Erica Stevenson (22), grew up in London, then moved to New York when she was 18 to get her degree in Classical Civilisation from NYU. Truthfully, throughout college, Stevenson was completely lost. She had no clue where she was going or what she was trying to achieve. Stevenson knew she wanted to study classics not because she wanted a career in the subject, but just because it was the only academic subject she really loved. Stevenson went to university with the intent of education, not job training. In fact, her first year and a half of university she was training 20+ hours a week in aerial arts alongside her classes at NYU because she genuinely wanted to be in the circus! However, due to a bad hip injury, Stevenson decided to focus on her schooling instead.
Work-wise, Stevenson has been working in the film industry since she was only 15 such as for Big Talk Productions, Mammoth Studios
After university, Stevenson actually moved to Toronto for a year to work for a documentary film festival before she moved back to London. Stevenson was there for the months before she realized what she wanted to do. Stevenson took the leap of faith and moved home at the end of January 2018. She started to work at a bar in order to save up money for Moan Inc and get the flexible work schedule, she needed to make sure Moan was always a priority.
Why ancient history entertainment company?
I’ve loved the ancient world of Greece and Rome since I was 12 and I read Percy Jackson for the first time. Before those books, I didn’t care much for it. Actually, at the time I discovered those books I was in a latin class and hated it! Often times my copy of Percy Jackson was confiscated off of me because I was reading it under the table when I was supposed to be learning the “second declension”. My school offered us the chance to transfer out of latin into classics the following year. When they explained it was “kind of mythology” I jumped at it just so I could get out of that god damn latin class (which is ironic, given I eventually had to crack down and learn the language for my degree). It was always a subject I clicked with after Percy Jackson and one I felt comfortable in because it combined facts&analysis with creative thinking.
When I wanted to start my own company, I knew from the get go it was going to be in the classical field. Initially I wanted it to be a production company, but when I really started understanding what I was creating with Moan, I realised it was so far from that!
Tell us what is Moan?
Moan, very simply, is ancient history entertainment. At the moment (since we only started up in January 2019), we do small YouTube videos modernising an ancient idea/philosophy/history. It’s very subtle. The idea is to target juniors/seniors in high school or kids in university who don’t already know about the ancient world and make it relatable for them. We’re not trying to educate anyone, we’re not trying to make videos you can show in a classroom setting or videos that viewers need to have a notepad out when watching to scribble down facts. If you watch a video, like it, and can’t make the connection, we have a website where you can find all of our facts and sources for each episode (designed by the wonderful Veronica Lorenzini). Moan is designed to be so subtle you haven’t the foggiest why anything you’re watching is to do with the ancient world.
You just recently started Moan, tell us what it was like to build from zero?
Horrible. Not easy, but natural.
It’s genuinely one of the hardest things you’ll have to do (minus birth, probably, but I wouldn’t know about that). You have to believe in yourself because no one else is going to do that for you. You need to put in the hours because no one else is going to do that for you. You need to jump in the deep end because if you don’t, odds are you’re going to fail. Go all in!
Moan has not been easy and continues to be hard, but it’s the most natural journey I’ve ever been on. Even thinking of the name was the most natural thing! It literally just came to me as I was walking through Green Park one day. Building from the ground up is hard in the sense that I’ve had to learn so much whilst doing Moan. Before November of 2018, I had never edited a video in my entire life. I had never filmed anything, never had to make shot lists, never had to direct a cast EVER. I’m slowly learning and getting it all together because getting a team of staff is not cheap nor an easy task! But it’s so rewarding to look at this project slowly improving in front of you with each episode and each idea.
So no, it’s not easy by any means, but building from ground zero has been natural and rewarding on a level nothing else has been.
In your own words, what do you do?
I bring the ancient world into the modern day. We’re trying to show our audience that nothing’s really changed that much between now and then. Our videos are used to access as many people as we possibly can to set the foundation idea for what the company does. Plainly and simply, it’s not meant to be a classroom vibe, it’s meant to be relatable. The idea is when you’re sitting in a class on mythology and you start hearing something about Scylla and Charybdis, you’ll think “I kind of remember this from that stupid video … but didn’t realise it was actually academic”.
There’s a huge issue with academics, especially Classics, that they need to be taken so seriously. There’s never any room to have fun! I found when I was getting my degree, if you strayed even slightly from the seriousness of the text our professors would shut you down. But how do you get people into a subject in any field when you just throw facts at them to memorise? With Moan, we want to get you to take the first step towards a classroom. If you start with a silly video, you can then go online to find the facts for that specific video (which are still written in a very colloquial manner). From there you can find the sources for each episode and explore those; after that you can sign up for a class in your school and maybe following that even go to see the real archaeological sites and understand what you’re looking at. That’s all I do. I modernise the ancient world in the hope of starting a chain to eventually get more people enjoying Classics in an academic environment.
How do you think someone can learn from this?
I think people can really learn, in an academic sense, from our IGTV channel or our online source material. The YouTube videos are designed to help you make the link between both worlds so that ancient Greece and Rome don’t seem so alien. But our IGTV channel is actual facts surrounding an individual character from mythology or history, summed up in about 3 minutes.
