“To mark their 25th anniversary, I would like to thank Futurpreneur for picking our obscure little company and helping us to grow it into what it became.
The people we met, the connections we made, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it in a million years.”
Having taken a position with a major chemical company in 2002, Paul Nielsen realized early on that the new job was not the right one for him.
Long drawn to the idea of being an entrepreneur, he felt it was time to take the leap into a venture that would allow him and his wife Dayle, “to do our own thing and rely on ourselves.” Recognizing an opportunity in establishing a waste business in Calgary, he came home at the end of a day at work and “just literally started online researching about getting funding for a startup company.” Ready to take the risks, Paul and Dayle agreed that the time was right to launch a waste hauling business, even with two young children at home and little in the way of startup capital. After completing an eight-week course in business practices with the accounting firm MNP, he set out on what would become almost two decades of entrepreneurship. Beginning with a single truck and a lot of determination, Paul created DumpRunner Waste Systems, initially taking waste cleanup jobs and then scaling up to a business with several million in annual sales. But this journey did not happen overnight.
While the single one-tonne truck allowed Paul to begin operations, it was clear that access to capital was essential to making the business a viable enterprise. With traditional lenders unwilling to take the risk on a waste-hauling business and little in the way of collateral, Paul was referred to Futurpreneur through his contacts at MNP. Receptive to his idea and impressed with his initial business plan (a plan he still has in his files), Paul worked with the organization to secure his initial $15,000 loan. In recalling that first loan, Paul says, “It was a lot of money back then. It helped us get on our feet. When Futurpreneur came in, everything just escalated from there.” But even with the seed capital in place, the startup challenges were formidable. Six months into the business, contracts fell off and the couple’s income shrank. Dayle, in an effort to keep the business alive and food on the table, took a part-time job. The sacrifices – including sending their two young sons to live with nearby grandparents as an alternative to daycare–mounted. But, as Paul points out, sacrifices and resolve are key to making a business work: “That’s a real part of being an entrepreneur. You’ve got to do these things. You’ve started the business and you want to make it a success. You do what you need to do.”
A year into the business, DumpRunner had recovered from its early challenges, allowing Dayle to join the firm on a full-time basis. As she describes it, “It got to the point where Paul was getting busy and couldn’t do all the work on his own. I’ve always been really chatty and very social, so I started doing all the answering of the phones and dealing with customers.” Dayle’s entry into the business not only alleviated Paul’s work load, it was also the start of an enduring and successful business partnership for the couple, one that has been built on an ability to find humour in trying times, a large dose of mutual admiration, and complementary styles that have clicked with customers over almost 20 years.
With Dayle firmly in place, the business began to grow. While Paul continued to play a decidedly hands-on role in day-to-day operations – everything from rebuilding diesel engines, diagnosing electrical issues, or dealing with the “emergency of the day”– he also began to develop the company’s service offering, including the acquisition of a rolloff container business that expanded its scope of operations. In recalling the business’s growth in its formative years, Paul cites seemingly endless obstacles to success, but he also reveals a tenacity that insisted failure was not an option. As he notes, “With your own business, you’re forced to do a lot of things that you don’t know. If you’re on fire, you put yourself out, right? You learn. You have no choice if you’re going to move ahead.”
And move ahead they did. Only four years after launch, in 2006 Paul and Dayle’s business success was recognized by Futurpreneur, winning the Alberta Best Business Award. In the same year, the company also won the organization’s National Best Business Award with its prize of $20,000. As Paul points out, “That was a real stepping stone for us.” It provided the means to further expand the container side of the business and focus on scaling up. But, as Paul points out, the real advantage of the recognition was that “it broadened our network, it opened a lot of doors for us. I don’t think we would have been where we were without them… from the original loan to the awards. There’s no free lunch, but those made a big difference.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Paul and Dayle saw an opportunity to spin off DumpRunner, and sold the roll-off waste collection division in 2019. But the industrious couple did not sit back and relax after their all-in, 17-year run. Not only did they continue to run a specialized waste hauling business, they also established a waste management consulting practice that built on the invaluable expertise they acquired in making DumpRunner a success.
When asked what they are proudest of in building the company, Dayle immediately says, “Even with all the turmoil, the best part for me was that we were able to keep our people employed throughout some very dark economic times.” Paul, in identifying what he is proudest of, points directly to his wife. While she groans in response – part of the well-developed humour and ribbing that is a hallmark of their lives together – Paul says, “This was (and still is) a collaborative effort. This is who I want to work with. This is my best friend. This is who I talk to all the time. The business is an extension of the success that we’ve had as a couple.”
After 25 years of marriage, Paul and Dayle look back on how far they have come. For them, one of the most gratifying outcomes is the two young toddlers they worried about in the early days of the business have grown up into responsible, well-mannered young men with careers of their own. It is with huge pride that they report that one of their sons has been working as a railroad conductor for CN Rail since 2019, and their other son joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a Naval Combat Information Systems Operator.
In talking about them, Paul sums it all up saying, “I think Dayle and I have done alright. They are both intelligent, funny, hard-working young adults with strong ethics. We didn’t raise snowflakes, that’s for sure!”