I am writing a series called The Best Jobs in the World. This series is dedicated to people who have rare or super cool jobs. My aim is to give options, hope, or motivation to people who don’t feel the need to get a regular nine-to-five.
Travis Smith is co-owner of VIP Waste Service in Columbus, OH. VIP Waste Service collects trash and recycling from apartment complexes and homes that may not have the option for collection. His business partner, Jesse Lear, helped create this endeavor in 2010. Travis and I attended college together, and I’m thankful he spared an hour of his work day to talk with me.
EC: Travis, it’s good to talk with you again.
Travis Smith: Hey, Chisholm! Good to speak with you, too.
EC: What brought about the idea of VIP Waste Service?
Travis Smith: Jesse and I were roommates in college and decided to rent an apartment together. We wanted to live somewhere nice, so we put our money together. We paid a decent amount of rent, but the trash situation was awful.
One day Jesse left his trash on top of his car and it burst open when he drove away. Then winter hit, and I pulled trash duty for our apartment, so I left it on the balcony to take it to our trash dump about 200 meters away.
That was horrible, so we looked for a company to take our trash. We couldn’t find any in the Midwest.
So we thought “we can do this trash business”. I talked to my property manager, and in an hour we put together our trash service idea.
Our property manager laughed at us and told us we needed to form a real company. So we did.
EC: Do you want to keep expanding?
Travis Smith: Yes. Our expansion model is focused on the Midwest. We are in five cities right now: Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, and Nashville.
EC: What are the perks working for yourself?
Travis: Man (laughs). The biggest perk to me is being able to control my own schedule. There are so many more, but I’ll leave it at that.
EC: Have you always dreamed of being a business owner?
Travis: Yes. My mom was a business teacher at a community college. As a kid, I would go to her classes. She was always interested in being an entrepreneur, but it was tough with six kids to raise. She would go to seminars and networking events and learn business concepts everyone has to use. It was inspiring to me.
EC: What activities are you involved with outside of work?
Travis Smith: Basketball. I know I can still work you on the court. That’ll never change.
Travis Smith: (Laughs). I also play tennis. I love tennis. And I do martial arts training.
Travis Smith: I got into it a year ago. I joined a gym and we do boxing and Kung Fu. We haven’t gotten into the grappling game yet. I’m also involved with church. They got me bouncing around, and I do ushering now.
EC: Travis, would you be willing to sell the company?
Travis Smith: Yes, if the price is right. It has to be the right situation. If we see a deal, we’ll consider it. Every business has a life cycle; in fact, we have been offered twice. So far, none of them have been a great fit.
EC: What’s the biggest skill you bring to a business?
Travis Smith: My biggest skill is operational knowledge. I have negotiation and sales skills. I’m talking about deal making and building relationships with people. I lead the operations and finances here, making things go better, faster, and cheaply.
EC: What motivates you to get up and go to work?
Travis Smith: The biggest motivation is that I’m blessed to do something not a lot of people get to do. We are blessed and can’t complain when most people our age are doing jobs they hate. God has blessed us to get this far. We are not the smartest or most savvy guys in the world, but God gave us the right idea with the right market and the right timing. I’m blessed to be my own boss.
Honestly, we built the company in a way that we can go away for six months and the company would still run. We could go on vacation for extended periods of time, but that’s not being a good steward of what God has blessed us with.
EC: Who are you voting for this year?
Travis Smith: It depends… but no matter who wins the Republican nomination is who I’m going to vote for.
EC: You think the GOP can unite under one person?
Travis Smith: Yes, because Hillary is unlikable and Bernie is a socialist. I don’t think Americans really want a higher tax rate.
Why does the government need 40%? You’d think the local government would need it more.
EC: Can anyone start their own business? What does it take?
Travis Smith: Anyone who is willing to work and willing to take on significant amounts of risk can start their own business. Anyone who is lazy can’t start their own business. Assuming you’re not lazy, then yes you can.
There isn’t one type that’s a business owner. You don’t have to be a great salesman. You can be a dude on the internet good at analytics. It just takes a certain amount of work ethic. You have to be a self starter. You have to be able to accept mentorship. It’s really best to start a business when you’re younger. Older people are more willing to help because they see themselves in you. Millenials are known for being lazy, so older people like when they see a young person hustling.
EC: What’s your leadership style?
Travis Smith: Straight forward and to the point. Jesse and I started with one truck and were running around after our day jobs. We were both door-to-door salesmen before VIP.
We agreed that we would wake up and get breakfast at Panera at 8AM, and whoever was late had to buy the other breakfast. We worked until noon and then took a break before we started knocking on doors for the cable company. Around 8PM, we would finish with the cable company and pick up trash until 2AM.
EC: Wow. That’s a grind.
Travis Smith: It sucked. But when you want something bad enough you’ll do what it takes. We did that for a year. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy to start a business.
EC: How’s your business culture different from others?
Travis Smith: The biggest difference is that our employees told us they can tell we care. We’re really big on asking their opinion on stuff. We’ll ask them about programs and bonus structures.
We implemented a free snacks program for the early and late night employees. Our executive assistant gets their snacks and drinks order so they won’t get hungry at the odd hours.
We also have employee meetings and we’ll cater Chipotle or Panera. Sometimes I like to visit people in the field and see how they’re doing. Part of it is so they know they’re watched. The other part is so I can get their thoughts and opinions.
EC: What would you do with a billion dollars?
Travis Smith: Oh, man. Shoot. I would give half away before the government comes. I would give to charities and church. I would put 20% of what’s left in a trust for my family. I would like to build generational wealth. I’d probably invest 30% in different businesses. And I would have 20% in cash.
EC: Would you splurge on anything?
Travis Smith: I would get a private jet, a Trump jet 747 (laughs). I’d put “T Money” on the side of it.
EC: Would you like to make any shout outs to Cedarville University, our alma mater?
Travis Smith: Cedarville has been good to us, man. It’s an amazing and fantastic organization. I truly believe you get what you pay for. When you’re going through college and have all the debt, you don’t see the other side. You start seeing how things work for you after you get a job. Cedarville held a brother down in a good way. One love!
EC: (Laughs) True! I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule.
Travis Smith: Yeah, man. No problem!
Stay tuned for the next interview in my series The Best Jobs in the World.