Entrepreneur, traveler, public speaker
Kevin Bracken
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Events Personal

To Be a Jedi Hustler

blog post

“So do you just like, fly around the country, setting up parties?”

I had never really considered it that way, but a bemused attendee of one of my events harangued me about what exactly I “did” as a person. Tim Ferriss talks about the difficulty of answering this question in The Four Hour Workweek:

I never enjoyed answering this cocktail question because it reflects an epidemic I was long part of: job descriptions as self-descriptions. If someone asks me now and is anything but absolutely sincere, I explain my lifestyle of mysterious means simply. “I’m a drug dealer.”

 A friend of mine once had a business card that listed his occupation as “Jedi Hustler,” who had a similar problem. Personally, the thing that is keeping me busiest right now is distributing lightsabers.


For the last 8 years, Newmindspace has been organizing gigantic lightsaber battles. Our first one (above) was a complete disaster. We spray painted 1600 cardboard tubes with dayglo paint and attempted to shine blacklight cannons on them to make them glow. To our chagrin, 4000 people came to the front of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto for the event. People were trampled, the tubes were ripped to shreds in minutes, and many angry parents told us how far they had driven their disappointed child. We were devastated, and knew there had to be a better way.

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Since then we have been using a reservation system: people reserve their lightsabers in advance, show up at a truck on the night of the event, say their name, and they get their lightsaber. The event has gotten more popular over time, as being a Jedi (or Sith) seems to check a box on people’s list of hero-fantasies (including mine!) but the upcoming release of The Force Awakens has generated explosive interest that even our most optimistic crystal ball-gazing couldn’t have predicted.

One month ago, we announced a lightsaber battle in San Francisco. My friend Flynn, founder of Lightsaber Academy and NY Jedi, told me he’d been planning Jedi-related events in 5 cities for the Episode VII premiere, and urged me to expand the event plans. Slowly but surely, our one lightsaber battle in San Francisco has now become four lightsaber battles in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle, all on the weekend of December 18th & 19th. We are being officially invigilated by Guinness for the world record of “World’s Largest Lightsaber Battle” (currently 7,000 sabers), a record we will break with ease: we currently have 8,100 lightsabers – depending on the traction in Seattle we may soon have 10,100.

So I suppose what that attendee asked many years ago has become true, at least for this month, as Lori, Elliot, Marie, Lucien and I will be flying around the country, setting up parties for Star Wars fans to enjoy.

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Why I’m Thrilled to be Doing the Same Thing After Ten Years


Earlier this year, Newmindspace turned 10. That means for the last ten years, I have been organizing massive pillow fights, urban games like Capture the Flag, bubble blowing events, lightsaber battles, subway parties, parades, and all kind of parties. Ten years of essentially doing the same thing: taking a favorite childhood activity, putting it on concrete and inviting thousands of people. We have seen incredible things, orchestrated surreal happenings, been featured in press the world over, won a trip to Switzerland, put on events for city governments, and even been investigated by several police forces.

After ten years, people occasionally ask, “Isn’t it getting a little old?” I’ve often asked myself, “Aren’t I getting a little old?” The press has largely faded; we get a couple of hits here and there, but in the heyday of our relevance we were getting daily phone calls from journalists just wanting to ask us where we ate breakfast; we were de facto local Toronto celebrities. However, as my friend Trevor Coleman once said, “‘Crazy kids do crazy thing’ is a story. ‘Crazy kids keep doing crazy thing’ is not a story.”

However, if the press has faded, our community doesn’t seem to have noticed. In 2015, we had our three largest events ever. The NYC pillow fight saw 6,000 people come out this year, and we collected a record 1,500 pillows for charity. The bubble battle in Union Square saw 4,000 people, the largest ever turnout. And this year we distributed 1,700 lightsabers at the NYC lightsaber battle, positively dwarfing last year’s 500. We are about to launch an ambitious multi-city tour in California where we expect to distribute a positively massive 8,100 lightsabers on Star Wars Episode VII opening weekend.

Straying from the path


I was not always convinced this is the path I should be on; no, many times I have attempted to reinvent myself, believing that finding one’s purpose is like an onion and that only by peeling back the layers could I truly discover it. In 2011, I thought becoming a Manhattan ad guy, aka a “real job” would help me grow up a little. Just one year later, I thought perhaps becoming a San Francisco startup guy was my path. During this time, we definitely culled the herd. We slimmed down to just three major events per year: pillow fights, bubble battles, and lightsabers.

