Alex Broches has been broke, homeless and suicidal.
But those low points are well behind him now that he’s running a successful business. What’s it built on?
Broches owns and operates The Junk Removal Dudes, which he describes as a cross between movers and garbage men. He’s been pleasantly surprised to discover that there are a whole lot of people with junk to get rid of.
“In a slow month, we’ll do like $8,000 to $10,000, gross sales,” says Broches, whose business services northern Illinois. “In a busy month, we’ll do around $30,000.”
Starting a Junk Removal Business
The Junk Removal Dudes began back in 2015 when Broches’ mother, who owns a house-cleaning business, asked him to clear the junk from one of her client’s basements.
Broches split the first job with a friend who had a pickup truck. The duo hauled away old toys, holiday decorations and furniture. They made $200 for less than an hour’s work.
“[I did] it for the extra money and just to help,” the 30-year-old entrepreneur says. “And afterward, I was like, ‘Huh, that was kind of fun, actually.’”
Within a week, Broches’ mom referred another customer, so he borrowed his friend’s truck again. And again.
“More calls started coming in; my mom kept sending me more customers… and I’m like, ‘There might be some money in this, actually,’” Broches says. “So a couple weeks passed by. I started a website, put it on Google and then the calls really started to come in.”
Broches now has five employees and expects to double that number within the next few months. He’s considering franchising next year if the company continues to grow.
After he scored his third client, Broches stopped borrowing the truck and invested in his own — the company now has three trucks in its fleet.
Turning Garbage Into Gold
Broches admits that cleaning out basements, barns and hoarders’ homes might not be everyone’s idea of a dream job.
“Some people would be grossed out a little bit,” says Broches, who says he’s cleaned out places that range from a musty basement full of cobwebs to a garage infested with maggots.
But his most unusual find? Pickles.
“[A woman] died and we had to go clean the property,” Broches says. “In the basement, she had tons and tons of jars of pickles that she was collecting since the 1970s… She had these little notes in the house saying, ‘Hey, if the world is going to end, this is what I’m going to eat to survive for a couple months.’
“That one was a little out there.”
With the exception of the pickle lady, most of Broches’ clients are older people and their relatives clearing out houses. The jobs have produced all kinds of interesting finds, including family photos from the early 1900s, antique dolls and a full-size knight’s armor.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Broches says. “It doesn’t even seem like work to me — it just seems like every day is an adventure.”
Darkness Before the Light
Broches’ success in the garbage removal business was built on a heap of other failed ventures.
Along with a string of unfulfilling jobs, Broches launched a lawn care service but lost the money he made — plus thousands more that he borrowed from his mom and brother — investing in a social media website he started at age 21.
He says that each job left him feeling more depressed until he was convinced he would never succeed.
“All the times I failed and failed and failed — at the time, I thought it was the end of the world,” says Broches, who details his personal and professional struggles in the book A Dark Path to Light. “Everything was going down. I lost all my money, my mental health, my physical health.”
At his lowest point, he walked out to the woods in his backyard with a rope in hand, Broches chronicles in his book. After a long night contemplating suicide, he decided he had to stop brooding over the failures and instead focus on improving his mental, physical and fiscal health.
Learning From the Biggest Mistake
The failure of Broches’ website, College Junkee, was particularly painful for him, as his attempts to obtain funding for it were featured on MTV’s “True Life.” In the episode, he pitched the website to OKCupid CEO Sam Yagan, who eviscerated College Junkee, rating it a 1 out of 10 for being useless and nonfunctional.
“With the internet startup idea that I had… I thought if I just keep putting money into it — advertising, whatever — it would get better,” Broches says. “I just didn’t know what I was doing.”
In retrospect, the experience taught him the skills he needed to build a successful junk removal business.
“I realized that those were all valuable learning lessons — how to deal with customers, how to improve a business, how to streamline business,” Broches says. “I realized with this business that I had to think lean… And I’m proud to say that this [junk removal] business that I started was net profitable after day one.”
Passing Along his Wisdom
Among Broches employees is 18-year-old Adam Cyr, who has worked for him part-time for just over a year.
Cyr, who plans to go to college to study engineering, says Broches has always been generous about sharing what he’s learned about entrepreneurship.
“I could see myself down the line starting my own engineering firm,” Cyr says. “[Broches] has always offered — if I ever needed some advice for starting a business.”
Broches’ chief piece of advice to other entrepreneurs: Don’t be afraid to fail.
“Take risks because the thing is, if you win, then you’re successful, but if you lose, you’re wiser,” Broches says, adding that his previous business setbacks were “almost necessary” to become successful.
The only true failures, Broches says, are people who are too afraid to try and who thus miss out on the opportunity to do something they love.
“I don’t think there’s anything worse than regret,” Broches says. “I think regret is worse than death.”
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at Codetic.