So, you want to be an entrepreneur? Maybe the very thought of answering to other’s business plans sends you into despair. The idea of working tirelessly to get others closer to reaching their goals sounds to you like you’d rather just stay home. Maybe seeing someone who started with nothing grow to become a successful business owner inspires you to do the same. Maybe, just maybe, you think you have the drive to make something you can call your own. Well, if you found yourself thinking, “Yeah, sounds like me” while reading this so far, then you’re not alone.
Meet Christopher Walker. A 23-year-old graduate student at Georgia State University. A brother. A son. A fiancée. A hard worker. A driven human. A dedicated student. A man with a goal. A man with a dream. Meet one of Georgia State’s very own entrepreneurs. Here is his story:
“Coming in [to college] I didn’t know what major I was going to be. I didn’t like chemistry so I figured business sounds fun,” Christopher Walker said as he walked me through his journey of how he got to where he is now.
Walker started his college career wanting to become an athletic director. Being an avid fan, he thought working in that field would suit him perfectly. During this time, he found work with the Braves and Georgia State but found himself unhappy with where he was.
“Then one day I thought, ‘You know what. Something’s wrong. I don’t like this.’ I realized I just liked being around sports. I didn’t like not watching the game while I was there,” Walker said.
That’s when he went on to take his first hospitality course with Dr. Kim, and that’s where it all started. “That’s where I realized I love hospitality,” Walker said. He started working at Embassy Suites at Centennial Olympic Park while he was still working towards his undergrad. After he graduated, Walker got offered a pool manager position at a prestigious country club. Little did he know that the pool manager title encompassed much more than just managing a pool.
“I managed the pool, the bar, the restaurant. I managed high schoolers and people older than me. This was my first management role. It was four months of pure work…I was the boss. If people had problems or questions, they would come to me. I was the one getting screamed at; I was the one taking the blame for the country club [if something went wrong]. It was my first experience being in that position, and I loved it,” Walker said.
It was then when he decided that he wanted to go back to graduate school to get his Master of Global Hospitality Management. All right, all you entrepreneurs out there; this is where Walker gets the ball rolling. First, like all great businessmen, he found a way to go to graduate school without having to pay for all of it.
How? He went back to work at the housing office (where he worked as an undergrad) as a graduate assistant and got paid to do it. “I’m still paying [a decent amount of money], but it’s better than what it would have been,” Walker said.
“It’s an incredible experience. The connections you meet in the program are unreal. You get access to those connections in undergrad too, but not in the same way you do as a graduate student when you’re talking numbers and financials with CEO’s of big companies in the city, which is really exciting,” Walker said, speaking in regards to the graduate program he is currently enrolled in.
Now, let’s get down to business — Walker’s business to be exact. During his first semester in the graduate program, he watched a classmate’s presentation on the double decker bus in London. At the time, he had been going on interviews with various companies but he wasn’t convinced that those places held his future. After learning about the double decker bus, he thought, “This is genius…We can bring the double decker bus here. We don’t really have any tours besides the Segway [tours] or the Peachtree Trolley…I have a network, I talk a lot, and I have connections. Why don’t I just give it a try?”
And that’s when See Atlanta Sights was born.
Some of Walker’s first thoughts included, “How am I going to start this with no money?” To answer his question, he watched a bunch of how-to millionaire YouTube videos — the internet is a magical place.
What he found: “They were all saying, ‘Don’t worry about the money, don’t worry about the money…it’ll come, it’ll come.’ I kept hearing that so eventually, I was like let’s just try it.”
Walker’s second thought was, “How can I do this in Atlanta?”
The next step was to make a business plan, to put his goals and dreams down on paper, and to make it real. He got a template offline and got to work. It took him roughly one week to complete his 17-page business plan between working and going to school. He said he’s revised it a lot. Every time he gets a new idea from someone or he thinks of something else, he goes back and revises it. It’s always a work in progress.
The idea to See Atlanta Sights is that during the day, it will be tours similar to the ones in other major cities like New York City and San Francisco. The only difference at the moment is that those companies have multiple buses, but Walker is just asking for one (we all have to start somewhere, right?). The bus would be a city bus but a double decker, with drop offs to strictly tourist sites. The bus would have an open top, a picture-taking station and other ideas that are still in the works. At night, it will turn into an experience. The plan is to collaborate with various hotels, attractions, neighborhoods, schools and small businesses but details of this will remain a secret until the reveal. It will be two different concepts in one to create a one of a kind business.
