Executive Seat: Leading Gamma’s Climb

Fifteen years ago, Karl Bernard was an 18-year-old college student who published a few small adult websites from his parents’ basement in Montreal. Bernard, now in his early 30s, has come a long way since those humble beginnings.

As president of the Montreal-based Gamma Entertainment, Bernard oversees one of Canada’s largest and most successful adult Internet companies.

Gamma, according to Bernard, presently has a staff of 112 employees — and on top of that, the company had 12 job openings in early January, which is quite a contrast to the days when Gamma didn’t even have 12 employees altogether. “It went from a basic operation running sites without any employees to being a large corporation with quite a few people on staff,” Bernard explained. “Fifteen years ago, we were really focused on websites, mostly building websites for the end users. Now, we have a lot more services catering to other businesses, either content producers or affiliates; we are much more businessto-business-focused than we were in the early days.”

When Bernard co-founded Gamma back in 1996, he considered it more of a hobby than a business. Gamma’s first site was WebYoung. com (which had a major influence on adult entertainment’s teen genre), and more sites were added after that. When Bernard realized that Gamma could be profitable, he started thinking of it as a real business and not just as a hobby. Bernard, in fact, showed his commitment to Gamma by dropping out of college in order to devote all of his time to his business.

Bernard has observed quite a few changes in the adult entertainment industry since he first start publishing erotic websites back in 1996. “I was lucky enough to get into the adult industry in the early days of Internet porn, and I’ve seen trends and the market completely change,” Bernard observed. “In the early days when I started, Internet porn was the wild west. It took a few years, but real businesses started to emerge—and people started running their businesses like real companies.”

Bernard added that during the dot-com boom of the 1990s, it was much easier to become successful selling Internet erotica. In 2011, Bernard said, it takes a lot more determination and business savvy to be profitable on the adult Internet.

“The adult industry is definitely more competitive than it was 15 years ago,” Bernard noted. “There are more customers, but at the same time, there are so many competitors. Also, because it is so easy to find porn now, it is much harder to sell customers on the idea that they need to pay for their porn. I think that people who want to start in the adult business now need to get it right the first time. There used to be a pretty large margin for error where if you didn’t get the right product or choose the right niche or use the right technique, time could let you figure it out. Now, because it is much harder to sell something, you can go out of business pretty quickly if you don’t do it right.”

Looking back, Bernard doesn’t regret dropping out of college; doing so helped to accelerate Gamma’s growth, he said. But Bernard is quick to stress that he doesn’t necessarily recommend that other people who want to be in the adult entertainment industry do the same thing.

“I can’t regret anything I did because it brought to me to where I am now,” Bernard asserted. “However, I strongly believe that education gives you a greater chance of success. Education really shapes how you think and puts you in contact with other businessminded people or technologyminded people, depending on the kind of education you have. I was lucky enough to partner with people who stayed in school and finished their degrees; they helped me to get where I am now.”

Bernard continued: “Education is important, but I think that even more important than education is the passion for what you do. The only way you are going to excel at something is if you have the passion for it. Passion is what is going to drive you to do more than your competitors. I think that passion is one of the reasons this company is successful: we are passionate about what we do.”

Another thing Bernard doesn’t regret is remaining in Montreal. The bilingual Bernard, who grew up speaking French as his primary language but is also fluent in English, said: “Montreal is a special place. It is a bilingual city. There are a lot of very talented people here, and those people tend to be openminded. People in general in Montreal tend to be openminded; you can talk about sex, and nobody is going to look at you like you’re the Devil. I think that is true with other cities as well, but Montreal is pretty unique. People are business-focused like in the States, but they are openminded like in Europe.”

Many of the adult Internet companies that started during the boom of the 1990s have since gone out of business. But Gamma has endured and grown, and Bernard said that his willingness to change with the times has done a lot to promote Gammy’s longevity.

“One thing I have learned is that if you want to stay in business,” Bernard emphasizes, “you need to adapt to changes—and those that didn’t adapt are no longer where they used to be. Either they are in financial trouble or they lost their position as leaders. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you must stay aware of what is going on and make sure you don’t miss the boat when there is a big shift in trends.”

Although Gamma is Bernard’s primary focus as a businessman, he has been involved in some other business ventures as well. Bernard owns a chain of video game stores (there are six stores altogether), and he helped his mother start a company that sells skin care products; she now runs that company on her own. But despite having dabbled in mainstream industries, Bernard plans to continue making adult entertainment his specialty.

“This is the industry that I chose,” Bernard said. “I love the adult industry, and I am far from being tired of it.”