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Venture exclusive: Founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK shares his biggest WTF moment

Margie Manning

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Brian Scudamore

Brian Scudamore launched the company that has become 1-800-GOT-JUNK with $1,000.

Over 30 years, he’s turned it into a half-billion dollar junk hauling business with franchises throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, and he’s aiming to double in size.

“We’ve had hundreds of successful franchise partners who have built multi-million dollar business,” Scudamore said during Entrepreneurship Thursday, a speaker series hosted by the Joseph C. Prince Entrepreneurship Program at the Stetson University School of Business Administration. “But let’s be transparent and say we’ve also had many failures, people who couldn’t make it work.”

Scudamore said he’s learned from those situations and tried to narrow the focus on who would make good franchise partners. Those are people who are what Scudamore called “the four H’s” — happy, hungry, hardworking and hands-on.

“We want happy, optimistic people. We’ve got very young people. We’ve got people who are older. But what they have in common is a happy optimistic attitude to take on the world,” Scudamore said. “They’re hungry. You want someone who will say ‘I need to make this work. This isn’t one of a bunch of investments. This is my only investment and I’m going to make this happen.’”

People who are hands-on and work hard also are key. The company’s first franchisee, Paul Guy, worked in the business and understood it, before he focused on leading what is now a $60 million company, Scudamore said.

Even with many similar success stories, Scudamore celebrates failure. He’s co-authored a book, WTF, which stands for “Willing to Fail.”

“Failure is a gift. When you make a mistake, you learn from that mistake and you figure out how will that mistake make me better next time around,” Scudamore said.

He cited his own epic failure. Five years after starting the company — originally called The Rubbish Boys — Scudamore had $500,000 in revenue and 11 employees, but they weren’t the happy positive people he wanted.

“I had a team meeting and I started with two words. I said I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve let you down. I’m sorry that as a leader, I didn’t pick the right people and give you the support and training you needed. The only way forward I saw was starting again, so I fired all 11 people,” Scudamore said. “That was an awful failure because there was no one to blame except me as a leader.”

He went from five trucks down to one and had to rebuild the business.

“By ripping off the band aid and starting again, I had to do every role in the biz and I had rebuild. But I was very careful forward. My motto became it’s all about people. Find the right people and treat them right,” Scudamore said. “So I started to handpick people in a very different way. I didn’t just find people who could lift up junk. I picked people who were happy, optimistic, hardworking and people that wanted to have fun together.”

The mass firing and rebuilding the business was a short-term pain that led to a long-term gain, he said.

“It allowed me to look at my happiness in the business over profits and the growth of the business,” he said. “First and foremost, I have to build a business I love. It’s not about junk removal. It was about taking care of customers and building an exceptional business, and I was able to get back to having fun.”

There are different skills required to run what is now a large company. Scudamore focuses on vision and cheerleading the business culture.

“I made a list of the things I’m good at and love to do, and I find other people to do the other things,” he said.

At 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Scudamore figured out an operational system that would work for other home services companies. He’s now established a holding company, O2E Brands, that also includes Wow 1 Day Painting and  Shack Shine, a home detailing business.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic is a good time to start a business. He started his own company during a recession in 1989.

“What’s happening is people are making decisions about their careers, asking ‘Is this what I really want?” Scudamore said.

His advice to those who want to make a change is, “Don’t focus so much on the idea … Just start and do something, then fail, learn and tweak it as you grow and hopefully you figure it out and grow a successful business.”

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