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How an entrepreneur succeeded in the trash

Brian Scudamore never finished high school. He tried college for a while, but also dropped out. 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 glad he never gave in to the typical path to success. A member of the Entrepreneurs Organization since 1996, Scudamore started his waste hauling business at 19 and has never looked back. Now four companies and nearly three decades later, O2E has reached over $200 million in revenue.
Related: What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
Scudamore, who has ADHD and has always struggled in traditional classroom settings, offers this advice to the entrepreneur looking to chart their own path:
“The traditional path to success is, 'Do well in school, go to college, and find a secure job. "When someone makes their way, it can be intimidating to those who have walked the path, who are in the majority.
"Create a painted image of where you are headed and trust that you will get there . Don't focus on the "how", commit to your long-term vision. If you are passionate about something and believe in it, write it down. This will help you achieve this. Believe in yourself. »
Related: 5 Lessons I've Learned From 200+ Successful Entrepreneurs
Keep reading for the full Q&A with Scudamore.
When did your first business start?
As a child, I always had the entrepreneurial bug, whether it was selling candy in my bedroom or helping my grandparents in their Army Surplus store. I was 19 when I had my aha moment and got into business.
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 would pay for college. A well-worn truck, with “MARK’S HAULING” painted on the side, drove by and I decided I could haul some trash 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 company grew, I dreamed of transforming it into the FedEx of waste disposal – transforming a fragmented, unprofessional industry into something focused on customer service and that would give people a feeling of… sensational . We franchised in 1999 and reached over $200 million in revenue last year. Since launch, we've hauled over 1 billion pounds of waste home – over 61% is recycled or donated.
In 2010, I started considering launching another brand. When I had my house painted in one day (literally left in the morning and returned to a freshly painted house that night), another light bulb went out. This moment of inspiration became our second brand, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING. In 2013, we added a moving company to the mix after 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 home decorating service. Along with 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, these are the four home service companies that make up O2E Brands.
You might assume from this list that I'm passionate about junk food, painting, moving, and cleaning people's windows. I'm not. I am passionate about finding fragmented industries and franchising them. O2E Brands helps people realize their small business dream.
What challenges have you faced growing your business?
In the beginning, the hours were long, as anyone who has started a business. I worked 16 hours a day and still didn't think it was enough. Taking time off was like failing. It took me years to realize that I didn't need to be everywhere at once, and that taking the time to focus on family and friends was actually better for my business.
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Beyond that, there were naysayers who told me it would be impossible to franchise waste disposal. I can't tell you how many experienced and respected contractors have told me 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was a non-runner. But instead of accepting their criticism and giving up, I addressed every reason they said it couldn't be done and found a solution. Creating new systems and processes allowed me to bridge the unattainable.
Another early challenge (and one we still focus on today) was finding the right people. There were times when I hired people just so we could keep up with the 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 were not in line with the company's long-term vision. That's why, in 1997, I fired my entire team of 11 in one day; I knew I had to clean the house and find the right people to build with. Running the whole business on my own for a few months was tough, but eventually the experience forced me to fine-tune our recruiting and hiring processes. Now we stand for passionate, happy people who believe in our vision. Having the right people on board made all the difference, and that's something we don't compromise on.
But really, it's not just the first few days that are challenging. Growth has presented its own challenges, and at times we have had to drastically change our approach and model. When we launched WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, the brand was really off:the colors were “prison” blue and orange, which didn’t inspire a sense of confidence in homeowners when painters walked into their homes. The logo felt collegiate and didn't help us stand out at all. We were disrupting one of the oldest industries, painting homes and businesses in a day, but our branding didn't reflect that. We had to rebrand two years later, which was to convince the entire franchise system that they needed to invest in new warranties. Luckily, the new branding was so captivating that every franchise partner immediately got on board. But having to call us, reveal our mistake and plead to spend all that money and time was tough.
During the financial crisis in 2008, I thought I was going to lose the business. It is a stress difficult to describe; I really felt like a failure and questioned my leadership. We were laying off and closing stores all over North America. We ended up getting through it and being a much stronger and more financially secure company because of it, but there were some dark days.
The launch of O2E Brands in 2015 was also a leadership test. 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 needed to bring them together under one roof. We overcame it in large part thanks to Erik Church, our COO, who is a master strategist and an incredible leader. Since we hired him in 2011, I have been able to focus on our long-term vision and innovation. He's the one who turns my dreams of blue skies into reality through execution.
What personal challenges have you faced?
Probably the hardest time I've ever had was my divorce in 2004. Although my business grew, my marriage fell apart after 19 years. We broke up shortly after my daughter was born. It was a terrible time but we worked very hard to become friends and co-parents and then I was lucky enough to become best friends with her new husband, Dan. We all made an effort to be together. It took time, but we actively put the kids first, and it made all the difference.
As for other personal challenges, I have ADHD and have never been a good student. I dropped out of high school, spoke in college, and dropped out too. When I left college to focus on 1-800-GOT-JUNK? full time, my father was really disappointed. He is a world famous liver surgeon, and he couldn't understand why I would leave an education to become an unwanted man. The pressure she put on our relationship was difficult at times.
What sets your brand apart?
Our people. We hire happy, motivated and passionate people who believe together in building something bigger. We are proof that happy people equal happy customers.
Our focus on customer service sets us apart from competitors in the hauling, painting, moving or home detailing business. Traditionally, these types of home services have been fragmented, unreliable and unprofessional. Each of our brands offers clean, shiny trucks and professional frontline employees who are the backbone of 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 employees to take risks that generate growth, knowing that some ideas will succeed and others may fail. Dealing with risk is what makes O2E brands so innovative.
Related: The best work cultures have more than happy hour and free snacks
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 have since become friends.
Related: 4 good reasons to join a professional organization
I have been a member since 1996. Being part of this organization has had a huge impact on my entrepreneurial journey. From the age of 19 to 29, I suffered from intense panic attacks. They really started to get in the way of business. For example, I couldn't get on airplanes. I actually turned to my EO group for advice and found lots of support from other entrepreneurs who had dealt with similar issues.
With so many successful entrepreneurs blazing their own trails with no education high school or post-secondary, why do you think there is still such a stigma surrounding those who choose to forgo the traditional route?
Taking the road less traveled means trying out new ideas and often going it alone, which is inherently scary (even for the person taking the leap). When people see something new or different, there is a tendency to react with caution until the idea is proven.
The traditional path to success is to "do it right at school, go to college (and do well there) and find secure employment. When someone is forging a new path, it can be intimidating for those who stayed in the path, who are in the majority.
Related: 9 entrepreneurial lessons you never learned in school
I didn't finish school and felt stigma about it. Not only did I drop out of high school, but I also dropped out of college. It took about 20 years before I felt the stigma of “dropouts” no longer applied to me.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are hesitant to take the road less traveled?
Create a painted picture of where you are headed and trust that you will get there. Don't focus on how to do it, just commit to your long-term vision. If you are passionate about something and believe in it, write it down. This will help you achieve this. Believe in yourself.
Related: 11 Strategies to Develop an Unshakeable Belief in Yourself
What lies ahead for you and O2E Brands?
Our goal is to generate $1 billion 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.