Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which focuses on home services such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK? And Wow 1 Day Painting. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
“A brand is a selection of promises that we make and keep.” – Brian Scudamore
Brian Scudamore is Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which focuses on home services and is the umbrella company 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Wow 1 Day Painting, and Shack Shine. Brian has made it his mission to help people become entrepreneurs through his franchises.
Transcript – Willing to Fail (WTF): How Failure Can Be Your Key to Success | Brian Scudamore, Author & Founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK
Daniel Scrivner (00:05):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Outlier Academy's book club series, where once a month we highlight a book we love around business, leadership, health, or investing, that we can't stop recommending. I'm Daniel Scrivner. And on the show today, I sit down with Brian Scudamore to talk about how he built 1-800-GOT-JUNK into a $700 million per year business, as well as his book, Willing to Fail: How Failure Can Be Your Key to Success. Also called WTF.
Daniel Scrivner (00:32):
Brian's story is remarkable. More than 33 years ago, he had the idea for 1-800-GOT-JUNK when he saw a junk hauling truck across the street while in the drive through at McDonald's. Through an incredible number of twists and turns over the years, including buying a partner out of the business and nearly bankrupting the business, he managed to grow it into a global brand with franchise locations in countries around the world. And today he does over $700 million in sales per year.
Daniel Scrivner (00:58):
In this episode, we cover why he thinks taking a leap and being willing to fail is the key to success. The lessons he learned in pivotal moments, as he built and scaled the business, how 1-800-GOT-JUNK has managed to escape competition, and own a space that would otherwise be made up of mom and pop operations. How he bounced back from failure time and time again, and how he's added two new franchise concepts, both Shack Shine and WOW 1 DAY PAINTING to his collection of businesses at Ordinary to Extraordinary Brands, which is 1-800-GOT-JUNK parent company.
Daniel Scrivner (01:31):
You can find the notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/92. That's 92. And you can follow Brian on Twitter @BrianScudamore. That's Brian S-C-U-D-A-M-O-R-E. With that, enjoy the conversation. Brian Scudamore, welcome to Outlier Academy. I'm so excited to have you on. Thanks for taking the time.
Brian Scudamore (01:52):
Yeah. I'm thrilled to be here. Always love these convos. And the learning I get reflecting on my story is always fun.
Daniel Scrivner (02:00):
Well, I will try to be a good, I guess, question asker.
Brian Scudamore (02:03):
Perfect. I'm sure you are.
Daniel Scrivner (02:05):
In this episode, we're really going to be talking about two things. One is the story of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and how you took that from zero to 300 plus million today. But the second one is one of two books you've written. It sounds like you have a new book that's ready to come out later this year.
Brian Scudamore (02:19):
Daniel Scrivner (02:20):
Which is exciting.
Brian Scudamore (02:21):
Daniel Scrivner (02:22):
So this is your last book, which has an amazing title, which is just WTF, which stands for Willing to Fail. It's an amazing little gem of a book. So the first question I want to ask, which is a little bit of a curve ball is, going through that book again, I noticed there was a dedication at the beginning of the book to Grandpa Kenny and Grandma Florence who first lit my entrepreneurial fire. Tell us a little bit of that story and the significance that they had in your life.
Brian Scudamore (02:46):
Yeah, I was born in San Francisco. Lived there until I was about seven years old, until my mother remarried, and we moved to Canada, which is home today. My grandmother and grandfather, every spring vacation, summer vacation, Christmas holidays, I'd go down and work in their army surplus store. They had this store in a dodgy end of San Francisco. I remember just playing the game of business. My time with them in that store was connecting with customers walking in looking for something. I got to show up with energy and sell and connect.
Brian Scudamore (03:22):
And I was most inspired by watching how my grandparents played the game of business. It was about people. Finding the right people, treating them right. And because it was in a dodgy neighborhood, we'd often get people coming in off the street who asked for money. And what was fascinating about my grandparents is they never gave money, but they always gave what that person really wanted was an ear, a hug, love. And they just gave people the time and attention that they wanted. And they had a level of respect on that street, that any time it was an area where people would often get robbed, my grandparents didn't get robbed. People knew that you never mess with Lober Surplus. Great people. And it was an inspiration, and it really did light my spark of entrepreneurship. And here I am.
Daniel Scrivner (04:10):
That's so cool. Actually, can't imagine finding a surplus store in San Francisco these days. That was a little bit of bygone era.
Brian Scudamore (04:17):
Yeah. For sure. Yeah. Absolutely.
Daniel Scrivner (04:21):
As we start to get in and talk a little bit about the story of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, I thought it might be helpful, because we're going to cover a lot of time. You founded it 33 years ago. It's been built up a lot since. So can you just give everybody a little bit of a sense of what the business looks like today? How much annual revenue you guys do, number of employees, just number of locations around the world.
Brian Scudamore (04:41):
I'm excited to say we're double the number you threw out. You threw out 300 million, we're 600 million is what we'll do this year. It's never been about the money. So while you and I today we'll talk about dollars, to me, the dollars is not what it would do for Brian, not what it would do for anyone, it's the significance of the number of people we have in our company. 6,000 truck team members across 2000 trucks, Canada, the United States, Australia.
Brian Scudamore (05:09):
It started as this little tiny business as a way to pay for college. I never really saw that I'd be an entrepreneur any different than my grandparents. Little business, living the dream, having fun. But when I started to realize that this industry of junk removal, what was started to pay for college, there was more to it. Nobody had professionalized the junk removal business, mom and pop, fragmented business. Nobody used any sort of brand name. It was just Paul's Hauling, Dave's Hauling.
