Brian Scudamore on Setting a Vision
Today I’m talking to Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? When Brian was eighteen, he dropped out of high school. Then he talked his way into college, only to drop out again. Finally, he took $700 to start 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a home service that is now an internationally recognized, multimillion dollar brand, with over 165 franchise owners in North American and Australia. Brian has since launched three other international home services brands under the O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands banner.
Brian’s passion is building businesses, empowering entrepreneurs and disrupting industries. In this interview, Brian and I chat about:
- How he learned to use his ADHD to his advantage, and how others can take perceived disadvantages and turn them into strengths.
- How to identify the right people to bring onboard.
- How to create a vision and get people engaged.
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Michael: have no doubt, certainly for my North American listeners, that you’ve come across the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? brand. It is one of those brands that if you need to get stuff out of your house, out of your garage, out of the backyard, and you need someone to haul away the stuff, these are the people that you want to call. It’s a franchise and it’s started, in fact, by a Canadian, and that’s who I’m talking to today. Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, founder of Ordinary to Exceptional Brands. That’s the name of the umbrella company that owns not only 1-800-GOT-JUNK? but three other brands all based around home services.
And this is a pretty interesting conversation. You know, Brian has grown an extraordinary business, and one of the things that he brings as a person is that he has ADD, or ADHD. So, he brings that sense of, “I’m kind of wired with a different intelligence, a different way of working.” And as we get into this interview, we talk about some of the things that drive him crazy. And one of the things I thought was most interesting in the conversation was talking about the power of vision and how do you build vision, and particularly how do you build a vision when you’re trying to do it with a group of other people? So, we talk about power, we talk about control, we talk about vision.
It’s a great conversation with a great Canadian, Brian Scudamore from Ordinary to Exceptional Brands, also founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
Alright, Brian, here we go. We are here, and I start all my podcasts with the same basic question: what are you taking a stand against? What irritates you, what frustrates you enough that you’re willing to give me 20, 25 minutes of your time to talk about it on this podcast? What are you up against?
Brian: I’m not easily frustrated. I’m a very optimistic, positive person. But I would say that one thing that drives me crazy is wasted time, wasted time in meetings.
Brian: A meeting without a clear purpose, outcome, and agenda. I always want to know, why are we meeting, what are we here to accomplish, and how do we most quickly and efficiently get to that result? So, I will have 22-minute meetings instead of an hour meeting just to be very specific and say, “Okay, the buzzer starts. Let’s do this and let’s get to our outcome quickly and effectively.”
Michael: So, that’s interesting because I know one of the things that people may or may not know about you, I mean, they know you as the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, of course, but what I know about you is also that you have some form or some degree of ADHD. And I’m curious to know, what’s the connection between the ADHD and that kind of discipline that you’re bringing to the meetings that you run?
Brian: Yeah, I think someone who’s got ADD and has trouble focusing, what I know that works for me is getting rid of the noise. Getting rid of any excess information. And so, in an hour, it’s so hard to stay focused for an hour, but if you know very clearly what you need to accomplish, I find that it’s a race to the finish. It’s a race to the prize, that people will get things done quicker and better by having shorter timeframes.
So, I think people like myself with ADD, we just sit there and shorten things. I will read summaries rather than full books. I will make sure that people send me shorter emails that are bulleted versus a lot of excess information and happy talk. And it works for me, and I think it inspires others in my company to be very succinct with their communication, especially in email.
Michael: I love that. And one of the things, as I was preparing for the interview, that I love about your company name, because 1-800-GOT-JUNK? is actually one of the brands that you manage, one of three successful brands, but your umbrella brand is O2E, which stands for Ordinary to Exceptional. And I love that distinction, but I’m curious for me: how do you think about exceptional and what does that even mean to you?
Brian: Exceptional for us is customer experience, that somebody is truly wowed by the service we’ve provided. The unexpected wow feeling of, “Wow, I didn’t expect”—if it was, say, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?—“for the truck teams to call me ahead of their arrival to let me know exactly when they’d be on site so that I wasn’t waiting around during that time window.” Or things like the sweep-up. After the junk was removed, a nice sweep-up of the garage. Whatever it might be.
So, we actually have four brands. Our newest brand is called Shack Shine, which is windows, gutters, power washing. And all four brands stand for the same thing, and that’s taking ordinary household services and making them exceptional through customer experience. And we do that really simply by finding awesome people, happy people, who want to do well for the customer.
