Olivia Munk, founder of Part of the Main

Photo of Olivia Munk

Olivia is an entrepreneur originally from NYC. After graduating from Harvard in 2016, she moved to Oxford to pursue a Master’s and has lived in the UK ever since. Supported by a Graduate Entrepreneur Visa from Oxford, she launched Part of the Main in 2018. Part of the Main is a theatre company that supports and creates opportunities in the theatre industry for people who identify as female, trans and non-binary. She produced ‘The Squirrel Plays,’ a new play about abortion in America at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, and recently Part of the Main has run a series of affordable theatre tech, design and producing courses at the Drayton Arms Theatre, where POTM is a resident company. She will soon be launching Part of the Night, POTM’s sister company bringing theatre into pubs and clubs with the goal of making nightlife more exciting, comfortable and social for people who identify as female, non-binary, trans, and queer.

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?

In college, I knew I wanted to work in theatre, probably as a director – it wasn’t until I produced my first show in London while finishing my degree at Oxford that I really thought of myself as an entrepreneur! Every theatre production is like a mini company – you have to recruit your ‘staff’ of artists, raise money, and deliver your ‘minimum viable product’ during previews – and I realized I really loved the business side of theatre. I’ve always been passionate about creating more space for women, non-binary and trans artists in the theatre industry, so Part of the Main’s mission was no brainer – and having fallen in love with the UK and its rich theatre scene, the location for the company was pretty easy to pick, too! Part of the Main is now into its second year and growing, and I’m excited to launch Part of the Night, its sister company, in a few days.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Part of the Night Logo

To me, entrepreneurship means taking it upon yourself to create something that’s missing from the world. For me, that’s better entertainment and socializing opportunities people who identify as female, trans, non-binary and queer. It also means total commitment to your idea when the going gets tough, or when other people doubt you – if you couldn’t see yourself spending your time any other way, you know you’ve found your own path and it’s important to keep going.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?

The first time I applied for the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa with Part of the Main, I was rejected – but the panel told me to come back in a few months with a re-formulated business plan. I went to the Edinburgh Fringe with an Oxford show, and really immersed myself in everything I could there – I directed, I stage managed, I flyered – really everything. I then spoke to some people I knew who were a few steps beyond me in the industry, pitched them my idea, and asked them if they would sign on as mentors. I then went back to the GEV panel, and convinced them I had a better sense of what I was getting myself into! I was granted the GEV and have been working as an entrepreneur in the UK ever since. In this case, I felt really passionately about my idea and knew I wanted to do it no matter what, but it was important for me to take the time to pitch it to lots of different people, immerse myself in the industry, and receive the blessing of a team who agreed that the UK was the perfect place to launch my business.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?

1) A co-founder! Being an entrepreneur can be an incredibly isolating experience and you can’t do everything on your own – finding like-minded people you trust can be a huge factor in making your business a success.
2) Good organization and time management. If you’re your own boss, it can be hard to set goals without that external pressure and/or validation. This goes back to why a co-founder is a good thing to have – you keep each other honest and to deadlines!
3) Being able to weather a LOT of rejection. In theatre, rejection is pretty much the norm – but knowing that doesn’t make it feel any better when it happens over and over again! When you’re trying to start something NEW in theatre, rejection happens everywhere you go – when you tell people your idea, when you try to sell tickets and no one’s biting, when you apply for grants and the money is funneled somewhere else. But the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you learn how to make your own way in the face of rejection, and you can end up finding a journey that is much more fruitful & fulfilling than if you had been accepted by Grant X or Scheme Y in the first place.

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

Being my own boss! No questions. I feel so much more passionate pursuing my own projects than someone else’s – a drive that helps me stick to my goals and keeps to deadlines without external validation. Plus, keeping your own hours is pretty awesome.

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?

I’m really intrigued by both Bumble and The Wing. Their shared premise is that world, as it is, isn’t safe for women – so it’s important to create spaces where they can flourish without gender-based harassment and/or discrimination. I’ve been thinking a lot about how these companies shape their products and cultivate audiences as I build Part of the Night.

If you had 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?

So much, but mostly, how they continue to support women through their organizations. Occasionally, we get the question: ‘What about men?’ Of course, the point of Part of the Main & Part of the Night is not about excluding men – it’s about including people who don’t identify as men, and those are two very different things. I think every entrepreneur who creates gender-specific spaces gets questions and pushback like these. I would love to speak with Whitney Wolfe and Audrey Gelman about how they stick by their convictions of serving a gender-specific demographic and how we can all continue to better tailor our products to trans, non-binary, gender-noncomforming, and queer individuals.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

Both having too many projects, and having too few, can be dangerous. If you have too much to juggle, and it can be hard to know exactly what to focus on, which means that none of the projects will have your fully attention or energy and has the potential to flounder. However, if you don’t have enough projects on the back-burner, it can feel devastating if one doesn’t turn out the way it was planned. Through trial and a LOT of error, I’ve learned that it can be useful to have one project at the forefront and lots of ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ projects to devote portions of your time to, so it doesn’t feel like one specific endeavour is propping up your entire business.

How have you funded your ideas?

A lot of different ways: smaller grants, personal savings, bootstrapping, crowdfunding from our friends and family, and income from ticket sales. We hope to soon initiate a funding round for investments.

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?

We were fortunate to receive a small grant from the Wandsworth Council in 2018 to support our run of The Squirrel Plays at the Wandsworth Arts Fringe.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?

I would recommend them to speak to the Oxford Office of Career Services! Oxford has helped connect me to fellow entrepreneurs who have been enormously helpful and supportive, and also pointed me to wonderful resources like EnSpire Oxford and the Foundry.

Any last words of advice?

Being an entrepreneur is a LOT of work – but if you’re passionate about your ideas and what you can personally bring to an industry, it can be the most rewarding job you’ll ever have. Also, find your fellow entrepreneurs and talk to them. They’ve been there, they know what you’re going through, and most of them are more than willing to grab a cup of coffee and talk through your problems.