1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudamore Brian Scudamore didn't dream of a life hauling away other people's trash. But when he needed to pay for college, he bought a $700 pickup truck, painted his phone number on the side, and started hauling. Now 1-800-GOT-JUNK? makes close to $300 million in annual revenue. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," an update on Bloomerent, an online service that helps couples save wedding costs by letting them share flower arrangements on the same weekend. (Original broadcast date: April 17, 2017)
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1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudamore

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1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudamore

1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudamore

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Hey, it's Guy here. You know, I like to think that there's something special and unique about every single episode we do but this one - this guy, even though I interviewed him almost a year ago, I'm still kind of obsessed with this story because it's about a guy who built a huge business out of junk. This episode first ran in April of 2017. Hope you enjoy it.


BRIAN SCUDAMORE: I was learning much more running the business on the streets versus studying in school. And I remember sitting down with my father who is a liver transplant surgeon.

RAZ: Wow.

SCUDAMORE: But I remember having to sit down to him and just say, Dad, got some good news for you - and I presented it is as good news because to me it was good news and I thought if I could get him excited he might agree with me - and I told him I was leaving school. He said, you're dropping out of school to become a junk man?


RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built. I'm Guy Raz and on today's show, how an old pickup truck and a simple idea inspired Brian Scudamore to build the largest junk-hauling service in the world.


RAZ: By this point, if you've been listening to the show, you know all about the inspiring people who had an idea and then ran with it, whether it was Sara Blakely with Spanx or Tony Hsieh with Zappos, they had a vision and they pursued it. But almost all of them, they had to go through a complicated process to get from idea to implementation, which is why today's story is such a contrast because, while junk-hauling may not sound sexy, Brian Scudamore's idea was comparatively elegant and simple. He didn't need a whole lot of money to start. He didn't need any outside investors and he didn't need to hire anyone - at least at first. And to be clear Brian did not dream of a life hauling away other peoples' trash but he did dream of starting a business, even as a kid in Vancouver, Canada.

SCUDAMORE: Let's see - seventh grade I remember in Vancouver starting a car wash one summer. I saw my neighbor across the street, Eric (ph), had started this car wash and he was charging three bucks a car. And I thought, wow, what a great way to make money. I saw him washing cars and making money so I went and took a piece of plywood and made my own sign and I decided to charge two bucks.

RAZ: Wow, you undercut your neighbor across the street?

SCUDAMORE: I undercut my neighbor by a full dollar and I thought, this is cool. There I was learning about a price war, and it was awesome because literally cars would show up on my side of the street, I'd wash their cars, he'd get more cars, we'd start competing on price. So the funny part is I got down to 65 cents.

RAZ: You were a ruthless, cruel, heartless businessman in seventh grade.

SCUDAMORE: You know, it was funny. We both made money, we both had fun and we would do this several times throughout the summer. And we'd up the marketing. So I'd get some friends - you know, a couple of girls that were in my class - and I'd get them to go hold signs at the busier street a block away to flag people over. And you start to learn about pricing and profit. And I was making so much money that I just I couldn't even believe it.

RAZ: Were you like a genius student? Like, were you super good at school?

SCUDAMORE: Whatever the polar opposite of genius student would be would be who I was.

RAZ: (Laughter).

SCUDAMORE: What would happen is things like reading, I just - that was one area I got stuck. I am so ADD that I couldn't focus on the words, my mind would go to other things and I would have a hard time with that. So I learned to read but I didn't learn to understand and that became a challenge through school and really sort of held me back from learning through books. So I failed many years throughout high school. I ultimately was one course short from finishing high school. So 12th grade, didn't finish, didn't graduate. But then I saw all my friends - every single one of them - get accepted into colleges and I said I don't want to be left out.

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: So I went to one of the universities and said I don't have my high school graduation, I'm smart enough, I can do this. I wrote them letters and I spent time in the admissions office and finally they said, OK, we're going to let you in.

RAZ: So you were, what, 18 I guess at the time? Were you working? Like, were your parents helping you out? How did you even have money to go to school?

