Jason Nissen is an executive and entrepreneur in the ticket brokerage and hospitality sector, known for his ability to effectively execute ambitious projects. He has led several companies including the events brand World Events Group, the ticket sales firm National Events Company, and the Minus Zero Music Festival.
At National Events Company, Nissen’s leadership was instrumental in reshaping the organization into a worldwide supplier of tickets for sports, concerts, and theater events. The firm catered to a broad spectrum of clients ranging from individuals to Fortune 500 corporations and global concierge services, and his direction led to significant expansion, resulting in annual revenues surpassing $80 million.
Nissen also served in the CEO role for World Events Group, a hospitality and events management company that specialized in creating premium hospitality events. Using his marketing and communication skills, Nissen fostered corporate partnerships and collaborated with NFL teams to create all-inclusive travel packages for out-of-town games. The popularity of the company’s events saw them even offer exclusive door-to-door services for the Super Bowl.
Beyond his contributions in the hospitality and ticket sales sector, Nissen served as the co-founder and CEO of the pioneering Minus Zero Musical Festival. The event seamlessly combined performances by renowned EDM DJs with skiing and snowboarding activities reminiscent of the X Games. He is currently working on its rebrand and return for the 2024 festival season.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I’ve always been a people person. Growing up I had a lot of diverse interests—I played as a wide receiver in high school and college, but was also super passionate about mathematics. I won the city-wide science fair for one of my math projects, and went on to earn my undergraduate in mathematics. However, the common thread that ran throughout all my pursuits was a desire to connect with people. I was even elected my fraternity’s social chair, planning and coordinating all of our social events.
Working in ticket brokerage and hospitality has allowed me to flex all of my diverse interests at once, and be my own boss on top of it all. When I recognize an untapped market, my instinct is to jump in and be the one to fill it. Whether it be ticket sales or event creation, I say yes to opportunities when they arise.
How do you make money?
I’m an entrepreneur, so I make money when my pursuits are successful. Many people are comforted by the idea of a steady, consistent paycheck, but I like the feeling of each dollar I bring in being directly correlated to how I was able to realize my vision. For my ticket brokerage business, that meant navigating laws and policies. The events company involved creating a desirable and exclusive experience that couldn’t be replicated elsewhere. Starting a music festival from scratch was marketing, marketing, marketing. Money flows from where you are most passionate.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
All of my businesses have been pretty successful from the beginning, but I will say the timeline has varied in terms of true profitability. Ticket brokerage is not a low barrier to entry business—it requires significant upfront capital to purchase the tickets, as well as established relationships with primary ticket sellers and building of ticket-selling infrastructure. However, we were able to go in with significant market knowledge and a strong business plan, allowing us to be profitable within a year. The event management company was built upon those previous relationships established through ticket brokerage, meaning it was relatively simpler to obtain profitability. Founding a music festival is also challenging and resource-intensive, but thanks to some savvy marketing we were able to have a highly successful run for the two years I was previously involved.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I try not to allow doubt to be a part of my vocabulary. Obviously there will always be a little voice inside that questions things, but learning to recognize whether it’s coming from a place of reason or fear is key. If it’s coming from a place of reason, that means you need to put more effort into the project—do more research, further flesh out your business plan, take small steps rather than giant leaps. However, if you have done the work and you still hear that voice of doubt in your head, in all likelihood that is rooted in fear of the unknown. When that happens, you have to be able to quiet the voice, and not let it inhibit your forward momentum.
How did you get your first customer?
