“Hey Bill,” The Fascinating Story of How President Clinton Accidentally Branded 1800-GOT-JUNK

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands, a home-services franchisor comprising 1–800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine. O2E Brands is a multi-award winning company, consistently recognized for its exceptional workplace culture, leadership and business excellence. It began as a one-person startup and has since grown into an international presence worth $250M annually.

Yitzi: What is your “backstory”?

In 1989, I was a typical, struggling 18-year-old. School was never my thing; I cut class in grade 8, failed, and ended up dropping out altogether. Thinking I needed a degree to be successful, I somehow talked my way into a top university — but there I was, desperate to figure out how the heck to pay for it. The answer hit me in a McDonald’s drive-thru, when a beat-up junk truck rolled by: why not haul junk for a fee? The next day I used every penny to my name to buy a truck of my own, a $700 investment that paid for itself in the first two weeks. When I started ducking class to take customer calls, I realized I was learning more about business by running one than I ever would in school. So I dropped out again and now, we’re the largest junk removal company in the world.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

In 2011, Bill Clinton came to town and I was invited last minute to attend the 1,500-person, black tie event. My colleague had a brilliant idea: to get a 1–800-GOT-JUNK? hat in the hands of the former president. Despite the velvet rope blocking his table and the Secret Service agents standing by, I was determined to make it happen.

Hat in hand, I hopped over the velvet rope and crouched down beside the table. “Hey Bill,” I said, unaware that I should have called him Mr. President. I introduced myself and our company and gave him the hat. Our conversation lasted about two minutes before an agent came over and (not so) subtly told me to wrap it the hell up. Mr. Clinton smiled and thanked me and I was escorted back to my table.

When he was walking off stage at the end of the talk, Bill Clinton had our branded 1–800-GOT-JUNK? cap tucked under his arm. (This was pre-iPhones so unfortunately, we don’t have a photo!). It was a testament to the power of taking risks and being willing to fail, an attitude we encourage and embrace wholeheartedly at our company. I’m a big believer that with a little determination and fearlessness, you can make anything happen.

Yitzi: Are you working on any meaningful non profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In 2016, my family and I went to Kenya with ME to WE, a charity that empowers people to help create sustainable communities in developing nations. Together with the local community, we built more than physical structures; we helped a growing economy build a brighter future.

When I returned from the trip, my head was buzzing: how could I give the people at my company the opportunity to give back, too? To me, the key word is responsibility; as leaders, we have an obligation to give back however we can. I realized the only way to get the true value of the program was to experience it firsthand — so we partnered with WE, and in Summer 2018, we sent 8 employees to Kenya to help build schools for youth in need. Our team returned with their eyes opened, perspectives broadened, and with memories that will last a lifetime. We’ll be sending another cohort every year from here on out.

Yitzi: Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

When I went on my own ME to WE journey, I knew I’d be inspired on a personal level, but I didn’t expect to be inspired so profoundly from a business standpoint. By sending our employees abroad, we’re doing our part to give back, while also creating a program that will become a legacy for O2E Brands.

The best part about our partnership with WE is that it has reciprocal impact: we’re giving back to a community in need, while empowering our employees to contribute to the global economy. Our team who visited Kenya this summer were able to see the direct impact of their efforts: they spoke with young students who were excited for their futures because of the schools ME to WE was building. Locals shared how the organization had created jobs and helped them provide for their families. Thanks to WE and its volunteers, tens of thousands of children now have access to education, farmers can provide meals to their communities, and women entrepreneurs are building thriving businesses.

Through this partnership, we’re also enabling our employees to achieve a 101 Life Goal, a company-wide program that supports our people towards reaching their wildest dreams. We contribute $101,000 annually to employees’ personal goals, and subsidize 50% of their ME to WE trip.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Hire happy people. In 1994, 1–800-GOT-JUNK? hit its first million. I should have been ecstatic to reach such a major milestone, but I was miserable and hated coming to the office. It got so bad that I almost walked away — but then I realized the problem wasn’t the business, it was the people I was working with. They didn’t share my vision for the company and our culture had become toxic. I felt I had no choice: I fired them all in one day and set out to rebuild with a new philosophy, “It’s All About People.” Now, our team is full of happy, like-minded people aligned towards our goals.
  2. Work hard, play hard — but don’t burn yourself out. When we were in startup mode, I used to clock 16-hour days, 7 days a week, working my life away to grow my business. I believed if I wasn’t working, the business wasn’t growing and that meant we were failing. It affected every aspect of my life: I suffered from panic attacks and anxiety, my marriage fell apart and ironically, the business was at a standstill. I finally had to admit I needed to refocus my priorities. It wasn’t until I committed to taking more time to myself that the business finally started growing again.
  3. Trust your gut. When I first had the idea to franchise 1–800-GOT-JUNK?, no one believed it could be done. All it takes is a truck and an able-bodied person to start a junk removal business; anyone could start a competitor. I nearly backed down but I found the courage to hold fast to my vision. We opened our first franchise in Toronto in 1999, and we now have 160 franchises across North America and Australia.
  4. Take time to think. I used to struggle to carve out time in the day to pause and just think. Years ago, I started taking Mondays out of office as dedicated ‘think’ days. I use this time to focus on big picture things, like my vision for the future of the company, and this is often when I get my best ideas. It was on a ‘think’ day when I decided to launch our fourth brand, Shack Shine.
  5. Don’t go it alone. While I’m fortunate to be surrounded my so many inspiring, happy people now, it wasn’t always this way. Six years into the business, my top employee quit — and went on to start a rival junk removal business. I was gutted, and it took me a long time to learn to trust again. Another time, I had to fire a COO who nearly bankrupted the business. Even though I’ve been burned over the years, it’s taught me one thing: with the right people, you can build something bigger and better together than any one of you could do alone.

Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

I’ve been borderline stalking Gary Vaynerchuk for months and have been fortunate to meet him briefly. I’ve been in touch with him and his people, but it’s been difficult to coordinate a time to sit down and chat. He’s definitely at the top of my list.

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