Upclose: ‘Take risk out of the equation’

Jim Beach and Chris Hanks figure they’ve taught thousands of people how to become entrepreneurs over the years through classes they’ve led at Georgia State and the University of Georgia, as well as through business conferences.

Now, they’ve teamed up to launch TheEntrepreneurSchool.com, an online education program through which they expect to reach many more people. As part of the rollout of the site, they’ve written a book, with journalist David Beasley, called, “School For Startups,” which is billed as “the beginner’s guide to low-risk entrepreneurship.”

Published by McGraw-Hill, it’s an energizing, pep-talking read that tries to motivate wannabe entrepreneurs to get up off the couch and into their own businesses through a mix of real-world examples and tips.

Beach, who now works at TheEntrepreneurSchool.com full time, and Hanks, who still heads UGA’s Terry College of Business Entrepreneurship Program, are themselves entrepreneurs, having built and run successful companies. While they have different but complementary skill sets, Beach says, they are “100 percent in line” with how to start and successfully operate a business.

Beach, who at 26 founded American Computer Experience, a student technology training business that grew to 700 employees, talked about their philosophy and why people shouldn’t be afraid to start their own company.

Q: What's the goal of this book?

A: The main point is to challenge the on-the-street conception of what entrepreneurship is. If you were to ask, 95 out of 100 people would say entrepreneurship is about taking risks and being creative. We don't believe in either of those. The implications of that are profound.

Q: Why is risk not part of entrepreneurship?

A: Risk-takers are people who start a business with no planning, who do things without proper preparation. Entrepreneurs are people who reduce risk to the point where starting a business is a no-brainer. They do everything possible to reduce the risk so that the chance of failure is much, much less.

Q: How do you do that?

A: Instead of quitting your day job and risking your mortgage and health insurance, start a small business on the side that you can run from 5 o'clock at night to 9 o'clock at night. In the first year, the business might only make $10,000, but in year three or four it will grow. Then, with no risk at all, you can quit your day job and seamlessly transition into the business you've been incubating on the side. We want you to take risk out of the equation.

Q: What about creativity?

A: We don't believe in creativity. Entrepreneurship has nothing to do with creativity. If you sit around and wait to be hit with this lightning bolt of creativity, it's just not going to happen. Most of us are not creative people; the creative people end up in the arts. Most of us should go out and find an idea that's really good and implement it better than anybody else. If you want to be an entrepreneur — and 72 percent of Americans admit they'd like to be — go out there and find someone else's idea and just do it better. Ninety-three percent of businesses around the world are copies of existing businesses.

Q: What are the implications of not having to be creative and not having to take risk?

A: If I take risk out and I take creativity out, you have no excuse to not do it. There are no excuses.

Q: That must offer some hope to those who are unemployed and looking to do something on their own.

A: This book is also written for them because it's also a low-capital way of starting a business. A lot of unemployed people could find $5,000, or start a service business for under a $1,000.

Q: One of the things the book talks about is multiple streams of income. How does that fit in?

A: One way you decrease risk is by diversifying. A corporate person might have one source of income. In today's incredibly competitive outsourcing, move to China or move to India world, it's very likely that you'll not only have to change jobs but careers. The man is going to be determining your future. Whereas, if you start one little business that makes $5,000 the first year and in year four $50,000, then you start another business and another and you're going to have multiple streams of income. They may not by themselves provide a living, but together they can provide a beautiful income with all of the freedoms. And if one of them goes bad, the other businesses will be there to support you. You're going to be happier, more fulfilled, have a higher quality of life and have greater job security.