How One Entrepreneur Found Success in the Trash
Brian Scudamore never finished high school. He tried college for a while, but dropped out of that, too. He used to feel the stigma of being a “high-school dropout,” but now the founder and CEO of O2E Brands—comprising four home-service companies including 1-800-GOT-JUNK?—says he’s happy he never caved in to the typical path to success. A member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization since 1996, Scudamore launched his junk-hauling business at 19 and never looked back. Now four companies and nearly three decades later, O2E hit more than $200 million in revenue.
Scudamore, who has ADHD and always struggled in traditional classrooms, offers this advice to the entrepreneur looking to blaze his or her own trail:
“The traditional path to success is, ‘Do well in school, go to college and find a secure job.’ When someone forges a new way, it can be intimidating to the ones who have stuck to the path, who are the majority.
“Create a painted picture of where you’re heading and have faith that you will get there. Don’t focus on ‘how,’ commit to your long-term vision. If you’re passionate about something, and you believe in it, write it down. It’ll help you work toward it. Believe in yourself.”
Keep reading for the full Q&A with Scudamore.
When did your first entrepreneurial venture start?
As a kid, I always had the entrepreneurial bug, whether it was selling candy from my dorm room or helping my grandparents in their Army Surplus store. I was 19 years old when I had my aha moment and went into business for myself.
It was the summer of 1989, and I was in line at a McDonald’s drive-thru, waiting for a cheeseburger and trying to figure out how I’d pay for college. A beat-up truck, with “MARK’S HAULING” painted on the side drove by and I decided I could haul junk, too. I put my life savings ($700) into my own beat-up pickup, and within two weeks, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was profitable.
As the business grew, I dreamed of turning it into the FedEx of junk removal—transforming a fragmented, unprofessionalized industry into something focused on customer service and one that would leave people feeling a sense of… wow. We franchised in 1999 and hit more than $200M in revenue last year. Since launching, we’ve hauled more than 1 billion pounds of junk from people’s homes— more than 61 percent is recycled or donated.
In 2010, I started to consider launching another brand. When I had my home painted in one day (literally left in the morning and came home to a freshly painted house that night), another light bulb went off. That moment of inspiration became our second brand, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING. In 2013, we added a moving company to the mix after I had a terrible move. You Move Me takes the stress out of moving by providing people with exceptional service and support. In 2014, we launched Shack Shine, a house detailing service. With 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, these are the four home-service companies that make up O2E Brands.
You might assume from that list that I’m passionate about junk, painting, moving and cleaning people’s windows. I’m not. I am passionate about is finding fragmented industries and franchising them. O2E Brands helps people realize their dream of small business.
What challenges did you encounter while growing your business?
In the early days, there were many long hours, as anyone who’s launched a business knows. I’d work 16-hour days and still didn’t feel like it was enough. Taking time off felt like failing. It took years to realize I didn’t have to be everywhere at once, and that taking time to focus on family and friends was actually better for my business.
Beyond that, there were naysayers who told me it would be impossible to franchise junk removal. I can’t tell you how many experienced, respected entrepreneurs told me 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was a non-starter. But instead of accepting their criticism and giving up, I tackled each reason they said it couldn’t be done and found a solution for it. Creating new systems and processes enabled me to franchise the unfranchiseable.
Another challenge in the beginning (and something we still focus on today) was finding the right people. There were times I hired people just so we could cope with demand; if you had a pulse and a driver’s license, you were perfect! But I ended up with a team of people who were only there for the paycheck; they weren’t on board with the long-term vision for company. That’s why, in 1997, I fired my entire team of 11 in one day; I knew I had to clean house and find the right people to build with. Running the entire business alone for a couple of months was difficult, but ultimately, the experience forced me to refine our recruitment and hiring processes. Now we hold out for passionate, happy people who believe in our vision. Having the right people on board has made all the difference, and it’s something we don’t compromise on.
