A 33-year-old who once worked the phones at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and now advises billion-dollar brands explains how making friends with the CEO and surprising people with chocolate has made him a success
Courtesy of Michel Falcon
- Michel Falcon has gone from working as a call center agent for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to advising billion-dollar brands.
- Falcon left college to work for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, fielding 100 calls a day. He was intrigued by the company culture, and became friends with the CEO.
- After getting promoted five times in five years, he struck out on his own in 2012. He found himself struggling.
- But then he became a traveling speaker, helped launch restaurants, and wrote his own book.
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Michel Falcon went to college like his parents wanted him to. But he wasn't an academic, and accumulating debt to get through school felt like a waste. So when another opportunity presented itself, he jumped at the chance to take a different approach to learning.
It was a call center job for a junk-removal business. Eyebrows were raised when people assumed he left school to be a garbage man, but Falcon didn't care. He was confident it would teach him the skills he needed to launch his own business someday.
Next, he needed to find his niche. Sales or marketing were logical choices, but he didn't want to go the popular route. As he searched for his calling, a Harvard Business Review article about a successful company caught his eye. That was all he needed; he was off to the races.
Taking 100 calls a day
Falcon went to Capilano University in Vancouver, where he grew up, to study business administration. While he did well in courses he liked, he didn't excel. "I was paying for my tuition and decided I'd rather work for a company I could learn from while getting paid at the same time."
After a friend raved about his new job with a company called 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Falcon researched them and liked what he saw. Its founder, Brian Scudamore, grew the venture from a $1,000 investment to a nine-figure international company with no funding or co-owners. They had just been named one of the best workplaces in Canada - after all, their motto was "It's all about people."
Falcon applied for a job in the call center and experienced the culture in the interview. "They were so hospitable, and it seemed like everyone genuinely wanted to be there."
Falcon was hired; and to appease his mother, he told her he was "postponing his degree." He was assigned the 4 a.m. shift and was answering 100 calls a day. "There were many things I would have rather been doing than going to bed at 6 p.m.," says Falcon. "I hated it sometimes, but that's when I remembered my purpose. I would use this company as a springboard to success and contribute to theirs along the way."
An MBA from a junk-removal company
How does an entry-level employee get to know the CEO? "It was actually the other way around," says Falcon. "Brian introduced himself to the call center team, a department often overlooked at other companies. That was something I learned from him: he's a servant leader."
Falcon and Scudamore developed a friendship, even boxing together over lunch. "I'm sure lots of people tugged at his cape and asked for his time. I took a different approach. I put my head down, did good work, and gained attention that way."
In 2008, Falcon read an article about Zappos, a billion-dollar shoe and clothing company with a renowned customer experience, which was heralded as one of the next secrets to success. "I realized you can't have a great customer experience without company culture and engaged employees. I decided to build my career on those three things."
Thanks to Scudamore's connections, Falcon spent a day with the Zappos executive leadership team. He turned the internet inside out studying his craft. "I contacted people who worked for customer-focused companies like Apple, Amazon, and Southwest. Sometimes I read case studies for six hours a day."
Falcon's dedication paid off. He was promoted five times in five years and moved to the operations team after three years, which helped build and manage the company's customer experience efforts. The department was responsible for creating customer-centric training materials, deploying a complaint resolution system, and managing the Net Promoter Score program, which measures customer relationships and loyalty.
"My time at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was my MBA. They got a lot of value from me too, but I couldn't believe I got paid to learn so much. I believe organizations should offer so much learning and development that employees think they're getting the better deal."
Courtesy of Michel Falcon
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
In 2012, Falcon was ready to strike out on his own. At 26 years old, he gave a month's notice and started Falcon Consulting Group to advise companies on customer experience, employee engagement, and company culture strategies. With a month of savings, he moved home to work from his parents' dining table.
Falcon's first clients were small local companies. He took out payday loans and maxed out credit cards to get the business going. "It was tough," he says. "There were times when I quietly cried to myself because creditors were calling; I was stressed, and I seriously doubted my ability to succeed.
