Interviews: Tracy Allyn, Jessica Cook, Megan and Laura Kohner

In this post, you will find three interviews with multiple 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. 

Tracy Allyn of “Tracy Allyn Photography” ©TracyAllynPhotography_ImageSamples001_WEB_425pxWide (1)

  1. Why did you choose to peruse photography? Have you always wanted to take pictures?

I have always loved photography.  My Dad taught me the basics of exposure and focus when I was young.  I had my first job at 15, and I saved my first paychecks and bought an Olympus 35mm film camera.  I used that same camera for 17 years.

I became a mom and suddenly, I had a “willing” subject.  In 2005 I made the leap and established my business.  It has been career love ever since!

  1. In your process of entrepreneurship, can you describe three significant obstacles you faced and how you overcame them?

The biggest obstacle of entrepreneurship is the business aspect overall and knowing how to setup a business for photography, not just shooting because you have a passion for it.  If I could tell any budding photographer out there one piece of advice (after shoot, shoot, and shoot some more), it would be to take business classes!  First, knowing how to price yourself for success is a big challenge.  The market is so saturated with photographers and although there is a place for everyone, it hurts the industry when we under price ourselves.  When I see some photographers’ prices and know what it costs to actually produce an image, not just the cost of the paper, but all of the hard work, business costs (including insurance, equipment, etc.) it just kills me to know that they are working often for minimum wage or less!  Really sit down and figure out your cost of goods and place a true value on your work. Another huge challenge is knowing when to outsource. This is something I continue to struggle with in that I like to have my hands on all of it from pre to post production.  I just can’t help myself… I internalize my work so much.  At this point, my only outsourcing is using professional printers and accounting.

  1. Were there any moments of your entrepreneurial process when you considered giving up or were there moments when there “seemed to be no light?” 

I think the only time I have ever been so frustrated that I doubted myself was when I was working full time as a librarian and part time as a photographer.  Those long nights led to so much exhaustion, but it was important for me and my family to continue down that path for the first few years of business.  We wanted my client base and business to be established enough to know it would work.

  1. What key takeaway or knowledge have you gained as a result of your experience?

Knowing yourself… What you want to do and who you want to be as a person.  I don’t think there is anything more important in life.

Jessica Cook of “Fat Baby Photography” Jessica_Cook arts entrepreneurship smu, meadows school of the arts

  1. Why did you choose to peruse photography?

After a long time of trying to pursue business majors and being miserable the whole time, I finally had to give into a passion that I loved. I just couldn’t let myself settle for money rather than the chance to truly be happy.

  1. In your process of entrepreneurship, can you describe three significant obstacles you faced and how you overcame them?

Actually deciding this was worth the happiness; passion over money. Success isn’t defined by money and it took a while to understand that. I had to tell myself it was worth it everyday. I’m so glad I did. Charging what I am worth. This is still an everyday obstacle that I am working on…

  1. Were there any moments of your entrepreneurial process when you considered giving up or were there moments when there “seemed to be no light?”

I am a fighter. Giving up is not an option. I will be among the top infant photographers in the world one day; I won’t stop until I am. I do worry about finances once I am out of school, but I am already planning ahead for the future.

  1. What role has change played in your process, if any? Have you changed?

I definitely feel more like an adult than I every have. I am more cautious with money, I hired a CPA, I started saving for equipment, I put money away for taxes… those are all changes. I’m just feeling grown up and it’s a great feeling. It’s hard, it’s stressful at times, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Megan and Laura Kohner of “Bikes for Kidz”

  1. Who has helped you in the process?

I have to give thanks to all the professionals and foundation executives who helped take a chance on a couple of high school students, but the people who have helped the most are my parents and the teachers we have been able to work with.  My parents encouraged us to keep going, even when it got really tough, and believe me there were many long nights of paper work, phone tag, and being redirected to a million different people.  I also am enormously thankful for the teachers who helped us write a curriculum and inspired us, as well as their own students, to go the distance.

  1. How has the feedback given to your organization (or the response to it) been?

I think the best way to answer this question would be one of my favorite experiences I had with Bikes For Kidz.  When Laura and I were studying at a library not far from my high school, a kid ran up to us yelling, “Bike Twins! Bike Twins!”  He was one of the students who had participated in our program, and now was in middle school.  His mom was carrying a good ten books for him.  I remember he had no interest in reading or school and now he was an extremely enthusiastic student.  His mom was excited to tell us all the strides he had made since he had been a mentee in BFK. We’ve been given a lot of statistical feedback about how students respond well to mentoring, but I think the smiles and excitement to learn is what has meant the most to me.

  1. In your process of entrepreneurship, can you describe three significant obstacles you faced and how you overcame them?

Being young and inexperienced made it extremely difficult to get people to take it seriously.  Honestly, persistence and belief in what we were doing was our proof for our commitment.

  1. Were there any moments of your entrepreneurial process when you considered giving up or were there moments when there “seemed to be no light?”