The thing about running a startup, especially in an industry you don’t truly feel passionate about (in my case with Gymsurfing, fitness), is that it can be a very soulless grind. You have to put on an air of unshakeable confidence, sometimes lying to yourself and others, with an unflappable certitude that you will, against the overwhelming odds of failure, be special and succeed. For years I toiled on something that I never fully loved, but I still worked hard on every single day. Halfway through, the first time we ran out of money, I developed an anxiety disorder that saw me in the hospital more than once, the lingering effects of which I only fully rid myself of earlier this year. However, against all odds, we did succeed; as Jen Lyon once said, “Being relentless is an art form.”

Finding Your Purpose


Tony Hsieh‘s Pleasure-Passion-Purpose hierarchy (above) made me believe that purpose was some far-off thing, and honestly, who finds their purpose at 18? I stepped back from doing this thing that had become a movement, that made people constantly say, “I love what you guys are doing, keep it up!”, events that changed people’s lives, places where people met their spouses even.

I honestly believed that if the demand was so great, a new supply would emerge. Some people suggested training a “replacement,” but I always believed that the right kind of replacement would start their own thing. With a few notable exceptions, like the Improv Everywhere-like Improv in Toronto, no group truly sprung up to take the place of Newmindspace in New York or Toronto. This brings me to a passage I read this morning on Tim Ferriss’ blog:

Are you doing what you’re uniquely capable of, what you feel placed here on earth to do? Can you be replaced?

Just like Tim Ferriss realized that his being a startup investor probably won’t change the world, I also realize that if I stop making iPhone software companies, exactly zero tears will be shed because there are literally thousands of dudes lined up behind me to do exactly the same thing. However, putting on events that bring thousands out to have fun in public is something I’m uniquely capable of, and I do feel like I was placed here on earth to do it.

Moving Forward

Do not think for a second that my non-event pursuits are tinged with even a moment of regret; to have a life that one finds so satisfying is something for which I am deeply grateful. Everything I have learned, and every decision I have made up until this moment has led me to this life for which I can imagine no greater alternative. But now that I have really internalized what it means to work on something you are passionate about, and what a privilege it is to feel a sense of purpose, it’s time to figure out how the hell we’re going to hand out eight thousand lightsabers next month.

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Entrepreneurship Personal

On the Occasion of my 29th Birthday

Today I am turning 29. Here in Canada it is almost Thanksgiving, so I thought I would take a moment to give thanks for the incredible year that was my 28th.


I am incredibly blessed to have shared a fourth year with my wife and the love of my life, Marie. This summer we bought our first RV, painted it like a giant zebra and had an incredible road trip from California to Burning Man to Idaho and back. Marie is my favorite travel partner in the whole world and before the year is over, we still have Dubai, Thailand, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco to hit up :) We are now in the planning stages of our wedding celebration and we are having the dress made in Thailand.

Work and Play

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Earlier this year, the company I co-founded, Gymsurfing, was acquired by fitmob. A few months later, fitmob was acquired by ClassPass, thus bringing to an amazing conclusion a journey I began in 2012, with all the insane ups and downs in between. There were times we were certain of failure, and those surprising moments where we turned it all around. I owe our amazing team, especially Dustin, a huge debt of gratitude for this.

Newmindspace also continues to see its biggest numbers yet, 10 years after we started this crazy mission of turning the city into a giant playground. This year we had our biggest pillow fight ever (and donated the most amount of pillows to homeless shelters ever!) our biggest bubble battle, and our biggest lightsaber battle, ever!

Marie and I are planning a new small business that we couldn’t be more excited for. I’ll keep the details scarce for now, but think “Palm Springs by the Bay.”


I also consider myself incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the most amazing bunch of friends and family I could ask for in New York, Toronto, and San Francisco. Every night out is an adventure, every party is next level, and every moment is so surprisingly good. The standard by which I measure my life: If the afterlife were real, and I got to look back at each day I’ve lived, would I consider it an excellent life? The answer, for my 28th year, is “absolutely” – and the reason is the people who make up this crazy tri-coastal life of mine. Thank you, and for you, my friends, I am eternally grateful.