More importantly, you can learn that not everything has to be taken so seriously! Take a breather, make a joke out of a stupid myth/monument. Learning to think about something from all angles and tackle it with a new perspective is so vital.
Did you start all by yourself?
The concept and idea was mine, but none of it would have been possible without one of my best friends, Veronica Lorenzini. She completely built me a website from scratch because I’m absolutely useless online! If it wasn’t for her, half of Moan wouldn’t exist.
I also sent out promotional shirts to loads of my friends around the world to wear in the months leading to Moan’s release. It was a silly, simple idea to get the word out even before anything had dropped. A lot of them took selfies to post on instagram or facebook with the hashtag #MoaningIn____ – and then wherever they were. I kid you not, one friend brought my shirt all the way to New Zealand to take the photo. He didn’t just send me one photo, he sent me around twelve to choose from. I cried, I genuinely appreciate him so much. It’s people like that I count as part of Moan’s team and always will. The way some of my friends have supported me is beyond what I could have imagined and I’m so thankful to have them in my life. So even though, yes, technically it’s my company and I started it alone, those people have all been on this journey with me and it would not have come to be without them.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My vision. When you lead a team at work, or in university, there’s someone still telling you which way something has to be done. With my own company, I know the basics of what I want. Who I choose to involve in the projects then helps me build from there. Picking my team and having people around who are much better at doing certain things than I am is the best thing ever.
Can you give us 3 pieces of advice on how to become more creative?
Always, ALWAYS, think of more than one way to do something. Creativity doesn’t mean you can draw, it doesn’t mean you can paint, it doesn’t mean you can act in a scene. Creativity is measured by your ability to think outside the box. It’s your ability to imagine another scenario or another way of inventing something. But you need inspiration to do that, you need to keep your brain on its toes. I’d say you need to read, travel and experiment. Reading is fundamental for creativity because the odds are, you haven’t thought of everything. But someone wrote their idea down, and you can build from that. That may mean what you read changes your idea, or spring boards your idea, or even makes you realise you’re idea needs to be thrown in the bin. Reading is the first step to getting together your thoughts and shaping your perspectives.
By traveling I don’t necessarily mean abroad, but just get out of your bubble! If you hang out in the same neighbourhood, branch out. If you always go to the same bar on the other side of town, go elsewhere. You never know who you’re going to meet and what they may have to say! Traveling even on a small level is experiencing something new, something unexpected, and possibly something out of your comfort zone. In my opinion, that’s nothing but positive.
As for experimenting, once you think you have an idea, you need to try it. I don’t care how dumb it is — try it. You’ll only enhance your creativity by trying things out because if they work, then great, but if they don’t you need to adapt, change, recalibrate. Experiment as many times as you need in order to find your footing and figure out where you’re going. Your ability to adapt or change, your ability to not be so set in your ways is what makes you creative.
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you agree/ disagree with? Why?
Warren Buffet said you need to figure out how to make money while you sleep or you’ll be working your whole life … and that’s some truth if I ever heard it. If you need to be awake and moving for money to be rolling in, you need to figure out a way so you can switch off and relax but still know how money is flying into that bank account.
Stay ahead of the game! I’m about two year ahead of you guys when it comes to my company. I know the basic plan of where I’m travelling, what time of year, what our episodes are going to be about and how we’re expending outside of social media up until the beginning of 2021. Everything else can change around that and obviously those finer details will be adapted to the climate, but I know the exact steps I need to make in that time to get Moan where it needs to be. I have an even looser plan for five years in the future, and then further for ten years, just so I know each and every step and how my company will evolve. That’s all that matters. Make a plan and stay way ahead of what people can see.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
With every green light I get with Moan, I get about three red lights. I wish that wasn’t true. I sent out over 200 t-shirts before Moan dropped and asked every single person to post a picture or for them send it to me. 200 t-shirts all over the world, as far as Australia and New York to Los Angeles and countries as close as Italy or France. Only 50, I wish I was lying, only 50 people of 200 took a picture. That doesn’t mean all 50 people took pictures for their profiles, which was the whole point, but I at least got a picture of the t-shirt. Some of them were on beds or tables … which was a little disappointing but that’s okay. I am still so thankful to every one of those 50 people, but it’s hard not to focus on the 150 who received the t-shirt and then said they didn’t want to “brand” themselves online or put the shirt in a drawer and forgot where they left it. It just taught me you literally can not rely on anyone to do even the smallest task for you, no matter how close you think you are.
The second main business failure was my launch parties. I spent an astronomical amount of money on two parties — one in London and one in New York — to get people excited about the episodes coming out in January. I invited 150 people to each of them (with every person allowed to bring a plus one on the night), had an open bar, you name it. To the London one, only 20 people showed up. To the New York one about 40 people showed up. Again, all it taught me was that you can not rely on anyone to do a single thing for you. It sucks when its the people closest to you. What you need to do is focus on you and your business. Kind of like how horses have those guards on their eyes when they run races: don’t focus on anything or anyone around you, just move forward.