SCUDAMORE: My parents when I approached them and asked for some money for school they said, are you kidding me? You didn't even finish high school, why are we going to fund your college education? And it turns out they were probably smart. But what it taught me is I had to get out there, fund my own education. And what I did was I was in a McDonald's drive thru in Vancouver, I saw this beat-up old pickup truck, plywood sides, junk filled up in the truck and it had a sign on the box that said Mark's Hauling. I was having trouble finding a job, I didn't know what I was going to do to pay for college and when I saw that truck I immediately connected with that's something I can do. I looked at the truck and I thought, I started those carwashes as a kid, you can see how easy that was to get out there and advertise and wash people's cars. And so to me this was buy a truck and haul junk.

RAZ: Wow. So did you, like, rush out and go look for a truck?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. I grabbed the classified section of the paper and started looking for trucks. And I found one that - I don't know if I fell in love with it but I certainly could afford its price tag of $700. And I had a $1,000 of my own money and I spent $700 on a beat-up truck of my own. And it was this little blue Ford F100. And I got my girlfriend's father at the time to help me build the plywood sides on there and off I went. I spray-painted 738-JUNK, which was the phone number I was able to get from the phone company as my phone number. And my company was called The Rubbish Boys.

RAZ: I mean, you know, light bulb moments, we all hear about them. But the reality is there aren't very many light bulb moments, usually it's a long process and iterations and trying things and failing and, like, this was a light bulb moment that just happened to pass by you at that moment. Like, if you weren't at that McDonald's, you would not have seen that truck and you may not have thought of that idea.

SCUDAMORE: Absolutely true. But I would have found something else. It's in my DNA. It's how I think. And so sure, I found a junk truck. Hey, I'm not passionate about junk, I never will be. But I love customer experience and I love building businesses. I love building things. So if I didn't see the junk truck, I could have seen a completely different - I could have seen a carpet-cleaning business and said, hey, that's what I'm going after.

RAZ: So you go out. You get the truck. And how did you even know what to do at that point? Like, how did you even know what to charge people or where to find customers or anything?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. Well, I just started looking around in the classifieds. I started looking and going, OK, there's other people doing what they called rubbish removal. And they say they charged by the truckload or the portion of a load. I'd call them up and find out how much they charged. And you call someone up and you say, I've got a couch, they're going to tell you, you know, it's going to be 100 bucks, 150 bucks, dumping fees, whatever it would be. And I would pay attention and make notes. And then I decided - I started my charge rate at $80 a truckload.

RAZ: Which is pretty cheap.

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. It was pretty cheap. And it was probably too cheap because in the beginning I wasn't really making money. I underpriced myself thinking that when you go out as a business, especially as an 18-year-old kid starting a company, I had to be the cheapest.

RAZ: How were you getting the word out? I mean, how do people know that you were even available to do this?

SCUDAMORE: So I had painted my phone number on the side of my truck - 738-JUNK, it was just emblazoned on there. It was bigger than anything else you could possibly see. And I would park my truck at a high-traffic intersection. And so people would see this and they'd call. And I really quickly figured out that people would say, oh, I saw your 738-JUNK truck parked at Arbutus and 12th, how much do you guys charge? And so I learned very quickly that that was my mobile billboard.

RAZ: And what would you do? You would go to a house and you would - yourself with no help - clear all the stuff that they wanted removed?

SCUDAMORE: I would. I'd just go into their attic, their basement, wherever the junk was - in their garage - and haul it away. But I realized there's a lot of things - like refrigerators and deep freezers - that were too heavy for just myself...

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: ...So I needed employees. And I recruited my best friend, David Sniderman. He became too connected to the junk. I mean, we're still best friends today but it was pretty funny because he would just look through the junk and go, look at this. Check this out....

RAZ: This is awesome.

SCUDAMORE: ...You know, the history behind this. And he would keep things. And I'm like this is not going to work out, we need to work here.

RAZ: So how did you figure out what you do with the junk, like, because you have to pay a fee - I'm assuming - to like a dump site - like, a landfill site - where did you find those places?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. I called up the city, the municipalities, and I said where do I take a load of junk if I've got some? And they gave me the addresses of all the different places and I tried them all out - some were closer than others, some were cheaper but farther away, experimented a bit but it was pretty easy stuff. I mean, it really was a business of pickup someone's junk, see the smile on their face, take their stuff off to the dump or to be recycled and repeat.