Michael: How do you find or how do you identify happy people? Because everybody’s kind of faking happy in the interview. I mean, nobody, I guess, shows up in an interview looking overly depressed or gloomy or grumpy. But if you’re trying to find people with kind of that spirit that you’re looking for, you know, Southwest Airlines talked about this for many years with the type of people they hire, but how do you identify the right people to bring on board?
Brian: I think it’s people with a glass half full-type attitude. People that just see the world as, you know, for all the beauty that it’s got and that they see good in people. No customer, no employee is perfect, but if you can just find the best in people. And so, I think we’ve got a very optimistic, enthusiastic, passionate culture because we’re so careful and so selective to make sure that we find either employees or owners, people that come buy a franchise and partner with us to build a business, they’ve got to be just happy people. And you can often ask someone interview questions and you can tell what their complaints are and why they feel like they’re a victim. Or you can see someone who just sits there and takes ownership, and really they’ve got the introspective to recognize that the decisions they’ve made in their lives, they’re living the result of, good or bad.
Michael: So, that’s an interesting correlation you’re making there towards the kind of people with the right positive attitude and that sense of willingness to take ownership for the life that they lead. I mean, one of my favourite thinkers—regular listeners have heard me talk about this endlessly—is a guy called Peter Block, who once said that he saw his job as giving people responsibility for their own freedom. You know, that sort of sense of it’s my life, my choices. How’s that going? And live with the choices you make. But what, for you, is that correlation between the right attitude and that sort of sense of self-determination?
Brian: I think they go hand in hand, and it’s tough for people to always be self-determined and see the goal and the vision and never give up. I’m an optimistic person. I have a vision, a painted picture of where I’m going, but I get off-track, I struggle, I get frustrated. I find that at times it’s, like, “Oh, man, it’s not working out as I planned.” Well, nothing ever works out as you plan, but if you can learn from your mistakes—and something at O2E Brands that we firmly believe in is a culture of what we call WTF, which stands for Willing to Fail. Being willing to make mistakes because it’s the mistakes we make and it’s the times that we fall and get back up in which we learn, versus just taking the mistakes and going, “Oh, man, I want to give up.” No, it’s a building block. A chance to learn and get better, and that WTF culture really ignites our fire.
Michael: Okay, so how do you sustain that? Because, you know, it reminds me of the Samuel Goldwyn quote, which is—I’m going to get it slightly wrong, but it’s something like, “I don’t want any Yes Men around me, even if it costs them their job.”
Michael: And it’s all one thing for the CEO to go, “Look, a willingness to fail, we want that,” but how do you make it safe for people to not just fail but to talk about their failure, make it a way of learning, and kind of help to make things different next time?
Brian: I believe the answer is leadership. You have to lead by example as the entrepreneur and say, “I just failed. Here’s what I learned from this,” or, “I failed and I don’t know what the lesson is, but I’m going to report back and tell you what the lesson is.” It’s just having the courage to stand up and say, “You know, I made a mistake. This isn’t exactly what I planned or intended to do, but something good will come from that seemingly difficult decision or result.”
Michael: So, what’s interesting for folks listening in is I think you’re the first person I’ve interviewed that has a franchise-based business, you know? And not just you are a franchisee, you actually have created something which has franchisers who go out and represent the business and the brand and the experience. You know this better than me. I’m guessing here, Brian, but my guess is that as managing franchises, you have even less control and rely even more on influence in terms of trying to make stuff happen. Is that fair or am I kind of mixing things up?
Brian: No, you nailed it on the head. It is really we can influence, but we can’t control. We’re not like Starbucks where we can say, “You know, we got a bad manager at this location: out you go,” replace that person, and everything is fine. We can’t get rid of a franchise partner very easily, and sometimes even at all, if we want to, if we’ve made the wrong recruiting decision.
So, for us, we have to—it’s getting into a long-term marriage. When we find a franchise partner—now, we don’t call them franchisees, we call them franchise partners because they are a business partner of ours. We depend on them, they depend on us, and together we build something much greater than going at it alone. But if you’ve got the wrong person who doesn’t have the right attitude, the right skill set, it’s an impossible thing to build a business partnership around.
