When Bill Streetman tells people hes attending Franklin University full time and running his own start-up company, he gets a common reaction.
Everybody I meet and know thats involved in their own business asks me, How can you afford the time to go to school? Streetman says. I say, I cant afford not to. Its just too good of a deal.
The deal, he says, is the classes hes taking to earn his bachelor of science degree a double major in finance and marketing give him information he needs to run the day-to-day operations of his home-computer networking business, Home.net. In fact, he developed his business plan as part of a marketing class in April 1998, and he launched the Westerville-based company that fall.
Literally, I go to class and come home with five pages of notes from the class and five pages of notes for the business, he says.
A security plan
Streetman says his decision to return to school came at a time when he had already achieved a certain level of success: he was vice president at A & C Enercom, an Atlanta-based utility consulting firm.
I didnt go back to school like some people did because they want to come out with a promotion or a salary increase, he explains. I went because of a broad reason: I wanted more security.
In the midst of his schooling, A & C Enercom was acquired by The Intellisource Group of Fairfield, Conn., and Streetman chose to pursue another goal: to build a business from scratch.
As he developed his business plan in class, he decided to make a go of the idea that with the growing use of computers in the home, residents would have an increased need for networking in much the same way businesses do.
The class professor says, Design a business plan for any company you want to. I said, I like this notion; I think its viable. I personally wanted it done and couldnt find a company to do it, he says, explaining the way he, his wife and his three children needed a remedy for their battle over the use of the computers and printer in his home.
He chose marketing and finance as his double major based on what he calls the pillars of most businesses.
If you cant determine what your projects going to be and how to get it to the marketplace, you cant succeed; and if you cant do it with a positive cash flow, you cant succeed, Streetman says.
This isnt Streetmans first shot at a degree. Fresh out of high school, he embarked on three years of an architectural engineering degree that he didnt and likely never will finish, he says, noting that he went into engineering because his father was an engineer, a career for which Streetman says he has an aptitude but no desire.
I have a love for interfacing with people and communicating with people and so on, but thats not as natural I have to work at that, he says. Ultimately, I decided it was probably better to follow what I liked, even if I wasnt as good at it, than to do something I dont like, even if Im good at it. Follow your bliss and you can fill in the skill sets.
Streetman has such a dedication to the importance of obtaining his degree and the benefit it serves his business that even while launching his company, hes only missed two days of classes in nearly two years.
Every day I use the basic financial principles, he says of his classes. What it gives me is every morning I can wake up and look and I see a number. I see a business metric: This is the cash thats on hand and some other ratios they teach you in school, too.
The ratios help him judge the condition of his business and determine whether he needs to make changes.
From information gleaned in his marketing classes, hes conducted consumer research to see trends of how people accept his service.
Hes also finding out whether hes on the right path in his business. For example, he created his own ads for the company, but after he took an advertising class, realized his message was garbled.
You look at it and say, Thats a nice pretty picture, and it looked OK, but I think everybody would have looked at it and assumed it was for someone else, he says. He changed the ad, and calls picked up the right kinds of calls, generating prospective customers rather than nonsense questions that gave him evidence he was previously confusing his audience.
The classes also enable him to provide more constructive input for two companies on whose boards he serves: an indoor air quality company in Texas and the interior design firm owned by one of his business partners, Frank White. White, in fact, once served as Home.nets president while Streetman took a back seat as vice president of marketing in order to dedicate more time to his classes.
The complete assignment
Education continues to come to the forefront for Streetman, who calls his business plans a wealth creation plan to help him maintain his lifestyle and send his three children, ages 11, 13 and 15, to college.
My overall objective is to create anywhere from two to five service-based companies where I would own either all or a percentage of them but they would be under an umbrella of a master contractor or holding company, he says. His plan is for each to generate cash flow and grow to create equity so they could, for example, be sold or taken public.
Streetman expects to graduate this month and continue to benefit not only from the skills hes learned but from the contacts hes gained with professors who share real world business experiences.
You can get so much more out of college than just taking classes, he says.
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for SBN.