I will not take this moment to offer any trite advice, although if you are interested in stories of life hacking, travel and entrepreneurship, watch this space: I hope to blog more often. And if you really do want some trite advice, do yourself a huge favor and read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. No book has taught me more about how to think and how to live in order to maximize my personal happiness.

I’ve gotten here partly by working hard, partly by working smart, and in a huge way, a lot of dumb luck. 29, here I come.

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Remember the time Burning Man let Tesla advertise under the Man?

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Paul Addis sets the man on fire early Tuesday morning during a lunar eclipse in 2007 – Photo by Tristan Savatier

Beyond the usual kvetching about Burning Man being “better last year,” or the timeless tale of being taken over by elites, it seems like there is actually a growing fear that Burning Man is, once and for all, being irreparably infiltrated by Silicon Valley. The latest to jump on the pile is person whom I admire a great deal, Breaking Open the Head author Daniel Pinchbeck, who wrote this post about why he is skipping Burning Man. This has particular significance to me as it was his book that cemented my desire to go to Burning Man; this year will be my tenth.

The Time Burning Man Allowed Tesla to Advertise for One Day  

The concerns mostly seem to focus on Silicon Valley infiltrating Burning Man and “ruining” it from the outside, but let’s rewind to 2007 when Burning Man almost allowed itself to be “ruined” by Silicon Valley from the inside, until it was ironically saved by an arsonist vandal who later committed suicide. The theme of 2007 was The Green Man, a response to what a decent faction of Burners said was unconscionable consumption and a huge carbon footprint for an event with radical roots.

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To make The Green Man theme not completely hollow, Burning Man came up with a novel idea to finally allow brands in: the Green Man pavilion would be a “World’s Fair” type demonstration of world-changing technology. From the Burning Man website:

The Burning Man stood atop a structure that resembled green mountain peaks. Nestled at its base was the Green Man Pavilion, 30,000 square feet of shaded exhibition space for the display of interactive artistic, scientific and educational models, a trade show-type display of emerging technologies. This pavilion was surrounded by the Mangrove, made from simulated trees fashioned from recycled industrial materials.

Beneath the pavilion were a number of green technologies, some from very large brands; including a prototype of the now-famous Tesla Roadster. Elon Musk is a well-known burner and I can understand why this seemed like a good idea at the time; on the website, the project’s “artist” was listed as Aaron Platshon, a former Tesla product manager.

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The one condition these brands had to agree to was that they would strip the logos from their products, and simply provide them as “white labeled” objects, much as the closer you are to Center Camp, the less you will see corporate logos on rental vehicles like Budget trucks and U-Hauls. The effect was the creation of a de facto “corporate pavilion” of Burning Man-approved companies allowed to display directly under what is supposed to be the very symbol of decommodification. Even the loosest reading of the Ten Principles makes this decision a head scratcher.

The Corporate Pavilion Goes Down in Flames

Burning Man faced a tremendous amount of criticism that year, both from within the community and without, including a scathing Business 2.0 article that made it sound like Larry Harvey himself had orchestrated Burning Man’s big cashing-out. People screamed on ePlaya, Tribe and elsewhere that Burning Man had finally jumped the shark, sold out, and that they were livid.

That year, the gate opened at midnight on Monday. Monday afternoon was extremely dusty, with a several hours-long whiteout that deterred most people from going to the corporate pavilion. Monday night was clear, but the dust storm had delayed many people’s camp setup, so very few people were outside their camps. Around 2 AM, a total lunar eclipse overtook the moon. While everybody was looking at the moon, Paul Addis climbed the man and set it on fire with a blowtorch. An amplified voice at Opulent Temple, the only sound camp that was up and running, shouted, “Oh my god, the man’s on fire!”

Sure enough, the man was on fire. Personally I thought this was awesome – it was the chaos that older burners always lamented the loss of, the unpredictability, the makings of  a Cacaphony Society prank. Other people were not amused.

