Featured on Nov 17, 2011
Megan Janel Zimmer
"I'm always doing things I don't know how to do, that's how I get to do them"
Megan Janel is the Founder, CEO of TheaterConnects.com. She is a passionate, creative soul, with the heart of an entrepreneur. She grew up in the theater and attended New York University to study Drama/Directing and Art History. Spent three years working as a director and producer in the downtown NY theater community and then pulled an about-face by founding a tech startup. Her last show was The Incredibly Deaf Musical at the New York Musical Theater Festival 2010. During that same time, she went to work for a successful tech startup and set out to learn something new everyday. As a part of the theater industry she saw a huge gap in the market, one that was actually hurting the potential of every theater professional and production. Developing a network and database for the production side of the theater industry, Theater Connects will bridge the cultural and technological impasse in the community; using the internet and new technology to improve the communication and logistics of the theater. She has always and will always love – Theater, New York and doing things I don’t know how to do.
- Title: Founder & CEO, Theater Connects
- Age: 26
- Location: Williamsburg, Union Square
- Contact: @MeganJZ
You’ve been working on Theater Connects for a bit over 9 months now. What have been some of the unexpected challenges that you came across when you first started?
I am pretty sure they were all unexpected! I did not come from a background in business or technology, so regardless of the amount of work I had put in - learning, networking and building the brand, pre-"full time, let's do this, launch" - I still felt like I was headed into unknown territory. But this was also the best part! I knew what to expect and had a timeline on which to do it, but a lot of stuff surprised me in terms of how much nuance, finesse, style, passion and blood/sweat/tears went into something as simple as your first pitch deck. You may really think you know your business, but until you have to inspire someone else in 7-10 slides, you actually have no idea. I wish I had started building the deck even earlier.
The company experienced some major setbacks over the summer that literally threw the plan out the window. It is in moments like these that the challenge of leadership is seriously tested. It was the first time that that role seemed really real for me; not just the "I'm in charge and I make decisions" on a day-to-day basis, but being a leader that inspires, that shoulders the blame/hurt/panic and remains someone that can be counted on and looked to for guidance. Literally being the rock when the world may or may not be crashing down around you. Oh, and then there is the 'getting out' of whatever it is and moving forward! It is one of those life moments that you can't really be sure how you're going to react, until it happens.
In the spring I asked a fellow startup CEO, who is about 2 ½ years into her business, “So…when did CEO mode really kick in?” Her response was, “Um, yesterday?” Basically, if you do not constantly feel like you are only 0.01% of the way there, then you are not a real visionary.
At the end of your bio you say that you always and will always love doing things that you don’t know how to do. What are some things that are on your list that you’d like to learn or do?
I think that that list is endless. I am adventurous by design; I have a hard time standing still, in one place for any period of time. There are so many things out there that I still want to do, and I realized that you just have to jump in and fail or fake it until you make it. No one starts out at the top. The Liz Lemon signature phrase has become a staple of mine - "I want to go to there." This entire journey so far has been about me doing things I don't know how to do. The fact that I have absolutely no experience with this or that, or I have no idea how to do it, isn't going to stop me from trying. If it did, I would not be where I am right now. Especially because there were a couple hundred moments where I could have been intimidated into quitting, either by people telling me directly or by ‘next steps’ that I had never done before. I don't think that there is anything I've done in the last nine months that I knew how to do until I did it. And if that's not true, at least it probably felt that way!
Things I would like to be/do: Film Director, Stock Trader, Fashion VP, TV Producer, TV Show Host, Journalist, Museum Curator, Motivational Speaker, Tri-Lingual, Surfer, Downhill Skier, Teacher, Founding Director of major arts non-profit…just to name a few.
You worked out of the co-working space Dogpatch Labs in Union Square. How was your experience been working there? Would you recommend it to others?
If you can find your way in, there is no better place to be! Dogpatch Labs was a godsend to me. They gave me a home when I was just starting out and had nowhere else to go. I was supported, encouraged and critiqued, sometimes all at once. I think it is incredibly important in the beginning stages of a startup, to have a place to call home. It simplifies so much and lets you focus all of your time on what is important. Being a solo-founder myself it was nice to know that other people were keeping tabs on me, if only to ask “So how’s it going?” You will often find some great advice in those conversations. I probably could not be more thankful to have had Dogpatch in my life. Major props.