Business

Canadian entrepreneurs The Young Astronauts shine bright among stars of new media game

With offices in Toronto and Los Angeles and clients like Ariana Grande and Nike, a media production company called The Young Astronauts has been on a rocket ship ride to the stars.

Founders turned down a 'very enticing' buyout offer

Tyler Savery and Nev Todorovic founded their media production company The Young Astronauts during their second year of university. (CBC)

On orientation day at Ryerson University back in 2006, new students Nev Todorovic and Tyler Savery just happened to sit beside each other.

They struck up a conversation, and within days, a friendship. When they collaborated on some assignments in their Radio and Television Arts program, they quickly realized they had creative chemistry.

By 2008, their second year at school, they'd started a company together, inspired by people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Napster's Sean Parker.

"I think we were probably always pretty ambitious kids," says Todorovic, who isn't yet 30 years old.

"You see these young people sometimes still in school, sometimes dropped out of school, and they're making these huge companies or selling them," explains Savery. "And you think to yourself — why not us?"

Now with offices in Toronto and Los Angeles, the media production company they named The Young Astronauts has indeed been on a rocket ship ride to the stars. Clients include pop idols Ariana Grande and Drake, along with international brands such as Nike and Sandals Resorts. (The company has also done branding work for CBC's Schitt's Creek.)

"When you're a kid you either want to be a firefighter or a doctor or an astronaut," says Todorovic, sporting an orange baseball cap over her dark hair, and a shiny jacket that looks like it could be NASA issue. "We aligned ourselves with people that fall into the astronaut category, people who want to explore the unknown and do things that are exciting."

Small staff — big hits  

But trying to nail down exactly what exciting things the company does is trickier than you might imagine.

The "services" section of the company's website includes four categories: strategy, interactive, creative and media. Under those headings are over 30 different types of services, including web applications, e-commerce, logo design, live event streaming, and digital strategy. The team also produces music videos, games, commercials and short films.

"We consider ourselves an interactive media production company," says Savery, "Basically meaning that we do everything."

The Young Astronauts came up with the idea for a 'meme generator', to promote Drake's 2016 album "Views". Fans could download a tiny image of Drake and place it into their own photos. (The Young Astronauts)

With fewer than 20 employees on staff, the company has already punched far above its weight in pop culture.

The company says its videos on YouTube have a combined one billion views. The "meme generator" they produced for Drake — which allowed fans to add an image of the artist to their own pictures — was a hit. It's been viewed 30 million times and attracted two million submissions, according to Savery.

But in the beginning The Young Astronauts had a problem with lift-off.

Neither of the partners was accepted to Ryerson when they first applied. Savery spent a year volunteering at Rogers, trying to improve his chance of success with a second attempt. Todorovich got a lucky break when the school discovered her basketball talent and paved the way for her entry to the program. 

Todorovic was in an audio course Ryerson professor Lori Beckstead taught.

"She stood out in the first year lecture hall," Beckstead says with a smile. "There were 180 students there and she often came up to me after class and said 'that was so interesting'. She was enthusiastic about everything."

To sell or not to sell?

Last year, Todorovic and Savery were approached by a major movie studio with an offer to buy the company.

Their agent, David Unger of Three Six Zero Entertainment, says it's because "Hollywood is always about what's next."

"And The Young Astronauts embody what's next," he tells CBC News from his L.A. office. "They are a group of millennials, they are of the culture, they understand the culture. They are epitome of what we all are seeking."

The Young Astronauts founder Nev Todorovic directed the video for Ariana Grande's hit song "Problem" in 2014. It won an MTV Video Music Award in the category of Best Pop Video. (Republic Records)

"It was very enticing," says Savery. "We were like 'OK this would make all of our problems go away and life would be awesome', but we let it sink in and realized now wasn't the time for this."  

Todorovic agrees. "It was really hard to say no, but I'm glad that we did because I think that over the next five years we're going to make this company worth a lot more."

The Young Astronauts is now adding yet another service to its portfolio by offering creative management to photographers, videographers and YouTube performers. With characteristic confidence, the founders say they believe it will be another hit.

"So far it's really successful," says Todorovic. "And I think we're going to be making our mark in that world very, very soon."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story included details regarding The Young Astronauts' agreement with a movie studio. This has since been removed at the founders' request.
    Apr 25, 2017 11:39 AM ET

About the Author

Dianne Buckner has reported on entrepreneurs for two decades. She hosts Dragons' Den on CBC Television and is part of the business news team at CBC News Network.