IAM1944 – Author and Podcast Host Shares His Experience and Lessons on Franchising

Podcast interview with Tom Scarda

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”:

In this episode, the guest is Tom Scarda, the host of The Franchise Academy Podcast and author of three books. Scarda, a self-made small business expert and Certified Franchise Expert, shares his knowledge derived from owning and operating five businesses, both franchised and non-franchised.

Key Points:

Tom's Story: Tom has a mixed track record in franchising: he was the number 1 franchisee of the year in one franchise concept and failed miserably in another. His experiences—successes and failures—and lessons learned are what makes him an expert in the field.

The Franchise Academy Podcast: Via his podcast, Tom shares his insights and experiences with an audience keen on understanding franchising better. He educates people on franchise options, opportunities, and obstacles.

His Books: Tom’s three books “Franchise Savvy: 6 Strategies Pros Use to Pick a Top Performing Franchise”, “The Road to Franchise Freedom”, and “The Magic of Choosing Uncertainty” serve to guide people through franchising.

CEO Hack: Tom uses Hubspot CRM for SEO to help maximize his brand's online presence.

CEO Nugget: Tom believes in embracing opportunities that come knocking and recognizing the challenges that come with it. He emphasizes the need for resilience and adaptability, because as he puts it, “Everyone had a plan until they get punched in the face”.

CEO Defined: Tom defines being a CEO as being of service to your staff and customers, underlying the customer-centric and people-focused approach to leadership.

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Tom Scarda Teaser 00:00

That's the secret sauce in my opinion, because it's not just throwing stuff against the wall to say, Hey, do you like dogs? Let's look at this dog franchise. Oh, you like cars? Let's look at Amco. We could do that all day long, but I'm not doing any service for that. That's not helping anybody.

It's about matching people to great franchise companies that I evaluate, that I would look at, cause I got to look at that franchise and say, I would buy this. I think it's good enough that I would recommend it to my own family members.

Intro 00:28

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and cEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkness values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:53

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast, and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year. We're doing something a little bit different where we were repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them, the business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, business owners, and what I like to call CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations .

This month we are focusing on finishing it out, fighting the good fight and closing out the job. I think just as important as it is to start something, it's even more important in how you conclude it or finish it out. So if you think of the different things that you can finish out, it'd be everything from a project, it can be from a day, it could also be from a business in and of itself and it can also of course be for the year. So when you think of finishing out, I want you to really think of these episodes, because what we're going to really focus on is the last question that we really asked, which is defining what it means to be a CEO.

All the creative, innovative, and I think truly insightful questions that we received from this question is really what we want to highlight during the show. But of course, we want you to enjoy the entire episode and think about how you're going to finish things out and how you're going to finish things out strongly. So sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I AM CEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast, and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Tom Scarda of the Franchise Academy podcast. Tom, it's awesome to have you on the show.

Tom Scarda 02:25

It's an honor. This is awesome.

Gresham Harkless 02:26

Yeah, I appreciate having you on. What I wanted to do was just read a little bit more about Tom so you hear about all the awesome things that he's doing.

Tom Scarta hosts the Franchise Academy podcast and is the author of three books. The number one bestselling Franchise Savvy; Six Strategies Pros Use to Pick a Top Performing Franchise, The Road to Franchise Freedom and the Magic of Choosing Uncertainty. A self-made small business expert and certified franchise expert, Tom has owned and operated five businesses, both franchise and non-franchise.

Tom was the number one franchisee of the year in one franchise concept and failed miserably in another concept. The lessons he learned from failure is what makes him such an expert. Named one of the top 50 business leaders on Long Island, Tom has helped over 1500 people figure out if franchising is for them since 2005. He's been featured in dozens of magazines and newspaper and is a sought after radio podcast and TV guests.

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Tom, it's awesome to have you on the show. Are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Tom Scarda 03:24

Yeah, this is awesome. I am so just honored and excited.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:28

Yeah, I'm excited as well, too. So the first question I had, I know we touched on it a little bit, but I wanted to hear a little bit more about what I call your CEO story and what led you to start your business.

