It’s been 27 years since a high school student idling in the drive-thru lane at a McDonald’s had the flash of inspiration that turned into a major Canadian entrepreneurial success story. In line behind an old pickup truck with ‘Mark’s Hauling’ stencilled on its plywood sides, the young man saw a way to fund his college education—by starting a junk removal operation of his own. He called it the Rubbish Boys.

You probably know the company in question by its current name, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? And you’ve undoubtedly heard of its founder, entrepreneurial icon (and PROFITguide columnist) Brian Scudamore.

Nearly three decades after that fateful fast food run, Scudamore has built a business empire. Parent company O2E Brands has $250 million in system-wide sales from 250 franchisees and four offerings: the original, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a fixture on the PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies; WOW 1 Day Painting; You Move Me, which does local moves; and exterior washing service Shack Shine.

All O2E’s brands are service offerings for homeowners, and Scudamore says that’s by design. “It’s where I got my start,” he explains. “[I’m a] big believer that you grow where you’re planted.” The lessons from building his first venture in this market—call centre, marketing, customer experience, PR, and so on—apply easily to every subsequent one. “We’ve been able to cookie-cutter that into other industries [that] really aren’t that different.”

Whether you’re building your first venture or your fourth, Scudamore says there are certain keys you need to put in place to succeed and scale. Here’s are three things that took him from the McDonald’s drive thru to the head of a quarter-billion dollar business.

1. Vision

It’s crucial that you have a clear sense of what you’re hoping to achieve, says Scudamore. “Know where you’re going,” he counsels. “You don’t have to figure out how to get there [or] create the plan, but start with the vision.”

At 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Scudamore and the team crafted a ‘painted picture’ of the future. Details included a presence in the top 30 cities on the continent and an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, both of which they’ve long since achieved. Each O2E brand has a picture of its own.

Scudamore references construction to drive home his point. “You’ve got to know what the end game looks like before you build out the skyscraper and add all these different floors.”

2. Systems

At the Junktion, his Vancouver headquarters, Scudamore keeps a stash of the entrepreneurs’ manual The E-Myth by Michael Garber; visitors to the office leave with a copy. “What that book taught me about building a business was [that] people don’t fail, systems do,” he says.

With solid structures and protocols in place, you can minimize mistakes says Scudamore. “[If] you’ve got the right recruiting systems, the right selection systems, the right training systems and the right operating systems, things should go incredibly smoothly.”

(Not that there’s anything wrong with mistakes, mind—Scudamore says one tenet of O2E’s culture is being ‘WTF,’ or ‘willing to fail,’ and prospective franchisees are asked to share what they’ve learned from failure.)

3. People

Behind the reception desk at the Junktion is painted a big slogan, under which is Scudamore’s name: “It’s all about people.” It’s a theme he returns to again and again. “You can’t scale without the right people,” he says.

He cites an example from his own success story. “I just about bankrupted my company 20 years after creating it, because I had the wrong person at the top,” he recalls. But five years ago Scudamore brought in Erik Church as President and COO, and that put the business back on track. “There’s a magic between us that really helps us scale.”

Scudamore says one of the most common mistakes he sees among O2E franchisees is bad recruitment—the wrong partner, operator, salesperson and so on.  “You’ve got to realize your mistakes, quickly make a change, and then understand why you brought on that wrong person,” he counsels. “What was it that you should have been looking for that you didn’t see?”

For more insights from Scudamore, listen to this week’s BusinessCast by clicking the button above or download by clicking on the iTunes logo below:

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