Conspiracy Theories 

Was the 2007 Early Burn an inside job? Obviously not, but it had the makings of a good conspiracy theory. Did Larry Harvey want to deflect the criticism of the corporate pavilion? Did he want people to focus on the enemy without instead of the enemy within, like George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden? Was Paul Addis just a fall guy to preserve the empire? While these are all absurd ideas, one fact is extremely lucky for Burning Man: After the Early Burn, literally nobody ever mentioned the corporate pavilion ever again. The people who actually saw it must number a few hundred at most, many of whom have probably stopped going to Burning Man.

A Lesson for Today

So before you start shaking your fist at the cloud and saying, “Damn Silicon Valley bros! Stop infiltrating our event!” don’t forget “your event” once invited Silicon Valley in all by itself, and that nothing is new under the sun.

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The Time Adam Vaughan Pressured Me To Change a Torontoist Post

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In September of 2007, Toronto’s most interesting temporary nightclub, CiRCA, was about to open. Exiled New York City club king Peter Gatien of Party Monster fame granted me an interview about the entertainment facility; I was thrilled. The club had faced years of delays, mostly regulatory, led by an alliance between the AGCO and Adam Vaughan. Vaughan was the local councillor in the ward, and one of his raison d’êtres was putting a cap on the number of nightclubs in Toronto’s Entertainment District, something about which we frequently sparred in public forums.

I faithfully transcribed my interview with Peter Gatien in the Torontoist post and I was very happy with it. It gave a glimpse into an amazing project many people thought was going to be just another mega-club on Richmond Street, when it was so much more. Not everybody was happy with the post, though.

A day after I posted it, my phone rang. It was Adam Vaughan and he was pissed. Apoplectic even. His objection was the following line in the post, specifically the second clause:

My guess is it’s probably some special interest like real estate developers, my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area. -Peter Gatien

He yelled at me for roughly twenty minutes, saying the post was libelous. I objected, saying I had only transcribed another person’s words, and he said I knew nothing of the laws of Canada because I was a “foreigner.” He said that Torontoist could be sued, I could be sued, and I should know better than to insinuate that he took money from developers and that they were affecting his judgment on the local nightlife issue. He brought up his decades-long journalism credentials, as well as his campaign promise not to accept developer money. He was furious.

What I did next was definitely the wrong move: I changed the post without asking my editor David Topping. Adam had given 20 year-old me a good scare, and he convinced me that I was somehow guilty of libel. I removed the line that says, “my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area,” and replaced it with a line I had edited out for brevity: “To the condo developers, this area is still pretty cheap.”

For the record, I know Adam Vaughan never accepted developer money for his campaigns. He made a point of this and published a list of his contributors; no developers were on the list.

This story is one of three times Adam and I publicly faced off; the other notable one was when he called me “a tough little 20 year-old” for challenging his infamous “mess of drugs and graffiti” video that he eventually pulled from his first campaign website.

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The UP Express is Pretty Bad

Andreas Souvaliotis had a piece on Huffington Post today called I Rode Toronto’s New Airport Express Train and It Was Awful, which reminds me: so did I, and it was also awful. I insisted to my wife that we try out this new technological wonder, as it runs by our apartment every 15 minutes, despite her protests. I bought both of our tickets (total: $44) when she reluctantly agreed.

Sure enough, I would be regretting my decision, as our estimated 20-minute ride to Bloor GO station (roughly Bloor & Dundas) ended up taking over an hour as we sat behind a random red light three minutes east of the airport for about 50 minutes, despite no other train traffic crossing our path.

Luckily I live-tweeted and recorded the whole thing with a stopwatch (64 minutes to Bloor station!) and Global News (video above) ended up doing an on-camera interview an hour after I got home. A Metrolinx spokesperson said it was a signal malfunction, and I understand these things happen. I believe that the trains are usually on time. However, my feeling is this: To charge $27 for this train is insane. If you split an Uber between two people it will always be cheaper, and almost certainly more convenient, as you can take it to any transit connection you want. UP Express should cut the fare to $6, $7 and $10, for Weston, Bloor and Union Stations respectively. Otherwise, nobody will ride this thing after the Pan Am games (and, judging by how bad the signage is at Pearson, possibly not even during) and it will become a money pit.

UP Express has offered a refund; I am supposed to be getting a cheque in the mail in “4 – 6 weeks.” Stick to Uber or the subway for now, the UP Express is not worth the premium.

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