RAZ: So simple. How long did it take before you were actually - you know, you paid off the truck, the cost of the truck?

SCUDAMORE: So within two weeks I'd made enough money that it had paid for the business. I adjusted my prices quickly, I worked hard. And I made $1,700 in net profit that summer.

RAZ: This was 1989, roughly?

SCUDAMORE: 1989. All I remember was that $1,700 was enough to pay for my school and some leftover. And I would do this every summer until I finally had the bold decision to drop out. I was learning much more running a business on the streets versus studying in school. And I remember sitting down with my father who's a liver transplant surgeon.

RAZ: Wow.

SCUDAMORE: This guy's done more school than anybody I know.

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: And very successful, very smart man. But I remember having to sit down to him and just say, Dad, I got some good news for you - and I presented it is as good news because to me it was good news and I thought if I could get him excited he might agree with me - and I told him I was leaving school. He said, you're dropping out of school to become a junk man?

RAZ: (Laughter).

SCUDAMORE: I mean, he was just destroyed. My oldest son is leaving school to become a junk man. And I said...

RAZ: To haul trash.


RAZ: I'm a liver transplant surgeon.

SCUDAMORE: On the glamor spectrum, I mean, it couldn't be closer to the bottom. And I just said, no, Dad, I'm learning so much more. And he said, you know, Bri, you've got a year left in your university education. Just go finish it. I said, Dad, my business opportunity might not be there forever. I said, I guarantee the University of British Columbia will be there for years and years to come if I ever choose to go back. So we agreed to disagree, and I dropped out.

RAZ: So at this point, this became your full-time gig, right? Like, at this point it's you and - is it you and a partner, or was it just you alone?

SCUDAMORE: So when I dropped out, I ended up having a guy who went to school with me - John - and John Reidel (ph) and I, we went from one truck to three trucks right after I quit school. And the whole thinking there was these mobile billboards work. If I can add two or three mobile billboards around town, we're going to get that much busier, and things are going to grow, and we're going to have this little empire.

RAZ: You weren't even paying for advertising because you just had this on the side of your trucks?

SCUDAMORE: We weren't paying for advertising. And my girlfriend at the time said, why don't you call up the local press? Call the newspaper and tell them your story. I said, what story? And she said, well, that you guys have created your own job. It's a tight summer labor market. Nobody can find work. You guys created your own job. And I said, OK. I picked up the phone, and I called up the Vancouver Province - our biggest newspaper at the time - and it must have been a slow news day because I said, I've got a great story for you. And they said, what is it? And I told them. And they sent out a reporter, and they sent out a photographer. And the next day, boom - we were on the front page of the paper. We got a front page ad for free.

RAZ: With your phone number on it.

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. And I remember the photographer saying, you guys are going to be busy tomorrow. And sure enough, he was right. We had bus drivers driving down the streets, waving their newspapers with our picture on it out of the window, going, that's you. And it was pretty fun.

RAZ: By the way, did you ever have to get a bank loan or, like, outside money to fund the company?

SCUDAMORE: I didn't. I was lucky.

RAZ: Wow.

SCUDAMORE: I built a business out of cash flow.

RAZ: And there was - and your costs were low, right? It was you and your partner, and you were just hauling the stuff out.

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. And I ultimately bought my partner out after about a year. And what I did is I just invested everything back into the business to grow it. But I never expanded beyond my means, at least not in the early stages of the business.

RAZ: What was the kind of stuff that you would haul out of people's homes?

SCUDAMORE: We would haul away old furniture, appliances - we're very much a keep-up-with-the-Joneses type world. And I think, unfortunately, people renovate too much and always want new furniture and the latest and greatest in TVs, and so we haul away their old stuff. We try and recycle as much as we possibly can. But furniture appliances, yard debris when someone cleans up the yard. And it was a simple model. But it was fun because you'd find weird things. You know, I remember there was a woman who had soup cans. She had a whole wall of Campbell's soup cans. I mean, it looked like a real, live art piece, right? And I remember, you know, looking at this and going, what are you doing?