Brian Scudamore (05:41):
And I had the chance to transform and create a category, an industry. And I knew that one day we would build the FedEx of junk removal. Clean and shiny trucks, friendly uniform drivers, on-time service, upfront rates. And that's been our basic business model. Hauling away someone's junk, carting it off to be recycled, donated, reused, disposed of, worst case. And it's been an amazing business. I mean, even during the pandemic, things have been growing like crazy. Feel very blessed for the category and the space that we're in.
Daniel Scrivner (06:14):
I'm sure during the pandemic, I think a lot of people were forced to spend a lot more time looking at their junk, whereas previously they would get to leave the house and go to work. So I imagine that was probably helpful.
Brian Scudamore (06:23):
The amount of stuff that I bought for my now home office, where it's just like, "Okay, I need this. I need that." You realize you can't use it all. People created junk, they got rid of junk, been good for our business.
Daniel Scrivner (06:37):
Well, congratulations on 600 million. I think, yeah, I was trying my best to find up-to-date stats. I think the article I found was from 2018. I'm not surprised things have evolved since then. Then I want to go back and talk a little bit about, to kind of contrast that, to give people a sense of just how humble things were in the early days, can you paint a picture for people? Take us back in time 33 years ago, and just give people a quick sketch of what it was like the day that you were looking for business opportunities, ways to make money, and saw this junk removal truck, and had the idea for what would eventually become many, many years later, 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
Brian Scudamore (07:17):
Yeah. It was in 12th grade, close to graduation, but one course short at the time. And there I was in a McDonald's drive through struggling with, what am I going to do for my future? How am I going to pay for college if I can even get in? And was in this McDonald's drive through, saw beat up old pickup truck, had plywood sides, built up on the box. It said Mark's Hauling on the side. And I looked at that and I'm like, "I'm going to go buy a truck and start hauling junk." That will be my ticket to pay for school.
Brian Scudamore (07:45):
Now, I never actually finished high school. I talked my way into college, and then three years in, even though I was paying my own way, I was earning an education, but I was getting much more business experience from running my own business versus studying in school. So I dropped out. My father who has done more school than anyone I've ever met, he's a liver transplant surgeon, he said, "Brian, you're kidding me. You're sitting me down and telling me that you're going to leave school and drop out with only one year left? Finish your education. You can always continue to build this business at a later date."
Brian Scudamore (08:21):
And I said, "Dad, my business opportunity might not always be there, the University of British Columbia, my last school, will still be standing if I ever choose to go back." So I said, "I'm going to put it all on the line. I'm going to build this business." And I went out the next day and bought a second truck. And said, "I'm going to show my dad, prove to the world that I can build this." And the first eight years took a long time to build this business to a million dollars.
Brian Scudamore (08:47):
Now, that felt, on one hand, a big number to me. But on the other hand, it was slow, eight years to get there. But it was me tinkering and figuring out the model and having these proven systems on which I could scale. And I don't want to sound like I was smart and knew what I was doing, but in hindsight, looking back, it was wise that I took my time in building the business and built it slowly, but built a really solid foundation, because once I got into franchising, ultimately we were able to scale very, very quickly on a platform of success.
Daniel Scrivner (09:19):
Yeah. A franchise business is, I would think largely just systems and scaling those systems and adding more people and trucks and locations. So, yeah. I think those early years, spending your time on system building, that was really smart.
Daniel Scrivner (09:35):
I want to talk a little bit about, as I was reflecting on going back and reading your book, just going and listening to interviews that you've done, some themes started to bubble up, at least for me of secrets of success. And these aren't things necessarily, I mean, I think they'd be pretty clear to others, but these aren't things you've called out. These are just things that have stood out to me. And so I want to go through them one by one because I think they're really interesting.
Daniel Scrivner (09:58):
And one was, you've already alluded to it a little bit, but the power of a brand, because I think number one, one of the things I want to talk about in a second is competition. Because it's surprising to me that it doesn't seem like there's a lot of well-honed competition for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. And yet it's a space where you would assume there would be a massive amount of competition. Talk a little bit about brand and why you knew or why you felt early on that having a brand was important.
Brian Scudamore (10:26):
Yeah, it's interesting. I've always loved brands. One of the earliest brands that I loved was McDonald's. Not necessarily the food, but the community and what they stood for and their marketing and their people. And I ended up just getting excited about the possibility of what you could do with a brand. Starbucks would've been the next one that I really and still to this day fell in love with. Their third place, and what Howard Schultz has done to create a pervasive brand that really is everywhere.
Brian Scudamore (10:55):
And had revolutionized a space where it used to be mom and pop coffee shops, and now it's Starbucks and some other big ones. And we tried to do the same thing. And I knew that the power of a brand. When I would go from Vancouver where I'm based, back to see family in San Francisco, I'd hunt out a Starbucks. I'd see Starbucks, and that was my, okay, you're away, but you're still at home. You've got that cup of coffee. And I started to understand that brand was powerful. People buy brands. And they buy brands for how it makes them feel.
