Domino Artist Lily Hevesh on How To Build a Business Around Your Passion
Lily Hevesh knocked down her first line of dominos at 9-years-old, and this simple toppling sparked curiosity. “I thought you set up a line, and then you’re done, but it doesn’t stop there,” the now 22-year-old professional domino artist tells us. She searched for “domino videos” on YouTube and immediately started creating and publishing her own. Today, her YouTube channel Hevesh5 has more than 3 million subscribers and over a billion views. Lily has constructed domino set-ups for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and brands such as Instagram, Disney, LEGO, and Google. We asked Hevesh, who to our knowledge is the only professional domino toppler on the Storyhunter platform, about her most memorable projects, her focus on getting young girls into STEM through this art form, and how she successfully turned her passion into a business.
Shivan: When did you watch your first domino video?
Lily: I was nine years old. My grandparents had the domino set with the dots, so I just set them up and knocked them down. Then I went on YouTube and searched dominos. I found all these videos and I was super inspired by what people would build. I thought it was just like, you set up a line, and then you’re done. But, it doesn’t stop there. People build giant structures, towers, and make pictures out of dominoes. And that inspired me to start posting my own domino videos on Hevesh5.
Shivan: How did you grow your channel?
I became really obsessed with learning new tricks and just making my set-ups larger and better. Eventually, in 2013 I had a viral video called “Insane Domino Tricks.” It got three million views in two days and people started contacting me to do their logo out of dominoes or commercials or live events. From there it became a part-time job. My dad, he’s my business manager now, so he helped out with that whole process. It turned into a business eventually. As my YouTube channel grew, I decided to show my face so I could connect more deeply with my viewers and talk to them. Nobody else was doing that in the domino community. I was really the only one reaching out. So, naturally, I became more of the face of the domino community and my YouTube channel became super crazy.
Shivan: You design, build, and topple thousands of dominoes to create intricate chain reactions for social media as well as commercial projects. What are some of your most memorable projects?
Lily: Me and a few of my domino-builder friends went to New York City to set-up this giant domino project for Jimmy Fallon hitting 20 million subscribers in The Tonight Show show set. They locked it off. People couldn’t walk in. Just being able to meet Jimmy and the crew there, everyone was so nice. And to see how dominos could go to such a big scale was incredible.
Shivan: And how long did it take you?
Lily: Three or four days.
Shivan: How many people?
Lily: We started building around 10 a.m. and worked till seven. So, a full day. And there was four builders total, including myself.
Shivan: What’s your biggest domino fail?
Lily: In 2016, my friend and I were attempting to build the second-largest domino tower in America. And we were up on ladders. It was almost 20 feet tall. We were 12 layers away from finishing, we were really close. I’m up on this ladder. My friend is holding the ladder, so it doesn’t fall over. I placed the domino on top and I pulled my hand back and suddenly I saw the top of the tower starting to shake. Eventually it just slowly tips, tips, and then it just completely crumbles down. We both just slowly watched it fall over, crumbling to the ground. That was probably the largest fail that I’ve had. There’s a bright side because we were filming it the whole time. We had our cameras rolling. We were also live streaming it. So, a ton of people saw us fail live but it made an amazing fail video. That fail video probably would have gotten more views than if I were to post the successful video.
Shivan: You’re basically spending hours, even days, building dominos just to smash them. That seems counter-intuitive.
Lily: Knocking it down is the best part. I can’t wait to destroy it. If I built a whole domino set-up and I didn’t knock it down, it would be pointless. I’m building it to make a chain reaction. I want to see how that chain reaction works and how it plays out and be able to capture that on video and share it with everyone. So I don’t feel sad when I knock things down. It should take a while if you’re going to make something great because, at the end of the day, it’s always worth it. If you spend a lot of time on something, people really appreciate that.
Shivan: You tweeted: “The business people don’t understand that I’m an artist and the artists don’t understand that I run a business. It’s a conflicting, delicate balance.” What is this conflict you’re referring to and how have you managed to balance it?
Lily: I’m glad you asked that. On one side, the domino artists, the very pure builders, understand what a good domino set-up is and they know my skill and want me to build these elaborate set-ups that are pushing new heights in the domino world. I don’t blame them. I totally see where they’re coming from. I would love to do those types of projects all the time, but I’m not able to spend three months on one project as I did with my new personal record. On the other hand, the business people could see my YouTube channel and say, I’m just another “influencer” on the web or something, but they might not understand that I need creative freedom. I’m trying to grow the community and expand the business and get domino art seen by more people while also trying to make the current builders happy with what I’m creating.
Shivan: How have you turned your passion into a successful career? What’s worked for you?
Lily: The biggest thing is just embracing social media and YouTube, especially nowadays. I came in at a really good time when people were making videos because they were very passionate about it and eventually it turned into a job. I think being smart about how people consume content and how to connect with viewers has helped significantly because having a connection with the viewer and the subscribers is the next big thing. Creators are now their own brand, they’re their own media companies. So, take in what’s happening on YouTube and social media and evolve with it, and see how you can push the barriers of whatever you’re creating.
Shivan: At Storyhunter we’re embracing the idea that all brands are media companies, and through our platform, we’re helping connect them with creatives around the world. What is your brand message?
Lily: Hevesh5’s mission is to inspire others, to be creative and learn by doing, and get into STEM through dominos. It’s a great way to learn and a fun way. Hevesh5 as a whole is trying to lift people up. If it’s just watching a video, that’s cool. We love that. But also, inspiring people to do something in the world and just explore and experiment with different things. Maybe it’s not even domino’s but maybe it inspires them to start building with their hands. There’s a lot of value in not staring at screens and actually being tactile with physical things. So, we’re trying to teach people that there’s a lot more than just the dominoes; it can help you develop in the best way possible.