Tom Scarda 03:37

Yeah. So interesting, I used to be a New York city subway conductor. So if you were ever in the New York city subway and you heard announcements, that was me. I was the guy opening and closing doors on the subway train and making announcements that were inaudible, which is typical in New York city. I was there for 13 years. One day there was a gentleman, I was a bit down about working Sunday night, and he said, Hey, kid, this is a great job because you'll always have a shirt on your back. It'll never be a silk shirt, but you'll always have a shirt. I was like, wow, man, that is like the epitome of mediocrity. I needed to do something different.

I looked at my bosses who I loved. They were great mentors to me, but they were not wearing the silk shirts, but business owners were, and I had to figure out how to be in that moment. I was like, I'm going to be a business owner, how to figure it out. I was a government guy, right? I had no education. I had no real money. My dad was a New York City cop and went to a lot of seminars, read some books, realized a franchise is a business with training wheels. That's what I needed exactly.

I ended up consulting with a company. They matched me to a smoothie franchise. And in 2000 dove in, built it and within five years, I sold it and semi-retired at 41 years old.

Gresham Harkless 04:44

Yeah. It's funny because a lot of people don't realize that you can actually have a silk shirt, so to speak. That you can ask for more, you can get more. Sometimes people just take whatever shirt you might have on as what you can do in your life.

But you saw that you can actually do more than that.

Tom Scarda 04:57

I never thought that people are limited in any way. I think it's choices or the things that people tell you. And if you take it to heart, then that's what you're going to be. My parents said, Hey, just get a good job, get something with a pension, and that's like the epitome of success.

But I realized that it wasn't and the more I exposed myself to people through books mostly, I realized, you know what? I could do other things. I really could just got to figure it out. And it's a lot of work, don't get me wrong.

Gresham Harkless 05:24

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I know you had your smoothie franchise, but you said that you learned even more from the mistake that you made or the unsuccessful franchise. Could you talk a little bit more about that and tell us about that?

Tom Scarda 05:35

After I sold my franchise in 2005, my wife was getting ready to retire from her job. She was a New York City police officer and she said, Hey, let's buy a franchise, and then when I retire in 2007, I'll take it over. We fell in love, got infatuated with a concept called Super Suppers, where you come to our location and you make meals following our recipes using our ingredients and then you take them home in bulk and freeze them.

And on days when you're busy, instead of ordering in Chinese food again, or pizza, you could throw this thing that you made with your own hands, throw it in the oven, 30 minutes you have a home-cooked meal. It was a great concept and it was so great and even on the cover of the New York Times on a Sunday. It was below the fold, but we were on the cover and they said that we're changing the way people eat the way McDonald's and Swanson did 50 years ago.

I was like, Oh my God, this is it. We know we're going to be billionaires. Within 19 months we were out of business and lost everything we had.

Gresham Harkless 06:28

Oh no.

Tom Scarda 06:29

And so we learned from that.

Gresham Harkless 06:31

Yeah. And obviously, sorry to hear you had to go through that, but I love the fact that you had those bumps and bruises and you built yourself back up and then you've also brought other people along too. Because you've written books, you have your podcast, you're doing your part to make sure that I guess other people can potentially maneuver past those landmines or potential issues that they might have.

Tom Scarda 06:50

Yeah. So many people sometimes they just wake up in the morning and say, man, I hate my boss. People never quit their job. They quit their boss. And so they say, Hey, I'm just going to buy a franchise and oh my God, I love, X, Y, Z hamburgers. I'm just going to buy that franchise and they just do it.

It might be a great franchise and it might be a really needed service in that particular community, but they're not the person to run it. It's twelve hours a day, six days a week, a bunch of numbskull kids working for you. Whatever it is, you get into it and you have your life savings in it and you realize, Oh my God, I really hate what I'm doing. That is bad. Once you get to that mentally, then the business slips through your fingers.

Gresham Harkless 07:29

Could you talk a little bit more about like how you're serving the clients? What are you doing to help make sure that, let's say Johnny doesn't end up in this Chick fil a franchise, but just because he loves to eat Chick-fil-A every, Monday through Saturday.