Michael: So, let’s say that perhaps once or twice that’s happened to you guys and you’ve somehow, with all the best intentions to recruit the right spirit, the right attitude, recruited somebody who turns out not to be a strong partner for you: how do you manage that? I mean, is it you coming down and talking to the partner? Is there another way of trying to influence the way that they run their business?
Brian: Yeah, we try and help our franchise owners be successful. We help them understand why are they failing, why isn’t it working, and what’s the gap? How can they change things? And it gets to a point where if you’ve tried hard enough and they don’t want to help themselves and it’s not the right fit, either they leave or sometimes we have the tough conversation with them. We’ve had plenty of franchise partners that have left over the years that have stayed friendly with O2E Brands because of their own learning, that it wasn’t right for them, or the way we together worked towards handling the departure. But sometimes, you have to sit down and you got to break up and just say, “You know what? This isn’t working for either of us, and what are we going to do about it? What are our options?”
Michael: Alright, Brian, here’s the break in the normal service. We do this in all our interviews. Three quick questions, just to take us in a slightly different direction and break up the flow of our conversation. Same three questions we ask everybody. And question number one is this: what’s the crossroads moment, that decision you made that, when you went, “I’m going to go this way instead of that way,” made all the difference for you?
Brian: In 1999, I ten years into the business chose the franchise model as my model for growth, and I took my operations manager, Paul Guy, sent him to Toronto. He became the first franchise partner, and today he’s doing over $10 million in revenue. Made the right decision, found the right model.
Michael: Yeah, fantastic. Hey, can I ask you—let me ask you a question on the side there. You know, in the word of Harvard Business Review and the like, they say that culture trumps strategy. In other words, culture trumps business model. Does that ring true for you or, you know, do you think something else?
Brian: Yeah, culture trumps strategy. You need a clear strategy and direction, but culture takes a lot of work, a lot of discipline, and you’ve got to get it right. If you’ve got an awesome strategy and a terrible culture, you’re dead. So for us, it really is having culture. It’s king. It’s everything. It’s finding the right people and treating them right.
Michael: Perfect. That’s a really succinct answer. Great. Alright, here’s the second question of the set of three, and it’s this: whose work has influenced your work? Now, that might be a book summary you’ve read, a talker. It could just be a role model, a mentor, a family member, but who work has influenced yours?
Brian: Yeah, two of the biggest mentors, most influential mentors I’ve ever had. Fred DeLuca. He passed away about a year ago, but Fred DeLuca built Subway and he was an amazing mentor to me, both in person and over the phone. There when I needed him to help inspire me to build a great franchise brand.
And then, the late Greg Brophy, who built a company called Shred It. A billion-dollar-plus business, exceptional service, great branding, and just a fantastic guy, and Greg’s words still ring in my head constantly as, “Never, ever, ever compromise on the quality of people that you bring into your organization.”
Michael: Fantastic. So, third and final question. You know, at Box of Crayons we say we help people and organizations do less good work and more great work. Great work is the work that has more impact, the work that has more meaning. So for you, how do you see your great work at the moment?
Brian: My work is make meaning, not money. The money comes. I don’t know what I would do with the money, short of philanthropic tasks, but you know, really, for me, building meaning. It’s finding incredible people who are excited to take a big, hairy, audacious vision and make it happen. People that want to win together, play together, people that want to build something special, and that’s what we’re doing at O2E Brands.
Michael: Brian, that’s fantastic. Great answers. Let’s get back to the main interview. So, one of the things that I’m aware of is that you talk about being a—one of the gifts you have is about creating a vision; ‘painting a vision’ I think is the language that you use. And I’m curious to know, first of all, what do you mean by the word “vision”? Because honestly, it’s one of those words that has a thousand subtly different definitions or uses within organizational life. And second, after you’ve given us a sense of how you think about what vision means and how it’s used in your business, how do you help yourself and others to create those visions that engage and inspire?
Brian: Yeah, so vision to me is a destination, a very specific place that you are going with your business. So, the way I first came up with a vision is back in 1997/’98. I was at my parents’ summer cottage. They had this little dock on the water and I was sitting there in a doom loop thinking, “I don’t know if I can build this. I don’t have the brains, the education. I dropped out of high school, dropped out of college, didn’t have the money,” and I wasn’t even sure that junk removal was what I wanted to build. But then, I said, “Okay. Hold on here, Brian. Pull out a sheet of paper, get out of the doom loop, and start to write down pure possibility, what the future could look like if only I could imagine it.”