Brian Scudamore (11:29):
And so looking at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, we were the rubbish boys for the first eight years when we started. And it was really me with a vision for something bigger, but the goal became to build the FedEx of junk removal. Now, what did FedEx have that I didn't have in the junk removal space? They had clean, shiny trucks. They had friendly uniform drivers. We weren't at that level yet, but I started to envision, what if? Can you imagine if it could, or when it would look like FedEx in terms of the level of professionalism, what that would do for our customers who would end up using us all over Canada, Australia, the United States. There's power, great power in building a brand.
Daniel Scrivner (12:11):
How do you think about it, what a brand is? Even hearing you describe FedEx there, it sounds like in some ways you can think about a brand as a promise, and it's your job to then deliver on that ruthlessly every single time. Is that your mental model? If not, what is your mental model in terms of how to articulate what a brand is at the end of the day?
Brian Scudamore (12:29):
Yeah. You almost took the words out of my mouth. I always say a brand is a selection of promises that we make and keep. So when someone looks at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, we call it our QFA, our quality focus areas. On-time service, upfront rates, clean, shiny trucks, friendly uniform drivers. Our franchise owners in the early days would say, "Why do you care so much about clean, shiny trucks? This is the junk removal business. Nobody cares. They just want their stuff gone."
Brian Scudamore (12:55):
They understood the friendly uniform drivers. They could see how that could make an impression, but I would explain that when you see a dirty junk truck out there that isn't looking great, it doesn't give you that first impression that these people are people you can trust. These are people who know what they're talking about. I used to be inspired by FedEx, knowing that, and still to this day, you do not see dirty FedEx trucks out there.
Brian Scudamore (13:18):
They have a rule and policy that they will actually take it off the road if it's scratched, dented, dirty. You might see a dented FedEx truck getting towed, but you're not going to see one driving. And that relentless drive to preserve the brand, FedEx used to say, and clearly I'm a fan, but they used to say the world on time, when it absolutely positively has to get delivered overnight.
Brian Scudamore (13:43):
I remember that feeling of you would FedEx something, you'd use it as an actual term, a verb. You knew when you needed to depend on something getting delivered, you'd call FedEx. So the power of a brand is the set of promises that we make and we keep. Now, let's be clear, plenty of people try and build a brand and make a lot of promises. But what happens when they don't keep them? The brand doesn't thrive and ultimately dies.
Daniel Scrivner (14:11):
Yeah. I think that leads to my second point was just, one thing that it feels like you've done incredibly well is just do hard things consistently well again and again and again and again. I can imagine even being, I don't know, putting myself in your shoes and having that conversation with a franchise owner, and you hear them. You hear that they probably don't feel like they want to take the time or the money or whatever it is to keep this truck clean, but that's one of many things. Do you find yourself to be a particularly disciplined person? Or was it an exercise of cultivating that, okay, no, we have to deliver on this ruthlessly every single time and getting better and better and better at that?
Brian Scudamore (14:50):
Yeah. I think I'm a very focused person. There's a sign behind me here that, Walt Disney quote, it's kind of fun to do the impossible. To make the impossible possible, you've got to make choices. You've got to really thoughtfully plan out, what's your next move? And you only get several choices, several options and attempts at something. It's really about focus.
Brian Scudamore (15:16):
I'm sure there's a million things I could talk to our franchise owners, or our team could talk to them about to say, you got to do this, this, this, and that, but let's pick one. What do we want to be the best in the world at? What's our focus? What's the most important thing right now? And when I say brands make promises, do we ever break our promises? Do we ever make mistakes? Of course. But like my book, WTF, Willing to Fail, we're willing to make some mistakes as long as we learn from those and figure out, how do we make things better next time?
Brian Scudamore (15:48):
We have stories of customers who we've made mistakes with, for sure. And some of those mistakes have caused some sort of pain and damage. When you deal with that properly, a customer is often, surprisingly, more loyal than if they never had a problem at all. And then we take that and we learn from it so that we can systematize it across our franchise family to ensure that no one else has to make that same mistake.
Daniel Scrivner (16:13):
Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. Then another thing I think that is interesting to think about is you obviously made an explicit choice to follow a franchising model. And you've talked a lot about that in other interviews. One thing I think that's really interesting about that is, one, you're very, clearly, people centric. You care deeply about people.
Daniel Scrivner (16:33):
With franchising, the other thing, and I think this is probably especially true with 1-800-GOT-JUNK, you're able to tap into this entrepreneurial spirit. Where it's not just people that want to come and work, it's people that want to build their own business, and they want to do that with you. What is it like to create a platform for people to effectively realize their dreams and do that by building their own business? And how has that been a part of the 1-800-GOT-JUNK model?
Brian Scudamore (16:58):
Yeah. It's been the number one driver in my life. So beyond my family and personal life, the number one thing that drives me, my gift, my purpose is helping to inspire entrepreneurship. I had heard once that 66% of Americans dream of running their own business, but very few take the leap. Now what's in their way? An idea, a model, courage.
Brian Scudamore (17:22):
I love the fact that I'm able to tell stories of, hey, if a high school dropout like me can get out there with 700 bucks and buy a pickup and build a $600 million, eventually a billion dollar plus brand, so could you. Imagine what you could do if you plant those seeds, those ideas and take action.
Brian Scudamore (17:41):
My second book called BYOB: Build Your Own Business, Be Your Own Boss, I think there's a couple of motivations there why people want to build a business. I really take a look in the book at the two different options people can take. Do they do a blank sheet? I'm going to start something from scratch like Brian did, and go through all the mistakes and maybe grow slower? Or am I going to choose latching on to someone else's idea and platform in building a business? And there's franchises, there's other models.
