Paul Nulty, of Nulty: “Leadership Is Not Management”

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Paul Nulty Nulty

Paul Nulty is the founder of Nulty, an “architectural lighting design consultancy with a healthy selection of awards and diverse roster of clients.”

Nulty also “teams up with partners in a variety of industries—from hotels and residences to retail, hospitality and light art.”

With Paul Nulty and his firm, clients receive designs “that delight, excite and inspire those who use them.”

Paul Nulty has started a “global team of lighting designers and creatives who all work closely together to deliver beautiful lighting schemes.”

Likewise, Paul Nulty believes it is their “duty to work just as hard on collaboration and understanding as we do on our own architectural lighting design schemes.” As a result, “the final creation will be infinitely better as a result.”

Paul Nulty is also not scared to try “new lighting design approaches that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly.” Their “work ethic and enthusiasm…have given us a prominent position in the industry.”

As a result, clients have known Paul Nulty and his company to be “easy to work with, and as people who consider our work a vocation rather than a job.”

As an entrepreneur, Paul Nulty believes that “lighting is an unsung hero because it’s under-estimated yet it’s all around us.”

Check out more interviews with architectural executives here.

I think lighting is an unsung hero because it’s under-estimated yet it’s all around us.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Paul Nulty: My name is Paul Nulty and I’m the Founder of Nulty. We are a global team of lighting designers and creatives who all work closely together to deliver beautiful lighting schemes. At Nulty, we consider it our duty to work just as hard on collaboration and understanding as we do on our own architectural lighting design schemes: the final creation will be infinitely better as a result. We’re not shy about delving into new lighting design approaches that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Energy efficiency, light pollution and environmental impact come high up on our list of concerns, and we continually test our designs for innovation, buildability, maintainability, longevity and affordability. Our work ethic and enthusiasm — combined with our creativity and technical knowledge — have given us a prominent position in the industry. We’re known for being easy to work with, and as people who consider our work a vocation rather than a job.

I think lighting is an unsung hero because it’s under-estimated yet it’s all around us. It has the power to emotionally connect, which is why I’m so passionate about it. I knew that there was an opportunity to create a business that could stand apart from all of its competitors and, ultimately, I felt that we could offer people an emotional connection to light and space. I founded Nulty in 2011, which means we are celebrating our ten-year anniversary this year — something that I can’t quite believe and am so grateful for.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Paul Nulty: When I first started the business, one of the hardest things we faced was making ourselves seem credible. We were a brand-new start-up, very small, with a limited portfolio and trading history, so trying to convince people to take a chance on us was really difficult. I think the solution to it was making sure that our story and narrative as a practice was clear so that people could understand our authenticity as a brand. Once we did start building our roster of clients and projects, the next hurdle was ensuring that we were paid on time. It was easy to see us a small practice back then, one that didn’t need to be paid, so I invented a lady called Catherine and set her up with her own email address so that she could be the bullish figure chasing the payments! It’s very tough to maintain a healthy client relationship whilst you’re having to chase people as well, so I would send the difficult emails from her address, allowing any emails coming directly from me to remain friendly and kind. Having that split personality really enabled a healthy cash flow in the end.

In response to your question about giving up, the answer is absolutely not. It’s the best job in the world and I just didn’t have the option to quit. When I started, I didn’t have a business plan, I didn’t have any savings and in terms of a portfolio, I only had a few projects from my previous job that I could use. So I sort of started with nothing and because of that there was no choice but to succeed. There is a wonderful strategy in business called ‘Death Ground Strategy’ which is all about burning the boats and having to fight and that’s what it was like. When I started, it really was make it or break it for me. I worked 16 hours a day, six days a week, because I had to make it work.

I think one of the lessons I learnt quickly was how to understand brand value.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Paul Nulty: I think one of the lessons I learnt quickly was how to understand brand value. Every touch point has brand value within it, whether it’s an email, a letter or a document. It all says a lot about your brand. For example, sending an email to the wrong person or getting someone’s name wrong, could seem like a small error but actually these are things you have to be aware of when maintaining a pure and ethical business.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Paul Nulty:

  1. Know your industry and be passionate about it. You’ve got to be great at what you do and know the industry that you’re a part of.
  2. Understand that leadership is not management. It’s your job to inspire those around you to achieve greater things and maximize their potential.
  3. Understand the narrative and brand story and the relationship with your clients.
  4. Mistakes are not a bad thing — learn from them and embrace them. We learn more from making mistakes than we do from achieving success, so failure is fine as long as you learn from it.
  5. Celebrate the success and tell the world that you’ve been successful. If you don’t shout about the success stories then no-one is going to know about them.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Paul Nulty: As far as I’m concerned, a purpose is a common goal. It’s about understanding what I want to achieve in whatever my chosen industry is. As lighting designers, it’s ultimately our goal to deliver amazing creative lighting solutions and our purpose in life is to go about doing that to create an amazing legacy. We want to excite and inspire through the use of light and create wonderful spaces for humans to dwell in. I think that when you have that clear goal, you can write it down in a vision statement and then figure out how you’re going to achieve it. I would say that a business plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because you either under achieve and use it as a stick to beat yourself with, or you over achieve and it was completely pointless. I think that using a vision statement instead and figuring out how to achieve your goals is what will help you find your purpose.

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Paul Nulty: Be nice, be authentic and be genuine. People buy from people so just try to get on with each other. I think that the days of hard selling have gone to be honest. If people trust you and believe in you and what you have to offer, then they will naturally want to work with you and gravitate towards you.

Be nice, be authentic and be genuine.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Paul Nulty: You need to know your subject really well and be passionate about it. Engage the community and write about it. If you have an opinion, tell people. Don’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers. If you position yourselves as thought leaders then people will gravitate towards that knowledge. Years ago, knowledge used to be power, but not anymore. The power is in sharing that knowledge, not retaining it. People want to listen to and work with a company that will share and engage.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Paul Nulty: You can learn more about me and Nulty here:

Website

LinkedIn

YouTube

Instagram / Twitter — @nultylighting

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

 

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