Mastercard Spotlight: Andy Nulman “The Avenues of Entrepreneurship”
Everybody knows the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Quebec. But do they know who started it? In the 1980’s, entrepreneur and comedy powerhouse Andy Nulman began what is now known as the month-long comedy festival that attracts over two million visitors annually. An author and serial entrepreneur, Andy is now the Founder & CEO of prediction gaming platform Play the Future, and a marketing professor at McGill University.
Andy Nulman is the notable co-founder of Just For Laughs and current CEO of Play The Future. Andy is responsible for turning a two-day Just For Laughs International Comedy Festival into the event it is today; a month-long cultural event that attracts over 2 million visitors to Canada every year.
A successful entrepreneur, Andy is also the co-founder for Play The Future, a forward-thinking digital platform and brand engagement tool. To top off his incredible success story, Andy is now a professor of McGill University’s revolutionary course “Marketing and Society” and the author three hilarious books, including “I Almost Killed George Burns.”
Q: Why do you consider humor a necessity?
AN: Humour disarms, educates, and enlightens… Humor is a necessity, as important as water or oxygen for human survival. Great humour allows people to see things a different way. There is no better way to diffuse a tough situation than to laugh, and to break the tension. That’s why I love humour.
Q: Andy, tell us about yourself. When did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
AN: I was a very happy man until I got in a fight with a man who was going to become my boss. I didn’t know that. He cut my tie at a function I put together as promotion manager at the newspaper….. He said on the scale of jocularity, what equals a cut tie? I said a glass of red wine on a white Lacoste sweater, and I did that. Two weeks later he became my boss and fired me. That’s how I learned to become an entrepreneur…. he changed my life.
Q: Your newest book (Pow! Right Between the Eyes!) talks about the element of surprise. Can you talk about why this topic is so meaningful to comedy?
AN: I learned through humour and through telling jokes that the set-up leads you down a path where you think you’re going in direction X, but the punch line takes you in direction Y. The same exists in business. In a world of sameness and boredom, when you shock people, that’s what works. If you look at every great ad and campaign, it’s about surprise. The first iPhone was a surprise. It was completely different. The book is really about standing out, doing things differently, and not being afraid to take risks.
Q: How have you kept all this success from going to your head? What keeps you grounded?
AN: The reality of life. What you think is a sure thing can be eliminated in one minute by competition, health matters, or an act of war. This is what keeps me grounded.
Q: You have two grown boys. How is life as an entrepreneur different, now that the kids are older?
AN: I told both of them that they would have to work twice as hard and put in twice the effort as anybody else to get half the praise and half the attention. Both my sons are very different from me, and different from each other but what I find amazing is this current of entrepreneurship that runs through youth today. Both my sons are doing amazing and doing what they love. One of my sons has built an impressive tech programming company in Canada and the United States, and the other is designing high-end furniture and is doing commercial work for places like Starbucks and Hilton hotels. I’m very proud of them.
Q: You have enjoyed a two-part tenure at Just For Laughs, first during the early stages, and then when the organization had matured. What differs between a startup and a more mature organization?
AN: If I knew then what I knew now I would have done it differently the second time around. When we started the comedy festival, there was no comedy festival. It didn’t exist. We were playing God and making it up. When you come back to a company that is established, it is kind of like being a father or a stepfather. When you come back and you are the stepfather, it’s like “Where were you”? I don’t have to listen to you!”
There is this underlying feeling of ‘we were here while you weren’t’. I tried to fit in with the established structure and make small changes. I was the nice step dad and in the end it was wonderful but I can’t say I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.
Q: What do you see for the future of entrepreneurship in Montreal, Quebec and Canada?
AN: It comes from the young, the gutsy, and the rule breakers. These are the ones who are going to drive the future and they will turn these ideas into big businesses. The small will be planted and grow into large trees. I think the future is very very bright. I’m thrilled about the potential of the future and I wish I had a type of vision, where I could put on glasses and see where a certain somebody will be, and who they will become. When I scan my class of 50 kids, twice a week, I wonder where some of these kids will be in five years…. These kids will be kids who change the world.
Q: Where do you see the future of Andy Nulman?
AN: We ask, what’s the best part of the journey? It’s always the next step, the things that are coming up, which is why I’m involved in a startup right now. Because what’s around the corner is so much more interesting than what I saw or what I did.
Even with all of his success, Andy continues to be a leading light in Montreal’s startup scene as the Chair of the International Startup Festival, and has a close relationship with the Quebec entrepreneurship community.