Hi, I'm Brian Scudamore — CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of WTF?! (Willing to Fail). More importantly, I'm a high school dropout who realized that failure doesn't need to get in your way. AMA!
I'm Brian Scudamore. My life has been defined by ups and downs. I dropped out of high school (and then college), started a junk removal business, then had to fire my entire team, and somehow ended up building an incredible international company with locations in every major metro in North America.
I recently shared my story and some of the lessons I've learned in my new book, WTF?! (Willing to Fail): How Failure Can Be Your Key to Success.
The lessons seem to be resonating with readers, so I thought I'd take to Reddit to go a little deeper! I'm happy to share anything about my story, my struggles, and what I've learned along the way.
Here's proof it's me: https://imgur.com/a/cpmaYj3
I was only 5 years in business... and probably didn't know that litigation was even a risk... I was naive. I treated the people I fired with respect... told them that it was my fault and that I didn't hire the right people, didn't give them the love and support they needed etc. It was my mistake and I said I was sorry. I guess they believed me and understood - and thus avoided litagation. That whole experience helped me see that transparency was powerful.
Was it difficult to start and grow your first business? How many times did you fail before succeeding?
I started so small that it was pretty easy :) I spent only $700 on a beat-up pick-up truck and a few hundred more on flyers and biz cards. I had nothing to lose but $1000. So, was it difficult? Not really... I just got started and learned on the fly. It was the later years that got hard. Like 5 years in firing my whole team. I was in YPO (Young Presidents Org) and I remember hearing that building a billion dollar biz is easier than a $100M biz and that is easier than a $1M biz. SO, it gets easier but the bad news is that I think the first million is really hard!
I have a question about opportunities (investment, partnerships, franchising, etc) other than a financial assessment what are methods you've used to gauge if an opportunity is worth the risk?
The big thing... and this is just me and how I work....
- Will the biz make me happy
- Is the industry ordinary, or the service level ordinary, and can we make it exceptional by doing something uniquely... like with WOW 1 DAY Painting and painting people's homes in a day
- Will it make customers happy
- And can we find happy people to build the business with us.
Brian! Remember when you did Undercover Boss? It seemed like you company was way smaller back then, even though it was only a few years ago. Would you ever do reality tv again? :)
It was super fun! I wouldn't call it 'reality TV' ;) -- there were a lot of takes :) but it was great exposure for us and the brands!
Thank you for the book and inspiration!
I got a bunch of questions:
When you were choosing to go to 3 other industries/brands, did you do a research on competition and market size, trends, etc, etc, or it was mostly like: let's do it better than competitors and we will succeed?
If a company like Dwyer will offer you to buy one of the businesses (let's say WOW1DAY painting) at a good valuation, would you be willing to sell? (I know in your book you mentioned that you decided not to sell 1-800-GOT-JUNK to WM, anything changed in your strategy)?
thanks for reading the book!! :)
1) The criteria was this... what industries, in home services, are currently ordinary and have the potential to be made exceptional through customer service. We didn't really do a ton of research other than making sure the market was very fragmented. Take Shack Shine for example - there's no real national player and there are tons of mom and pop window washers... the industry was ripe for reinvention. And lastly we looked at the spaces we entered and asked - 'Will the service make people happy?' - removing junk, a fresh coat of paint etc.
2) Selling any of our brands isn't in the cards. We're building something bigger and better together, and I love that O2E Brands is a family. We have a lot of (awesome, fun, exciting) work to do to achieve the vision we outlined in our Painted Picture. I'm focused on that! We're having too much fun to sell... and it's about the people not the money.
1. How many hours a day/week do you work? And how many hours are intense, when you need to focus a lot and make decisions.
2. Do you think running a franchisor business is easier on the family (well-rounded life) vs having a huge corporation with lots of locations?
I’ve worked really hard to find work-life balance (it’s something I constantly have to work on), and some times are definitely busier than others. That’s why I take one day a week just to focus and another day a week to recharge.
Taking those days to prioritize, put things in perspective, and let ideas marinate actually makes me way more efficient. To me, they’re no different. They’re different operational models, but they both keep you really busy! :)
and here's some added reading on the topic
https://www.inc.com/empact/why-successful-people-spend-10-hours-a-week-just-thinking.html) ( https://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/06/03/why-this-ceo-takes-every-friday-off/).