For all of my pursuits, my first customers came from leveraging my network. When I was first starting out, that meant utilizing my connections made through my fraternity and college professors. As I developed relationships within the ticket brokerage industry, that in turn helped me gain access to the right people in order to form my events company—connections I made buying tickets for the Super Bowl allowed me to create specialized packages for fans of the teams. When me and my partner wanted to start a music festival, it was built on the relationships I had formed putting on the events. When you are an entrepreneur, you have to be a people person first and foremost.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Organic social media marketing. Content creation, community engagement, influencer collaborations—all of these are so important for long-term growth of a business. It’s a misconception that only businesses that sell products can benefit from social media marketing, really any and every brand can benefit from the credibility and authenticity that this type of marketing creates. What consumers want and how they decide where they are going to put their hard-earned dollars is changing. They aren’t looking for an expert to tell them or a jazzy commercial, they want to hear it from their peers. Obviously I am not saying one should completely abandon all other marketing strategies, but adding social media marketing to the toolkit is great risk diversification.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
For me, it would probably be deciding on sustainability initiatives for the reboot of the Minus Zero Music Festival. We knew we wanted to implement eco-friendly and sustainable practices, but it soon became clear it was going to increase our initial costs. Obviously budgets are always going to be guidelines that you hope you’re able to follow, but it was a tough choice even with our commitment to environmental responsibility. We recognize that music festivals are huge sources of waste generation, noise pollution, and energy consumption, and we wanted to commit to mitigating our effect as much as possible. I know that our choices will be worth it in the long run, but I’m sure many other entrepreneurs can relate to the constant push and pull of purpose versus profits.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My strong interpersonal skills. I’ve built my career on forming relationships, and that means flexing my muscles in everything from conflict resolution to effective communication. No matter what your job title is or industry you choose to work in, at the end of the day it’s going to be a people’s game. If you’re working in an office, that might mean managing your relationships with your co-workers and superiors. As a leader, you need to be able to build strong and resilient teams, and entrepreneurs need to do all of the above while also utilizing their networks to grow their business. Success comes not from a singular effort, but from building a strong network of people that understand your vision and want to help make it a reality.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Anytime I am able to prove a naysayer wrong. Would-be entrepreneurs need to understand that there are always going to be people telling you that you’re crazy, or your idea will never work. Even now that I have successfully built several companies I will have people say “oh well that’s impossible.” I use that negativity as fuel, and there’s little more satisfying than seeing a project find success and remembering those who never believed it could achieve it. It’s not pettiness, just a deep and gratifying moment.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I’m incredibly excited for where my career will take me in this phase of my life. After stepping back from the Minus Zero Music Festival for a number of years I am now involved again, and we are planning a total rebrand and reboot for the 2024 festival season. After I left, some people became involved that didn’t run the festival to the high standards I hold. I find this work particularly exciting, because I’ve never approached business from this side before. My previous experience has been with building businesses from the ground up, so it’s a new and exhilarating challenge to start with something that has already been established and instead transform it to my vision.
What business books have inspired you?
Phil Knight’s memoir “Shoe Dog” always pops into my mind. It’s a fantastic example of someone with vision organically and methodically building a company from a small local business into one of the world’s most profitable companies and recognizable brands. You can tell through reading it that he was driven by passion, and a belief in the product he was selling. Additionally, while it’s not technically a business book, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain proved surprisingly inspirational for me. Really, I think any book that exhibits people with passion and drive is what stimulates me most.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
It’s so simple, but I purchased a whiteboard for our office. These days so much of business is conducted online, from PowerPoint presentations to email memos. I found that there was something tactile missing from our brainstorming sessions, so I went ahead and brought in a good old-fashioned standing white board with two sides. It’s turned out to be such a powerful communication tool. We discount how much visualization can help with conceptualizing ideas, and now we have the ability to illustrate our points. Thankfully, the advent of technology also means that at the end of every meeting, someone simply takes a photo of the board and uploads it to the cloud so we never lose track of these notes.
How do you manage your time effectively to maximize productivity as an entrepreneur?
The struggle with time management is eternal and universal. My biggest tip in this regard is to simply try your best to remain present in each moment. If you’re checking your email, make it a concentrated task that you commit to and then leave it alone. Conversely, leave your email to the side when working on other projects or tasks. When you are wholly present in each and every action you take throughout the day, you not only complete things on a more efficient timetable, but often produce more work as well.