Take care of yourself — No matter what is going on in my life, I get up, meditate for at least ten minutes, and exercise first thing in the morning before my family wakes up. It allows me to get focused and start the day fresh. I work out on the best days, and I work out on the worst days. My favorite things to do include Fliteboarding (electric surfing), electric dirt biking and skateboarding.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Cohen.
Josh Cohen is the Founder, CEO and heart and soul of The Junkluggers. He started as a 21 year old on a mission to keep junk out of landfills, and has since grown the brand into a multi-state franchised operation with over 85 locations across the country. Josh uses his passion for the environment and commitment to building a strong company culture to help save the world, one lug at a time.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
For me it all started when I was studying in Australia during a semester abroad from the University of Connecticut and the idea for The Junkluggers came to me. One night my friends and I were hanging out drinking boxed wine and singing to a friend’s guitar when one of them mentioned making $100 for lugging away a neighbor’s fridge. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!”
When I got back home I couldn’t stop thinking about this business idea. I hit the streets to hand out homemade fliers all around town, starting by going door to door informing neighbors that I was a professional, responsible college student who was willing to lug their junk and donate or recycle as many of their items as I could. Soon, the phones began to ring and I quickly realized there was a demand for reliable, professional, and environmentally focused junk removal services.
I built the business from the ground up, first by borrowing my mom’s SUV. Later, I added a trailer for bigger jobs and I hand stenciled the company name on the sides of the trailer’s wooden walls my Dad helped me build. A year later, I purchased Old Rusty, a mostly reliable dump truck that wasn’t much to look at, but got the job done. I set out to service southern Connecticut and then expanded into the Greater New York City area. A decade later I decided to grow through franchising and today our iconic bright green trucks can be seen in communities across the country.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There have been times over the years where it felt like we were on the verge of going out of business. Specifically, when I had gone against my gut and gave too much control and power to another employee in a C-level position. I figured that they knew more than me because they had more experience in business, and I was new to running and growing a company. Let me tell you, these were expensive learning lessons because money was spent in the wrong places at a time where we needed to be much more careful. Ultimately, I had to make a drastic decision, which I didn’t make until it became crystal clear that something had to change or the change would be made for me by going out of business. In the end, I took back the reins, made the tough decisions including team changes and undid some of the painful and expensive mistakes. I learned to be a better leader to my team by believing in myself and building the right team to take The Junkluggers to the next level.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have always been really passionate about my customers and treated their property with care. From my very first job I recognized that the “junk” I was hauling away was often so much more than that. I was often removing memories and items that had a lot of sentimental value. Early on, I spent a lot of one-on-one time with one neighbor/customer clearing out her home for sale after her husband of 48 years had passed away. As I carefully carried items up and out, she followed me around, talking fondly about the family memories from each box, toy, closet of clothes and piece of furniture. This left a mark on me and I felt strongly about finding all of those special memories a new home. I just couldn’t take the items to the dump, there was so much life left in them. The inspiration of my customers helped me build a different kind of junk removal company that was focused on donating and recycling.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had various mentors over the years who were very helpful at specific stages of growth. Looking back, I wish I had more mentors earlier on as it could have cut the learning curve and I’m very open to coaching.
Today when I think about who I listen to, and am grateful for, I think about my leadership team. It wasn’t always this way. We have worked hard to hire based on our core values and to build a tight knit team who cares about each other, pushes each other and supports one another. I respect their experience, perspectives and passion for the same business I am so passionate about. If I have questions about what to do, they are typically the first people I go to, and I trust them completely. This focus on team has allowed us to grow smart and love what we do every day. It also sets the right tone for the rest of the company.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience.
How would you define resilience?
I define resilience as the ability to stay focused, learn and when facing setbacks, come back even stronger. I think it’s impossible to be a successful entrepreneur without resilience because there is always a new challenge or setback and you have to be able to figure it out and keep going.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Some of the top characteristics of resilient people are a positive mindset, focus, problem solving, thick skin and willingness to listen to feedback. I don’t think you can underestimate the power of a positive mindset and that is something we focus on a lot at The Junkluggers and with our franchisees.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Resilience and courage are similar because you must have strength and courage in order to be resilient. However, resilience is so much more than courage. When you’re resilient, you put courage to work and you find a way, no matter what.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think every small business owner who has made it is definitely resilient. I love reading stories about business struggles and triumphs because I know that I’m not alone.
