Up, Up and WAY Away
How one “badass” woman found success in the balloon design business by being unconventional.
Describing herself as a “seasoned entrepreneur,” Desiree Ontiveros has more than a decade of experience in the luxury lifestyle and fashion worlds, working early on in a career in London with brands such as Romona Keveza, Spanx and the Royal Asscher diamond company, creating high-impact, highly visible influencer-driven marketing and publicity campaigns.
Thanks to her long-standing relationships with celebrities, fashion designers and costumers, Ontiveros began a new career when she moved back to the U.S.—founding Badass Balloon Co., in New Orleans, La., the world’s first-ever culturally relevant party accessories company that prides itself on creating social media gold, created by a woman of color.
“In 2015, I visited New Orleans and could not bring myself to get on the flight home,” Ontiveros explains. “A year later, Badass Balloon Co. was born. The seed was planted when I was in charge of purchasing merchandise for a friend’s bachelorette party. While doing research on all the things you could customize, I discovered that balloons are have insanely high minimums to order. The problem was that there was nothing on the market that was not a licensed Disney character!”
Ontiveros couldn’t understand how the industry just automatically assumed adults weren’t interested in balloons and aged people out. So, she used her experience as a former publicist to give a fresh and unique face-lift to party décor industry, which she perceived to be stale and stagnant, lighting a fire under the big players to pivot to include the over-12-year-old market.
“I never thought it would be an actual balloon business, but I knew there was room for it to evolve, and I was inspired to create something that would make people feel happy,” Ontiveros says. “New Orleans continues to be the source of inspiration for my sassy party balloons. Like the city itself, at the core, my company is in the business of taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary.”
What started as an Etsy store doing pop-ups at markets and art galleries has turned into a successful e-commerce company with a popular design studio in New Orleans. “It didn’t happen overnight, and its even hard for me to grasp all of the things we have accomplished during our evolution in four-and-a-half short years,” she says.
Ontiveros’ passion for creating art installations with balloons become evident when she covered her French Quarter home in balloons. “It was something that we did for fun after realizing how much people loved our photo-op balloon wall at RuPaul’s DragCon [Badass Balloon Co.’s first major milestone],” she says. “I followed up by draping my two-story townhome in pink, burgundy and green balloons for my birthday, and the next day, people were crowded around my front door taking photos. The images went viral, and, soon after, I had amazing clients reaching out to me and saying, ‘Do whatever you want. We trust your aesthetic.’”
The year before her success at RuPaul’s DragCon, Badass Balloon Co. had a booth at DragCon, and the day before the event, Ontiveros was told helium wasn’t allowed in her booth. So, what is a balloon company supposed to do without helium balloons?
“I got creative,” Ontiveros says. “I made a balloon wall in our tiny 10-foot-by-10-foot space. Our booth was the most Instagrammed booth that time. So RuPaul’s people asked me back and asked if I would create a photo-op balloon installation for the next one. I did, and it was awesome! After that, I knew, based on my past experience in marketing and PR, that this was the new way to create high-impact and high- visibility marketing activations for brands.”
From there, Ontiveros was hired to do other major installations for major clients. For instance, the people at Essence Festival asked her to create a beyond- giant installation for them. And other not able clients include Veuve Clicquot, Grey Goose, Google, Facebook, Carl’s Jr., TNT, HBO, Steve Madden, W Hotels, Hyatt and the NFL, among many others.
What makes Badass Balloon Co. unique is its ability to handle the biggest, most extreme jobs. Ontiveros’ team can assemble a 30,000-piece installation in less than 72 hours and has never missed a deadline.
“No idea is too big or impossible for my production team,” she says. “If you want a beautiful, stylish aesthetic and a record-breaking news worthy piece that will go viral, you come to us.”
“I have two favorite designs. One is the piece we did for Essence Festival in 2018. It was 60-feet high and crossed the convention center by almost 200 feet,” she explains. “There were more than 500,000 attendees, and everyone’s minds were blown. We finished the job at 7 a.m., and doors opened at 9 a.m. I went home, showered, changed and came back, and the line of people taking photos with the installation was longer than the line to meet some of the celebrities. It was so rewarding to watch.”
Ontiveros’ other favorite installation has since become Badass Balloon Co.’s signature look. “I created a ceiling full of dangling Mardi Gras beads inside of a 50,000-square-foot space,” she says. “If you are from New Orleans, you know that when you drive down St. Charles Avenue after Mardi Gras and look up, the trees are dripping with Mardi Gras beads. I wanted the 500 guests at this private event to feel the same way. The sculpture was so distinctive that we were granted a copyright, and we have created that piece for notable clients such as the NFL, for a Super Bowl commercial.”
Not surprisingly, Badass Balloon Co. has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many big events being canceled in 2020. However, people are still celebrating the little wins in life, and that’s just meant Ontiveros has had to get even a little more creative.
“Our website [badassballoonco.com] has become the go-to resource for micro party aficionados,” she says. “We have everything people need for a small at-home or backyard bash with their immediate family or five best friends. It’s a no-brainer. Our shipping is lightning fast, and we have a great selection of elevated designs to lighten the mood for the 2020 apocalypse.”
While Badass Balloon Co. has been a rousing success, it hasn’t come without its challenges. Being a woman of color, Ontiveros notes that the biggest obstacle continues to be the lack of funding for minority-owned businesses
“Getting a seat at the table is unlikely,” she says. “We have to make so much noise that they crack the door out of curiosity, and we force our way in. So, a big obstacle all my life has been others underestimating me or the gas-lighting where they try to discredit or take credit for my hard work and dedication. But, like everything else, I have learned to make it an asset. The more that people try to distract from my success, the more that I can stealthily keep killing it, right under their noses!”
Check out all the fun, craziness and raucousness that makes Badass Balloon Co. a success at badassballoonco.com.