Brian Scudamore (18:13):
But franchising to me, what actually really clicked for me about a year ago, when I talk about this in the book is Shaquille O'Neal, number 34, an incredible basketball player, world champion, someone who I got to know a little bit last year through Zoom and through some connection was, here's a guy who took everything he learned in basketball. Your body makes you retire, but you don't stop living life and building things. And he said, "How do I take what I learned with all my winning teams, the sports-minded, goal-driven, talent-building, let's lead something's special?"
Brian Scudamore (18:50):
He said, "I'm going to put it into franchising. I'm grabbing a proven recipe. I'm putting in leaders in my businesses, I'm coaching and developing and cheerleading them to be successful." He said, "I don't need to be the guy that comes up with the idea, and I shouldn't be the guy. I'm the one to put the right people in place, build a team, and win the game of business versus basketball." And his story, if anyone ever googles and sees what he's doing these days in the world of franchising, it's phenomenal.
Daniel Scrivner (19:19):
Yeah. He owns, I think, hundreds of different franchise locations across Domino's and others.
Brian Scudamore (19:24):
Worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Daniel Scrivner (19:26):
Brian Scudamore (19:27):
So he's now started something called Big Chicken, which is his own franchise. I mean, it's been fantastic to see what he's done. When he and I connected, it was about changing lives. Our mutual connection and sync up was about changing people's lives. Think of someone googling and wanting to bake a cake. Most people don't start from scratch and go a little bit of baking soda, a little bit of sugar. Some people want to create, but very few people want to create from scratch. You google, you find a five star recipe with a ton of reviews, and you take your first attempt at it and maybe get it right, take a second attempt, you master it.
Brian Scudamore (20:05):
That's what people want. They want to create something, they don't necessarily want to do it from scratch. And so our formula has, we've taken it from 1-800-GOT-JUNK, and we've done WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, where we paint people's homes in a day, and then Shack Shine, windows, gutters, power washing, and Christmas lights, the house detailing space. People have often said, "Why do you go out and start other businesses? You're defocusing yourself." We're taking the same formula. We are in the business of making ordinary businesses exceptional through customer experience, they're just different platforms.
Daniel Scrivner (20:37):
It's a fascinating story with Shaquille O'Neal.
Brian Scudamore (20:39):
The guy is, besides being one of the funniest guys I've ever met, he is just a genius, and he just knows how to find the right people and build winning teams.
Daniel Scrivner (20:51):
And I think it shows a lot of humility as well too, that at the same time, here's someone who's incredibly successful, whose ego could potentially get in the way and be like, "No, Shaquille, you know what's best, why go and start a franchise? Go and start your own locations." To be able to be humble and intellectually honest enough to be like, "No, I don't mean to do that. I have other skills."
Daniel Scrivner (21:12):
I want to go back and talk a little bit about escaping competition. I think one quote I've been thinking about, I don't know, it's been running around in my head for a little while is Peter Thiel has this quote where he talks about all failed businesses are the same. They basically failed to escape competition.
Daniel Scrivner (21:26):
And when I think about that and apply that to the space that you're in, as you talked about, there's an enormous amount of mom and pop businesses. So small businesses or proprietor that maybe has one or a couple of different trucks. I haven't seen anyone else take the approach you've taken, which is to say, this is a platform. We're actually going to turn this into a brand. It's not going to be anyone's name.
Daniel Scrivner (21:45):
One, it seems like you don't have a lot of competition, at least ... I remember being in San Francisco when it was time to move, it was literally the only thing that came to mind was, of course, I'm going to call 1-800-GOT-JUNK. It worked out great. And so that's probably the power of the brand. But talk a little bit about competition. Do you feel like you face much competition? If not, what do you credit that to? What did you do that helped you escape ruthless competition and compete with yourself?
Brian Scudamore (22:11):
Yeah. It's a great question. I love the conversation on competition, but my belief is not to escape it, it's to embrace it. It's to welcome the competition, work with the competition, befriend them. One of the simplest stories or the early days, and I talk about this again in my book is, there was a guy, Mike, who had a company called Trashbusters, and they went into competition against me.
Brian Scudamore (22:34):
This was a guy who worked with me, who was a friend of mine. We'd have beers together. I'd share all the financials. I'd tell him everything. And we had a lot of fun. He was a great asset to the business, until he went out on his own and he called me one day, "Are you sitting down?" "No, I'm not." "Why?" "Well, I'm going into competition against you," when he started Trashbusters.
Brian Scudamore (22:53):
Now, of course I was hurt. And what does a 25, 26 year old do? You try and do everything to get in the way? But all my getting in the way of the competition and trying to stop him and thinking so much about his business, who was thinking about my business? No one. They were thinking about their business, and I was thinking about their business, and they were growing faster than I did.
Brian Scudamore (23:15):
So I decided to shift from that anger to an attitude of gratitude. What can I learn from one of my closest friends going into competition against me? What is he doing better with Trashbusters? They're not around anymore today. And I didn't wish that on them. And we've still kept in touch, which has been cool, is what are you doing better? They expanded to the United States before I did. Country 10 times the size of Canada where I'm based. That inspired me to go follow them. I followed them, I did it better, and here we are today, the world's largest junk removal company.
