TAMPA — Ten years ago, Nick Friedman was driving around Washington, D.C., in a beat-up van, moving away junk for cash.
Now, as president of a multimillion-dollar junk-removal operation, he has moved himself into a 100-year-old mansion on Bayshore Boulevard.
“That’s really been the vision the whole time,” Friedman said of his success and that of his company, College Hunks Hauling Junk.
Friedman, 31, and high school buddy Omar Soliman started the business the summer before their senior year of college. They borrowed an old cargo van from Soliman’s mom and hauled everything from couches to refrigerators.
They made about $8,000 that summer, and when they went back to school they put together a formal business model to enter in a entrepreneurial competition. They won.
After college they both took corporate jobs, but it wasn’t long before Friedman realized he didn’t want to do such work for the rest of his life. He emailed Soliman asking if he wanted to start College Hunks Hauling Junk again, and Soliman responded “YES,” Friedman said.
Today, the company has more than 50 franchises in 30 states, averaging eight to 10 new franchises each year. Two years ago, Friedman and Soliman launched a sister company, College Hunks Moving.
College Hunks has more than 500 employees throughout the country, with about 100 based in Tampa.
About five years ago, when the company started franchising, Friedman and Soliman, the CEO, moved the company’s headquarters from D.C. to South Tampa. They outgrew that space and last year moved the corporate offices and call center to Ybor City.
They were attracted by Tampa’s “entrepreneurial spirit,” Friedman said. It also is a good environment for franchisors and call centers, which is a big part of the College Hunks business model.
“It seemed like the perfect place,” said Soliman, 31.
Friedman and his fiancée, Jen Loveridge, moved into their $940,000 Bayshore house in December. They also looked at houses in Westchase and Beach Park, a search that was documented in a July episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters.”
They held a welcoming party at the house during the Gasparilla festivities this winter and are finalizing plans for their wedding next month.
Friedman wanted to live close to work — it’s a short drive on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway — but also sought to take advantage of Tampa’s waterfront. Eventually, he said, the couple will put in a swimming pool.
“Bayshore gives you that city feel, but you’ve still got the pace of Florida,” he said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
That’s the same quality that made Friedman want to make Tampa home for his company and his future family, he said.
“I describe Tampa like a big small town,” Friedman said. “It’s got that small-town feel with the amenities of a big city.”
Soliman, who lives near Bayshore, said good weather and relatively minimal traffic are nice for someone who grew up in D.C. He travels a lot on business and enjoys returning to Tampa.
“It’s a good place to come home to,” he said.
Each year, when College Hunks hosts its franchise convention in Tampa, Soliman is surprised to see twice as many people as the previous year.
“You kind of have to pinch yourself,” Soliman said. “It’s wild.”
He and Friedman frequently speak at conventions, colleges and schools across the country, telling their story of turning a summer job into a national company.
Most of their employees are college students. Each team of “hunks” runs its truck like an individual business.
The job teaches responsibility, leadership, marketing and other business skills, Friedman said.
There is no real secret to the pair’s success at such a young age, Soliman said.
They didn’t invent Facebook or Google.
They just put a fresh spin on a simple business idea, one that took them from a beat-up old van to waterfront South Tampa.
“You just have to have a vision,” Soliman said