The break-in alarm wouldn't stop screaming - and I knew I was screwed.
Just as self-made multi-millionaire Brian Scudamore, the person I was about to interview, walked through the front door of the building, the ticket machine had malfunctioned and let out an ear shattering series of shrieks.
We hadn't met before. "Hi, I'm you're 12:00" I tried to smile over the screeching.
Luckily, Brian had a sense of humor and playfully shrugged it off. " Trying to break into the building?" he joked, before retreating from the turmoil.
After I managed to get the machine to calm down, I boarded the lift and took it up to the offices of his empire's parent company O2E Brands.
Greeted by smiling secretaries at the front desk, coffee was thrust into my hand and I was seated by a table in the middle of the large and colorfully decorated office space.
As I waited for Brian, I could see that Brian's story was reflected on the walls of the office. He started 1-800-Got-Junk in Vancouver, BC in 1989 to help pay for college, and there was a huge wall size photo capturing where he started. Having began with one truck which he bought for $700 dollars, the image stood in stark contrast to the fast-paced modern office where I sat now.
Brian started "The Rubbish Boys" as a way to pay for college in 1989
Over the next decades Brian used his philosophy of taking ordinary businesses like junk removal, and executing them in extraordinary ways. He has tackled junk removal, painting, the moving industry and most recently window washing & gutter cleaning services. The parent company for his businesses is O2E Brands, which stands for ordinary to extraordinary.
Brian soon joined me and we began recording almost immediately - below is the transcription from our conversation. It's geared toward advice for upcoming entrepreneurs, with a focus on the theme "tips for my 25 year old self". However, upon finishing the interview there are great insights for people at all levels of their entrepreneurial journey.
Ben: What is your opinion for someone who just got out of high school and they like the idea of being an entrepreneur - what would you recommend that person does?
Brian: For me, my education was learning on the job. It was getting out there and buying a truck and starting to haul junk. It's hard to learn about entrepreneurism in school from a professor who's never run a business.
So for me, someone who's 18 that wants to get out and do something on their own; go learn from an entrepreneurial business like O2E brands. We look for people that are entrepreneurial and we say "How do we help you be an entrepreneur" how do we help you find your entry point into this wonderful world of entrepreneurship. So people will often start here, learn things, and go start their own business.
Find a place to get your learning; is it from mentors? Is it from asking questions of other people? Is it working in an entrepreneurial business and learning from them? Or is it just taking the leap like I did?
Ben: In school did you ever have a "small man's complex" where other kids thought you were stupid, but now it's kind of the other way around?
Brian: I've never really been one to care what people think, so for me there were some people that thought, "Why are you not into school, why aren't you working hard, why aren't you focused?" They might be looking back going, "Okay, well it's worked out for him!"
Brian Scudamore is the Founder and CEO of O2E Brands
Ben: Tell me a little about your new window washing & gutter cleaning company Shack Shine.
Brian: Shack Shine is our newest brand, and it's going really well. I partnered up with Dave Notte who created this idea; I didn't love the look and feel of the brand but I thought the concept was great.
Shack Shine is a window cleaning, gutter cleaning, and power washing service
based in Vancouver
Ben: And I know you are very serious about branding.
Brian: It's kind of funny, but I went and hired our branding guy to recreate the Shack Shine look and feel before Dave and I actually did a deal. I was THAT confident that we would come to a deal. I knew that the name worked, but I said let's create something that VISUALLY looks right and it turned out really well.
Ben: One of the things that I was reading about that you do is that you're REALLY meticulous with branding. You said that you spent $200,000 on a logo, and I had never heard of that before for a home services company.
Brian: With WOW 1 DAY PAINTING the colors were very collegiate; they were blue and orange. I looked at the brand and thought with an industry filled with college run painting companies, we wanted to stand out. So we looked at colors and green is fresh, it's rejuvenating, so we really liked the color. We hired a branding company to help us create the right look, and they got us part way there, but not all the way. So we hired another branding company to come in and take over and they got us further, and then we actually went back to the original guy to take it across the finish line. So it was interesting that we had two branding companies work on it. It cost us more money than maybe it should have, but it took the time and energy to get the look and the feel right.
Brian alongside the new WOW 1 DAY PAINTING design
Ben: But the thing was was that you understood very well what was broken and you fixed it and it worked. And the ROI (return on investment) on that kind of branding has been, well what was it?
Brian: It was about $200,000 to re-brand. It was expensive, but the $200,000 wasn't hiring one company, it was the inefficiencies of us spending one year trying to re-create the new look and feel.
Ben: That's entrepreneurship, though.
Brian: Exactly; and once we got it right we shared it with James Alisch, who's our managing director. I shared it with him before he was a part of the brand, and he got excited about the vision of what we could create; revolutionizing the painting industry - a very "mom and pop" fragmented industry. Just the look of the logo was enough to bring him in to go, "Yeah I can see it." Our customers IMMEDIATELY got excited about the new look and feel, and it's been great.
Ben: Looking at the way that you've done things, you took world class business chops and applied them to things that were being done inefficiently. And now you've got this business that does a world class service, world class branding. You're obviously run well and centralized, so it's hard to compete with you.
Brian: Yeah, and I think that we're taking all the learning from everything we do and building on it even further. Our parent company O2E Brands is ordinary to exceptional, and everything we do is about taking ordinary businesses, junk removal couldn't have been more ordinary when I started, and we made it exceptional through the branding and the customer experience. Now we're doing the same thing to the painting world, the moving world, the house detailing and window washing world; who knows what's next. The goal is a billion in revenue by the end of 2021 with ten brands. And it's not a money-making thing, there's not a lot of billion dollar Vancouver companies; so to stand out knowing that we made a difference in the business world and the lives of people culturally is special.