Shivan: Storyhunter is a platform for passionate creatives. How can others turn their passion into a business? How can they find success on YouTube as you did?
Lily: The biggest piece of advice is if you’re going to start a YouTube channel, make sure whatever the subject is, you are 110% passionate about it. I know from experience, if you truly love a topic, if you’re expressing yourself, if you’re talking about a thing, you could do that forever. Don’t worry about the views for now. Don’t worry about making money. Spend the first few years just making videos because you truly, truly love it. And then all of that stuff will come in later on. And It’s going to take a while, and just don’t expect anything. It took me four years of posting domino videos before I had a video pop off. Some people, it might take a year, some people might take five years, 10 years. You never really know, but I find that if you choose a topic that you’re not super passionate about, you’re just not going to want to make videos. And you’re going to get burned out. You’re going to get disappointed that you didn’t hit a certain view count or a certain subscriber count by a certain time and it’s just not going to be sustainable. When you’re true to what you love, people can see that and they connect to that the most. And if it’s not what you love, they’ll see how you’re trying too hard. It’s just not going to work in the long run anyway.
Shivan: You have your own line of dominos. Can you tell me about your partnership with the toy company Spin Master?
Lily: I partnered with Spin Master to create my own line of precision toppling top dominoes. We’ve never had a super quality toppling domino before. And as an expert domino artist, I know what makes a really good domino. It was just time to make our own line because dominos is growing. We’ve removed some of the mold dots and we’ve made it as flat as possible because a big issue with the previous dominos is that they’re not actually flat. They might be concave or convex and when you try to stack them on top of each other, the more you stack, the more angled it gets. So we’ve kind of solved those problems and also added a very special surface texture on top of it, which makes the dominos slide less, which is good because then you’re able to control the domino better and it’s not going to hit other things around it. We have a few accessories attached with the dominos, like half-bridges, templates, field starters, and now we’re just working to expand all the colors and get more people into dominos.
Shivan: During the pandemic, people increasingly took to puzzles and board games, but you had dominos. How did you hone your craft during the pandemic?
Lily: Because I’ve been at home for so long, I’ve actually been able to spend the longest time ever building my own personal domino projects. A few months ago I set-up my new record. It contained 32,000 dominos and it filled the entire floor. It took me over the span of three months. It’s probably my best domino set-up ever, and that definitely wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic. So, it’s been somewhat of a blessing in disguise to be able to just focus on my art.
Shivan: What was the idea behind this project?
Lily: I just wanted to make the coolest domino set-up that I could make. I love making spirals especially because I found that spirals do really well on YouTube. People just love clicking on spirals. So, I tried to optimize: how can I make the best spiral ever by using motion and colors? I played around with the hot and cold color scheme, mixing a lot of reds, oranges, and contrasting that with blues. And then playing around with how the eye sees dominos falling, going in at the same time, going out at the same time, it’s very visually captivating. I did draw out a few sketches just for the spiral, but for the rest of the set-up, I figured it out on the spot. I had a small ideas list, but that always changes when I start building. I find that it’s more exciting when I don’t plan it. So, that’s how it came together.
Shivan: It sounds as if there are no rules when it came to building this set-up. I imagined that it would require a lot of planning.
Lily: It’s up to the builder, but it also depends on what specifically you’re setting up. If I were to replicate a building, I would need to plan that out. Maybe not domino by domino but at least a rough estimate to see how many colors I’d want to put in a specific area. There’s this computer program where you can take an image and it imports and pixelates it to the size of a domino. You can change the colors and make any design you want until you have this pixel art grid that shows you exactly what color to put and what order to place it in this domino template. You just follow the template instructions. Then when you set up the dominos, pull up the template and you have a perfect domino field of the image.
Shivan How would you describe the domino community? How do you fit into the community?
Lily: I would describe the community as super passionate. They love dominos. They’re always thinking about new tricks. I’d say a lot of us are more reserved; we’re okay with spending hours alone, just setting up a cool project. We’re very imaginative, very creative. We’re problem solvers and we’re all very supportive. Everyone lifts each other up, for example, commenting on other builders’ videos. But in the domino community, there are very few female domino artists. I don’t know anyone around my age who is a female in the USA who builds dominos. It’s been, I don’t want to say lonely, but I think it would have been cool to know someone else who is also building dominos and be able to connect with them in that way. Also, I’m very big into getting women and girls into STEM and I promote that in my domino videos. It’s good in a way that I am the face of the domino community because I’m able to inspire those types of people in the best way. I sort of feel this responsibility to it as well.
Shivan: You often re-share posts of kids building dominos. How are you inspiring the younger generation? And what does it feel like to see them with your domino building kits?
Lily: Through a lot of my videos, I’ve inspired a whole new generation of domino builders, which is literally the coolest feeling in the world. It makes me feel so good because I got into dominos from watching other people’s domino videos. So, now I’m returning that and the cycle is just continuing on and on. I’m just happy to see other people getting into this art form. It’s teaching them physics principles and they might not even know about it yet as well as patience and perseverance.
Shivan: What brings you joy?
Lily: Making a positive difference in the world especially with my domino videos, I love when I’m able to show someone something and they just immediately light up. They just can’t help but smile. Turning a sad day into a lighter, happier day brings me a lot of joy.
Interviewed by Shivan Sarna, Head of Stories