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Tom Scarda 07:40

Exactly. And it's funny, this is now the third time Chick-fil-A came up today. Yeah so first of all, we prescreen the franchises. We want to know that they have eight criteria. It can ensure that they're going to be successful, but you want to see these things to make sure the company is a solid company.

So we first do that before we even speak to quote and quote, Johnny. Once I get Johnny on the phone, then I ascertain his strengths, his skills, the personality, but also the background of his life. So we do this whole evaluation and then I write it up as a model, a business model for the client, for the candidate. Then I use that model to sift through 4, 000 franchises that are out there in America in 90 different industries.

Then I ultimately come back to the person, Johnny, in this case, with franchises that match exactly what he's looking for in an ideal franchise. Maybe didn't even realize what that ideal franchise looked like, so I help the person evaluate themselves before they even evaluate a franchise.

Gresham Harkless 08:38

That's really powerful because I think a lot of times, like Johnny, even speaking about that may or may not exist. He actually understands that he just wants to own X, Y and Z franchise. But you're actually taking the time out to figure out who Johnny is, what he's interested in, what his lifestyle dreams and goals are in finding what franchise fits based off of that.

Is that correct?

Tom Scarda 08:57

That's exactly right. And you know what happened, a personal example for me when I was just leaving transit, I got in touch with the company I now work with to find a franchise. I had one in mind that I loved, and it was not on the East coast yet. It was just on the West coast. I don't want to name the company because I have nothing good to say about it. So the consultant I was working with at the time, this lady Carol, she said to me, first of all, the thing you're thinking about is 350, 000 to start and your budget is 100, 000. So you out right there.

But even if you had the money, I would really ask you not to get involved with those guys because their franchise agreement is lopsided. There are so many fees from the franchisor that you're not making any money as the franchisee, the guy on the street that's putting out their life savings to do this business, I wouldn't know that. How would I know that? And so that's why I think it's important to really talk to a professional if you're going to go down this road of evaluating businesses for yourself, because it could be a really costly mistake and perhaps one that you can't recover from.

Gresham Harkless 09:57

Yeah, absolutely. There are people like yourself that have spent time and know about franchises that you can lean on your understanding and your expertise so that you can make the most successful decision that you can make with all the information that you have at your disposal.

Tom Scarda 10:09

You got to get educated about it. And that's my promise to people is that, I can't guarantee somebody who's going to buy a franchise, but I will guarantee that there'll be a franchise expert by the time they're done talking with me.

That's my goal.

Gresham Harkless 10:20

Would you consider that to be like your secret sauce and what you feel sets you or your organization apart?

Tom Scarda 10:26

The secret sauce for us is just that when Johnny comes to me and says, Oh man, I love doughnuts, I could say, Hey, let's just look at Dunkin Donuts and take the easy route and just get him into that business. But instead, the secret sauce is that I talk him out of Dunkin Donuts if it's not the right fit for him, and get him to see really what would be a good fit.

That's the secret sauce, in my opinion. Because it's not just throwing stuff against the wall to say, Hey, you like dogs? Let's look at this dog franchise. Oh, you like cars? Let's look at Amco. We could do that all day long, but I'm not doing any service for that. That's not helping anybody. It's about matching people to great franchise companies that I evaluate, that I would look at because I got to look at that franchise and say, I would buy this.

I think it's good enough that I would recommend it to my own family members.

Gresham Harkless 11:11

Yeah, and that's a really good kind of measure and to see and to understand that sometimes we're so close to what we want that we need an expert. We need somebody that has expertise to look from a different angle and say, Hey, because of X, Y and Z, A, B and C, I think that you should choose this or these are some of your options.

This is why rather than just saying, Oh, I had donut today. So let me go buy a Dunkin Donuts, just like you said.

Tom Scarda 11:33

And just, to speak to the CEO nation, there's also an avenue where I help people make investments of passive investment in a franchise. So same principle applies. People might say, wow, you know what, I was away on vacation and I saw this business and I love it. I want to invest in that thing, but don't know. I help people really evaluate that and get into something that is truly a passive investment.