Brian Scudamore (23:52):
So an attitude of gratitude with competition. And if you're in a niche or a niche, as you might say, that's just too full, go find another sound box to play in that's similar. So let's take now my second business, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, the painting industry, there are a lot of brands, and a lot of great ones, and ones that are way bigger than WOW 1 DAY PAINTING. We created, or I saw and bought, and then created a new category.
Brian Scudamore (24:22):
Plenty of people go in and paint your home and do a great job at a great price, but what if they could go in like WOW 1 DAY PAINTING and do the whole house in a day, minimal disruption, proper coordination, preparation and planning, and we get it done at the same quality at a similar price. And so we created a new category. I mean think Pepsi and Coke. Coke goes in and does Diet Coke, and a new category that became massive. Where can someone go to not compete against, but to start a new focus? Lots in there, but I'm passionate about it.
Brian Scudamore (25:01):
We invite the competition to our office. We do a standup daily huddle every day. While right now we're in a Zoom world mostly, we have invited people to either join us online or in-person, and they're in the same business. And they're like, "Why'd you do that? You're sharing your numbers." Well, you're going to find it if you want it anyways, we might as well be friends and help each other, which we've done. And so competition is a great thing.
Daniel Scrivner (25:24):
Yeah. I love that idea, the subtle reframing of, don't focus on the negative aspect of competition, but focus on competition is, one, appreciating that you have it, because it can raise your game. And then, yeah, what are they doing that maybe we can take or we can learn from? I think that's a really interesting way to reframe it.
Daniel Scrivner (25:41):
One of the themes that I really liked in Willing to Fail is in a lot of ways, I think my favorite part of the book is it's just a series of very short stories and lessons from your life. I like that because you were light with words, but you communicated a lot. I feel like business books today are getting bigger and bigger, and then you get to the end and you're like, "It could have been 50 pages."
Daniel Scrivner (26:00):
So I wanted to talk about some of the lessons and stories in there that stuck out to me. And one of them was just this notion of bouncing back. And you talk about, you'd share the story of, you had just bought your first truck. A couple weeks go by, it ends up breaking down, and you're faced with this massive bill, weeks into, I'm sure having very little cash. This is your only truck.
Daniel Scrivner (26:20):
For a lot of people, this would've felt like an insurmountable hurdle. And I love the quote in the book you talk about that you saw this as an opportunity, as an entrepreneur it was a test, and it was your job to bounce back and stick to plan. Talk about that lesson or other examples of having to bounce back, and why that's such an important, I don't know, lesson.
Brian Scudamore (26:41):
Yeah. I mean a bunch of thoughts. First of all, I think athletes, again, tying business as we did with Shaq to sports. You have to learn in sports to fail before you can win. You have to taste them both. It's the failure that helps you grow and get better. So I say to people, the title of the book, WTF, Willing to Fail, is don't be afraid to make mistakes, because every one of those mistakes is a gift if you can take the time to unwrap it and say, "What do I need to learn from this that will help me be better?"
Brian Scudamore (27:14):
So if I look at mistakes I've made over the years, the wrong people and getting people out, 1994, 5 years into business, I fired my entire company, as you remember from the book, massive mistake, but that was on me. As the leader, I had to come into that room that day and say, "I'm sorry, it was my fault I let you down. Didn't develop you, train you, give you the love and support you needed to be successful, and we're going to part ways."
Brian Scudamore (27:39):
But what that lesson taught me is, unlike having 600 people today between our head offices, I'm not firing 600 people because I've got the wrong people. I've got all these amazing people because I learned the lesson a long time ago, who is right for us? These weren't bad human beings, they were just the wrong people and had the wrong attitude for what I needed for my small, little thriving company. And they say one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. I got nine of the 11 bad apples. I got a hundred percent of the people out, and just said, "I'm sorry, but I need to start again."
Brian Scudamore (28:13):
So, we make mistakes. It's okay. It really is. And so when these things happen, the first thing I do is I reflect and I say, "What could be a potential gift that comes from this hard time in my business, hard time in my life, whatever it might be?" Robert Herjavec who has become a friend, who is someone on Shark Tank, and before that, Dragons' Den in Canada, we spent some time together, and he's fantastic. I asked him to do a favor and speak at our conference. And I said, "How do we inspire entrepreneurs to deal with the challenges? There's ups and downs. How do you deal with the downs? How do you pick yourself back up and get going after a truck breaks down and you go, 'Oh my gosh, this should be the end?'"
Brian Scudamore (28:57):
He said, "Brian, as an entrepreneur, we need to remember, we get to do this. We get to solve problems. We get to find a better way. We get to fix things." And it resonated with me. It's my belief of when you're on a roller coaster, I'm the kind of guy who still acts like a little kid, and I'm just like, woo. And I got my hands up when I'm going up and when I'm going down, and I'm just enjoying the ride and I'm there. And so I cannot honestly take a step back from my business and say there's a mistake or a dark day that I would ever take away from my business, because I needed it for us to get to this next place.
Daniel Scrivner (29:34):
Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't mean that it wasn't difficult when you were in that moment, but I think you can reframe it, like you talked about. Yeah. And I love that subtle reframing as well too of, yeah, you can look at it as, oh my gosh, the world's out against me. This truck just broke down. Or you can just look at it, it's a challenge. It's a wonderful, amazing opportunity and a gift that I get to do this, so let me figure it out. Let me prove it to myself.