If I said there weren’t any tough moments, I would be lying completely.  One of the toughest moments I had to face was telling one of the mentors that I had recruited and interviewed that his attendance was an issue.  His mentee had been starting to get upset that this mentor had to miss often because he was on the lacrosse team.  As the program grew, I had to learn how to address and communicate concerns, and it was definitely a hard thing to learn how to do.

  1. What role has change played in your process, if any? Have you changed?

I have been somewhat of a jack of all trades.  My official title is Co-Founder and CEO, but I love mentoring.  Currently, I’m in the process of bringing BFK to Texas.  I hope to have the program up and running at a local school next year.

  1. What key takeaway or knowledge have you gained as a result of your experience?

My biggest takeaway is learning how much goes on behind the scenes.  In order for charitable organizations to work for whatever their cause is, there is a lot of work that goes into raising funds, making sure accounting forms get in on time, and just day to day management.  It gives me a lot of respect for others running non-profits.  I have also learned how much the little things make a difference.  Remembering a mentees birthday can mean something momentous.

Analysis of the 3 Interviews by Danielle Deraleau

I definitely see a little bit of the hero journey in each of the three interviews I’ve conducted, but in a different way in each.

I noticed Jessica was very much like the “warrior” archetype we have studied in class. Her “never give up” and “never lose” attitude seemed to be a driving force behind the success of her business. It also seemed like she experienced the “refusal of the call” step in her journey. She spoke with me about how she grew up taking pictures on a film camera and collecting the film, but that she tried to fit herself into some sort of business major because she felt that was a more realistic means of making a living. However, she was never happy there. Since she finally decided to give herself permission to peruse her dream, she has been much happier. She expressed such an inspiring passion for her business. It hasn’t come without obstacles- she expressed to me how difficult it is to run a business while also being a student. She is constantly balancing work and school, trying to get editing and assignments done and not getting as much rest and down time as she would like. I think a large dragon or obstacle for her to overcome currently is balancing her time. She did feel like she had grown and changed as a person though. She felt like she went into this journey as a younger, less mature version of herself and is now a more mature and more confident woman because of her experiences.

Megan and Laura at “Bikes for Kidz” have also had a unique journey so far. It was the obstacles they spoke of and the amount of them that really got to me. They’ve faced a lot of problems with people not believing in them because they were young when they started their entrepreneurial journey. They had to prove some people wrong and find someone to mentor them and help them through the process. No one else really spoke about mentors like Megan did. She stressed that it was a necessary and helpful part of the process to have someone that understood it guiding her, but it sounds like they’ve had other rewarding experiences too that have kept them going in this process. Megan’s story about how they were recognized by a young boy who had felt helped by their organization was adorable. It sounds like that story is the story that pushes them to keep going even though they might not want to sometimes. Megan said it had been a difficult process and she would be lying if she said otherwise, but it also sounded like it has been something that is extremely rewarding for her. When I asked her about how she’s changed, she talked about becoming a jack-of-all-trades and learning a lot of things that she had no idea about before. That’s really impressive to me. And that aligns with the hero journey, because heroes pick up knowledge and learn things about themselves along the way that helps them in their journey. It seems like that is what has been happening with Megan- even though she sometimes has a hard time, when she gets through the difficult period, she emerges with some new knowledge that helps her run her organization more effectively.

Tracy Allyn was a truly inspiring woman to talk to and her journey was different than that of the other two women I spoke with. Like Jessica, she had initially refused the call to adventure and had held a job as a librarian originally for 10 years. This was her “normal world” and her world that she was used to. Once she started her journey of creating her business, she continued to hold the librarian job for a bit until she was able to give it up entirely and focus on her passion. In my interview with her, she really advocated the importance of gaining more knowledge. I found it so interesting that she suggested business classes! The other two women I talked to had a bit of a business background, and perhaps that helped them in setting up their endeavor, but Tracy kind of had to learn as she went along. Like Megan, she used the knowledge she was gaining as she worked and put that back into her business so she could solve problems and continue to be more and more successful. She also cited the importance to me of knowing who you are as a person. She said to her it was the “most important thing in life.” I found that interesting because, as we’ve been talking about in class, the hero’s journey is all about finding and understanding themselves. Yes, they’re accomplishing something in the process, but they also learn a lot about themselves along the way and I found that very clearly illustrated in Tracy’s story. She offered some good advice to young entrepreneurs, talking about making yourself stand out in the market, having confidence in yourself, and knowing yourself. If all of these things aren’t things that you start with, like some of the people I interviewed, maybe they could be lessons you learn along the way as you overcome obstacles.

The three entrepreneurs that I spoke with have all had a hero journey in their own way and I would say most are still on one. I think almost every entrepreneur experiences their journey differently, but it’s how they handle the obstacles that come their way that changes them and helps them to be successful.

These interviews and analyses were conducted by student Danielle Deraleau 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.

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