Hey Brian, thanks for doing this AMA!
One thing I've struggled with as an entrepreneur is delegating. It's so much easier to just do everything yourself because you know it will be done right, but obviously that takes time and energy.
What would you recommend for someone in that situation? Thank you!
I understand. In the early days, I tried to do everything... after all, I started the business and thought I knew it best. I ended up doing the hiring/firing, finances, operations… but what ended up happening is that I couldn’t do all of it well enough to take the business to the next level. It took some self reflection and finding a COO (Erik Church... NOT the country singer ;) who was a culture fit and who could fill in my flat spots, but once I started giving up control, our business started to grow.
As a side note — I think if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Find people who challenge you, try new things, and have big ideas. If every person in the room leads people greater than themselves, you will create a company of giants.
Brian, thank you for doing this AMA!
How do you strategically manage the proliferation of digital services like Uber, Second Closet etc, that do some things in common with O2E (dispatching vehicles to provide a service), but also add digital value that is much cheaper to scale?
Obviously, you and your team have a very strong vision on how to drive growth across your system, but with the Franchise model, what tools are at your disposal when your franchise partners are not in lock-step, and start getting complacent especially after years of success?
What's o2e's 5th brand going to be? :)
We get that question all the time — especially with the gig economy and with Amazon moving into the franchising space. But I’m confident that we have a unique differentiator: we’re a family of premium, full service, fully branded home service companies. From first contact, through the follow ups, you get an exceptional experience. We're owning that last mile (creating trusted brands that people want to have in their home).
And on the 5th brand.... ready for it?
It's something in home services...
Something everyone needs...
It's currently a really ordinary space....
And we're going to make it really exceptional!..
We're super busy and focused on 4 brands right now and making them awesome...
So we don't have a 5th brand in the works yet ;)
The bell just rang! off to huddle for 7 mins.. and will be right back.
I'm back :)
Of all of the "failures" that helped to propel you into success, which do you consider to be one of the MOST pivotal?
also, what advice would you give your kids if they decided they wanted to drop out of school?
what advice would you give your kids if they decided they wanted to drop out of school?
I hope they don't :) but I also have to trust them as human beings to be WTF?! (Willing to Fail) - that's how we all learn. If they told me they were dropping out I would listen, ask questions and then let them make the final call.
Of all of the "failures" that helped to propel you into success, which do you consider to be one of the MOST pivotal?
I think firing the whole company back in 1994... all 11 people... it was a hard day... but it impacted me big time. It got me to commit to building a company that is ALL ABOUT PEOPLE. Finding the right people and treating them right!
Hi Brian! Congrats on the book!
We share the same surname, do you have any family in England that you know of?
So awesome! I lived in Cambridge, England when I was 12. And was a huge fan of Scudamore's Boatyard.
I don't have family there... but we must all be related some how :) It's not a very common name.
1) What are the 3 things that makes your franchising model successful?
2) Which franchising brand(s) or model(s) thave inspired you?
The three things that make us successful are our Exceptional Focus Areas (EFAs) — across our brands, we offer on-time service, upfront rates, and friendly, uniformed drivers. By focusing on those promises, and by hiring happy people to deliver on them, we’ve set ourselves apart as franchisors.
Starbucks is a brand that inspires me — you can go anywhere in the world and get the same experience. I love that.
Hi! I've used 1800GOTJUNK for a few moves and have had to toss A LOT of old PC parts, cell phones, etc. What happens to all that stuff?
Our truck teams sort everything they take, and we try to recycle or donate as much as possible. Our franchise partners create relationships in their local areas with e-waste recyclers, recyclers, and charities so we can dispose of things responsibly. Over the years, we’ve actually diverted well over a billion pounds of junk from landfills in North America and Australia. And also — happy birthday!! :)
Hi Brian, I have not read your book yet (I will) but i really enjoyed the podcast interview you did on How I Built This. In that episode you talked about some hiring mistakes you made along the way and how you corrected them. Could you share your thoughts about how to hire the right people?