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: And she just said, well, you know, she was saving up for the next big war and just wanted to have all this food stocked away. And finally her kids just said, like, you know, even if there was a war, you couldn't eat that stuff.

RAZ: (Laughter).

SCUDAMORE: It's you know, 50 years old. So we ended up cleaning out a whole wall of, you know - Andy Warhol-ish wall of Campbell's soup cans.

RAZ: What were some of the challenges that you faced in the early days? Like, were there any, like, regulations that you had to get around or competitors that tried to, you know, shut you down or anything like that at all?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. The biggest challenge I faced in the early days - five years in, we were about a half a million in revenue, and I realized I wasn't having fun any longer. I was avoiding spending time with my employees. And I just had the wrong people. And I realized that one bad apple spoils a whole bunch. And I had - nine of my 11 staff were bad apples. So I just decided to clean house. And I got rid of everybody, and I did it in one sitting, and I took responsibility as their leader and said, hey, I've let you guys down. And I'm sorry. But this isn't going to work out.

RAZ: What was the problem with them?

SCUDAMORE: They weren't clean cut. They weren't professional. They didn't see what I saw. And it was as simple as they didn't care about the customer. They were hauling away the junk, taking it to the dump. And they didn't have the sense of, let's, allow the customer to have that sense of relief that their junk is gone, that they've got their space back. Let's chat them up a little bit and make them happy. And they weren't aligned with my vision.

RAZ: How were you able to - like, how were you able to run the business the next day? All of a sudden, you fired your entire team. And presumably, you had jobs to do the next day and week.

SCUDAMORE: Yeah, it was hard. I went from five trucks down to the ability to only run one at a time. And so I had my truck. I had my cell phone. I was the call center. I did the booking, the dispatch, the junk-hauling - I did everything. But what it taught me was you build a company that's all about people - find the right people and treat people right. So I vowed from that day to never make the same mistake. Of course, I've made hiring mistakes but relatively few. I really focused on finding people that I wanted to work with.


RAZ: When we come back, how Brian Scudamore pleaded with the state of Idaho to get the number 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.


RAZ: Hey. Welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's the mid-1990s. Brian has fired all of his employees. And after a rough few months, he begins to rebuild the team. But at this point, his company is still a small business running in just one city.

When did you decide that, you know, this thing could be bigger than just, like, a junk hauling company in Vancouver?

SCUDAMORE: So, you know, at this point - 1997 - we're actually at a million dollars in revenue. And I joined something called YEO, the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. And I found myself surrounded by people who had some pretty cool businesses - tech companies and growing ad agencies and just stuff that seemed a little sexier than junk removal. And so I think I found myself feeling sad because I was comparing myself to others, and I didn't feel good enough.

So what I ended up doing was I went to my parent's summer cottage - they had this little cottage - and I sat out on their dock. And I said, OK. This isn't who I am. I'm an optimist. So I pulled out a pen and a sheet of paper. And I said, OK. What if I could just dream up possibility? What could this business look, feel and act like five years down the road? And I said, we'll be in the top 30 metros in North America, even though we were only in one. We would be the FedEx of junk removal - clean, shiny trucks, friendly, uniformed drivers. I just started to put these big, hairy, audacious goals down on paper that we would be like the McDonald's of junk, that we would, you know - just what Ray Kroc did where he got all these owners on board, we would do the same thing with the junk removal business.

And I took Paul Guy, who was the operations manager of mine in Vancouver. And I said, you're going back and forth to Toronto every couple of weeks to see your girlfriend. Why don't you move there? Why don't you take a truck? Why don't you start the first franchise?

RAZ: So, I mean, how did you even know how to structure a franchise? Like, how did you figure out how that would work?