And so, I did that. I said, “We would be in the top 30 metros in North America by the end of 2003. We would be the FedEx of junk removal. We’d be on The Oprah Winfrey Show.” And so, I listed out things that were bold, that were crazy, but I started to realize when the picture became clear, when I took that painted picture, one page, double-sided, filled with words of where we were going, I started to see that vision. I started to see that destination.
So for me, a vision is a place you’re going. Not where you want to go, but where you will go, and nothing will stop you. And that you’re taking the picture from the entrepreneur’s or the leader’s brain, putting it down in writing, and sharing it with everyone else around you. It creates buy-in, it gets people engaged and excited, or it gets the wrong people out who don’t see what you see.
Michael: And within your organization and different companies, the four of them, do you create that for everybody? Do different partners create it for their own businesses? Is it done on a business unit by business unit piece? I don’t even know if you have business units. How does that kind of trickle down through the organization?
Brian: Yeah, so we create a collective vision of what we as O2E Brands are looking to build. Something much bigger together versus going at it alone. Finding hungry, hands-on, hardworking, happy franchise owners who want to partner with us and what we’re building together, and just the power of our brands and our footprint. And then, we encourage our franchise partners to say, “Okay, if you’re the Shack Shine partner in Toronto, what do you see? What do you want to build?” And we want them to have their own localized vision, something that’s very personal for them as an entrepreneur.
The most successful tool I’ve ever seen anyone use in business to get from one point to another is creating a vision, a painted picture, of where they’re going. And what I ask people to do is don’t think, “How am I going to get there?” because when you start thinking of how, you go, “Oh, man, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time, I don’t know if the idea is good enough.” No, don’t think of how. Just think of where, and decisions and things will happen to manifest themselves towards you getting to that direction. You might not know all the hows up front, but you’ll figure those out over time. So, a painted picture is just meant to be ‘where’.
Michael: Now, one of the things that I’m always a little torn around conversations like this is the difference between individual vision, kind of individual genius, and kind of the collective wisdom of the group. You know, on the one hand, an entrepreneur, a visionary, can kind of paint a picture and have a boldness about where we’re going. On the other hand, the collective wisdom often, you know, we know more than I know, right? So, there’s that.
Michael: On the other hand, collective wisdom is sometimes you kind of find the average of mediocrity and you fall on that. You take all the edges out of the conversation. On the other hand, you have a sense of self-correcting so you don’t have somebody going deep-high-end crazy because they’re, like, “I see us actually creating the franchise on planets,” and you’re like, “Okay, that’s not going to happen in the next little while.” How do you balance that out? I mean, is it an individual thing? Is it like you, Brian, set it up for O2E Brands, or is it a more collective decision? How do you play that?
Brian: I think it goes back, again, to leadership, that as a leader I’ve got to ask lots of questions and listen. Not everyone’s answers and ideas are the right ones, but I have to filter and sort and decide, “Okay, what do I see as the leader, the visionary leader of the brand, of the company?” And I’ve got to get out there and put it in writing and then share it. If it’s collective, if it’s too collaborative, hey, it’s not compelling, it’s not a vision. It gets watered down. So, I think the boldness in an entrepreneur that you mentioned is being so bold as to say, “Hey, I’m Elon Musk. I believe in this dream of electric.”
Michael: Right, “I’m backing myself.” Yeah.
Brian: Yeah. And so, it’s not an easy role to play, but when people do envision it out, then they share it, the collective wisdom, the real power in the collective wisdom is everybody going, “Okay, this is where this entrepreneur sees us going. How do we make that happen?”
Michael: Nice. And you know, it’s occurring to me that you should have a conversation with Elon Musk and maybe sell him the franchise for Mars, because I’m sure that’s not taken yet, and if anybody’s going to snap that up, it could be him.
Brian: There you go.
Michael: So, you know, you mentioned earlier that you dropped out of high school, you kind of talked your way into college then dropped out of college, so your education has come not through the more formal channels like that. And I remember reading an interview where you said, you know, basically one of the things you did is you went out and you knocked on the doors and met entrepreneurs and kind of learned at their feet, people who had walked the entrepreneurial path before you. I’m curious to ask you this: what is advice that you heard back then that is only now coming into focus for you, where you’re suddenly going, “Oh! Oh, that’s what they meant by that. Now I’m seeing that,” having gone through the phase of growing your company to the size it is?