Also, it would be great to hear your feelings on how to ensure people in your organisation are given opportunities to take on more responsibility (especially those who on paper do not look like a good candidate, such as a high school dropout, but show an aptitude for roles that would typically require advanced credentials)
Thanks for listening to HIBT - it’s an awesome show and Guy Raz is a great host. To your question — yes … I have made some pretty epic hiring mistakes, and even had to fire the entire company in one day. That was the moment I realized that it’s all about people. Growing my business would only happen if I had the right people in place. One way of determining who’s a culture fit is our Beer and BBQ Test. It’s a 2-step test that lets you check in with your gut about candidates.
Check out https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianscudamore/2016/01/06/why-hiring-great-employees-starts-with-a-beer-and-a-bbq/#6cdb298e5afe for how to do it: We look for people who have that spark — happy people who are interesting and interested, and that test helps us find those people.
We have a strong record of promoting people from within. Some of our corporate staff started out on the trucks and moved into our offices, and some of them even became franchise partners. I believe that you hire for culture fit and train on skill. People who are ambitious, motivated, and passionate about the company are pretty easy to identify!
How did you create your advertising campaign?
Which advertising are you talking about... we do lots :)
The Wizard of Ads does all our radio creative... his real name is Roy H. Williams and he's been an amazing mentor and friend! and he's my co-author of my book :)
The key to branding is trusting your gut as an entrepreneur.... and one of my other inspirations is The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding... an amazing read... by Al Ries.
and here's an example of a TV ad Roy did... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teWcTS31dts
Any plans to release an audiobook? I own a mobile franchise (velofix. Also Vancouver based!) and I listen to a lot of podcasts/books while driving. I'd love to listen to your book!
The audio book is done (I narrated)... here's the link... http://geni.us/wtfbook (go to Audio book) and Thanks for listening! Let me know what you think :)
And Chris and Davide are good friends... love the VELOFIX brand... congrats for being a part of it!
If you had it all too do over again, it's there anything you'd do different?
might sound cliche... but no. Wouldn't do ANYTHING different. Nothing. I needed to learn from every failure and mistake I ever made. I wouldn't be where we are today if it was for the failures! :)
As a serial entrepreneur, what do you love about starting a business?
The best part about starting a business is finding awesome people, and working to build something bigger and better together. I've never wanted to do this alone... and that's what makes it so fun! Our companies couldn't be what they are without the people who are passionate and motivated to systematize, make things better, and try new things that bring us to new levels.
At the beginning, it's hard... you have to put in the hours and it can be a bit of a rollercoaster. But once you start getting that flywheel momentum, you can feel things changing and that's the truly exciting part.
What other industries are on your radar for expanding into under O2E brand?
Have you considered/planning going public?
Thank you for the book, it's on the way!
Thanks for buying the book! Let me know what you think!
No plans to ever go public. I love our vision and would rather us be in control vs the market or shareholders. I'm not a money driven guy but more a vision driven person - so having an exit/liquidation event is not in the cards. Other industries? We're so busy with 4 brands that nothing is in the works right now for brand 5. But when it happens it will be in the home services space. I'm a big believer in 'grow where you're planted.'
Thanks everyone... this was so much fun! Thank you so much for your questions today! I’m going to head out now, but follow me on Insta @brianscudamore so we can stay in touch 🙂
I got a chance to hear you talk at amoconf the other day(great talk btw, loved your message). One of the things I was wondering is how did you grow your business from the ground up? Tell me how you started at the very beginning. What helped you to get past that start-up stage? Was it just hard work and putting in the effort?
sounds like you need to read the book ;)
check it out then message me on insta and I can answer any other questions you still have. Gotta run!
Brian! I read your book last week and loved it. Your story is so inspirational.
My question: What do you think separates the people who persevere and succeed from those who give up? What kept you from giving up when things got difficult?
A few things... a) having a vision - knowing where you're going.... don't worry about how to get there... and b) having an unwavering belief in yourself... even if no one else believes in you. You have to have faith! Here's an article I wrote on creating a painted picture - a vision...
