Going Mobile

Nadine Sykora

Nadine Sykora, BSc '09, in Cappadocia, Turkey. (Robert Schrader photo.)

By John Lee, MA ’96

It’s a humid afternoon in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and Nadine Sykora has a huge snake wrapped around her shoulders. For some, this might be cause for concern but for the 2009 Bachelor of Computer Science alumna it’s all part of the job – so long as the slinky reptile sticks around for its close-up.

Sykora’s travel site, heynadine.com, is filled with on-the-ground clips from nearly 50 countries. Followers can’t get enough of her try-anything approach. Fusing a goofy comic style with a fresh-faced wonder at the places she’s visiting.

“I did lots of theatre arts in high school and I missed being creative,” she says. “So when I needed a break from my studies (at UVic), I made my own videos – mostly lip-synched songs and riffs on the Olsen twins – and uploaded them to YouTube.”

Honing her production and hosting skills, these early skits were the start of what’s since become a coveted travel-based career. Sykora’s website – tagline: “Live. Laugh. Explore” – has earned several new media awards and is the hub of a business generating income in several innovative ways.

But it might never have happened at all if it hadn’t been for a terrible job market. “I graduated during the recession when there were hardly any jobs. That gave me the opportunity to head overseas – which I’d always wanted to do,” she says, adding that a New Zealand working holiday shifted her video focus to travel.

Viewing figures soon grew – there were far fewer vloggers in those days – but it wasn’t until YouTube invited her into their partner program that monetization beckoned. Under the arrangement, she began receiving a cut of the revenues for ads appearing alongside her videos.

It wasn’t enough to retire on, jokes Sykora. But it put her in a good spot when brands like Contiki, Best Western and British Airways started trying to connect with web audiences by partnering with influential online creators.

“No-one was really doing vlogs at the time so it wasn’t hard for these companies to find me. Soon, they were inviting me on lots of trips, which really helped build my content. But it was still a financial rollercoaster until mid-2013.”

That’s when revenues – YouTube ads, payments from brands for videos she makes about them and fees for appearing in videos for others – coalesced into a viable income. Other work also helps, including writing assignments, sponsored social media posts and licensing her content to tourism boards.

Utilizing her UVic business studies minor and labeling herself a “creative entrepreneur” rather than a journalist, Sykora is used to questions about how these brand relationships work. “I turn down partnerships that don’t fit. I always ask myself: will I be happy working with them; will the company be happy with what I produce; and is my audience going to be happy with this?”

With a YouTube subscriber base of 200,000 viewing her clips on everything from barefoot Fiji mountain hiking to swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos, it seems audiences are delighted. Aimed at trip-loving under-30s, Sykora uploads new videos – “part-entertainment, part-information and part visually stunning,” – once or twice a week.

It’s a demand for content that could easily be overwhelming. Often travelling for three weeks out of every four, she constantly updates her social media channels while planning, shooting and editing upcoming two-to-10-minute shows.

“You can’t turn it off. If you leave the Internet for a week, audiences think you’re dead,” she says, adding that she’s gradually learned how to satisfy viewers whilst retaining her sanity. “Your audience is your main thing and you can never let them down. But you can’t let them dictate content – you have to trust yourself and do what you want to do.”

From the autumn 2015 edition of the UVic Torch Alumni Magazine