SCUDAMORE: I looked at other franchises. I looked at Subway. I looked at businesses and thought, what kind of royalty are they charging? What's the business model? I got out and talked to a bunch of experts. So, again, being a guy that doesn't learn from school, I just picked up the phone, and I called people. I called, and I approached a bunch of experts and said, this is what I'm thinking of doing. What do you think? They gave me some feedback and advice on how to structure fees and royalties. I brought on a franchise lawyer who's still with us today. And I remember that he helped to give me a lot of the advice and the systems. He believed in us and knew that we'd build something much bigger than where it was at that time.

RAZ: So you get your first franchisee in Toronto, and how did that go?

SCUDAMORE: It was funny because I got a phone call from Paul Guy. So he - it took him, I don't know, a week to get to Toronto. He made a few stops. And he calls me up within the first couple of weeks. And he said, this isn't going to work here. What are you talking about, Paul? He said well, I found out that the city will haul away anything for free. He said, you can just put it out on the curbside. They've got special garbage collection days. They'll take fridges, stoves, couches, you name it. It doesn't matter. I said, Paul, you've driven across the country. Trust me. Please just try it.

And so he did. And he started to get business. And he started to hear from customers that, you know, someone was doing a renovation. Maybe they didn't get a city permit, so they didn't want to call the city to haul away the junk. Or maybe the junk was in their garage or their basement. The city workers wouldn't come collect it from anywhere but the curbside. And Paul started to realize, wow, I - OK, this is going to work. He did a million dollars in revenue in his first full calendar year.

RAZ: Wow. So at that point, you're thinking, OK, we've got to expand. We've got to move beyond Vancouver and Toronto. And what was the next step? What was next place to go?

SCUDAMORE: Next place to go was in the United States.

RAZ: And just to clarify, at the beginning, your company was called The Rubbish Boys. When did you come up with a new name? When did you become 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

SCUDAMORE: So Paul was in my office. We were working. And I said, if we're going to go for this franchise model and build something across North America, I knew the word rubbish was going to be a problem. It was more of a Canadian-British term. And the other problem we had was people would either think of the company as being The Rubbish Boys, and some people thought of us as 738-JUNK. So effectively they saw us as two companies.

So I remember sitting down with Paul. And we were brainstorming. And I said, what if we did a 1-800 number, something like 1-800-Flowers, something that was more descriptive? So we started brainstorming. And the whole Got Milk? campaign that was running at the time inspired me to 1-800-GOT-JUNK? And our phone number had a question mark in it. And it would ask the question, got junk? And - well, of course I do. Then give us a call. And so I tried to find who owned 1-800-GOT-JUNK...

RAZ: Oh, somebody owned it at that - it wasn't available.

SCUDAMORE: It wasn't available. The phone company said they couldn't get me the number. So I had to dig around. I ended up making about 60 phone calls. I had people, friends and family in the United States calling the number. It was only working in one state. And that was the state of Idaho.

RAZ: Who in Idaho had this number?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah, so the Department of Transportation in Idaho owned this 1-800-GOT-JUNK phone number. They didn't know it spelled got junk, but they were using this phone number. And I thought, OK, I need this number. So I called into their office, called up their main switchboard, asked for the phone room, and I got this guy Michael. And Michael ends up, you know, talking to me. And he goes, why do you want this number? And I said it's a business idea. I really want it. He goes, well, we're not really using it that much. It took three phone calls to him before he finally said, OK, here's the AT&T forms. Fax them over to me. The number's yours. I signed, and we had a deal.

RAZ: Wait, he just gave you the - he gave you the phone number for free?

SCUDAMORE: I think he wanted to get rid of me. I think he was sick and tired of me calling.

RAZ: But, I mean, you really needed that phone number. I mean, that was - that was an incredibly lucky break.

SCUDAMORE: It was a lucky break. But you make your own luck. I mean, I could have given up after call number 54 or 55. I just kept going. And I've heard so many stories of, you know, Colonel Sanders knocking on - what? - 183 doors. And then the 184th, the guy goes, yeah, I love the recipe. And so you just can't give up.

RAZ: So how did you expand into the U.S.?

SCUDAMORE: So we expanded through franchising. We found a lawyer. We started networking through our Canadian lawyer, found a great attorney in the U.S. And we created our franchise documentation. It got approved by the FTC. And they said, OK. Off you go. And then we just really started to aggressively go after the U.S. press. The big turning point for us, the big media hit in the U.S. was Fortune magazine.

