How Adelaide Green Clean founder Jordan Walsh turned a side business into a $12 million sustainable cleaning company

Adelaide Green Clean founder Jordan Walsh. Source: Supplied

For Jordan Walsh, cleaning was always something he did on the side. But when he found himself still cleaning day and night after graduating from university with a law degree, it became clear that he should give up his day job and instead focus his efforts on his budding sustainable cleaning company.

Despite starting out with just a couple of mates, that company, Adelaide Green Clean, has gone through a significant merger and now employs around 350 staff. The three-year-old company is turning over more than $12 million annually with growth expected to continue.

Walsh sat down with SmartCompany to chat about how his initial ignorance when starting out lead to be one of the business’ biggest strengths, and how aspiring entrepreneurs need to be sure building a business is what they really, really want to do.

I’ve been in the cleaning business since I was very young, when I ran an on the side cleaning business with my brother through school.

I started Adelaide Green Clean in my final year of law school. I was at uni during the day, but I was cleaning both before and after.

From there I got a job in a law firm, but I was still waking up at 3.30am in the morning to go clean, and then I’d keep cleaning that night.

This happened for nine months before I left the law firm to start Adelaide Green Clean. That was the foundation of the Adelaide Green Clean work ethic, which we now instil in all our workers.

In May 2014 I went full-time into Adelaide Green Clean. The business started small, it was just me and a couple of mates, but we grew very quickly from that point.

In the first year, we were just winning event contract after event contract, and we even got some commercial contracts, and after we finished that season, we continued to grow.

Today we have around 350 staff ranging from full-time employees to casuals, but we employ all of our cleaners.

In mid-2015 we had around 80 staff, and then in September last year we merged with another cleaning company, Adam’s Cleaning, and 200 staff came on board.

The merger was a smart decision, but when you’re merging companies you don’t really know how it will go until they get put together. There’s a real art to merging the culture.

When we merged it was very much about making sure the cultures fit.

When you look at a merger, you can sit there with a spreadsheet and make sure the numbers match, you can move all the premises, and make savings here and there, but more importantly, there’s the little things you need to look at.

When you’re going from a new business which is very … innovative, to an older business which has been around a long time, transparency of communication is vital. You need to look at how the employees of the old company interact with the employees of the new company.

It’s an art, but we’ve been able to do it and we’ve come out a lot stronger.

I never intended to run a cleaning business, that was a situation of circumstance. I fell into the cleaning industry and I didn’t know anything about it.

I was ignorant to the industry and how it worked, which looking back was actually a good thing because now we do things differently to everyone else.

I only work well in an environment where initiative and innovation is fostered. Everyone always talks about entrepreneurs, but if you’re a genuine entrepreneur it’s because you have no other choice.

I have no choice but to run a business. Even if I wanted to live the 9-5 life, it’s ingrained in my DNA to grow and run businesses.

It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do — so if you don’t like it, don’t do it — but it brings the greatest rewards.

Adelaide Green Clean’s sustainability focus came mostly from common sense and a bit of ignorance. When we first came to ordering bins for the first time, we didn’t know what to order so we just got a food bin, a can/bottles bin, and a plastics and polystyrene bin.

Little did I know this, coupled with the fact we were using green chemicals, would develop into our ‘Green Loop’ framework. This system allows events to become sustainable venues by implementing our framework.

It’s really a balance now, but it was just common sense at the start. We caught on to the fact people had this problem and we solved it.

Some of our bigger clients include six campuses of the University of South Australia, the Adelaide Showgrounds, and the WOMAdelaide Festival.

I landed these partnerships by building genuine and strong relationships with people. We have a strong business, and the Telstra Business of the Year award was massive for us and shows that we are a genuine business and that we’re doing the right things.

We’ve been the instigator of some of the biggest change in the industry; thanks to us it’s now the norm to have sustainable recycling bins at events and venues.

We want to really cement ourselves as the national provider of sustainable waste management services — that’s where the goal is. It’s about making ourselves strong on a national level and continuing our growth consistently, but to do that we need to continue our current growth for the next few years.

We’re going through the process of rebranding this year, and every part of the business is rebranding to Australian Green Clean. That was always the plan — I bought the name at the same time I bought Adelaide Green Clean.

I firmly believe if you want to own a business, it has to be something you really really want to do. I’m big on this.

There’s a lot of glorification of entrepreneurship and owning businesses, but if you want to build a business it’s tough. It does get better, but first, it gets harder.

You can’t build a big successful business overnight, you have to sacrifice things and put in the work.

The greatest vision in the world is nothing without the hardest working person behind it.

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