Because there's a lot of franchises out there that will say that you could do what they call absentee or semi-absentee ownership, manage the manager. I can probably count on two hands and a foot, the businesses I would recommend to my own family members that you could actually do that.

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Gresham Harkless 12:11

I wanted to switch gears a little bit, and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. This might be an app, a book or even your books that you want to mention, but something that you feel like makes you more effective and efficient as an entrepreneur business owner.

Tom Scarda 12:22

It's actually a big thing, its not like a cool little hack, but I use a CRM called HubSpot. HubSpot goes to great lengths to make sure that your website and whatever you got out there on the internet is really search engine optimized. It's interesting because, Google will change their algorithm sometimes once a day, just slightly, but these guys are so big and involved with Google and Facebook and those kinds of things where they know what's going on and they're like, all right, we need to like adjust.

They don't even tell you, they just start working in the background. I think they're doing great things. So that's something that I would recommend.

Gresham Harkless 12:58

Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. HubSpot is a great CEO hack so thank you for sharing that with us. Now I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO nugget. This is a word of wisdom or piece of advice or sometimes I say, if you can hop into a time machine and tell yourself, or maybe even like you mentioned a family member, something, what would you tell us?

Tom Scarda 13:15

So a few different things, and they're all like little quotes that I think are great. One of the biggest things I learned, and as a government worker, this was a big change for me. When opportunity knocks, hard work answers the door. Actually, I have it written on my board. I don't know if you could see it there, but that is the big thing. You got to do the work. One of the great quotes of all time, in my opinion, comes out of boxing and forgive me, I don't remember exactly who said it, whether it was Joe Frazier or one of those guys, but the quote is a boxer never wins in the ring. He's merely recognized there.

So you've got to do a lot of hard work by yourself in the dark practice, think about the old Rocky movies, right? Practice, practice, practice, and then you win. Then lastly, my favorite quote of all time from Mike Tyson is everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. So how that applies to business is that, you have a plan, you're executing on your plan and then something happens, and it's out of your control. It could be as simple as a snowstorm shuts down your store for a day, a day without revenue in a small shop could kill you.

So that's like the punch in the face. Mike wasn't talking about that I'm sure. But he was talking about a whole different thing, but I think it applies to business really, really well.

Gresham Harkless 14:30

Yeah. Yeah. Now I wanted to ask you for my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different CEOs, entrepreneurs, business owners, franchise owners on this show.

So I wanted to ask you what does being a CEO mean to you?

Tom Scarda 14:44

A CEO to me means being of service. You're being of service to your staff and to your customer. So if you approach every day with how can I help these folks while I'm in contact with today, I think that's how you get the best results.

Gresham Harkless 14:59

Awesome. Tom, I truly appreciate you for taking some time out. What I wanted to do was pass you the mic just to see if there's anything additional you want to let our readers and our listeners know.

And then of course, how best they can get ahold of you get copies of your book, and of course, subscribe to your podcast.

Tom Scarda 15:11

Yeah. Thank you. So my book, The Magic of Choosing Uncertainty is how to manage, change and brace fear and live a fulfilled life. That's my big thing. I fight mental fear every day and I don't know where it comes from. It's in my DNA, unfortunately, I think. I think a lot of us suffer from that and you need to, in a big way, in my opinion disconnect from mass media because there just ain't nothing good on the news, nothing.

If you start your day, like a lot of people feel like we were brought up, I remember going to school, current events, current events, current events, there's nothing I could do about the current events. So when I hear about, the tsunami in Indonesia, man, it just makes me feel like crap and there's nothing I could do about it. I want to help those people. I'll send money to the red cross. I get all that and we do that, but to start your day every day, meditating on the news, I think is a really bad way to start your day.

So you got to start with something positive, whether it's the Bible, whether it's my book, but I don't recommend my book. So try the Bible. That might be better.

Gresham Harkless 16:13

Awesome. We'll make sure to have those links in the show notes, but Tom truly appreciate you. I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Tom Scarda 16:19

Thank you. You too.

Outro 16:21

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase. It's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts, subscribe and leave us a five-star rating.

Grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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