RAZ: Why did you think it was so important to get press coverage?

SCUDAMORE: Well, I saw that when we were this little, local business as The Rubbish Boys, and we would get stories in the newspaper, people would repeat our stories back to us. They're like, wow, you dropped out of college, and you're building this business, and - you know, what a great thing that you're doing. And, you know, it's an awesome story. So we just started telling the story.

RAZ: So - OK, so you get this article. And then - what? - like, as a result, people were calling you saying, hey, you know, I want to buy - like, I want to buy a franchise?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. So we ended up getting an article in Fortune magazine. They saw one of our trucks in San Francisco. And Adam Lashinsky, the writer, called and said, saw this truck. Heard about you guys. Just seems like a crazy business. You know, you're building a brand in junk removal. Who does that?

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: And the story came out, hit the ground on a Thursday. And we ended up getting 506 phone calls from Thursday to Sunday. So that week, we were flooded with leads.

RAZ: And these were people who were interested in buying franchises?

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. I mean, 506 calls. Imagine listening to that and trying to write them all down and calling everyone back. We were overwhelmed. So I got on the voicemail, and I said, due to an overwhelming response from Fortune magazine, we are unable to call people back. If you would like to learn more about our opportunity, please call into this conference call at this time. And what we did is we'd have like, a hundred, people show up on a conference call. And we would do a roll call of, you know - OK, what city are you from? And we, you know, go through one by one all these different people. So everyone's like, whoa, I got all this competition. I want to get in. And it drove the process quickly. And we ended up doing 53 franchise deals that year, which was just unheard of in the franchise space. And things just started to hockey stick and completely explode.

RAZ: So, I mean, you had to adjust from running a small business to a pretty big company, like, almost overnight. I mean, like, all of a sudden, you had all these new franchise partners. I mean, that must've been a huge challenge.

SCUDAMORE: Well, in the beginning, it was great excitement. Things were just building all this great momentum. And we raced pretty quickly to $100 million in revenue.

RAZ: But what year - what year did you hit 100 million?


RAZ: Wow.

SCUDAMORE: And so it was exciting. And there was this energy and this momentum. But what was interesting about that time is at 2006, I realized I had my president of my company, my COO, Cameron Herold - I was the best man in his wedding, great friend. We're still friends today. We grew from - together from 2 million to 106 million in a very short period of time. But what started to break was that you had two ADD, fire-ready-aim types at the top of the company...

RAZ: That's you and Cameron.

SCUDAMORE: Yeah. And that just doesn't work. We started to make poor decisions together.

RAZ: Like, what'd you do? What would you do?

SCUDAMORE: We would overspend in areas where we would - we would take some risks. And we wouldn't really think through with any rigor and discipline how it would affect our franchise partners. We had a truck rollout program where we said, hey, everybody needs more trucks. Just get more trucks out there. And we put it in the franchise agreement that our franchise partners had to increase their fleets by a certain period of time. And there was some rebellion. I mean - and I don't blame them. It was too aggressive. And I realized that we were making mistakes.

And you can't have the two ADD types at the top. And I needed to find a new leader. And having to tell your best friend that this is no longer going to work out is a tough, tough, painful thing to go through for both of us. But we've healed and moved on. And, you know, Cameron would tell anyone today, Brian made the right decision.

RAZ: And so, obviously, I'm assuming you found someone else to run the operation side of the company.

SCUDAMORE: I did. So one of the biggest mistakes I made was the second person I brought in as the second president. And I brought in an ex-Starbucks COO. And this person had been a president of one of the U.S. divisions of Starbucks and had done amazing things for that business - 30,000 employees under this person's report.

RAZ: So you're thinking this person's just a slam-dunk. They're going to do a great job for me.

SCUDAMORE: Oh, yeah, I'm just like, jackpot. This is just unbelievable. But we almost bankrupted the company.

RAZ: Wow.

SCUDAMORE: After 20 years of growth, we went from - 119 million in revenue is what we'd hit at that peak at that time, and we dropped down to the 80s.

