*This article was originally published by Kolby Solinsky on Black Press’s B.C. network in March, 2014…
“It’s pretty simple, man. We like to make videos, we like to make clothes, and we like to party.” – Alexey Lyakh, co-founder of High on Life and SundayFundayz
I first met SundayFundayz last May. I didn’t really meet them, though. I was a viewer and they had a video. But the best YouTubers make you feel like you know them the minute they come on screen. And SundayFundayz has that ability.
“We always want to push people to experience things they’re not used to,” says Ryker Gamble, a co-founder and MFCEO of High on Life, and a prominent personality on the SundayFundayz YouTube channel.
“Travelling changes people.”
That day in May, I was planning a trip to Corfu, Greece and to the island’s infamous party hostel, The Pink Palace. I would be there in a couple of months and I wanted to check it out on YouTube, to see what the big deal was.
Right away, I found SundayFundayz, or High on Life – whichever of their logos I saw first – and within 15 minutes, I had watched three of their videos. They were doing backflips into grottos, having hot sauce competitions, playing Ouzo Cup volleyball, and riding the wheels off ATVs.
I was excited for The Pink Palace, sure, but I was upset, too. I was upset that I wasn’t there the year before, when SundayFundayz was there.
I wasn’t looking for change, but I was certainly looking for something. And what I found was a frat-like, Canadian foursome of Anthony Bourdains – a travel show that was as much about the journey as it was the destination, and everything in between.
“Travelling really opens you up,” says Alexey Lyakh, 25, another MFCEO and co-founder. “There’s a couple elements we want to convey with (our) brand. It’s about travelling, it’s about not being stuck in that grind.”
“The 9-to-5,” says Gamble, “or doing something that isn’t fulfilling you.”
I threw away an afternoon, scrolling through everything else they had posted – trips through Los Angeles and Las Vegas, journeys through Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, and well-edited wanderlusts through Asia – and I had one thought…
These guys know what they’re doing and they’re having a blast. Why aren’t I doing the same thing?
“We make it up as we go, to be honest,” says Lyakh. “We know what direction we want to go in, but as you make something, you figure it out.”
SundayFundayz is the group’s YouTube channel, and the group is a four-man party troupe of Vancouver kids Lyakh, Ryker Gamble, Parker Heuser, and Max Gatfield.
“It was just four of us making these ridiculous videos,” says Gamble, of the group’s travel-filled 2012. “We were the four carefree guys that are just going out and experiencing the world to the fullest.
“A lot of what we did is not opening up the Frommer’s, reading which place we should go to. We just showed up and asked people.”
High on Life is the clothing company. It came after YouTube, but the attitude is consistent with their videos – carefree, fun-loving, and dedicated to the road less travelled.
“We just always knew, we wanted to make clothes, and we wanted to make videos,” says Lyakh.
That two-pronged wish list has served them well.
SundayFundayz’s YouTube channel has grown to over 58,000 subscribers. High on Life has been around for a year and now makes and sells 350 variations – the company has a winter line, a summer line, tank tops, hats, sunglasses, shorts, and sweaters. It’s all done now through a fulfillment house in Michigan and apparel ideas are born in locales as far away as Peru and Thailand.
“It’s become international,” says Lyakh. “We travel a lot, we see stuff we don’t see here. I’ll think,That’s sweet. I want this. I bet other people want it, too.”
The four of them live together in Vancouver, in a penthouse apartment. Ryker, Alexey, and Parker started as high school friends, filming fun stuff and building their on-camera personas with a series of videos titled “Dumbass” – a twist on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass.
They ended up making 40 videos in high school, selling them for $5 a pop or building them for class projects.
“We definitely didn’t take it seriously,” says Gamble, “But it was fun, so we kept doing it.”
Within a few years, they were working in their own respective fields – Alexey in marketing, Ryker as a DJ, and Parker as a bartender.
But the 9-to-5 grind was… well, it was a 9-to-5 grind.
“I just wanted to make videos with my friends again,” says Lyakh, who’s from Richmond, same as Heuser. “I was at work at my desk all day. I would come to work, do my work, a bunch of YouTube-wide stuff.”
