Before College HunksHauling Junk came on the scene, moving and removal services were what one would call a boring affair. Enter Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman, two hunks who first befriended one another during their sophomore year in high school, and took the initiative to start their own business in 2005.
How often have you heard someone murmuring that business and friendship doesn’t mix? Soliman and Friedman have made it work for nearly decade, making their first million in less than two years after College HunksHauling Junk got off the ground. What they initially started as an opportunity for themselves, has well, exploded into opportunities for others. The broken down cargo van that they started College HunksHauling Junk with, has now been replaced with large fleets of branded vans. Moreover, CollegeHunks Hauling Junk is one of the fastest growing franchises in the nation.
The pair’s co-producing the documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker” and their authorship of the self-help business book Effortless Entrepreneurs hints at their branching out to other things in the future. Check out this exchange with Friedman.
Did you move a lot as a kid and did your moving experiences as an adult contribute to your starting the company?
I actually didn’t move anywhere when I was a kid. I grew up in D.C. and from a young age, I gravitated toward entrepreneurship. I had a lemonade stand at one point and I’d say that’s actually where I learned my first lessons about business. College HunksHauling Junk actually started, primarily, as a junk removal and labor company. We helped some people move, but we really wanted to focus on trying to be the best we could be at just one thing. Years later we added moving, but I think maybe the lemonade stand – which is about as basic of a business concept as you can do as a kid – eventually led me to take simple concepts like junk-removal and moving and put a unique spin on it and try to be the best at it.
Do you think that the saying, “Ignorance is bliss” can work to an entrepreneur’s advantage or disadvantage?
Yes and yes. It’s not so much about the ignorance as it is about the optimism. When we first started, I didn’t realize how incredibly difficult it can be to run a business. We just jumped in with a glass-half-full mentality. As you continue down the road as an entrepreneur, though, you can’t afford to be blind to things. Still, you have to experiment and push the envelope if you want to keep growing, and you can only do that if you acknowledge the challenges and then, with a positive outlook, take them on anyway.
Omar Soliman is a co-founder. How do the two of you work things out in running the venture? Like how do two minds manage to agree on one direction?
The short answer is that we don’t. Not always, anyway. We split our duties so we can cover more ground, but there is some overlap and sometimes we see things differently. I don’t look at that as a bad thing at all, though. When you have two minds looking at the same problem or opportunity through different lenses, you get better results because you can think it through more thoroughly. Whether we’re arguing or agreeing, we both want what’s best for the company so we’re able to harness the “two-minds” to benefit the business. The best way to describe the difference between me and Omar is that he is an Apple and Iphone guy, and I’m a PC and Blackberry type of guy, so we complement each other well.
Some entrepreneurs have goals for themselves and start feeling down if they haven’t accomplished this and that bullet point on their objectives list.
Accountability is crucial, but sometimes failure is inevitable. The important thing isn’t necessarily whether you reach every single goal, but how you respond. I don’t get “down” about falling short as much as I get motivated. If I miss the mark, I figure out why, learn from it and use that knowledge to benefit myself and the company going forward. If you learn from your shortcomings, you don’t fail – you just grow. Perseverance and positivity is key.
Is it a part of your criteria that your employees must be hunks?
I should point out that “hunks” doesn’t really mean what everyone thinks it means. HUNKS is an acronym for Honest, Uniformed, Nice, Knowledgeable Students. You don’t have to be a male model or a body builder. You just have to be a hardworking, trustworthy individual with a positive attitude. We have female “HUNKettes,” too. It’s all about character.
Gen-Y Capital Partners is start-up funder of which you are a founding member. What pointers do you have to young entrepreneurs in making their idea or venture appealing to investors?
There are a lot of factors, but I’m a big proponent of proof-of-concept. Omar and I went out and hauled junk and proved that there was a big opportunity in the market for clean-cut haulers. If you have the numbers to back up your concept, then I’m all ears.
Are there certain days that you wish you were an employee and not one of the two main shot-callers?
Not at all. Even in the most difficult moments where there’s stress and pressure, I remind myself of the few months where I was an employee for a big company. I was more miserable then than I’ve ever been as an entrepreneur.
Did you have a particular goal when writing Effortless Entrepreneur?
We treated it a lot like we treat our business itself. We talked about a lot of the concepts that are already out there, but we did it in our own way and with a fresh spin. We wanted to give the younger generation the blueprint for making a business work, but we wanted to deliver that information in a fun way; with funny stories and wild anecdotes. The goal was to write down everything that we wished we knew back then that we know now.
College Hunks Hauling Junk has been the recipient of all sorts of honors. Which ones mean the most to you?
Last year we won an inaugural Inc. Hire Power Award. Anytime you can provide opportunities for employment, especially in a time where youth unemployment is disproportionately high compared to the overall rate, it’s a good feeling to know that you are playing some part in the solution. Another honor was being asked to speak on a panel about entrepreneurship at the White House with MTV. That was really cool.
How do you handle rejection, and negativity?
Rejection is one thing. I feel highly motivated to make something work if someone tells me I can’t or it won’t. Negativity is different, though, because you can be rejected and stay positive about where you’re headed. I don’t accept negativity from anyone around me. You can’t always control rejection from outside sources, but you can most definitely always control how you react.
Nick Friedman (left) poses with his co-founder-in-hauling Omar Soliman (right).
What was it like attending Pomona College? Was the college atmosphere conducive to entrepreneurship?
I didn’t really understand what entrepreneurship was, exactly, when I was in college. I had a great time at Pomona and gained a lot of tools that would eventually help in the business world, but it wasn’t until I started running a business that I realized I was an entrepreneur. The real-world experience of actually going out and doing it is where I learned the most about entrepreneurship. I think I read more business books after college than I did in college because I was so much more motivated to learn.
What tips do you have to offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stay optimistic, learn from your mistakes and keep going. Have a vision for the future, and create a strategic plan to make it a reality. Be positive when things are tough, and be humble when things go well. Create systems so you can work on your business not in your business. Be disciplined and persevere!
What do you wish you had known starting out?
I wish I had known that it is not all about the money. It’s about creating something of value and a product or service that can endure the test of time. The money will come, and it is a good scorekeeper, but ultimately the vision is what truly matters.
When you think of your future, do you envision College Hunks Hauling Junk always being a part of it?
Definitely. I want to keep growing the company and, no matter how big it gets or if we eventually get to the point where we have someone else running things day-to-day, I think it will always have a place in my life.
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