RAZ: What happened?

SCUDAMORE: Well, the recession hit, which didn't help, but I don't buy for a second that that was really the issue because what really happened was my president's leadership and my vision weren't aligned. I needed an executor who could translate my vision and say, here's the vision. Let's translate it into a plan. Here's all the steps. Let's make these things happen. I needed somebody that believed in me and where I could also believe in them. So I got that person out of the business.

RAZ: How close was the company to falling apart?

SCUDAMORE: We couldn't have been closer. I mean, I would have given us another 90 days if we'd continued down that path. We had overspent so drastically on big bets that didn't pay off, and I had to hunker down. I had to lay off 52 people. I needed to elevate another team - the middle-level managers - up. And I said, you know, I know you might not agree with my decision. You probably think I'm crazy, but I need your help. And it was the hardest period in my professional life.

While my middle-level management team, who was elevated, continued to run the business, I scoured the country for the right leader. I interviewed 75 potential president/COOs. I said, I need to find someone whose strengths and talents would take all the things I'm bad at and make them happen. And so I painted this little vision describing exactly who I was looking for. I got it out to my networks. And three different people, totally unrelated, said the person you describe is Erik Church because you've only described one person on the planet.

And I reached out. Erik and I got connected. He was very happily employed. He was president of a big travel tourism company. And when the magic happened, it was just, OK, we can see building this thing together. We can see how we would each contribute strengths to the recipe. And we entered this partnership. And it's been almost six years. And together, we just - I mean, we can debate and discuss and work together. I'm the culture guy. I'm the vision guy. He's the implementer, the rigor. He's the team-building guy. And it's - I mean, it's unbelievable.

RAZ: And so at what point did you stabilize? Like, at what point were you able to say, OK, we're totally past this crisis?

SCUDAMORE: Well, when Erik Church came in, the first thing he did is he had the goals that I had put in place - he lowered them. He said, listen, Brian, it's not that I don't believe in you and that I don't believe in the goals, but we're going to lower the bar because we're going to teach people what it feels like to win again. We are going to make sure we win. We are going to put the bar low enough that there is no way in the world we're not going to win.

And when people start to feel and taste that winning feeling again, the confidence will build. The team will come back. And so he thought about it in a very strategic, planful way. And we made money in the first year of this new business - really taking 1-800-GOT-JUNK and restructuring, hunkering down. We made money.

RAZ: How many cities do you guys operate in now?

SCUDAMORE: We are in every major metro in the United States, Canada and Australia. So you name the city. We're there.

RAZ: Wow. So I'm just curious. I mean, I talk to, obviously, lots of entrepreneurs on the show, right? And some of them go the franchising route, and then some of them decide not to do that. Why did you decide to do that?

SCUDAMORE: I think the answer ties to the person I am and what motivates me. I've never been a money-motivated person. I probably would have made more money in the long term if I'd done a corporate model and an IPO and raised money. But what motivates me more than anything is taking someone who's got the American Dream - build their own business, but they don't know how - giving them a recipe, giving them the cheerleading and the support and the team of other franchise owners who can come together.

And so the franchise model, to me, was the - you know, you've got skin in the game. This is your business. And we could build something much bigger together versus what we could have ever done alone, and that feels good.

RAZ: If you were to go back to the 18-year-old Brian - right? - like, in that McDonald's drive-thru, and you could - you were just there, and you're like, dude, I know what's going to happen to you over the course of your life. Listen to me. What would you say to him?

SCUDAMORE: I would say, Brian, listen to your gut, make the right decisions that you know with all your heart are the decisions that need to be made. Don't be afraid to make them, and trust that everything's going to work out. You know, I've learned that you have storms in life. And just like any storm in real life, they don't last forever.

RAZ: Yeah. I have just one more question for you, Brian, which is, what is the weirdest thing that you ever hauled off?

SCUDAMORE: I - the weirdest thing I probably hauled off was I had an entire truckload of escargot shells. So some company who imported escargot went bankrupt. And we loaded the truck. And it was very light because, you know, these shells were all air.

RAZ: Yeah.