Brian Scudamore (29:57):
Yeah. Ben Zander, he used to be the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He came to speak to an entrepreneur group of mine years ago, and got to spend some time with him. Whenever there's a problem, he just goes, "How fascinating?" And he smiles. And he is like, "Okay, what do we do now?" I mean, it really can be an adventure. And it's just a simple shift in the brain to go, "Okay, I lost my job." We have a franchise partner in WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, Kim Rudd, lost his job, got fired. And that day said, "Okay, this is happening for a reason," and it led him to us.
Daniel Scrivner (30:34):
Yeah. On that theme of it's all about the people, yeah, you have that story in your book, which sounds incredibly challenging of basically having to let your entire team go, and then having to hire new people. But you have other examples, which for anyone that knows entrepreneurs, this shows up again and again and again. I can't think of a successful business, a successful founder I know who wouldn't completely agree that you should do anything and everything possible to get the best people in the business. I've even heard people say thing along the lines of, if you get the right people, kind of solve so many other problems.
Daniel Scrivner (31:03):
One of the other stories you share in the book is the lengths that you went to, to find the right number two, the right president and COO. You have this false start where you find somebody that you could describe as a shiny, polished executive that's done this before. Okay, cool. Get them in the business. Oh, that doesn't work out. You need to go do it again. I get it because I've been there, but I think for people that haven't been in it and understand and felt why getting that right person is so important, talk about why you had the conviction that it was worth going through 75 interviews and one false start to find this person. And just why is it at the end of the day that you'll do almost anything to get the right people in the right roles?
Brian Scudamore (31:48):
Well, there's a lot there. So that was definitely, when I had Cameron Herold, who was my first COO, still a great friend, we just hit a ceiling together. It was 106 million in revenue. He helped us get there from 2 million. But two, ADD entrepreneurial quick moving, like I was, you can't have two like that at the top.
Brian Scudamore (32:08):
Then I brought next Starbucks COO to the table, president, and we failed together miserably after 14 months. I'd failed so hard and had our franchise partners come in and say, "Brian, you're not the guy to run this business. Why did you get the second person at out? And how are you going to make it right?" And so that was hard. But the reason I really, the third time said, I mean, it's kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I had to get it right that time and had to find something that was just right. I had to look and look and look until I found that right person.
Brian Scudamore (32:41):
Now, the right COO for me, and that's the key. I think when people try and find the right people, people ask me all the time, the common question with Erik Church, our president, who's been around 10 years and hopefully forever is people say, "Where did you find him?" To me, that's the wrong question, because the where makes it sound like, where did he come from that makes him so great? The question should be, I believe, how did you find him?
Brian Scudamore (33:07):
I started by, I made a sheet, line down the middle, one side, all the things in the business I'm good at and love to do and should do. On the other side, the things that I'm bad at, don't like to do that the business needs, and I shouldn't do. Who's going to do those things? And I listed out what those were, and I created a mini painted picture, a vision of what I was looking for. And I was so clear in about three paragraphs of what I was looking for, that when I shared it with people, three people on the planet, unrelated, said, "You're looking for Erik Church."
Brian Scudamore (33:40):
Now, they didn't say you're looking for Erik or this person or that person, they're like, "You are describing someone I know." So the how was I was so clear what I was looking for in someone to partner with me, and 75 interviews and plane flights all over the place, I found him. And still to this day, he and I have looked at that mini vision. And he is like, "Yep, that's me. There's not a word in there that isn't me." And my advice or challenge out to someone else looking for their integrator, their second in command, their partner, whatever it is, is to get really, really clear on what it is your gaps are that you need filled by someone else.
Daniel Scrivner (34:23):
Yeah. And I think that's a really critical point, because I would imagine maybe if you were to go through that same exercise, but maybe five years earlier in the company, you might not have had as good a picture of what you're good at and what you're not good at.
Daniel Scrivner (34:37):
So I think one other piece of advice there would be, how do you help if there's a founder and entrepreneur you're talking to that's just struggling to also figure out, what am I good at? Any words of wisdom for them and go about getting to reality there, getting to truth?
Brian Scudamore (34:50):
Yeah. My experience there is you ask people that you work with and that you've had enough life experience with that you know will give you an honest answer. And start with, what am I great at? What do I do better than anyone else? I mean, I could take my three kids as an example, and I could tell you what they're all gifted at and what they're really bad at.
Brian Scudamore (35:10):
I'm a parent. I can look at it objectively and say, "Find someone that can really give you that feedback." And then it's yourself looking in the mirror to go, "Okay, did I hear the feedback that Daniel gave me? Am I bad at that? And I want to fix that? Or do I really pour all my time into, this is the gift I have?"
Daniel Scrivner (35:30):
Yeah. That's great advice. And clearly ingrained in that, which is somebody that you trust is someone whose advice you're going to listen to. Someone who when they tell you stuff, you might not want to hear, you're comfortable hearing it. Your ego doesn't have to show up and try to refute them.
Brian Scudamore (35:43):
Yeah. It's that blind window of something you don't see that there's a group of people who all can see, but you're too afraid to ask and get that feedback. If you can get that, it's gold.
Daniel Scrivner (35:55):
One of the other things that I actually had forgotten, and then I re-realized reading through the book and researching this is, there was a moment in time where Waste Management tried to buy 1-800-GOT-JUNK got junk for 75 to 100 million. And I feel like, one, it's just interesting. And then it's a commonality of, there are multiple, very successful, very large businesses today that turned down an acquisition at some point in their company history.