"I don't know if there was a single friend I didn't borrow money from. It was like robbing Peter to pay Paul. I couldn't get more credit because I didn't have any verified income. I was in debt and on my last financial lifeline."
After a year of struggling, there was a tipping point. During his free time, Falcon blogged about the value of customer experience, employee engagement, and company culture. Verizon Wireless found his blog and asked him to speak at their western region's retail conference.
"I thought it was a joke at first," Falcon admits. His next thought? "I hope I can figure out how to write a proposal and submit an invoice."
Falcon leveraged the project to work with international clients like Electronic Arts, Alfa Romeo, and Lush cosmetics. Over the next year, he traveled to countries such as Israel, Australia, and Saudi Arabia to speak at events. To hone his speaking skills, he watched Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up comedy. "Comedians have the best opening, closing, and delivery," he says.
Hiring 100 people in 45 days
But it wasn't all laughs. "Traveling was cool, but it got lonely," says Falcon. "I missed the collaborative atmosphere of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I was depositing five-figure checks, but I was hollow."
In 2016, his friend Brandon Farmer called for help launching a large venue with a restaurant, snack bar, cocktail lounge, speakeasy, event space, and rooftop patio. Falcon says the business would do $10 million its first year and required 100 employees from day one.
Falcon relocated to Toronto to consult for them and was offered a partnership in the restaurant group after six months. While he continued to speak and host workshops, he dissolved the consulting company to focus on the new venture's culture, employees, and customers.
Before the venue opened, Falcon built about 20 initiatives to enrich the lives of customers and employees. For example, someone from every department would be elected to the employee advisory board to meet with him monthly and discuss company culture.
In the interview process, his team asks, "What is an indulgence that you can't live without that costs less than $20?" Whether it's a bottle of cabernet or dark chocolate with sea salt, that item would be waiting to surprise the employee on their first day of work. "If you want your employees to deliver unique customer experiences that grow your company, you must do that for your team first," he says.
The restaurant, Baro, opened in December 2016. In less than two years, the group opened another large bar-restaurant in Toronto, Petty Cash. Falcon says their Net Promoter Score is between 70 and 80, compared to an industry average around 40. At one point, the employee retention rate was 2.5 times higher than the industry average, according to Falcon - but he doesn't believe in monitoring retention anymore.
"A great company helps their team follow their passions as individuals, not employees," says Falcon. "If that means they eventually leave to follow their dreams, it's your responsibility to get them there. As former Netflix chief talent officer Patty McCord taught me: 'Be a great company to be from.'"
Courtesy of Michel Falcon
Never a thought leader
Falcon attributes their success to a people-first philosophy, and he's building an online course to help other companies implement his strategies. In 2018, he released his book, "People-First Culture: Build a Lasting Company by Shifting Your Focus From Profits to People," which became an Amazon bestseller. That year, McDonald's Canada asked him to be the spokesperson for their National Hiring Day campaign.
Falcon continues to advise businesses, speak at events, and host workshops across various industries. "I believe every industry could be a little more hospitable."
As a 33-year-old, Falcon understands younger customers and employees; but he also has the experience. "I cringe at the idea of being called a 'thought leader.' I've built our business with the strategies I talk about. I want to be recognized as someone who has done it."
Once a week, he talks with someone who wants to pick his brain. "That's what I was asking for in my early 20s," he says. "Shame on any leader who won't reserve time to help others."
Falcon often works 14-hour days, so finding that time is no small task. Every hour of his day is planned, including weekends. "People tell me I'm too busy, but that's how I want to be," he says.
Falcon still makes time for friends and family, his girlfriend, Sophia, and his Rottweiler, Maggy. He is also training to win a sanctioned boxing fight, one of his goals for 2019.
Courtesy of Michel Falcon
Though he says he can't share what's next, Falcon has even bigger goals. "I'm launching my billion-dollar idea next year. It will become a globally recognizable brand."
How is he so sure? "It's been done before, so why can't I do it?" he asks. "Why not me? Ask yourself that question. That's the best advice I could give anyone."