In this post, you will find three interviews with three entrepreneurs. They were created to reflect on the possible parallel between entrepreneurship and the mythic structure of the journey of the hero, as articulated by Joseph Campbell. These interviews were conducted as part of the Arts Entrepreneurship program.
I first met Eddie Leon my freshman year of college at SMU. When we became fraternity brothers later that year, I grew much closer to Eddie and learned of his entrepreneurial drive. During his final entrepreneurship class senior year at SMU, Eddie and two friends started ‘Tapping Texas’, a liquor distribution company that specialized in the transport of local brewed Texas beer between Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Even though Eddie’s group won a $5,000 grant from SMU for the idea, the group struggled to move forward after the class was over, when they were on their own to grow and network their company. By the next calendar year, ‘Tapping Texas” was done and their dream of the Iron Triangle was no more. But Eddie did not let his first failure keep him from pursuing his dream as an entrepreneur. A few months later, Eddie discovered another opportunity in ‘Virtual Visit’, a software startup that specialized in providing a communications medium between the family, nursing staff, and the resident for whom the care is being provided for.
When I asked Eddie what his main challenges were on his journey to becoming an entrepreneur, he admitted that fear was a huge challenge he had to overcome. When he was starting ‘Tapping Texas’, he was a student who had no idea how much hard work it really took to self-network and grow his business. Now that he made it out of the flames of his first business venture, he feels he has the confidence to go into conventions, meetings, and sales pitches and deliver his pitch with confidence. Even though ‘Virtual Visit’ is now a part of the Tech Wildcatters Entrepreneurial Acceleration program, Eddie told me of the lowest point of his venture when they had initially applied to the many accelerator programs across the country with high hopes, to later not be admitted to a single program. The team was suddenly in limbo, with no sight of further investment or potentially moving forward with their idea. When the Dallas accelerator program called them back, later informing them that they had been selected, the tides had turned for Eddie’s business. ‘Virtual Visit’ is currently in the process of getting their software piloted at a nursing care center, and if successful, should continue to expand across the state.
One key takeaway from my talk with Eddie was how he stressed the importance of personal passion in your idea. When describing his first business venture, he stressed how important it was for you and your team to be continuously working to achieve your goals. If at any point you get complacent and you do not put your full effort into your business during start up, then it is doomed to fail.
Eddie’s Hero Journey, Analysis by Zach Gibson
Eddie’s journey started out in his ordinary world growing up in Houston, TX. When he moved to Dallas to attend SMU, Eddie was surrounded by energy and creativity. As a business major, Eddie was getting all of the accounting, marketing, and financial knowledge he would ever need to work for any large business firm. But it was during these tedious, monotonous classes that Eddie realized this career was not for him. It was during his final entrepreneurial class at SMU when he had his first call to adventure.
As social college students, Eddie and his friend John Echols could not help but notice the dramatic growth in popularity of craft beers from all over the state he had experienced throughout the past year. “Every bar you went to had a new specialty brew available. Grocery stores were starting to not only carry Deep Ellum beers, but were also starting to expand into other craft beers from all across the state.” It was here they finally saw their vision. If they could find a way to organize the distribution of local Texas craft beers between the three major cities, there could be a substantial market to be had. So boom, they decided to cross their 1st threshold and develop ‘Tapping Texas’, a liquor distribution service that would connect the iron triangle of Dallas, Austin, and Houston. After their ideation had been completed, Eddie started to meet with the series of mentors provided to him through his entrepreneurship class. Initially, the company had great success, winning a $5,000 grant from SMU in addition to be accepted into another entrepreneurial mentorship program. But Eddie’s first real test came when the school year ended and he and his two partners graduated from SMU.
The advancement of their business was no longer on the school’s schedule, but rather their own personal schedule. Without the push of their academic mentors over the summer, the team got a bit complacent with their early success and did not focus on the expanding their connections with local breweries and restaurants across the state. It was during this time that Eddie fell into the belly of the beast. At the end of that summer, ‘Tapping Texas’ was officially extinct. The team was no longer on the same page, effort-wise, and the business failed because of it. Eddie had taken a huge leap not settling for a boring business job like the rest of his peers, and at this juncture, it appeared that he made a mistake. But then Eddie met Justin, a Dallas firefighter who also had the time to attain a Master’s degree in technology engineering from UT.