They started uploading their videos, this time to YouTube and this time with a new set.
One of them was the High on Life dance – titled “How to Dance When You’re High on Life” – and it went viral… eventually.
After a month and a half, the video hadn’t done much. But then it hit the message boards, stuff like eBaum’s World and Reddit. It was re-uploaded by other users on YouTube, even by the mega-popular Ray William Johnson.
As of now, the video has over 3,000,000 views on the SundayFundayz channel, and Lyakh says it probably has closer to 10 million total with everywhere else it’s been posted.
“That was a complete fluke,” Lyakh says of the video’s virality. “But after that, I thought, ‘There’s something here. Let’s keep going with it.'”
In January, 2012, they quit their jobs and they went travelling.
“The goal was to go to Australia,” says Gamble, “the three of us – start a new life in Oz, make crazy videos there, work a bit, just know how to surf.
“Long story short, we never made it to Oz.”
Instead, they started their trip in India, where they were invited to a wedding because the wedding party saw and loved their ‘High on Life’ dance. They were in India for a month, then moving onto Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Max Gatfield joined up with them. After four months, Contiki contacted them and brought them aboard, so to speak.
“They loved us, loved our social media presence,” said Gamble, noting that their Twitter andInstagram followers had ballooned, and their YouTube subscribers had hit 7,000, a large number for them back in 2012.
“At this time, what Alexey had started building was now gaining a lot of attention,” says Gamble. “We had been making these crazy travel videos, just the shenanigans that we got into.”
Contiki took SundayFundayz on a press trip to Europe, starting in Ukraine – where Lyakh has family – and moving west, ending up in the Greek Islands – ahem, The Pink Palace – and then Italy.
That was seven months after they started.
“At this point, we were all completely broke,” said Gamble.
“So we went home,” said Lyakh.
At that point – “absolutely so poor,” says Gamble – Lyakh and Heuser moved back home with their parents in Richmond. Gamble was finally off to Australia, and Gatfield moved to Calgary, where his family was.
Lyakh spent the next four months editing everything from their trip, winding up with 15 travel episodes by November, 2012. They were all posted to YouTube, on the SundayFundayz channel, and the foursome decided to meet up again, this time living together in their penthouse in Vancouver.
It was then that the clothing business came together, built off sketches and samples Lyakh and the others had made in Thailand.
By February, 2013, High on Life’s clothing wing had a website and, from there, they began to grow it out.
“There were a lot of growing pains,” says Lyakh, “having no idea how to run that business.”
The growing pains have been (pun intended) ironed out, they say. High on Life has a fulfillment house that processes all their orders and deals with customer’s orders.
“All we have to do is customer service,” says Lyakh. “It’s a really well-ironed machine now.”
Their designs are now available for every season and – essentially – every idea, with the clothes’ attitude revolving around the same spirit of SundayFundayz.
(Instead of the standard clothing tags that say “100% Cotton”, High on Life’s products say “100% Awesome” followed by “Inspired by SundayFundayz, High on Life is the attitude to embrace all of life’s opportunities with a positive outlook and energy”.)
At the same time as their clothing business came together – in February, 2013 – the company’s entertainment division was also created, thanks to Gamble’s 25th birthday party, which the boys held at Ceili’s on Granville Street.
“The party was insane,” says Gamble. “The bar made an extra $10,000 that night.”
They were asked to throw another party, this time at Joe’s Apartment. That one was also “insane,” says Gamble, who was right at home with this potentially new appendage to their brand.
“I knew the promotional game,” he says. “I knew how to market in the nightlife industry.”
After Joe’s Apartment, they got invited to throw another one, this time at Venue.
“As a DJ, that’s starting to get to the next level of pubs and clubs in the downtown vicinity,” says Gamble. “We had this entertainment section that was starting to formulate.”
Now, High on Life Entertainment Inc. – the entire ship with the clothes, video, and party-throwing was incorporated in March, 2013 – is working with Blueprint Events.
Every Friday, High on Life throws a party at Venue in Vancouver. They do another night at Celebrities every month, all themed events.