Daniel Scrivner (36:16):
But it's also interesting in that when I square that up with, you started with nothing, you bootstrapped your business eight years to get to a million. So what a roller coaster ride to get to the level where you could have this kind of acquisition opportunity. I imagine there was a part of you that found that really appealing. What did it feel like in the moment when you got that offer? And what gave you the conviction to turn it down and say no?
Brian Scudamore (36:41):
Yeah. So, did it feel good? I think I was more scared. I was in a little tiny boat out from shore so far that we couldn't see the shore on a fishing trip where they were wining and dining me at this fancy resort, and we had a blast. But in that moment, when they're asking me this, I'm like, there's two garbage execs and myself in a little boat where I can't be seen. I was going back to Sopranos and going, "Is this going to end well? If I say no, is that okay?"
Brian Scudamore (37:09):
I felt flattered that I was being offered money, but I actually, I can't remember if I told the story in the book, but I actually turned around and said, "You guys could give me 10 times that. You could give me a ridiculous sum like a billion." It wasn't like I was looking for more money, and I wanted them to know this is a passion play. I am having way too much fun building something with great people that I love, watching their lives get better. And watching us take the challenge of doing all these impossible things together, I wouldn't have sold that for any price.
Brian Scudamore (37:42):
So a billion dollars would've been insane, but they could have literally offered it, and I still would've literally said, "Thank you, I'm flattered, but no, thank you." And I look back today and I go, it was the right decision, because I had a vision that I didn't think anybody else could see. And my job over time was to get them on board with, we can do this. And how fun would it be to build this together? I don't want to sell that.
Brian Scudamore (38:07):
Again, I've got three kids, would I ever sell one of them? I mean, on the odd day, maybe. But you love your children and you love being a part of them growing. Business is very similar that way. Now, I get that not everyone's that way. And they go, "I want to build. I want to get it to a point, and I want to sell and I want to get out and do it again." I don't want to do it again from scratch. I want to continue to build from the foundation that we've been growing that's awesome.
Daniel Scrivner (38:35):
Yeah. I hear very clearly in that, one, I think you're very focused on extremely long-term games, which makes sense because you've been building this business for 33 years, but I think if that wasn't there, I imagine you would've never been in a position to say no to an offer like that.
Brian Scudamore (38:50):
Yeah. My personality is such I'm so ADD, I mean, I see squirrels running everywhere and it's just like, wow. I have trouble staying focused for long periods of time. I'm surprised I've stayed this focused, but it's because it's at my core of understanding that I want to watch others grow. And I want to play a little tiny part of planting that seed and watching people live the dream of business ownership. So it makes it easy. I love what I do and every single day of it, so I feel very lucky.
Daniel Scrivner (39:24):
That's so cool. I want to close the conversation by asking a few questions about what you've learned as you look back over the last 33 years. One of the first questions I want to ask is, in what ways do you think you've changed and grown the most over that time? And I think maybe another way of saying that would be, what surprises you about who you are today versus who you were back then? What has that journey been like for you?
Brian Scudamore (39:54):
I often say if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. So here's how I've changed over time. I don't think I get smarter and smarter and smarter. I think I actually feel less smart and less smart and less smart as time goes on because I just realize how so little I know, how much curiosity is out there, and how much most people can do things so much better than I can.
Brian Scudamore (40:19):
So I look at life and I go, wow, I just keep letting go of things and getting out of the way, because people can do them better. And instead of getting smarter, it's a really strange feeling, but I end up loving life more because I'm watching all these other people take opportunities inside the company, outside, whatever it is.
Daniel Scrivner (40:40):
Yeah. It seems like over time, collectively making more and more space for others and giving up that space yourself, which is a rare thing. I think that's not something that's very common.
Brian Scudamore (40:51):
And it's interesting when people will say, look what you've built. And I get that all the time. $600 million with 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I mean, we'll be 700 million with all our brands at the end of this year. It's a big number, and people go, "Look what you've built." I can't ever accept that. Someone can say, "Look what you've started," and I get that, but we've built this.
Brian Scudamore (41:13):
We were on Guy Raz, How I Built This podcast, which is world class. And I said in some social media stuff, my only regret is the name, because it says how I built this. And I can't say that it's how I, it's how we built this. And it takes an army. It takes a team. When you find those right people and plug everyone into the right seats and they thrive, it's fascinating.
Daniel Scrivner (41:38):
Yeah. I have to imagine too that that's a big reason you've gotten to the scale you're at. Because I think a lot of founders stay in their way for far too long. And if they hold onto too many things and they don't have that attitude that there are many others and there's many things that need to be done well, and I need to ultimately assemble this team, I have to imagine that that's been a big part of why you've been able to scale to this level as well too.
Brian Scudamore (42:03):
Maybe. I think leaders in general get in their own way. I mean, it comes to a point in anyone's career, business, whatever they're doing, if you can imagine finding better people and putting them on your team, smarter people than you, I mean we'd all benefit, but it takes courage to do that. You worry about the competition, but, again, it's that whole belief that empower the competition, embrace them, be with them.
Daniel Scrivner (42:31):
Yeah. I think it's a wonderful sentiment. I think another way of ... I mean, it's probably the same answer. I think another question that was interesting to me was if you could go back in time, and the old Brian from the beginning of 1-800-GOT-JUNK could see who you are today, what would he be most surprised at what's changed in who you've become?
