PILLOW FIGHT DAY CEO KEVIN BRACKEN TAKES NIGHTLIFE GLOBAL: Ready or not, All The World’s a Party
Toronto, Canada & San Francisco, California – When George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, Kevin Bracken was the only person in his group of friends that kept his promise.
“I told them if W got re-elected, I’d move to Canada,” he says. “And no one thought I was serious.”
He moved to Toronto a day after the election.
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While attending college in Toronto, Kevin, who’s now 26 years old, started to cook up such ideas as Urban Capture the Flag (2,000 people participated last year, in an area of 10 city blocks.) His parent company, Newmindspace, is also responsible for International Pillow Fight Day. We’ll get back to Pillow Fighting in a moment.
“My ideology was formed in Toronto,” Kevin says, “but the city doesn’t celebrate entrepreneurs as rock stars.” Kevin re-located to San Francisco in 2012, and he says he’s fitting right in.
IT ALL STARTED WITH BUBBLES
I haven’t spoken to Kevin in a while. Years ago, I was filming a segment for my former late night TV show – Late Night Republic – in Times Square. We had to be done by 6PM (our crew had to go home).
At 6PM sharp, we heard noises of shock from every direction, then, as if by an act of God, millions and millions and millions of bubbles were everywhere. Thousands of people were blowing bubbles.
In the center of Times Square.
The world stopped for five minutes as New Yorkers and tourists alike suddenly became one… looking around, gasping, in wonder.
After about 15 minutes of bubbles, I obnoxiously screamed, “WHO’S IN CHARGE OF THIS?” wanting an interview with the creator of the mayhem.
Everyone kept whispering to me “Some guy named Kevin, but we’ve never met him.”
Kevin became the wizard behind the curtain. I wanted to find him. My staff urged me to stop as I pushed through piles of people, demanding to know who this “Kevin” character was. Fascination turned into obsession.
Kevin Bracken, a skinny white kid just under six feet tall who boasts an easy, if not devilish, smile, showed himself.
“Are you looking for the guy who coordinated this?” he asks me.
I told the stranger Yes.
“Well, hi, that’s me, I’m Kevin.”
After talking to Kevin for five minutes, I insisted we work together.
At lunch the next day (I move fast), I told him I was doing a 40-city/60-day road trip called the LNR Roadtrip 2010. It would be a combination of music events on campuses (J. Cole was headlining, I was producing) and press.
Kevin immediately said YES.
We flew to Kansas a month later to kick off the tour. In between doing newspaper, blog, TV and radio interviews in the mornings, speaking to crowded University classrooms in the afternoon and the music events at night, Kevin put on CARD BOARD TUBE BATTLES to “Defend the Republic.” (it tied in to my show, Late Night Republic.)
Press loved it. Thousands participated. Kevin Bracken was doing what he did best: gathering people in public areas and creating controlled urban chaos for the purpose of fun and community.
Kevin promoted and pulled off an event in each city, some better attended than others, but with an ease and coolness you don’t often see with promoters.
During our Chicago Tube Battle, our most attended event
with 2,000 participants, officers tried to shut it down.
Kevin is used to dealing with cops.
The cops were unsuccessful. We defended the Republic.
“The average image of a promoter is not very good,” Kevin says. “Firefighter is at the top of a list of respectable jobs, promoter is probably seen as more on the level of drug dealer.”
KEVIN BRACKEN JUST LOVES PEOPLE
Each night on the tour, Kevin went out. He found bars and clubs and house parties in the smallest towns in America. I marveled at it (I usually went to bed just as he was going out).
“I really do love people,” Kevin says.
He started Pillow Fight Day in 2007. The first Pillow Fight Day was on Wall Street. Then he moved to Union Square in New York City. Fights expanded to Chicago. Then Boston. Then Rio. What?!
Rio? Yeah… Rio.
“Behind the US, Brazil is our biggest participating country,” Kevin quips. He laughs at the insanity, perhaps self-reflecting on what he’s created.
Within two years, International Pillow Fight Day was established as the first Saturday of each April and Kevin Bracken was being solicited by press around the globe for comment.
Almost one million people have been touched by Kevin Bracken — even if they don’t know it.
Pillow Fight Day. 2010 NYC. 5,000 participants.
“We’ve always wanted to make the world a more social place,” Kevin says, from the outpost of old Sacramento, where he’s paused his Halloween shopping to chat with me. Halloween, ironically, will also be soft launch day for Bracken’s newest venture: SPEAKEASY.
KEVIN BRACKEN TAKES OVER NIGHTLIFE… AND BEYOND.
A few months ago I got a call from Kevin. He asked me if I knew of investors for his new company. Speakeasy, the San Francisco-upstart, is the airBnB.com of nightlife, Kevin told me.
Sight unseen, I introduced him to Tim Ferriss, two-time best-selling author, angel investor and a friend of mine. Tim didn’t invest, but he tweeted about Speakeasy instead. The next day Kevin Bracken got a phone call and a lead investor by one of Tim’s followers.
“We have enough money to last us for twelve months,” Bracken told me. “It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that we’ll need more money to get to market quicker, though.”
WHAT SPEAKEASY DOES
Kevin says that innately, people are willing to open themselves up to other interesting people, even if it were in their houses or lofts. Especially if they could make money for doing it.
“You wouldn’t rent your house to any asshole on the Internet, but AirBnb.com makes it OK to do so,” Kevin says.
“Most people will tell you they don’t like bars and nightclubs if they aren’t wasted,” Bracken admits. ”We got traction with International Pillow Fight Day by making a super simple tool where people around the world could use it to coordinate Pillow Fight Day in their city.”
“If we make it a great tool to export even more culture, then we thought we could make it a hit around the world,” Kevin explains.
So, he and his team are building tools that use collaborative consumption to revolutionize the entertainment verticle. Introducing: www.GetSpeakeasy.com.
“Every promoter that puts on Halloween parties needs a product to promote the events,” Kevin says. “We needed a one-click solution. So we created it.”
A SPIRITUAL SIDE TO THE NIGHTLIFE DISRUPTER
As Kevin talks, he reveals something most interesting about his vision for the world as his urban playground. This part of the chat thrills me.
“Every conception of heaven in every religion is city of God,” Kevin says. “That’s because it is only through other people do we achieve greatness.”
Kevin continues, “If we can create cities around the world in this very image, then we can have a most excellent life on earth.”
He says he expects to cause a moral panic, making parties, booze and other nightlife available to communities in suppressed countries that still have a Puritanical mindset.
“I assume that sometime in the near future, that some reporter will interview me and say What do you have to say for yourself?”
“My response will be easy: You’re welcome.”