Brian Scudamore just released the book WTF (Willing to Fail): How Failure Can Be Your Key to Success into a crowded market for inspirational business lit. Remarkably, it could make it over the fray.
And that is mainly because he knows a thing or two about how to build a brand as he has started a business in college which today he claims brings in an average of a million dollars a day — yes, you read that correctly — and claims he is on the path to becoming a billion dollar company.
At 19 years old, Scudamore pioneered the industry of professional junk removal with 1-800 GOT-JUNK. Then, as he ran out of new markets to expand to, he scaled the business into three more home service brands.
Just hours after he appeared on the home page of CNN.com I got a chance to sit down with Brian and ask him about how he turned a trash collection truck into a ginormous franchise.
Grit Daily: Let me start off by respectfully saying ‘WTF?!,’ Brian, your book, by the same name just to make that clear, seems to be off to a start. How is the book journey treating you?
Brian Scudamore: It’s been fun. WTF, which really means as you said, Willing To Fail, is an attitude of embracing failure and understanding that failure is just as much a part of life and an ingredient in success as anything. It’s one of these things where people are scared of failure, it hurts, it sucks but if you can embrace it, that’s what makes life so great. You learn, you take a bigger step, and you grow.
You asked about the journey. It is one that’s been interesting, it’s been fun as a first-time author. Tons of learning and tons of mistakes. I mean things weren’t set up perfectly, and we ran out of stock with Amazon the first day. We ended up running out of stock again the first week, but you learn, and it allows you to be better.
Here we are thirty thousand copies out there, and the world seems to be enjoying our story. It’s been a busy journey, but it’s been one that I have been enjoying nonetheless.
GD: What was a ginormous brand fail that you went through?
BS: I think one of the biggest ones was my first big flop.
I had eleven employees, and they say one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. So I ended up getting rid of my entire company. I have nine bad apples, and I sat down with them, and I said guys, I gotta let you know that I think I found the wrong people. I haven’t treated you right. I haven’t given you the love and support you need to be successful, and I’m making a tough decision here, but we’re gonna part ways.
So I went from a company of twelve, myself and eleven, down to one. It was just me hauling junk. It was just me answering phones and trying to rehire, but I learned a valuable lesson from that failure that your very first employee has to be amazing because that person is going to spread the culture, the vibe, and the feeling of the business and that you need to really build on finding the right people and treating them right, and it’s made a huge difference.
I look at our company of over five hundred people today and how amazing it is for us to feel so proud about the type of culture we have. It would have never have happened if I hadn’t made some of the mistakes I did.
GD: Let’s talk about company culture. How important are core values to you?
BS: Values have to be something that you hold your team accountable to, and you hold yourself accountable to.
We went and took a little company retreat to an island, and I said to my team, what are our values? What words can describe who we are, not who we want to be or who we are trying to be, but who we are today? What are those words? We took Post-It notes, we put them all up on these big windows, and we grouped all four hundred Post-Its with different words into four distinct categories. Passion, Integrity, Professionalism, and Empathy. And when we looked at those words and they made the acronym of PIPE.
It turned into this interesting tool around ‘the junkyard,’ our head office, where we would say to people, “I don’t know if that decision was very PIPE”, or, “I don’t know if that behavior was very PIPE. It’s not in line with our values.” And so values can’t just be a poster on a wall. If you’re not displaying passion, if you’re not displaying integrity, how can you take a look at yourself in the mirror and say “What do I need to change?”
Let me be vulnerable and admit my mistake and then let me make sure that we are living, all of us, each and every day, by our values.
GD: What in your eyes is the most important part about branding that any startup should invest in getting right in the beginning?
BS: I think the one thing is deciding what the brand will look and feel like and then stick to it. Be consistent! Is McDonald’s the greatest looking logo in the world? Nah, it’s sort of that weird look and feel, but you know what they’ve done exceptionally well? Is that they’ve been consistent over time, they have not strayed from their brand look and feel. So, I think it’s more important just to pick something and go, you know what, we are going to be proud, we’re going to be all in and stick with it.
GD: What are some of the key steps that you had to go through to create a platform of rules and guidelines that empower franchisee owners but still remain true to your brand?
BS: You know I sat down, and I read a book called the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. What the book talks about is that people don’t fail, systems do. Take everything in your business, and it doesn’t matter if you’re running a brand agency or a junk removal company, take everything you do and write it down on one page: What’s that one best practice and how would you teach someone else to do it?
So how do you load a truck, how do you answer the phone in the call center? How do you market the business? How do you do your accounting? Every single piece of the puzzle has to fit on one page, simplified, here are the best practices and the steps. You start with the right recruiting systems to find the right people, the right training systems to make sure that they’re trained properly, and you’ve got good people doing the right stuff and then the operating systems to keep them great. If I think back to when I fired my entire team, a team with eleven people, the biggest missing system was not those people.
They didn’t fail. It was me failing because I didn’t have the right recruiting systems and I didn’t have the right training systems and so it all compounded in a massive failure. It inspired me to end up finding that book not long after to really set up the processes in my business. If you’re trying to build a franchise, franchise brands are all about proven recipes. A recipe that you can replicate that others can follow with the same success that you’ve had.
GD: You have done more than most people will ever do with one brand. What does branding mean to you?
BS: Branding to me is a look, a feel, a connection.
Think of a person. You look at Oprah Winfrey, the way she dresses, the personality, the energy she’s got, her intelligence, the way she can connect with human beings on humanity. She is a great brand. Businesses have to do the same thing. It is really just how do you look? How do you act? Your values. What makes you so special and how do you differentiate yourself from anyone else in the world? Look at brands, like the Apple iPhone.
Some people have an Android device. Both are great, both are brands. They’re very, very different and they appeal to different people for different reasons. The key is understanding that a brand is a feeling, a look and feel, and how do you strategically create it in the right way.
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Fabian Geyrhalter is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is a brand strategist, bestselling author, and mentor. He is the Principal of Los Angeles based brand consultancy FINIEN, creating verbal and visual brand clarity.