“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?“— Albert Einstein
My son first discovered Blippi when he was two-years old. This colorful character is the brainchild of Stevin John, a YouTuber who successfully deployed and scaled Blippi on the world’s most popular video platform. Blippi rose to stardom and fame, allowing its creator, Stevin John, to cash out and sell the rights to Blippi after billions of views.
However, not many people know the story behind the character of Blippi, or much about Stephen J. Grossman (aka Stevin John), its creator. Way back in 2017, I interviewed Stevin for a Forbes article. This was back when Blippi had a mere one billion views. While the number sounds astronomical to some, it has exponentially exceeded that number many times over.
So here’s the question. How does someone with absolutely no experience or knowledge as a creator, dream up a character that goes viral on YouTube? A character that engages millions of children, generating billions of views. And then build a brand filled with merch like shirts, toys, and dolls with widespread distribution? And then later cash out for a near-nine-figure sum?
The answer boils down to one simple concept — he solved a big problem. The problem became apparent the day he saw his nephew watching low-quality videos on YouTube that were made for kids. And Stevin John knew he could do better. That’s when the idea for Blippi first formed in his mind.
Blippi’s first video about farm tractors went live on YouTube on February 18, 2014. When you look at the early videos, the lighting was off and the production quality was poor. But somehow, one way or another, his consistency in creating high-quality content that kids loved, made Blippi go viral.
Stevin John: Before Blippi
“I have produced, directed, filmed, and/or edited 150+ commercials in Los Angeles, California. Betty White, Hugh Hefner, Dick Van Dyke, Vivica Fox, Shannon Elizabeth, Carlos Slim, Vicente Fox, Joanna Krupa, Crystal the monkey , Cheryl Saban, are a few people of many I have worked with.“— Stevin john
In 2018 I met up with Stevin John in Vegas. I had a chance to tour his warehouse where he first began merchandising Blippi and built out a studio to do some of his videos. He also gifted me one of the first Blippi plush dolls. So, I got a chance to learn more about the person behind Blippi. And all I can say is that he is incredibly humble and down to earth.
What I was really curious about was the person behind the character. How did someone with no past experience in building a YouTube channel or branding, actually go out there and create this brand? The truth is that Blippi had extensive experience in the film industry. Except, he was behind the camera and not in front of it.
Between 2009 and 2015 Stevin was knee-deep in video production. He worked on many commercials and films with notable celebrities like Betty White, Hugh Hefner, Dick Van Dyke and more. During this period he was also a marketing and content consultant, doing things like SEO, Video SEO, PPC, and more.
This gave Stevin John the basis he needed to really learn and understand how to best market Blippi. In fact, he dove heavily into SEO for Blippi, working tirelessly to create videos that were keyword-rich based on popular searches for kids. He created content away from YouTube, linking back to his channel on places like his old blog, and other popular online destinations to help make Blippi more visible.
Blippi: The Character
“I started Blippi in 2014. I was doing some brainstorming about the character when I noticed my 2-year-old nephew watching YouTube videos about tractors. He loved tractors. The videos were just background music and B-roll [supplemental] footage.
It got me thinking . . . why don’t I create a show for kids like my nephew who love things like tractors, construction vehicles, fire trucks, garbage trucks, animals, and so on, while incorporating learning into it? From there I started looking into the science of colors.
I brainstormed about 700 to 800 names for the show and started narrowing it down based on trademark, copyright, and domain availability.”— Stevin John
I still remember the first Blippi video my son watched. It was a video about garbage trucks. In the video, Blippi tours a garbage truck, singing and dancing around the truck as he educates and inspires children from all walks of life. His videos are fun and entertaining to watch. And his choice of outfits, colors, and original music keeps children engaged and watching for long periods.
However, Stevin John was very intentional with all of this. From his choice of colors, to the suspenders and cap he wears, and even the bow tie, were created after many, many iterations. Even in the choice of the name Blippi, John was very intentional. He knew that children speak from the front of their mouths. So he went through roughly 800 iterations for names that would be easy to pronounce.
Once he found a name that sounded good, he searched for things like the availability of the domain name and existing trademarks. He wanted something unique that no one else had. But he also wanted to ensure he had full rights to the name, with no potential for copyright infringement or issues down the road. After all, he was about to pour his heart and soul into making great content under this name.
If you’ve seen Blippi’s videos, he often spells out his name with children. B-L-I-P-P-I. This is also very intentional. He wants the name to stick so that kids remember it. But he also used to have a strong call-to-action where he instructed parents to follow him on social media channels like Instagram and Facebook. These are the hallmarks of a highly skilled marketer.
Learning The YouTube Algorithm
“Analytics: Numbers, Graphs, Charts, etc. all excite me. I bet you can guess now on those previous examples what my marketing methodology behind Blippi has been. YouTube can be a monster to try and ‘figure out’ and everyone is constantly trying to figure out the best way to do things to get more views. Many of us are guilty of this, which is fine.
But through all of the chaos I believe there is a more important thing that YouTubers should be concentrating on. THE CONTENT ITSELF. I believe the content is the most important aspect of YouTube. If your content is horrible it doesn’t matter how much you know about the algorithm, your brand/videos will not be evergreen and they will not last!”— Stevin John
When I met up with Blippi, he was really excited about the YouTube algorithm. This was clearly someone who obsessed over things. Very much like myself. So I felt very much like he’s a kindred spirit. He poured his heart and soul into really understanding why some videos did well and why some didn’t. Stevin John became obsessed with all the metrics provided by YouTube to really understand how to make better videos.
He did all this not just to understand how to game the system. Blippi wanted to know how to make great content. Because, after all, you can know everything there is to know about YouTube’s algorithm, but if your content sucks, you’re dead in the water. So he used his knowledge to track and understand where people fell off and to make changes in the future.
Eventually, he upgraded his lighting, sound and production value. That led to better content, more subscribers and longer viewership. In the end, that’s really what YouTube wants. It wants users to stick around and watch all of your video then watch more. It’s similar to the trajectory that Mr. Beast went on. Mr. Beast learned everything there was to learn about the algorithm so that he could make great content.
When I published that Forbes article about Stevin John, Blippi had just crossed the one-billion views mark. That’s quite a milestone. However, Blippi now does well over 1 billion views per month and climbing. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who started out with zero in-front-of-camera experience or brand-building, ever.
Blippi Acquisition by Moonbug Entertainment
In 2020, Moonstruck acquired Blippi along with one other channel called CoCoMellon for $120 million. It’s safe to say that Stevin John had an enormous payday. And considering that he’s been investing in real estate for some time, he likely offset much of that income from depreciations and expenses related to his real estate holdings.
Plus, he was living in Las Vegas during this period. Meaning, that he didn’t have to pay state tax on that income. Only federal tax. That was a smart move by him. All of the income he received during that period was not taxed on the state level. That saved him countless millions of dollars. Considering that Blippi was earning roughly $25 million per year, that’s a hefty sum he saved.
However, a couple of years after the acquisition, Blippi left Vegas and moved back to Washington State, where grew up. For him, it’s about quality of life at this point. He got married and had a kid. Interestingly enough, he obsessed over how children learned when he was first making Blippi videos. Now, he gets to use all of that knowledge and insight to raise his son.
I’m really proud of what Stevin John accomplished. There’s literally not another person on earth who deserves that success more than he does. If you knew him and met him in person, you’d understand why this was so well-deserved. Where he goes from here, no one knows. But I’m sure the next move will be exponentially larger than the last one.