In terms of one specific person that exemplifies resilience, that would definitely be my wife’s grandfather. He is a Holocaust survivor who refused to give up. At 5’4” he found his way to becoming a boxer to entertain the Nazis in order to survive the concentration camps in Auschwitz. He kept his faith and found a way. Then he made his way to America and went door to door selling rags. Eventually he sold enough rags to open a furniture store. At its time, it was the most successful furniture store in the Scranton, PA area. He even had TV commercials and everyone in the area knew him. He went on to live a happy, family-oriented life full of gratefulness for what he was able to achieve, despite all of the challenges and atrocities he faced. Most people would have given up during his journey, but Sol Roth did not. When I think about challenges over the years, I think about what Sol must have gone through, and I tell myself that if he could make it through, I have no excuse and I must keep going.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
When I left my real estate job to pursue Junkluggers full time, I remember going into my boss’s office to tell him I was leaving real estate to “take Junkluggers nationwide”. At the time, we had one truck. He told me I was crazy and looked at me like I had four heads. “Josh, you are doing well here, you are a big shot in real estate….you want to leave all of this to lug people’s junk full time?” He went on to criticize my dream, said that it was an impossibility, and it wouldn’t happen. But I felt it in my heart that it would. I didn’t even question that I could do it. Maybe I was just young and naive, but that belief I had in our business, and our mission of helping so many people during difficult times, and having a direct and positive impact on the environment convinced me that I was doing the right thing.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
2019 was a really difficult year. We had about 20 locations and only sold one franchise that year. I was struggling to build the company and funds were really tight. I was in a tough place and it impacted work and my personal life.
It took hitting what appeared to be the bottom for me to realize that I was the one who needed to drive change. I became laser focused on building the right team in our home office. I strongly believe that success is about who is on your team even more than what you are working on. My vision to get us back on track started to become a reality as I pursued a strategic minority investor, brought on the best boutique franchise recruitment company, and implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System to ensure our leadership team and the entire company were in lock step. Together we have transformed this company in a short period of time and I am confident the future is bright!
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
During my childhood I was scrawny, unfocused and grew up as a Jewish kid in a town that was majority Italian. I got bullied for all of those reasons and because I was just different. Looking back I was socially awkward, and I would zone out in class with my head in the clouds. Throughout middle school and high school, I was laughed off of basketball tryouts. I often sat alone at lunchtime, and the first time I called and asked a girl out, one of the “cool guys” came up to me the next day in school and in front of a crowd of people he humiliated me for taking the chance…I guess that was a no.
I learned that I had to be tough both mentally and physically. I started lifting weights because I was sick of getting pushed around. I also came into myself, developed a thirst for reading and learning and began to pay attention to social cues.
I grew from an awkward kid with low confidence into who I am today. I do not like having my back against a wall and when I was younger I would rollover in those situations. If it had been easier growing up, maybe I wouldn’t have the resilience that I do today. I may have let others decide the fate of my company. Now I step up to every challenge and I don’t back down. I also empower my team to make decisions and drive change.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Take care of yourself
No matter what is going on in my life, I get up, meditate for at least ten minutes, and exercise first thing in the morning before my family wakes up. It allows me to get focused and start the day fresh. I work out on the best days, and I work out on the worst days. My favorite things to do include Fliteboarding (electric surfing), electric dirt biking and skateboarding.
Two years ago, I became a vegetarian because I recognized the many health benefits and also the positive impact on the environment and animals. Reading the book “How Not To Die” and watching the movie “Game Changers” were part of my decision-making process. I feel really good about how I eat, however, I recognize that vegetarianism may not be for everyone. Regardless, there are likely other simple changes like limiting sugar and processed foods that can make a big impact.
Surround yourself with the right people
Professionally: I have learned to focus on building a strong culture with the right core values. Not just values written on a website, but ones we truly hold dear to the growth of the company and who we hire. There have definitely been ups and downs of building an amazing team. But today, because we hold true to hiring the best people for our culture, I am so fortunate to have a team with an entrepreneurial spirit and a “nothing can stop us” attitude. When we hit tough times, we come together, and we push through.
Personally: It’s also important to surround yourself with the right people personally. I’ve gotten through some really tough times with the support of my family and friends who help me see the opportunity and not get stuck in whatever is going wrong.
Work on your mindset
It’s easy to let tough times drag you down personally and professionally. I have learned that your mindset is something that you have full control over. By listening to Audible books on my way into work each day, it allows me to get my head in the right place. Our leadership team has been reading books together like The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Leader and The Wealthy Franchisee, which is specific to our industry and focuses on the mindset of a small business owner. When your mindset is right, you can see more clearly and make better decisions.
Get in sync with your team
At The Junkluggers we planned to implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) in March 2020. A week before our first meeting, Covid became a reality. It would have been an easy decision to push off the EOS kickoff, and it would have allowed us to save time and money. Instead, I decided it was critical that we push forward. EOS allowed our leadership team to be in sync by coming together at the same time every week to talk about our scorecard (KPIs) and the most important issues that we needed to address. Each meeting begins by going around the room and sharing good news, both personal and professional. It allows our team to focus on the positive, get to know each other better and celebrate good news, even during turbulent times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This would definitely be a movement around The Junkluggers Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) which is to keep 100% of reusable items out of landfills by 2025. If every individual and business had this same goal, we could accomplish amazing things together. We would get more items to people in need, increase recycling and make a huge and positive impact on the environment.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Yes, it would have to be Jesse Itzler. He started and sold a few companies, he is a vegan, a serial entrepreneur and an ultramarathon runner. He’s a mensch, which is one of our company’s core values and means a person of integrity and honor who does the right thing even when no one is looking. The guy just knows how to have fun and to me, we should all be having fun.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Facebook & IG: @thejunkluggers
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!