But really, it’s not just the early days that bring challenges. Growth has presented its own challenges, and there have been times we’ve had to dramatically change our approach and model. When we launched WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, the branding was really off: the colors were blue and “penitentiary” orange, which didn’t inspire a sense of trust with homeowners when painters enter their homes. The logo seemed collegiate, and didn’t help us stand out at all. We were disrupting one of the oldest industries, painting homes and businesses in one day, but our branding didn’t reflect that. We had to rebrand two years in, which involved convincing the entire franchise system they needed to invest in new collateral. Luckily, the new branding was so captivating that every franchise partner got on board immediately. But having to call ourselves out, reveal our mistake, and make a case for spending all that money and time, was difficult.
During the financial meltdown, in 2008, I thought I was going to lose the company. It’s a stress that’s hard to describe; I truly felt like a failure and questioned my leadership. We were laying people off and closing down locations all over North America. We ended up getting through it and being a much stronger, more fiscally secure company because of it, but there were some dark days.
Launching O2E Brands in 2015 was a test of leadership, as well. At the time, we had four totally different brands with unique franchise systems (1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me, and Shack Shine) and we had to bring them all under one roof. We got through it largely thanks to Erik Church, our COO, who’s a master strategist and incredible leader. Since we brought him on board in 2011, I’ve been able to focus on our long-term vision and innovation. He’s the one who turns my blue-sky dreams into reality through execution.
What personal challenges have you experienced?
Probably the most challenging time I’ve ever had was my divorce in 2004. Although my business was growing, my marriage was falling apart after 19 years. We broke up shortly after my daughter was born. That was a terrible time but we worked really hard to become friends and co-parents, then I was lucky enough to become best friends with her new husband, Dan. We all just made an effort to be together. It took time, but we actively put the kids first, and it’s made all the difference.
As far as other personal challenges go, I have ADHD, and I’ve never been a good student. I dropped out of high school, talked my way into university, and dropped out of that, too. When I did leave college to focus on 1-800-GOT-JUNK? full time, my dad was really disappointed. He’s a world-renowned liver surgeon, and he couldn’t understand why I’d leave behind an education to become a junk man. The strain it put on our relationship was certainly challenging at times.
What sets your brand apart?
Our people. We hire happy people who are self-motivated and passionate, who believe in building something bigger, together. We’re proof that happy people equals happy customers.
Our focus on customer service sets us apart from competitors in junk hauling, painting, moving or house detailing. Traditionally, these types of home services are fragmented, unreliable and unprofessional. Each of our brands offers clean, shiny trucks and professional front-line employees who are the backbone to our business. Providing exceptional service creates loyal customers who refer more, spend more often and are willing to provide constructive feedback.
Our WTF (willing to fail) culture also sets us apart. We encourage our people to take risks that generate growth, understanding that some ideas will succeed and others might fail. Embracing risks is what makes O2E Brands so innovative.
How did you first hear about the Entrepreneurs’ Organization?
This answer might surprise you, but I read about EO in SUCCESS Magazine. Seriously, it was an article by a guy named Doug Mellinger. We’ve since become friends.
I’ve been a member since 1996. Being part of this organization has had huge impact on my entrepreneurial journey. From the age of 19-to-29, I suffered intense panic attacks. They really started to get in the way of business. For example, I couldn’t get on planes. I actually turned to my EO group to ask for advice and found a lot of support from other entrepreneurs who’d dealt with similar issues.
With so many successful entrepreneurs blazing their own trails without secondary or post-secondary education, why do you think there is still such a stigma surrounding those who choose to forego the traditional path?
Taking the road less traveled means testing new ideas and often going it alone, which is inherently scary (even for the person taking the leap). When people see something as new or different, there’s a tendency to respond warily until the idea is proven.
The traditional path to success is “do well in school, go to college (and do well there) and find a secure job.” When someone forges a new way, it can be intimidating to the ones who have stuck to the path, who are the majority.
I didn’t finish school and felt a stigma around that. Not only did I drop out of high school, I dropped out of college, too. It took about 20 years before I felt the stigma about “drop outs” no longer applied to me.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are hesitant to take the path less traveled?
Create a painted picture of where you’re heading and have faith that you will get there. Don’t focus on how, just commit to your long-term vision. If you’re passionate about something and you believe in it, write it down. It’ll help you work toward it. Believe in yourself.
What’s on the horizon for you and O2E Brands?
We’re aiming to make $1B in revenue and have 10 brands by the end of 2021. So nothing too crazy!
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.