After hitting it off almost immediately, Justin quickly made Eddie a member of his team, which was launching the ‘Virtual Visit’ software company. Again, Eddie crossed the 1st threshold and decided to listen to his heart and follow his entrepreneurial passion. Even though they experienced some hardships at the start, when they were unable to get into an entrepreneurial acceleration program, once the company was accepted into the Tech Wildcatters entrepreneurial acceleration program, they finally had the mentors capable of giving them the tools (money) and knowledge necessary to successfully start a business. The credibility gained through the Tech Wildcatters gave Virtual Visit all the credibility it needed to seek out more entrepreneurial programs, potential investors, and customers, or in terms of the hero’s journey, tests, allies, and enemies.
Now that Eddie and his team are approaching the inmost cave during their prep to launch, it is crucial that they stay focused and continue to find more potential customers for their company. Their website is almost complete and they are about to face their ordeal when they finally pilot their software in a nursing home in the DFW area. During this time, it will be crucial for Eddie and his team to be open to the criticism they may receive, and, in response, adjusts the product to better fit their customers. Because their target consumers are so different, it will be up to the team to not only adjust marketing messages but to also take any necessary requirements to make their software easy to use across all of their target markets. If the software pilot proves successful, Eddie will find himself past the ordeal of the hero’s journey. From there, Virtual Visit will either thrive and expand its customer base and conquer their dragon, or the company will collapse, and be defeated by the status quo.
Lauren Quin has been a friend of mine since we met in elementary school way back in the day growing up in Atlanta. When we transitioned into the same private middle and high school, we naturally became closer as our friend groups intertwined. From a young age, Lauren’s passion and talent for painting and drawing was known throughout our school. Her life as an artist started with a love of landscapes, and over the course of high school shifted to an interesting form of realism. By senior year, Lauren was one of the few students qualified to take the independent studio class; a yearlong class, during which she pursued whichever direction of art she so desired. At the end of the year, your work was entered into a state wide art competition and later put on display in the fine arts center for the entire school to critique. After winning awards on many of her paintings, Lauren finally decided to pursue her passion and go to art school at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Now twenty-two, and a senior at the Art Institute of Chicago, Lauren is soon about to graduate and pursue a career as a professional painter, focusing on figurative abstraction. My level of art knowledge cannot even begin to do this form of painting justice, but I can tell you that it is a blend of abstract art, where the meaning is created only through a form, and figurative art, where the painter has painted something clearly recognizable with an obvious motif. Even though Lauren is an incredibly talented painter, who has sold many pieces in addition to holding shows and critiques in New York and Chicago, she has already experienced some difficulties along her path. As someone who does not have that much professional work completed, she admitted having troubles establishing a price precedent for her work. As an artist, her hard work is tough to quantify exactly how much it should be worth. Additionally, it is hard to get attention from art galleries when you do not have much work out there. Lauren also told me of the toughest part of her career, which was during her first critique at the end of the first semester in art school. Her teachers slammed her with criticism, saying her work in high school was much better than the new work she was making. But Lauren said she was trying to figure out exactly which artistic path she wanted to pursue, and she used that critique as a chip on her shoulder to keep making more and more work. When I asked her which part of her journey as an artist changed her the most, she quickly said the environment she was in. When she was working in New York, she had an incredibly small workspace and only had the supplies she could carry in a backpack, limiting her to working on small watercolor paintings. When she moved back to Chicago, she finally got her own studio. Here, she was finally able to start her path into large-scale figurative abstraction pieces.
One key takeaway from my talk with Lauren was when she said “finding other artists around her and supporting them and vice versa was huge for her confidence and growth as an artist.” Friends don’t only network/advertise your work for you, but they also make you better with honest constructive criticism. If you are interested in checking out her work, please visit laurenquin.com.
