Peter Hollens’ career is an inspiring case study in “Do what you love – the subscribers will follow.”
Since appearing on NBC’s The Sing Off in 2010 and launching his YouTube channel in 2011, the pop vocalist, entrepreneur, and educator has harnessed his talent, marketing savvy, and collaborative proclivities, along with a deep and ever-evolving grasp of social media’s power, to amass more than 5 million followers and a billion views. He also recently launched Creator Academy, a video series that teaches aspiring creators how to turn their personal passions into a thriving online presence.
But there’s a paradox at work in Peter’s world, or at the very least a continual balancing act. The apps and communication tools that form the cornerstone of his professional success are the same ones he needs to contain, lest they take over every aspect of his life. That’s why he’s let 560 texts and 67,000 emails go unread, permanently muted his phone, and turned off notifications for every app except one.
“Marco Polo is really the only communication app that I use in private,” Peter says. “To influencers, creators, and other people who have social media as their job, it’s an oasis.”
Stressy vs. happy
Peter puts technology on a cortisol-to-dopamine continuum: what creates stress versus what makes him happy. (For further insight, he points to a recent analysis of millenials’ complicated relationship with their devices.)
Since Peter knows his Marco Polo notifications are always coming from close friends and family, they don’t make him tense. When he uses the app, he can open up, relax, and say whatever is on his mind.
Funnily enough, the one person Peter doesn’t exchange regular Polos with is his wife, Evynne Hollens, because they’re together so much. The couple met in the early 2000s at the University of Oregon, drawn by a shared love for music – Peter co-founded the university’s first all-male a capella group, On the Rocks, while Evynne co-founded Divisi, the female a capella group that inspired the book and subsequent feature film Pitch Perfect. They’ve built a life together that includes frequent collaboration at work and at home.
“I do not have the same number of unread email messages as Peter,” Evynne laughs. “I can’t handle it if they’re unread.”
Managing the essentials
If Peter views Marco Polo as an oasis, Evynne views it as more of an essential communication tool for managing the day-to-day. After hearing about the app from a musician she knew, it became her go-to for quick communication.
To start with, Evynne set up a Marco Polo group with her parents, who live nearby and frequently care for the couple’s two young children. When she’s busy recording or shooting videos, she can say hi to the kids face-to-face and check in with her folks about logistics, plans, and all the little things that help maintain continuity. It’s as easy as texting, Evynne says, but more genuine.
“People who don’t use Marco Polo might say, ‘Why don’t you just call someone instead?’” Evynne adds. “And I tell them that it’s convenience. I only need a quick moment to check in, relay information, or answer a question. It feels easier and more accessible.”
Taking communication to the next level
It’s also about face time. To Peter’s earlier point, Evynne says her Marco Polo notifications are always exciting, and something to look forward to, because she knows they’re going to lead to closer personal connections.
She recalls how one day recently, a girlfriends’ group started exchanging Polos about how their days were going. One friend had clearly been crying, and Evynne says that what started as an everyday conversation led to her friend opening up to the group in a way she hadn’t ever before.
“She could not have conveyed that emotion with us through text or email,” Evynne says. “Marco Polo really allows you to have that close connection with loved ones, friends, and family. I’d actually use the word intimate. That’s what I love about it.”