Beyond being a magician and comedian, Simon Mandal is an entrepreneur at heart. Through years of hard-work, Simon Mandal has been able to go from being another average magician and comedian to being the headliner for major corporate events. In his interview he shares the main things that helped him get to where he is today, how exactly he got his foot in the door performing for companies like Google, and much more.
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Can you share a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
I have been a professional comedian and magician since the early 2000's. I've been tinkering with creative projects in various forms of entertainment since I was a boy. I was active in theater, music, and sports in high school, and majored in acting in college. Later, I graduated from a famous acting program in NYC, The William Esper Studio, which has been the home of many Emmy, Tony, and Academy Award winners. After graduating, I hit the ground running, performing 6 or 7 days a week for my first 5 years or so in business. I did up to 5-6 shows a day on the weekends. I can't wrap my head around how many shows I've done, but a highly conservative estimate is 5 thousand. I performed until I was exhausted, and my voice was ripped to shreds. I didn't take days off for my birthday, or Christmas Eve, or friends' birthdays for the first ten years or so.
Among other things, my work load included writing and performing music, scripted comedy, improv comedy, juggling, balloon art, face painting, and live magic. Comedy & Magic blossomed into my two full time careers. It's a really good combination, because they feed off each other so well, and I love being able to make a big group of people really really happy for a couple hours.
The main things that helped me get to where I am:
* Work relentlessly on things you are passionate about
* Work relentlessly on things you might not like, but support your passions
* Be good to people
* Sacrifice to get great at something, saying yes to everything that will improve your skills. After you get really good, start being selective and strategic in the projects you do.
* You can get good at almost anything if you work hard at it for a long time.
What do you wish you knew before you first started your business?
I wish I knew how well my career was going to go. I was hard working and dedicated, but not terribly optimistic or confident. I didn't know if I was going to have any artistic success, or make a good living. I would have slept a lot better in the early years if I knew everything was going to work out.
I also wish I knew to have more drive to climb the career ladder early on. I mostly cared about the creative aspect of what I did early on, and wasn't very ambitious. I stumbled onto some big jobs after a few years, and got a little taste of what I could do. After that I became much more driven.
What has been the largest obstacle you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
Two things - the first was being tempted to settle for the status quo. You can get comfortable with things being at a certain level, when you are capable of more. Doing something high profile/important is often not any harder than doing something low profile.
The other obstacle was panic attacks. I got a ton of panic attacks when I was a young performer. I performed many of the toughest rooms in the world - NYC comedy clubs, right out of the gate from school. Before you really have an act, you do really well one night on raw talent, and get eaten alive for having an unpolished act the next night. Terrifying. I kept working on my skills until the show almost always went well. I've done around 5,000 shows at this point in my career. My energy goes up before a big show, but it takes a VERY unusual performing situation for me to have any level of fear.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Some of the highlights of my career have been booking big jobs, and some have been performances where the wind hit just right, and the audience and I were on a whole other level. When everything you say gets a huge laugh, and you are sailing - there is nothing like it in the world.
I'm honored to headline events for companies like Facebook, MGM, Goldman Sachs, Merck, etc. People are often being flown in from around the world for an important conference, or meeting. My show is often the big finale of nights like that. Being trusted with that kind of responsibility makes me completely light up as a performer, and those shows are always huge hits.
In terms of my confidence as a performer, I started to really feel like I had crossed a threshold when I started getting standing ovations regularly. I don't get upset if that doesn't happen, but when it does, I know I've really taken the audience to that next level I always want for them.
What do you think has been the "key" to your success this far?
I think it's been a combination of things.
* Always, and I mean always, be reading about / learning how to improve some aspect of your product or your business.
* Instead of fighting over your slice of the pie, build a bigger pie. When possible, people in your industry, and help each other grow.
* Seek out mentors. When I first decided to step up my comedy magic show, I reached out to two of the best magicians in the world, and hired them to teach me. I was doing very small shows at that time, so it took me years to save up for a single week long lesson. Learning from the greats was an incredibly humbling experience. On the business side, I took a course from a famous juggler, Barry Friedman (of the Raspyni brothers). He has been an invaluable mentor, as have the people in the community he's built, Showbiz Blueprint.
* Be a mentor. Help people for the sake of helping them, with no expectation that you'll get anything out of it. Helping someone up will make you a smarter, better person. Things have a way of coming back around.
* And lastly, I married a great person. My wife is incredibly supportive, and is an off the charts genius full of brilliant ideas.
How did you first get your foot in the door performing for such large companies?
I perform a wide variety of venues, but the overwhelming majority of my work is high end corporate events - which is a great thing - they are much bigger crowds, and more elaborate parties than the average person would ever dream of throwing. Unless you are planning on having a Vegas residency, corporate events are "The Big Show" for what I do. They are often the most important event of the entire year for the company, and good entertainment is absolutely crucial. I want my show to solve big problems for people. Hiring me, or any other top professional corporate entertainer is one of the smartest things an event planner can do to make sure their event ends with a flood of positive emotions.
When I started out I was totally unaware of corporate events. My first big corporate job started with this phone call…
Customer: I saw you at a party, and everyone LOVED you. Would you be interested in performing at a corporate event?
Me: Absolutely, can you tell me a bit about your company?
Customer: Sure - we are Google.
I had performed for thousands of hours before I got that call. That phone call changed my life. That event was for around 1,500 people. I hired a team of entertainers to work the event. Once I learned that I was capable of delivering results on that scale, I never looked back.
For anyone looking to work with big companies, it's important to have a really good product, super professional promo materials, and immaculate customer service. Help people solve big problems in a pleasant way, and you'll be golden.
My first big companies were honestly just a byproduct of performing for hundreds of thousands of people at smaller events. I had a show that people liked, and some of those people worked for giant companies, and said - "OK - my work team HAS to see this!". Once I started doing more of those kinds of events, I changed all my branding to highlight the jobs I do for those companies. That has made my fans who happen to work at other big companies feel a lot more comfortable booking me for their companies.
A really useful lesson is that your branding should let your ideal customers know they are in the right place. I first heard of that from Michael Port's excellent "Book Yourself Solid".
Check back this Friday for part 2!
• Simon Mandal's LinkedIn