Vancouver, BC (Vince Chow http://vincechow.ca/)
Ben: You're really successful in Vancouver and as an entrepreneur, do you think about the place that you live? As a 22 year old entrepreneur it's a big decision I am just starting to make now and would love some insight.
Brian: I'm inspired in Vancouver. I love Whistler, I ski almost every weekend with my family. I love the mountains, I love the ocean, I love the forest. So to me Vancouver's home, and you need to start something in a place where you feel inspired. Could there be more efficiencies to my business and my life is I was in Toronto or New York? Possibly, but it's not worth giving up the inspirational side of if I'm doing something special.
Vancouver's a smaller market and there aren't as many big head offices; so for a company like ours that's growing it's been harder to find really seasoned people, but you've got to deal with that. We hire on attitude and train on skill, so a lot of it is just finding really great people and then building them up.
O2E Brands strives to make the ordinary businesses of junk removal, painting, moving and home detailing exceptional by being leaders in customer experience and innovation.
Ben: You're one of the more interesting companies in town; O2E and HootSuite are two of the most recognizable companies. It's sort of like, "Where do I want to work?" you know you're not competing with Apple or Google, you can keep really good talent out of match.
Brian: We can stand out in this market, but it's also harder because you don't have the big brands to pull people from as easily. Also the real estate in Vancouver is so ridiculously expensive that it's hard to pull people from the U.S. and say, "Hey why don't you come live in our city where EVERYTHING is over a million bucks?
Ben: It seems like one of your biggest strengths is creative PR; do you have any tips for being creative with PR and thinking about things this way?
Brian: It's just paying attention to press and thinking differently. Seeing opportunities in a situation where someone might not.
Brian: One crazy example: we teach our truck teams to always be on the lookout for opportunities, and two of our 1-800-GOT-JUNK guys were driving along one day and some guy comes running out of a store and chased by someone else because this guy was robbing the store. The 1-800-GOT-JUNK guys got out of the truck and helped catch the guy. It turns out the guy was stealing a bag of shrimp, so right away they pick up the phone and they call our office and they're like, "Guys, we just caught a shrimp thief!" I mean it's ridiculous, and it made the evening news.
We're just always thinking about how we can get that awareness and that attention.
When the Canucks years ago were in the playoffs we decided that we were gonna do a media stunt, and we put on blue wigs. We gave out a thousand wigs at the Canucks games, and a thousand wigs in 18,000 people, those blue wigs stand out. Everyone's like "Where'd you get those, what's that about?"
Ben: So fun is kind of an element in that, too.
Brian: Yeah have fun, be different. Everyone in the press is looking for a story every day. People have writer's block, people are stuck, so when there's a journalist, help give them a story. Pick up the phone and call and say, "Hey I've got a great idea for you." and run it by them.
Ben: What is often overlooked when building a company?
Brian: I think people don't talk about how hard it really is. If you knew how hard it was going to be on day one, you wouldn't do it. That's why so few people do actually start businesses, because it isn't easy. But if you REALLY knew how hard it was going to be and how much you were scraping the bottom of the barrel financially, and making wrong people decisions and all the stuff that happens to entrepreneurs, if you knew how hard it was I don't think you'd do it.
Ben: What's funny is once you're so into it and you care so much, there's just no way that anything can stop you once you've gotten your momentum going.
Brian: Absolutely. It's absolutely worth doing. I think most entrepreneurs don't talk about how hard it actually is and all the challenges you face, but it is that challenge that makes it worthwhile. If you didn't have to overcome anything, it would be boring.
Ben: What personal traits or strengths helped you stand out as an entrepreneur?
Brian: I think vision. There's a quote from Walt Disney which we love, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible" I love going, "Wow, nobody wants to do that because it's impossible. We're going to figure out a way to make it possible." I think storytelling and captivating the vision in my mind, and being crystal clear as to here's what it looks like. I'm bad at figuring out how to get there, but that's where I've got Eric Church - who's our president and COO. He's great at encapsulating - taking the vision and packaging it into a plan and going, "Okay, let's rally the team now."
Ben: So I'm an entrepreneur who is earlier in my journey than you are - how do you cultivate skills like that, or SHOULD you cultivate skills like that to be successful in business?
Brian: I think it's the Marcus Buckingham "Focus on your strengths, don't try and fix weaknesses" I was a terrible reader and I'm STILL a terrible reader. I just focus on the stuff that I've been gifted with. So I think it's cultivating your gifts much more than trying to improve your weaknesses.
Ben: What are three things a starting entrepreneur should focus on?
Brian: Vision, people, and systems.
Vision is number one, it's knowing where you're going, but don't even think about how you're going to get there. Think of where you want to change the world and create a business that can do that. Don't think about all the steps, don't get overwhelmed, just think about the destination.
Second: People. The very first employee you hire, the second, the third, the five hundredth employee, be incredibly selective. Don't ever compromise on people. If you bring in one bad apple, it spoils the whole bunch.
Number three: Systems. Take everything that you created the business with that you're good at, and put it into a one page best practice and say, "Okay here's how we do things." Teach someone else how to do it and improve on it, and get things off your plate as an entrepreneur so you can do it.
Brian is a regular contributor to Forbes, writing about small business ownership and franchising
Ben: Lastly, what is one piece of advice you'd give to your 25-year-old self?
Brian: Never stop believing. When you have that picture in your mind of your vision, don't ever give up. There are so many times in my life where nobody believed in me, and I still had to believe in myself otherwise it's game over. Surround yourself with supporters and continue to believe in where you're going. If you don't know how to get there, it doesn't matter. Just keep believing and you'll get there.