunity for themselves.

“Take whatever you want to accomplish, whether it’s a hobby or a passion or whatever, and then go deeper,” he says. “Think, how can I generate revenue from this? Or how can I take this to the next level? Or how can I get more fulfillment from doing this? Build something that makes you happy and gets you excited.”

Holladay agrees. “This is the blueprint because you couldn’t do what we did. You can’t go back and create Snapchat again and have the virality of that,” he says. “You can’t go back and start an influencer marketing agency in 2017 when it was super hot and everybody wanted influencers. You couldn’t read this article and be like, ‘I’m gonna do that thing.’ It’s more the blueprint and inspiration to show that some scrappy guys bootstrapped something to some pretty incredible success and that it’s supporting 180 humans on this earth. When they go home, and they buy their dinner for their family, it’s coming from this paycheck, the Spacestation, that’s it.”

Spacestation, a Utah-based startup is changing the way the world thinks about funding YouTubers and other social media influencers.
Photo appears courtesy of Spacestation