A few things... a) having a vision - knowing where you're going.... don't worry about how to get there... and b) having an unwavering belief in yourself... even if no one else believes in you. You have to have faith! Here's an article I wrote on creating a painted picture - a vision... https://www.inc.com/empact/this-visualization-technique-helped-me-build-a-100m-business.html
and btw thanks for reading the book!!!
Hey Brian! Congrats on the book, I'm excited to check it out. Two questions: 1) what's the most crazy/unique thing your company has had to remove from someones home? 2) being in the junk removal business, I imagine you're not much of a hoarder but I'm curious, what's something you've had since before you started Got Junk that you still have and will never get rid of under any circumstance? Thanks in advance!
We've hauled some pretty weird stuff... things you'd never expect to see! We did a full truckload of escargot shells, we found John Wayne's Bible, a full truckload of dentures, a WWII bomb (not active!), a GIANT set of the aquarium from Finding Nemo, a little kitten in an old freezer (we named him Freon). One time, I went into someone's basement and they'd lined every speck of space with cans of Campbell's tomato soup. A franchise found an antique birthing chair (I didn't know that was a thing!). We also found around $400,000 in old floorboards (which we returned).
and 2) the ONLY thing I have kept, true story, cuz I'm such a minimalist... is my report cards from grade-school... not sure why but I did. There is a pattern in them, "Brian could be so successful if only he focused"; and "Brian has to learn not to be so disruptive." Well I guess now it's OK to be a disruptor. :) Glad I kep them.
Did you rehire any one of your previous team?
Not from those 11 that I parted ways with in 1994 -- but we've certainly had people leave and then come back years later. I feel proud of how many people have come back :)
Was it simply because of the timeframes involved or you didn’t feel that the original team were quite the right folks you needed to succeed back then?
The reason I ask is because of that inkling and loyalty to people that (hopefully) stayed with you until it just didn’t work out or enough time passed that it makes more sense to start over.
they just were not the right people... they were not the clean cut, professional, friendly, happy people I needed. I had a clear vision and they just didn't align.
Was about to do an edit, but wanted to clarify; were you able to tell that they were holding you back instead of pushing you to do better? Working in media I’ve had a friend that I grew up doing everything with who eventually came to work for me for about 5 years.... and some of my best work was very much due to him... but at the same time I feel like his goals just weren’t aligned with mine and even tho there was positive he may have been holding me back. (He’s come back to work for me a few times, out in the Middle East, but recently left again and I’m stuck in this conundrum and your comment about previous team stuck out).
I think as entrepreneurs we usually know what we NEED to do, but the right thing isn't always the easy thing. :)
Well this is definitely one of my favourites!! Happened 2 days ago! We got on the NASDAQ billboard in Times Square!
How did it happen? I reached out to some NYC contacts and asked for help :)
Here's a link to it https://www.instagram.com/p/BqNQWW5BNjB/
Love the interview/story you did for Bench.
I have two questions:
1) How did you develop the vision for what you wanted your employee culture to look like? Especially when it was just you at the lowest point (smashing the cast iron tub).
2) If you guys find expensive stuff that people want you to haul away, are you allowed to sell it? Like the Finding Nemo aquarium thing.
Awesome question! For me work has to be like play. Doing fun things with fun and inspiring people. So I decided to create a culture, selfishly, that felt fun.
Here's an article I wrote in Forbes on culture... https://www.o2ebrands.com/brian/forbes-3-tips-create-workplace-culture-employees-love
And if you're in town come visit us at the Junktion and see the culture first hand... would love to know what you think!
Brain I read your book a few days ago and loved the parts about you dropping out of school. I am working on some business plans and want to do the same thing. Any advice when I break the news to my parents?!!
first of all thanks for reading the book!! Would love to know what you think on Amazon in the way of a review if you have a moment :) .
I totally remember the day I told my dad I was dropping out of school to haul junk, full time. I was planning to present it as this awesome, positive thing.... "Dad, I've good news"... I could see the vision for what I was going to accomplish, so it made so much sense to me! Reality? He was not impressed at first. He's a successful liver surgeon, and he really believed I should stay in school. My advice is to follow your gut, and even if your parents aren't receptive, if you show passion and commitment for what you're doing, they should get on board. If you believe you are meant to be running your business, they will too... eventually.
Why and how did you do it without expensive litigation?
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