Daniel Scrivner (42:51):
A part of building a business is always two things that are happening. You're clearly building this. You don't want to really call it a system. You're building this collective, you're building this we, you're building this team. But another big part of that is you are building yourself. You have to change and evolve and improve and deburr yourself in a lot of ways as a leader over time. What do you think you'd be most surprised at if the Brian from 30 years ago could see the Brian today?
Brian Scudamore (43:17):
Another great question. You've got some zingers. Clearly you've done a lot of these and done a great job. People often ask, what would you change going back to your 19 year old self? And I say nothing. But what would my younger self be surprised by? I think just the level success that I've actually had, given the lack of confidence that I had for most of my life.
Brian Scudamore (43:43):
I mean, remember I was the kid that was always told, no, no, no, no, no, in school. I went to 14 schools from kindergarten through to university, and the only diploma I have is kindergarten. I didn't finish high school. I didn't finish university. I'm not very book smart. I don't like to read, and have trouble reading. And so it's interesting because I think I would've looked at myself in the future and said, for someone with so little confidence, it's amazing the people you've been able to rally, and what you've been able to inspire them to build with you.
Daniel Scrivner (44:17):
Yeah. I think it's a wonderful sentiment. Then the last question is, so you've been building this business for 30 years. It's a massive part of your life. And so it makes me start to think about, and I'm sure you're thinking about, and you've thought about over time, your legacy. The question I wanted to end on is, what do you hope people say and remember about 1-800-GOT-JUNK when all is said and done, if we were to jump forward 10, 20 years in the future? And maybe said another way, what do you hope they learn from your story?
Brian Scudamore (44:48):
Yeah. I mean the quote behind me, again, it's fun to do the impossible, Walt Disney. If I can inspire people to think bigger, and think, what is their gift in the world and how do they apply that? Think of what they can make possible. We've all got gifts. I've realized that in talking to strangers on a bus, through to some random person you meet on a trip, and you realize every single person no matter who they are, what they do, has gifts for the planet, how do we tap into that? So I think my legacy is, is getting people to think bigger.
Brian Scudamore (45:23):
When I wrote the first book, WTF, it took eight years for Roy H. Williams, my co-author, the wizard of ads, who does all radio creative, year after year after year he tried to talk me into writing a book. And I said, "Roy, you can keep asking me, but the answer is still no." He said, "Why won't you write a book?" And I said, "My ego doesn't need one. I'm not a good reader, but yes, I can write a little bit. I don't think I have the time," and all sorts of excuses. And he said, "Your ego, this isn't about you. This is about you writing a book that will make a difference to others." And I said, "You actually think it'll make a difference?" And he said, "Of course. You have to tell your stories." And so that led me to then saying yes, and we chose to write the book.
Daniel Scrivner (46:08):
Now you're on the precipice of a second book. Clearly that went well enough.
Brian Scudamore (46:12):
The second one is written, and it's going live in April.
Daniel Scrivner (46:15):
It's so exciting.
Brian Scudamore (46:17):
I guess I've now got the bug of seeing that it actually does make a difference to people. And so if my reason for being is to inspire entrepreneurship, why not write a book about how to start a business?
Daniel Scrivner (46:28):
Yeah. And if you were curious about that, just go on Amazon and look at the 300 plus glowing reviews about WTF, Willing to Fail, because you've clearly had an impact on a lot of people. For anyone listening, I mean, I highly encourage you to pick up the book, WTF, Willing to Fail. I have not pre-ordered BYOB. Is it available for pre-order now?
Brian Scudamore (46:48):
I think it just went live for pre-order. Yeah.
Daniel Scrivner (46:50):
It's exciting. Okay. So we'll link to that in the show notes, people can go and find that.
Brian Scudamore (46:54):
Daniel Scrivner (46:55):
I don't think anyone needs any advice about where to go to learn more about 1-800-GOT-JUNK, and call 1-800-GOT-JUNK. You can visit 1800gotjunk.com. You can also follow Brian on Twitter @BrianScudamore. You're also doing interviews now as well too. You have your own podcast.
Brian Scudamore (47:10):
Yeah. We started a podcast called Founders Stories. And people used to want to always hear my story on a podcast. And I said, but what about all the stories of our founders who are doing some pretty exceptional things? I'm new to the podcast world. I mean, we're technically on season three and probably done 15 podcasts, but it's interesting. I love, as you probably do, when you tap into someone's story and you get to reflect and learn on their journey, it's a fun thing.
Daniel Scrivner (47:40):
It's a huge privilege.
Brian Scudamore (47:40):
Daniel Scrivner (47:40):
Yeah. Goes back to your comment about, I think building a business. It's a huge privilege to be able to be a small part of that.
Brian Scudamore (47:46):
Daniel Scrivner (47:47):
Thank you so much for the time, Brian. It's been wonderful to have you on. I appreciate it.
Brian Scudamore (47:50):
Thank you, Daniel. So much fun.
Daniel Scrivner (47:52):
Thank you so much for listening. For links to everything we discussed, as well as the notes and transcript for this episode, visit outlieracademy.com/92. It's 92. At outlieracademy.com, you can also find more incredible interviews with the founders of Levels, Superhuman, Eight Sleep Rally, Commonstock, and so many others, as well as bestselling authors and many of the world's smartest investors.
Daniel Scrivner (48:15):
You can now also find us on YouTube, at youtube.com/Outlier Academy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full-length interviews, as well as the best short clips from every episode, including this one. And you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn under the handle OutlierAcademy. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you next week right here on Outlier Academy.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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