Brian: Yeah, well, I think I often don’t remember exactly where all of the little tidbits of advice came from. They often kind of blend together. And what’s that old saying, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear’?
Michael: Right, exactly.
Brian: So, sometimes you just get the right person saying something that in fact just reminds you of a conversation you’ve had earlier in life. But you know, the one that keeps coming back that I heard from so many successful mentors that I’ve spoken with is it’s all about people. Finding the right people and treating them right. And in the early days of building my business, 1994, five years in, I fired my entire company because I didn’t have the right people, nor was I treating them right, and I needed to make a change in my leadership and my responsibility in how I found great people.
So, I think, you know, and reaching out to mentors is something I still do today. I do it constantly, where I just either pick up the phone or get introduced to different people that I can meet and learn from, because this entrepreneurial journey, we’re running towards a horizon that you’ll never reach. And as entrepreneurs, I think what makes it fun and exciting is that constant failing, learning, failing, learning, growth. You know, it’s just this sort of pendulum back and forth and it keeps it fresh and energizing.
Michael: So, I mean, speaking of that vision, I mean, I know I read in an article that as you painted the vision for 2020—and you know, this may have changed since you talked about it last, but the vision, what I read was that you were striving for, I think, ten brands and a billion dollars in revenue.
Michael: So, here’s one of the things that I’m curious about. Does the billion-dollar target just come because that just feels like the next big number to go for? Is there more to it than that? And I ask, Brian, just because I’m sort of struggling myself in my own company in going, you know, when I set a financial target, am I just kind of rounding up to the next kind of roundish, biggish number and going, “Okay, that’s my next goal”? Or is there a more disciplined way of going, “This would be the stretch goal for a company my size”?
Brian: Yeah, well, where that comes from is we want 1,000 entrepreneurs to at least be doing a million in revenue each. Now, there are plenty that will be doing more than that. We have our Toronto Wow 1 Day Painting franchise that says that they’ll do $20 million in revenue by 2020.
Brian: We have all sorts of people that are doing big numbers, but there are some that’ll be at the start-up phase that won’t have hit a million yet, so as an aggregate number that’s where the billion comes from. It’s less about a billion. It’s more about just the size and scope of what we’re building together. You know, at a billion will we be done? Of course not. Will we be fully satisfied? Absolutely not. A billion is, to some degree, that roundish number where we say, “Okay, we want to build something that’s significant that will become a legacy that will last,” and that’s where the number comes from.
Michael: And yeah, and I love that, and it feels to me that the four brands that you have, as you said, they’ve got their—they grow in the same soil, right? So, it’s extraordinary customer service. Is the way that you try and grow the next brand by kind of combining that piece around, okay, it needs to be kind of manual work, if that’s the right way to put it. It needs to be driven by extraordinary service. That’s the thing that’s going to elevate it and make it different and make it valuable and powerful for people? Or do you see that your brand extension can go further than that? I mean, I’m now asking you kind of probably business insider stuff. You may not want to tell me, but I’m curious how you think about the brand extension piece as well.
Brian: Yeah, no secrets here. So, really, the ten brands I think will all be in a similar space of home services. That’s what we want to own. That’s what we think do best at. And really, it’s growing where we’re planted. Staying focused. Finding happy people, happy owners that build great things together. So, when I look at the home service business, we could get into lawn care and carpets and irrigation and who knows what? But those industries, all our industries, are people coming into the home and, through positive attitude and great training, do an awesome job. And that’s really what exceptional is to us.
Michael: I love it. Hey, Brian, our time is almost up. I know you’re, like, “Look, dude, I’m a 22-minute guy and I can see the clock ticking over towards 22 minutes.”
Michael: I would love, if people want to find out more about you, your journey, about the O2E family, is there somewhere you would point them to to go and check out?
Brian: Yeah, the one central place is O2EBrands.com. That’s letter O, number 2, letter E. O2EBrands.com, and they can have links to our social media. They can send me a LinkedIn message, whatever they’re interested in doing. Happy to try and help. And I did talk about vision. If someone’s interested in seeing our painted picture, they can certainly send me a message and we’ll make sure we get you that painted picture.
Michael: I love that. Brian, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for sharing the journey.
Brian: Thank you, Michael. A lot of fun.