“If I bring this, how do I find my market? Well, we have 51 million travelers to Atlanta per year. That’s a lot. I only need the smallest percentage of that market to break even in a year,” Walker said.
“It’s exciting; it’s a little nerve-racking to tell people, but right now I haven’t gotten any bad reviews, which is kind of scary. Someone should tell me, ‘Hey, you’re an idiot,’ but I haven’t gotten that yet…I would never have thought this three months ago, but we have the website up, the marketing video up. Everything is happening, and I’m meeting with representatives to help me get there,” Walker said.
His goal is to raise all the money he needs. Walker said that a big thing of his is that he would prefer to get investors rather than taking out a loan.
“I think finding investors is the route that more people want to take because that’s a more personal relationship and [you] can learn a lot more from those investors than a bank. I can be more personal and one-on-one with an investor,” Walker said.
The here and now
He is currently pitching to investors, holding meetings and getting feedback from industry professionals.
The timeline, as of right now, is to have everything ready to roll — literally — by January 2018.
The goal for Walker, once the business gets going, will be to gain more buses. But right now, it’s all about getting the word out.
“I don’t want to look back 40 years down the line and think, ‘Man, I should have done that.’ Because someone is going to bring this to Atlanta, [so] why not make it me,” Walker said.
“The ultimate goal for this is so that I can go back to teach and share what I’ve learned with other people,” Walker shares.
He has already started a blog to try to kick-start the teaching mode and show people that it can be done.
“I started with nothing, and I’m going to get there. I will get there and follow my journey,” Walker said.
Walker is also extremely interested in working with the youth. A percentage of the profits will be given back to schools and programs geared towards young entrepreneurs.
“I really want to help high school students or even college students. A lot of people don’t know how to do it or don’t have the drive to do it because they don’t see a lot of people doing it. It’s different when you hear from a teacher that it can be done versus seeing that they actually did it,” Walker said.
Advice from Christopher Walker
Q: What would you consider the biggest struggles you had getting to where you are now?
A: Figuring everything out, doing the research. Some of it I knew from school, but finding answers is the hardest part. I can ask 10 people and get 10 completely different answers, which puts me back at square one. The hardest part is also figuring out what [information] to trust and what information I can use. You have to know which opinions to trust. Figuring out the money was tough, but you have to think optimistically and be self-motivated. Don’t think “it’s hard”; think “it will be done.”
Q: How do you sell yourself to people?
A: A suit definitely helps. You have to present yourself with good energy with a strong drive and motivational force behind you. I practice a lot in the mirror. I record myself on my phone all the time and listen to it.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of this journey so far?
A: Everyone being receptive and wanting to help, wanting to introduce me to other people who will help. People wanting to help me with my website and wanting to cut prices because they know what I’m doing and what I’m trying to do. Even the budget that I started with, the cost has been cut in half because people want to help. It can be done; you don’t need to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. My family is really supportive; everyone is helping. It drives me to be to first one in my immediate family to have my own business and to graduate with a master’s degree.
Q: What is some general advice you would give to other young entrepreneurs like yourself?
A: Ask a lot of questions, seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be scared if you don’t know what you’re doing. A lot of things in life don’t come easy, but continue to follow your dreams. Take it day by day; don’t freak out about next Monday this Monday. I ask myself, “What can I do today that I can’t do tomorrow?” The answer to that is everything, so I make phone calls and send emails. I did 10 things today so tomorrow I’ll do another 10 things. Break things off slowly so you don’t get overwhelmed. I’m not saying everyone is built to be an entrepreneur, everyone’s not. But you’ll know going into it. But if that’s what you want to do, try it. Once you see all the other benefits to it, you’ll be glad you did. And lastly, do what makes you happy. You got to.
Some final words from Walker to leave all the aspiring entrepreneurs with: “The only thing other entrepreneurs and professionals have on you is experience. You can always learn how to do any job or pick up any skill. Why go and do all of that for somebody else when you can do it for yourself.”