Learning From Entrepreneurs
Graduates of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business share what they know about owning businesses.
Earning an undergraduate degree while running two restaurants may seem daunting to some. But to Asad Mazahir (B.B.A. ’15), it’s just another work day. Mazahir is finishing his degree at Georgia State and owns two franchises, the Tin Drum near campus and Boneheads Seafood in Dunwoody, Ga.
“I’ve never really seen the difference between being in school and having a business, versus not being in school,” he said.
Some students choose to spend time out of class socializing or working, but Mazahir said he chose to invest his time doing something that will benefit him for years to come.
The value of hard work was instilled in him in his youth. As a high school student, he had his eye on a motorcycle.
“I used to walk a mile to work every day after school until I was able to purchase my own motorcycle,” he said. “I learned that hard work equals reward.”
Mazahir may be in a unique position, but he and most other entrepreneurs share some qualities: a strong work ethic, passion and vision. But every business is different, and there are lessons everyone can take away, whether a seasoned professional or someone about to make the first leap into opening a business.
Graduates of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State show there’s no right way to start a business. Some build from the ground up, some buy into the business, but they all have unique insight into owning it.
What you know is as important as who you know
Networking is a part of building a business, but entrepreneurs know not to depend on it. Kathleen Donahoe (MBA, ’12) was able to buy into a business and expand it as a result of her business education at Georgia State.
Donahoe bought into Oh Baby! Fitness with what’s known as “sweat equity.” She had worked with the pre- and post-natal women’s fitness company as a trainer for years. She believed in the mission and saw opportunity for growth.
She earned her MBA at Georgia State, and the owner of Oh Baby! Fitness offered to bring her on as a partner.
While earning her MBA, Donahoe learned the difference between licensing and franchising, and made the decision to license Oh Baby! Fitness as a growth tactic. Licensing is a complicated process, one she never would have known how to navigate without a business education. The decision has influenced how much Oh Baby! Fitness has been able to grow over the past few years.
The biggest benefit to licensing is the cost.
“We can’t legally charge more than $500 for a license,” Donahoe said.
This means a person can buy his or her own Oh Baby! Fitness for less than $500, instead of the thousands it would cost to own a franchise.
Donahoe said, “The mission of the company is for us to be available to all pregnant women, safe and effective exercise for all pregnant women. In America to start with, worldwide in the future.”
To reach that goal, it has to be cheap enough for people to buy in, she said.
Keep your mind on the money
Sucheta Rawal (B.B.A. ’02, M.S. ’04) is the founder of the non-profit Go. Eat. Give., which aims to “create global citizens through cultural education, community service and international travel.”
Go. Eat. Give. coordinates service-oriented vacations, gathering people who want a more meaningful vacation experience. The groups travel to unique and exotic places to enjoy the local flavor while serving the community. In Atlanta, Go. Eat. Give. hosts cooking classes and provides information and literature to bring world communities together.
Rawal focuses on the mission, but don’t be fooled by the non-profit status.
“Everything I do is revenue generated,” she said. “We give back to the community, but our mission is to be self-sustained. Even if we have one or two employees, I keep telling them that you have to look at the numbers first.
“A lot of people get stuck in non-profits just working on the mission aspects of it, and they don’t see how those missions are going to be funded.”
Ben Reed (MBA ’09) is a founder and co-owner of PitchMaps, a firm specializing in sales messaging, primarily in business-to-business situations.
PitchMaps is the result of experiences with West Reed, the advertising agency he, his brother and father started several years before. The agency would produce anything clients wanted, but they found they had a unique talent for figuring out the clients’ core brand messaging.
“For us it was about finding that real specialist niche we could carve out, and that was around messaging,” Reed said. “When you’re starting a business, there’s a temptation to just do anything anybody asks you to do. That feels safe because you never want to turn away work.”
When PitchMaps was created and they started specializing in brand messaging, they had to “fire” some clients.
“It’s a scary leap to make when you actually start turning away work,” Reed said. “But we were going for the long-term success.”
Reed says specialization has worked out well. Since they specialized, they’ve started working for clients around the U.S. and hearing from prospects as far away as the Netherlands.
“The more narrowly you specialize, the broader your reach becomes,” he said.
During his time at Georgia State, Reed won a Business Plan Competition at the Herman J. Russell Sr. International Center for Entrepreneurship and came in second place on another.
“I really kind of caught the bug for entrepreneurship at Georgia State,” he said.
You’re never really in control
Dorothy Pinney (B.B.A. ’01), owner of Cameo Salon in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta, worked in salons for years before opening up one of her own.
“Sometimes I felt like I knew just as much of what was going as the owners did,” she said. “So I thought, if I care that much, why don’t I just do it on my own?”
And she did. With fellow Georgia State alum Jennifer Kelley (B.A. ’01), she opened the kind of salon she’d always wanted. The two women created a space that was fun for clients and employees, and the business was well received in the community.
“You just feel proud when you come in here thinking, ‘This is it! This is mine!’” Pinney said.
But with ownership comes the unexpected. Before the salon opened, Pinney had scheduled a weekend to celebrate her wedding anniversary.
“And instead of that,” she said, “I was at Lowe’s at 6 a.m. buying paint and testing paint colors on the bathroom wall.”
The consensus among entrepreneurs is that ownership is great, but there are some hard days, especially when dealing with an old building.
Pinney said, “A bad day is when you’re at the shampoo bowl and water is coming out of the bathroom floor, out of the toilet and you’re doing a shampoo, screaming for someone to come help you.”
She knows the secret for getting through tough times.
“You can’t really take anything too seriously,” she said. “You have to realize, yeah, you don’t want toilet water on the floor, but it’s life, you know? It’s going to happen.”