“Our nights are more about production, more than just a regular night,” Lyakh says. “We want to put on a show, get a live performance, bring in a cool DJ, and make a big mess.”
“You walk into so many clubs and it’s just a DJ and a dance floor,” adds Gamble. “We wanted to bring the place to life so it’s everything in between.”
The boys say their events are always centred around midnight, when “something crazy” is bound to happen.
“Our events are a manifestation of the High on Life brand,” says Gamble.
“Interesting things are always mandatory.”
On February 18th, Parker Heuser ran from the Olympic Cauldron all the way to Celebrities on Granville, carrying a lit torch and dressed head-to-tie in a Vancouver 2010 uniform. Heuser ran straight into the party for what High on Life promoted as a ‘Lighting of the Torch’.
On Valentine’s Day, for their entertainment company’s grand opening, the group threw Vancouver’s biggest-ever pillow fight.
At first glance, the entertainment and clothing ventures are added divisions of what could be a growing, Vancouver-based company.
But it’s more than that.
High on Life is the idea, SundayFundayz is the attitude – that West Coast ideal that Sundays are king, but you should work hard and play hard if you also want to go big and go home.
The company’s slogan is ‘If You Can, You Should’.
“That doesn’t mean, if you can do heroin, do heroin,” says Gamble. “It means, if there’s something in the world that you want, just go and figure out how to get it.”
And the boys have taken their chances, too, turning their passion into travels and both into a dream career.
“It’s pretty simple, man,” says Lyakh. “We like to make videos, we like to make clothes, and we like to party.
“Just on a grown-up level.”
In 2014, they plan to take their marketing efforts to a whole new level, and that starts with how it all began.
“2014 is the year for YouTube for us,” says Gamble. “We’re at 50,000 subscribers. We want to take that to 500,000 this year.
“We know the stepping stones that make the big differences… We have a good idea of which videos are gonna go viral.”
That means fewer travel sagas and more of what they’ve been doing recently, from filming Parker’s Olympic torch run to joining strangers for lunch somewhere in Vancouver.
Posted a week ago, their video titled “Pepper Spray – Ghost Chili – Death Sauce” already has over 70,400 views. Their video “People are Honest” has over 22,200 views and was published two weeks ago.
They also had the chance to meet up with established, all-star YouTubers at two recent conferences: VidCon in Anaheim, California, and then a Contiki press trip to Thailand which was reserved for Canadian YouTubers.
Before VidCon, the SunddayFundayz crew reached out to Roman Atwood, a YouTube star with over 3,175,000 subscribers. Atwood introduced them to other established online stars like Vitaly, Furious Pete, and Simple Pickup.
“They do this for a living and they’re making big money,” says Gamble. “So that was really neat.”
“It’s good for us to step into that world,” adds Lyakh. “They kill it at YouTube… but we also had stuff to share with them.”
Instead of waiting for endorsement deals to roll in with a million subscribers, High on Life has already created their own brands and their own products, like their clothing line and their entertainment company.
Each one is synergized over the rest, and that model is much different from how most YouTube empires start out.
“Most YouTubers, they just focus on YouTube,” Gamble says. “And then a third party comes in and says, ‘Hey, I’ll make you a shirt.’
“We created our own. Same with entertainment.”
High on Life has also been able to work with Red Bull, getting tickets to the company’s homemade flying machine competition Flugtag.
“They’re a great company to model,” says Gamble. “Their marketing’s exceptional. It’s more than just an energy drink.
“Companies strive to have the marketing that we have… but our company is marketing.
“All we make is media.”
So, 2014 is their year for YouTube.
It’s also their second full year in operation, at least with the company’s current build.
And their plan of attack takes its cue from the same YOLO-like slogan their brands are promoting and their leaders live by – if you can, you should.
“What we’ve been doing this year is re-investing,” says Lyakh. “We keep putting everything we get right back into it.
“We try and re-invest as much as we can.”
“Every single penny,” adds Gamble.
Good. Because I’m still watching.
Photos of the crew, starting with Alexey Lyakh:
Bears in America: