Startup Diaries: The Hero's Journey Part V: Crossing The First Threshold

In a tribute to US mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who asserted that all mythical heroes experience the same 12 steps on their adventures, Ondina Montgomery draws parallels between Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and that of the entrepreneur.

Part 5 of the Journey shows the hero leaving the familiar and ordinary world behind and crossing the threshold into adventure. Click here to read the fourth part of Ondina's series, The Hero's Journey Part IV: Meeting With The Mentor.

Shortly after I crossed ''my threshold'' for the first time, I learnt a really important lesson. When you take that step it's because you believe in yourself and your dreams. It is like an awakening. You feel full of hope and while that is great, sadly hope is not a strategy! But wait, I am getting ahead of myself here. 

I had just finished college and I made the decision to start MAH. Once you commit to starting your own business I can promise you that you are no longer a passenger in life. You are instantly exposed to a new set of teachings and rules that raise questions and deliver surprises. It is exhilarating and it brings you into contact with experiences you’ve never had before. For me starting MAH felt like going on that first date, or grabbing that first kiss, or the first time you drove in your own car by yourself. Liberating, yet scary.

Saying you are starting a business and doing it is like saying I am going to climb Mount Everest.

You may be able to see it way off in the distance but you have to start planning how you are going to get there. And as you start getting closer you suddenly realize the mountain is a lot bigger when you get closer. In my experience, most people only get to base camp before they decide to give up. And of those that start to climb only a few ever make it to the top, even with experienced guides.

There are so many things that you need to get in place, especially if you are thinking about building a brand not just a cottage industry business. For me it was the difference between decorating a window in a shop compared to designing a whole concept store.

I started asking myself business questions in a language I could understand. What was going to make MAH special?

My vision was to ride the technology wave that was sweeping into all our lives. I would look at my new Apple ipad and compare it to the PC and for me it was obvious that one was a blend of art and science. That’s what made the Apple products so compelling and unique.

I had a great feel for aesthetics and design so I decided that MAH would be the gatekeeper for transforming Art and Science into Fashion. I decided to start working with world famous artists that were also scientists, whose work was created because of the technology revolution. The difference being that because they were artists their works were imbedded with humanity. I decided that I would produce original limited edition art images on scarves to begin with, as well as personally collaborate with the artist/scientists to produce a series that really had my input in it.

I started to ask myself, if MAH had a face what would it look like? What would her eyes be like? If she had a mouth what would she say? If she had friends who would they be? To start the business I had to register a company and get all sorts of legal contracts in place that I had no experience in whatsoever. I quickly learnt that two of MAH’s best friends were to be an accountant and a lawyer. They are what I believe Joseph Campbell would refer to as the Threshold Guardians.

It was no good me trying to do all these things. I needed to delegate so I could stay in my home territory - design. The Guardians to me are professional people there to test your commitment. Even if when working for you they might throw all kinds of obstacles, threats or difficulties in your way to make you back off and go home…. Especially manufacturers who are more interested in clients with big orders, not a small boutique start up run by a woman with no manufacturing experience.

The Threshold Guardians will not waste their time; they’ve seen countless people start out with big plans but give up at the very first obstacle.

However, once you’ve shown the guardians you are inspired and committed by doing the hard work, ignoring those who want to discourage you from leaving the herd, by leaving behind unnecessary baggage that only weighs you down, by passing the guardians’ tests, you are anointed and given passage into the brave New World.

As a designer I was able to create the logos and basic design elements, but then I realized I needed more than just lawyers, accountants and manufacturers. I needed a website! And not a template website. A very specific website! A lot of the templates out there just didn’t fit my ideas, so my new best friends became an IT team that helped build the website and over time trained me in what I needed to do. A good web designer is like a Jedi master.

And while all this was going on I had to source more manufacturers and material suppliers in Italy, France, India and Indonesia. I needed to find more artist/scientists that were agreeable to work with MAH, and they needed to be well recognized. I had to start producing samples so I could see if the end result was as I had imagined and that the artist/scientists I was working with were also happy with the results.

I had to find photographers, and stylists and models and make up artists, and film makers, create themes for the collections, create banking systems for everything from PayPal to Visa so the online shop would be active and functioning. I needed to find retailers that would display product both in store and online and this meant engaging in numerous contracts that all looked like Chinese to me. There was consignment versus stocking orders and retail versus wholesale. The list seemed endless.

Some days it would feel like I was sitting in a room literally buried in paperwork that was not filed, with the phone ringing constantly, and someone knocking at the door (loudly), plus countless unanswered emails with more just pouring in.

It was simply overwhelming!

Once you start something, in the beginning it needs a lot of pushing and at first nothing seems to be happening. But if it is a good idea it seems to gain a life of its own. That’s a good thing but it also has its challenges when it picks up new momentum. Feeling uncomfortable and inexperienced seemed to be the norm. You are the proverbial babe in the woods. You ask yourself, “What was I thinking to leave my ‘ordinary world’ behind?” I don’t see my friends anymore, I just work all the time and I constantly had fears about not being good enough. We’ve all been in situations like this when we feel we have stretched beyond what we felt we could do.

On a particularly bad day one of my advisors told me, “when you feel like you have bitten off more than you can chew, then chew like hell”. And that’s exactly what I did. While chewing, I started giving more directions to my new business friends. I started to delegate so I could keep an eye squinting into the future so as to avoid the countless potholes and roadblocks on the journey.

By no means was it a smooth ride, but I was learning and learning fast.

It is a certainty that when you cross the first threshold, you will meet boundaries. It might be the environment, a roadblock or obstacle in the way of a decision, or the road might be too far away, a proverbial storm or a financial drought might test your resolve, or it might be people who come up and challenge you. But luckily I am a curious person and curiosity is the breeding ground of learning. And if you are learning it makes things a whole lot more interesting.

I just went at it hard for as long as I could and when I eventually looked up at my “Mount Everest” I realized after all this work instead of being half way up the mountain I was only at base camp and the mountain looked taller and more ominous than ever.  It was then that I realized the real tests were about to begin. I was going to need a lot of support, have all my wits about me and develop an amazing resistance to adversity to deal with these tests, and pray that I had a lot of luck on my side.

To Be Continued…….

Ondina Montgomery grew up in Denmark and has always been passionate about Art and Design. Raised by a family of artists including her creative grandmother and her artist father, a highly accomplished painter and sculptor, working with artists and designers comes naturally. Before living in South East Asia, she traveled the world extensively, eventually settling in Sydney in 2006.

During her time in Australia, she started a design course and became involved in diverse design-related projects. After moving to Singapore in 2010 to expand her knowledge and her international client base, she obtained her Interior Design Diploma from Lasalle College of The Arts Singapore and then decided it was time she founded her own company. MAH was born! As the CEO and Curator of MAH she works with a broad range of artists, designers and photographers who share her interest and passion for scarves.

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