Lauren’s Hero Analysis by Zach Gibson
Lauren’s journey started in the ordinary world, stuck in the everyday lull of high school in Atlanta. From an early age she always knew she wanted to get out of Atlanta and head to one of the meccas of the art world, whether is be New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even across the pond in Europe. After having such success in her independent portfolio class, she heard her call to adventure and followed it to the Art Institute of Chicago. Upon arriving in Chicago, she was in a place where mentors surrounded her. Even though she agreed that her teachers dramatically improved her work, her best mentors were her fellow students. She found their criticism to be so much more helpful because they were not affected by the “overwhelming snobby art persona.” Fellow art students not only helped her improve her work, but they were also much more able to connect with Lauren on a social level, because they were experiencing the same hardships. The first two years of school, Lauren was surrounded with change, tests, allies, and enemies.
After two years in art school, Lauren crossed her first significant threshold when she moved from Chicago to New York City in order to work in her first professional art gallery. In the big apple, she was confronted with her first real test because of the dramatic change in environment. In a city that was so alive, Lauren found the busy life style coupled with the lack of artistic space to be a real challenge in developing her career. Though she finally had the job she wanted in an art gallery, she had very little time to pursue her own work between work shifts. Additionally, she had such limited space to hold her materials, she had to completely shift the style of painting she was working on. These series of tests Lauren experienced while in New York dramatically improved her knowledge of what it was going to take to pursue a career as a professional painter. Even though she could not put a ton of effort into developing her own work, she did use her time in New York to work on networking, which she now realized was crucial to her development as a self-marketer. Learning the ins and out of the art sales business was crucial for developing her portfolio, as well as developing a price point for her first professional work.
When she returned to Chicago for her junior year of school, it was finally time for Lauren to approach the inmost cave and prep her portfolio for sale. Throughout her junior year, Lauren finally had the time to focus on her figurative abstraction paintings, which proved to be the most rewarding for her. At the end of her junior year, Lauren was finally ready to face the ordeal of selling her work professionally for the first real time without help from school connections, parental connections, or connections form her art gallery in New York. Even though she was faced with some hardships when it came to the pricing of her unprecedented work, Lauren was able to defeat her dragon by selling most of her work, making the first tangible leap into the career path of a professional painter. Her first customers were vital to her success because, without their trust in her work, she would have been unable to develop a clientele basis that would not only advertise her good work, but would also express the true value of Lauren’s work, which can be hard to numerically quantify. Though her journey is just beginning, Lauren’s road back will be a tedious process during which she will have to listen to criticism from many different parties. But, if she can continue to paint what she is passionate about and use criticism as fuel for her fire, then I’m sure her talent will take her far.
Even though she has achieved initial success as an artist, her real reward has yet to occur. No one ever said the life of a professional artist was an easy one. Her resurrection and return will be a long and challenging road. But in order for her to be re-born, she will have to continue to produce work at a high level. Her wish will seemingly be fulfilled when her past work will speak for itself. She will be content when art dealers and collectors will be lining up to buy her work, before she has even completed it. Once she is able to relax, and not worry about the money for the proper studio, supplies, and advertising, Lauren will have achieved her reward.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tabitha Bogard (Tabi as we call her in the office), my first day on the job as an intern at the advertising agency MasonBaronet. As the Creative Director of our ad agency, Tabitha has had quite an illustrious career in print, web, and fashion design throughout her twenty plus year career. Born and raised outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, she attended the University of Oklahoma and majored in graphic design. After having success at her first design firm, Tabi moved on to David Carter, a full service design firm. Tabi was not shy in expressing how huge of step this was in her career. David Carter was where she had wanted to work since she graduated college. While working there, she developed a personal relationship with Mr. Carter, who became her mentor and dramatically helped her improve her design work. After David Carter, Tabi spent some time doing freelance design work across the DFW area. Even though she tremendously enjoyed the opportunity to be her own boss, Tabi missed working in print design, which was her true passion. She continued her career at Sibley Peteet design, then moved to TPN where she specialized in shopper marketing. She made her dive into the advertising agency world when she became the head creative director of the Moet & Chandon and Dom Perrignon accounts. After wowing both clients and customers with her work, she later became the creative director for the Bank of America account.
