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This Former Banker Turned Janitor Now Makes $10 Million Annually on His Cleaning Business John Disselkamp used to mop it up at a bank, then decided to mop bathroom floors. It paid off in the end.

By Anna David Edited by Dan Bova

Key Takeaways

  • John Disselkamp quit his fancy job to live with his mom.
  • He took a job as a janitor to learn about the cleaning business.
  • His company, First Class Commercial Cleaning, earns $10 million annually.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Not many bankers would leave their comfortable, high-paying position to clean toilets. But that's exactly what John Disselkamp did.

The decision turned out to be the best of his life. Disselkamp now runs a $10 Million Janitorial company. But for the months after he left his banking job, it seemed like he was committing career suicide.

From mopping it up to mopping

At 35, Disselkamp decided that he "didn't want to be sitting in front of a calculator" for the rest of his life, so he quit his job at a Louisville, Kentucky bank and moved in with his mom.

"I was basically homeless, with probably $20,000 in credit card debt and no retirement savings," he told me on the Fail Your Way to Success podcast.

But Disselkamp wasn't just freeloading — he was working out a plan inspired by a former banking client who had opened a successful cleaning business. Disselkamp realized he had to first understand the business from the ground up, so he got a job as a janitor, earning $600 a month.

Related: This College Student Started a Side Hustle So He Didn't Have to Bartend Until 4 am. Now He's Earning $7,000 a Month — and Putting It to Good Use.

A fish out of water

"In the beginning, I didn't know anything," he recalls. "One time, the owner of a building asked me what we should use to clean the floor, and I had to take a picture, send it to a friend of mine in the industry, and ask him."

But the humbling experience led him to see his true talents. He was very good at reaching out for help when necessary.

"When I realized my ability to clean wasn't going to get us very far, I saw that the real business I'm in is in the people business," he says. "And that's what had interested me from the beginning."

From cleaning one toilet to many

The long journey from working as a janitor to ultimately employing janitors started with a cold call.

"I looked up one of the more prominent local property management companies and called up a guy whose name I found on their website," he says. "I got his voicemail, left him a message, and he didn't call back. I called him again about four days later, left a message, and he didn't call back. I did it again a week later, and he didn't call back. And then three weeks later, he calls and says, 'Hey, John, it's Greg. Sorry it's taken so long to get back with you.'" Two months later, Disselkamp's company had a gig cleaning an eight-story, 200,000-square-foot building.

Today, his company First Class Commercial Cleaning has 330 employees, serving roughly 5 million square feet per night.

The power of teamwork

Connecting people is what led to Disselkamp's success and it's what has helped him flourish.

"Our success isn't about me—I'm just one of 330 other people," he says. "I'm really fortunate to have a team of great human beings that work extremely hard and genuinely care about serving others, from our leadership and management team to our supervisors and frontline cleaners."

Doing common things uncommonly well

Another secret to Disselkamp's success is his realization that the key to growing a simple business is to care—as much about your team members as your customers.

"We have a saying we tell our managers: before you ask anyone to go pick up a mop, ask them how their family's doing," Disselkamp says.

Of course, it's not just as simple as making a cursory inquiry. Anyone who can go from bringing in $600 a month to netting $10 million a year has mastered the art of making employees feel like they're a part of something.

As Disselkamp says, "Fortune 500 companies may put a ping pong table in the break room or let everyone sit outside for lunch and think that's going to change culture when really culture comes down to one-on-one relationships and building trust and genuinely caring about your people."

Still, it hasn't just been a smooth, straight ride to the top. "I've had many days where I've gone to my wife and said, 'I don't want to do this anymore,'" he says. "But you have to have some grit because in order to succeed, you have to keep falling down and getting back up."

This story originally appeared on the Fail Your Way to Success podcast

Anna David

Host of Fail Your Way to Success Podcast

Anna David is one of the world's leading experts on how entrepreneurs can build a business from a book. A NYT bestselling author of eight books, she's also the founder of Legacy Launch Pad Publishing and host of the Fail Your Way to Success podcast. 

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