• A clean start: Collins was dressed up like OxiClean ad man Billy Mays when he and Young met at a Halloween party in 2010. Young, who enjoys being intentionally obscure, was dressed as Jaguar Paw from Apocalypto.
• For the record: Young and Collins have broken seven Guinness world records at their events, including largest convention (Minefaire) for a single video game and largest Lego mosaic of a Lego mini-figure.
When Gabe Young told his 7-year-old son he’d quit his job at Johnson & Johnson in 2015 to produce events for kids, his son sat him down to have a little chat.
“He said, ‘You’re leaving to do these convention things, but, like, you were making medicine, you were doing something that was pretty important,’” Young recalled.
Even though Young was managing projects and not making pills, he understood what his son was saying: How could he give up making a difference for making fun?
What Young and his business partner, Chad Collins, discovered was that making fun does make a difference. Often in a big way.
“Kids have come to our events as the last thing to do before they go into hospice,” Young said. “They’ve chosen something we’ve made up in our brains instead of going to Disney World or the Super Bowl.”
For kids who might be introverted or not have many friends, attending a convention with children of similar interests can sometimes make the world seem less lonely.
At one of their Minefaire events, for fans of the Minecraft video game, Collins said he once overheard a girl tell her mother: “These are my people.”
Like Barnum & Bailey before them, Collins and Young are in the business of experiences, where the greatest return on a customer’s investment isn’t money. It’s memories.
“We’re competing against Disney on Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters, the movies, and baseball games,” Collins said. “The difference is, all those other things are, ‘Come sit and watch,’ and we’re, ‘Come experience this together as a family.’”
Co-owners of Open World Events in Warminster, Collins, 41, and Young, 45, produce conventions like Minefaire and Brick Fest Live!, an event for Lego fans. Both are billed as the largest of their kind in the United States based on crowd size, revenue, and tour dates, Young said. This year, they held six Brick Fest Live! and 14 Minefaire shows, including one in Los Angeles that drew nearly 18,000 people.
While Young and Collins' shows tour the country, their heart remains in Philly. Plastered in large letters on their office wall underneath a Super Bowl LII Champions logo is a quote from Eagles head coach Doug Pederson: “An individual can make a difference but a team makes a miracle.”
Now these dads who lead a team of 25 are ready to tackle their next experience: Comic Con for Kids, which will debut in October 2019 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks. Think less scantily clad women, more fully clad superheroes; less movie stars signing autographs and more YouTube gamers posing for selfies; less talking and more hands-on exhibits and video games.
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“What we’ve learned is that kids are more interested in a YouTuber racing another YouTuber eating Fruit by the Foot than they are learning the meaning of life,” Young said. “They come to be entertained.”
On the surface, Collins and Young seem to be polar opposites. Young, a father of four who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Northeast Philly, is so cut and energetic, it’s like he’s constantly on the brink of lifting something over his head in celebration — possibly the nearest human being.
Collins, a Northeast Philly native with two kids, is more subdued — but the former Lockheed Martin engineer still dreams of becoming a play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball. It was the success of a Lego YouTube channel Collins started with his daughter in 2012 that led him to quit his career and create Brick Fest Live! in 2014.
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What Young and Collins have in common is an understanding — and, perhaps more important, a complete lack of judgment — when it comes to the entertainment-consumption habits of today’s YouTube generation. They get why kids are watching other kids play video games or open toys on YouTube. For fun. And they want other parents to get it, too.
“This is the first time a lot of these kids are dragging their parents by the hand, saying, ‘Let me show you something now,'" Young said.
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