SCUDAMORE: And this guy says to me - he goes, come on, you can fit more in than that. And I said, we've got a full truckload, sir. You can see the truck's full. So he came up with this idea, and the customer's always right, so we did it. He said, go up into the second story of the office, jump into the back of your truck, collapse all those shells and fit in another load. And so we did it. It was kind of fun, you know, screaming woohoo as you're jumping out the window into the back of the truck. And we did - we got another load in. And we had fun. He was happy.


RAZ: Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? By the way, last year, the company and their franchise partners made close to a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue hauling off people's junk. And, sometimes, that junk is kind of interesting. They told us that, in recent years, they've come across a Bible that belonged to John Wayne, an old airport X-ray scanner and an ATM machine that still had $26,000 in cash inside.

And please do stick around because, in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.

Hey. Thanks for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today, we're going to update a story we ran about a year ago. And this one starts when Danit Zamir was planning her wedding about four years ago near her hometown of Fair Lawn, N.J. She had 240 guests, 20 tables and $7,000 just for the flowers. I know - seven grand.


DANIT ZAMIR: And it was that frustrating feeling of I'm spending all this money on something that, you know, I want to have, but I don't want to be spending this kind of money on, quite frankly, anything that, you know, is going to be thrown out.

RAZ: So as Danit was trying to figure out how to cut down on the costs, she thought about a friend who was getting married the very next day.

ZAMIR: What I did was when I was talking to the florist, I was asking them, you know, is it possible to, you know, maybe have her reuse the flowers? Maybe we can do some sort of sharing. That was kind of that lightbulb moment where I was like, the florist is telling me that this can work, and I know that I'll do it, and I know that she'll do it.

RAZ: OK. So ultimately, Danit and her friend could not make it work. It was too complicated. But she couldn't let go of this idea. So Danit went online, and she started to search through wedding chat rooms and read through the threads.

ZAMIR: You have everyone just talking about, you know, who's in the same area. Can we share this? Can we do that? And so that was another big moment of, OK, you know, customers do want to do this. I'm not the only one who has had this thought. I'm not the only one who has wanted to share my flowers.

RAZ: So the gears start turning in her head. And a few months later, Danit leaves her job at another startup to start Bloomerent. And her idea was that brides in the same city could log onto a website and then share flower arrangements with other couples getting married on the very same weekend. They'd each get a discount on their flowers. Bloomerent would get a cut of the florist's fee, and the florist would make out really well, too.

ZAMIR: Exactly. So, you know, for them, they get to create those centerpieces once and sell them twice.

RAZ: But as Danit started to put her website together and then reach out to florists in the New York metro area, she was surprised that a lot of them said no.

ZAMIR: You know what was interesting - literally, every single person said, you know, this is a really good idea, and I love that you're reducing waste, and I know that I'm already doing this, but I just don't want to do something new. And in so many ways, that is both the most frustrating thing in the world, but it's also, you know, really motivating.

RAZ: And so Danit just kept at it. Her first paying client was a friend getting married in New Jersey. And then things just kind of grew from there.

ZAMIR: It was pretty nice to kind of see that, like, domino effect of you tell one person who uses it, and another person uses, and they tell their friend, who tells their friend. So we are now in 14 cities we're all over the tri-state area. So we have a lot of really exciting things happening this year.

RAZ: That's Danit Zamir. Since we first spoke to her about a year ago, she and her business partner have been working on a new service called Bundles, which lets couples easily buy wedding flowers online. So instead of going back and forth with quotes from different florists, couples can choose from one of three bundles of flowers based on their budget. And then, of course, they have the option to share those flowers after the wedding on Bloomerent.

And like we mentioned, all this started back when Danit was preparing for her wedding. And now Danit is expecting her first baby in May. If you want to find out more about Bloomerent and Bundles, check out our Facebook page. And, of course, if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. We love hearing what you're up to.

And thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to howibuiltthis.npr.org. Please, also do subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can also write us at hibt@npr.org. You could tweet us, too. It's @HowIBuiltThis. Our show is produced this week by Casey Herman. Ramtin Arablouei composed the music. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Thomas Lu and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Nour Coudsi. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.


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