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Origin story: Omar Soliman on College HUNKS

Margie Manning

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Click the arrow above to hear College HUNKS Hauling Junk and Moving co-founder Omar Soliman’s interview with St. Pete Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton.

A high school friendship turned into a successful business partnership for Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, co-founders of College HUNKS Hauling Junk and Moving.

The company is one of the fastest-growing and largest privately held companies headquartered in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, but it had humble beginnings.

Soliman, a self-described troublemaker, met Friedman in 10th grade, when both were in detention.

“We both had trouble sitting still and liked to push the boundaries of what was allowed. Those were entrepreneurial qualities but back then we were just written off as troubled youth, for lack of a better word,” he said.

They remained best friends although they went to colleges on opposite sides of the country. Before senior year in college, Soliman’s mother told him he had to get a summer job, so he borrowed the van from the furniture store his mother owned and recruited some friends for a junk hauling service. His mother came up with the name, and after they put up flyers for the business, the phone started ringing.

“It was the first time I found something I was passionate about. It’s not that I was passionate necessarily about hauling junk, but it was that light bulb — wow, this is what being an entrepreneur is. You’re your own boss. You make your own decisions,” Soliman said.

During a class on entrepreneurship in college, Soliman used the College HUNKS model to enter a business plan competition and won first place and $10,000. Both he and Friedman went on to corporate jobs after college, but both quickly realized they didn’t like that work atmosphere, so they quit and started working full-time on College HUNKS.

They bootstrapped the business completely, going to several banks to ask for a loan for a truck without success, until Bank of America agreed to provide that loan. They set up a website, but had no idea how to run a business or handle payroll, marketing and sales, Soliman said.

But it was 2005, and they were working at that time in Washington, D.C., in the middle of a housing boom, so there was plenty of business to be had.

“There was cash flow coming in from day one,” Soliman said. “We were expanding and had eight trucks in a year and a half.”

One big break came when the Washington Post featured the company in a news story. “We went from two jobs a day to 15 jobs a day overnight. That opened my eyes to how big PR and marketing can be.”

Another break came when they were selected to pitch on the series premier of Shark Tank. Although they turned down the investment offers from that show, they got national exposure for the company, which was offering franchises but still lacked the operational organization it has today, Soliman said.

“There was no real training. There was no real system. We were in a tiny office on Gandy Boulevard. I’m still surprised people even bought franchises back then. But what we did realize and have realized is … if you don’t have that grit, it’s hard to win. The folks that have it, have it, and the folks that don’t, don’t,” Soliman said.

One important lesson learned along the way came from the book The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber.

“You have to work on the business, not in the business. Once we changed our mindset to that, it changed everything and we were able to grow rapidly,” Soliman said.

That’s one of the 10 “business commandments” Soliman and Friedman have developed.

“It’s a roller coaster, there’s no getting past that, but you can get it to the point where it can exist without you putting in all the effort, where you can elevate and delegate to team members and you can have an asset that is making money without your day to day involvement,” Soliman said.

Soliman and Friedman recently launched Trash Butler, a tech-enabled business-to-business service that provides doorstep valet trash pickup for residents of apartment communities. Unlike College HUNKS, Trash Butler has outside investors. In 2019, Florida Funders in Tampa invested $4.1 million in the startup.

“We knew it would take a lot of capital and money to scale, having bootstrapped College HUNKS and knowing that took 15 years to get where it is today we didn’t want to do that again, so we wanted to go out and tap into the venture world here in Florida,” Soliman said.

Investors from Florida Funders’ network also have real estate contacts they can tap to grow Trash Butler, he said.

Soliman and Friedman are focused on scaling both College HUNKS and Trash Butler.

“I have fun playing the game of business,” Soliman said.

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