Throughout her journey as a designer, Tabitha admitted experiencing quite a few challenges along the way. Initially, the effort needed to start up an entire company was vastly underestimated. She had to put a ton of effort into developing her own website, utilizing SEO, improving her PR stance, and increasing her social media presence. Additionally, she found that she was asking too many people for their help or advice. What she found is that all of these opinions only clouded her design vision. She realized her instinct, rather than the opinions of her peers, was much more important than the development of a clear but unique design. She also found that in her moments of intellectual despair, she found it very helpful to step away from your work and take some time away from everything. By taking the time to relax, her cloudy thoughts went away, and when she returned to her work, she was able to hit the ground running.
One key takeaway from my talk with Tabi was when she stressed the importance of following your passion. Whether working for yourself, or for somebody else, she stressed the need to always follow your heart and never settle for acceptable work, but strive for your best work. Additionally, always remember your values, in life and in design.
Tabitha’s Heroes Analysis by Zach Gibson
Tabitha’s ordinary world consisted of the thriving life in the suburbs outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her call to adventure began when she saw a movie in the 80’s that opened her eyes to the world of design as a career path, specifically interior design (originally). When she got to the University of Oklahoma, she had a refusal of her call (and a bit of a scary moment) when she realized the math required in school to complete the interior design major was way above her level of expertise. Fortunately, her academic advisor turned her onto the graphic design major available in the art school at OU, and from there she never turned back. Tabitha started out at a small design firm called VWA, which focused on residential living/hotel/resorts. After a few years she moved onto David Carter Design, a design firm, which she remembered being her goal for a dream job when she was studying in college. David Carter was everything she had hoped it to be and more. There, David Carter became her first significant mentor in her life, and she attributes a lot of her success today still to the experience she had with the firm many years ago.
It was not until after David Carter that she crossed the first threshold and took a step towards becoming self employed. As a free lance print and web designer, Tabitha was able to distinguish and brand her style of design as a personal entity, rather than her work being accredited to the design firms for which she was working. During this time as a freelance designer, Tabi did experience many hardships, mostly pertaining to keeping consistent business. Even though her work was good, she found it very tough to continue to expand her business because most companies did not trust an individual designer without a firm to back them. Even though she successfully started her own company, her ordeal came when she realized she was tired of fighting for business. Her priority was not working for herself, rather the overall improvement of the quality and uniqueness of her design. Here, she figuratively crossed another threshold, and moved back into the employee sector. But, her reputation as a quality designer had spread throughout the DFW area, and quickly Tabitha made her impact in her new firm (Sibley Peteet design), and then moved onto TPN. TPN was where Tabitha’s brilliance in design was first relished. As the head creative director for the Dom Perrignon and Moet & Chandon accounts, Tabi was able to achieve great creative success, so much success in fact, that she was made head creative director for the firm’s largest customer, Bank of America. In her first year of business, Tabi and the rest of the TPN team dominated the ordeal of gaining customers, and in turn, the company expanded from a design team of five total members, to a team that included fourteen design team members, with another five people on the production team and twelve account managers. This first year of work, Tabi was surrounded with tests, allies, and enemies. The clear reward for her hard work at TPN was not only the rapid expansion of the company, but also the increase in the quality of their customers. Once they gained the Bank of America account, the agency was completely reborn from a small design agency to a large full service ad agency capable of handling multi-million dollar accounts. Tabitha continued to work at TPN for another five years, but after growing tired of the everyday monotony, Tabi was again called to adventure. She left TPN and moved onto another agency, bringing her clients gained at TPN with her. In her mind, her customer loyalty was the real wish-fulfillment behind her entire journey as a designer. Though the quality of her work and the originality of her design were always important and very rewarding for her, the fact that clients were willing to leave the agency, simply to have her creative expertise in their advertisements, speaks volumes to how moving her work can be. Currently, Tabitha is the head creative director at MasonBaronet, and is continuing her journey as a designer and innovator.
These interviews and analyses were conducted by student Zach Gibson for the Arts Entrepreneurship program at Meadows School of the Arts, SMU. They were created for the class Entrepreneurship and the Hero Adventure and are part of a blog series called Heroes Among Us.